I have never shot a gun. Nothing against them, we own several, I’ve just never gotten around to it or sought out the opportunity. I’ve certainly never hunted and I haven’t fished since I was a little kid. I like camping as long as there are flushing toilets, hot showers, not too many mosquitoes, and no wild animals bigger than a bunny. You’re getting the picture I am not a country girl, right? I told my husband one of my main requirements for wherever we live is that I cannot be more than ten minutes from the nearest Target.
We have some close friends however, that I would consider “country folk.” They live out on a beautiful property with a pond, donkeys, llamas, chickens, and goats. Literally one of the most exciting features for them when they first moved out there was that they would be able to shoot turkey and geese from their back porch. Though still completely foreign to me, I’ve learned a bit about this lifestyle as we’ve been friends for nearly ten years now. One thing that sticks out in particular is the negotiation of duck season. It seems a complex hand of cards; I’ll raise you one purse/mani/pedi for next Saturday’s tags/ammo/possible-taxidermy-expenses. Seriously, you might be a redneck if you have both a favorite and least favorite taxidermist.
When these friends told me about their favorite new show a couple years ago called “Duck Dynasty,” I just assumed it wouldn’t be something that I would be able to relate to. Like much of the rest of America though, after finally catching an episode, I’m hooked. I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover the family on the show loves the Lord and is using their popularity to showcase their faith. I recently watched THIS short video testimony the family patriarch, Phil Robertson, gave telling of how he came to a life-changing, saving relationship with the Lord. He said something in the last ten seconds that I thought was simply beautiful, and rather profound. He closes his story by saying, “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all, about the only hope you have is He not be there. What we’re saying is, we trust that He is.”
Those true words of faith have been rolling around my mind since I heard them. They’ve been bumping into countless other quotes and phrases I tend to collect when I’m studying. My mind is typically an unorganized grab-bag of information. The women I do Bible study with Wednesday nights know how often I struggle to remember where I’ve learned something. This is in part due to the way my brain seems to work, or not work. (Scatterbrained would be a gentle way to put it). It’s also because I am just a nerd for Bible study and tend to study in multiple places at once. For the last month or so I’ve found myself involved in studying, either in a group setting or alone, Genesis, Nehemiah, Hebrews, and James. I believe God has a perfect timing and purpose in revealing scripture to us, but it was still somewhat surprising when the words of a redneck, long-bearded believer began to attract other similar themes like a giant magnet reaching the dark corners of my mind.
Faith is most commonly defined in the Bible as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).” Faith is at the heart of every relationship with God and is so complexly entwined with how we live out what we profess to believe, it can be hard to see where it ends and another concept begins. I’m hoping you’re game to join me on my journey this month in looking at how the larger theme of faith plays out in varied but related ways in the scriptures I’m pursuing. We have quite a bit of ground to cover so I’m praying I strike the right balance of giving a faithful glimpse of the larger text, as well as not keeping you up all night reading. Get comfortable, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) as we look at three things a living faith requires as well as its results and fulfillment.
What does eating forbidden fruit, leaving your family and city life, and participating in a wrestling match with God have in common? The opportunity to show faith through obedience. Genesis is full of stories of ordinary people given the opportunity to either obey or disobey God’s commands. Adam and Eve disobeyed the one rule given to them, bringing sin and its destructive effects into the world. Abraham showed his faith in the promises the Lord had spoken to him by relocating from his comfortable ‘modern’ city life to tents in the desert. Personally, I’m struck by the obedience of his wife, Sarah, who must have been slack-jawed to learn God had spoken to her husband and that they were now moving to the middle of nowhere with the promise that somehow in their struggle with infertility a great nation would be produced. Can you even imagine how that conversation went down, husband to wife?! Then there’s the mysterious wrestling match in Genesis 32 where Jacob’s hip ends up being put out of joint as a physical reminder of his need for obedience to God’s will.
These examples remind us that faithful obedience to God’s will does not mean just trying to be a “good person.” God asked much of these heroes of faith and in return for their obedience they caught a glimpse of the faithfulness of God Himself. True obedience can be costly. It can cost us time, money, and/or relationships. It forces us to evaluate our priorities and decide if the risk of what could be lost is worth the potential reward to be gained. To me, one of the scariest risks is always relational. What if obeying what the Lord has asked of me makes people look down on me? If I’m the only mom in the group that is really conservative with TV and movie options for my kids, do I risk being labeled a prude if I know it’s something the Lord has shown me is important for my family? Am I willing to give some of our limited funds to obey my responsibility of tithing to my church? Will I give up a couple hours of my lazy Sunday to attend a church? Where are you feeling especially called to be obedient to what God is teaching you?
Then there’s the other side of this evaluation: where are you missing out on God’s blessing due to disobedience? We don’t always want to acknowledge our struggles with purity, honesty, drunkenness, envy, gluttony, or any other vice as actually being obedience issues, but Christians are called to holy lives submitted to God’s way of doing life. Certainly we have great freedom in Christ, but if we’re claiming to know Him and living lives that have no regard for the Spirit’s conviction within us, then something is wrong. I hope we can have the courage to ask Him to reveal our disobedience to us, and then to be granted the wisdom and strength to get right with Him.
Once our faith filled hearts will obediently submit to God’s way, it’s time to start living out that faith through our actions. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” James asks us (Jas 2:14). I want to clarify that we are saved by God’s grace with us through our faith in Christ’s sacrifice, not by anything we can accomplish on our own. That being said, James is adamant that, “faith apart from works is useless (Jas 2:20).” He challenges us to, “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Jas 2:18).” Maybe this is an obvious question, but what good is your faith? Is your life wholly affected by what you believe? Do the people around us benefit from the fruit of the Spirit we produce in our lives?
If we are really living the good, growing life of faith it should be spilling over into every facet of our daily lives. If we are faithfully maturing and seeking to become more like Christ each day then we will not be able to compartmentalize a “Sunday Christian” self we bring out once a week. Let’s not rob ourselves by waiting until Sunday to act on the faith we have access to every day of the week. Bottom line, let’s do something about what we believe:
“One good deed is of more worth than a thousand brilliant theories. Let us not wait for large opportunities, or for a different kind of work, but do just the things we find to do day by day. We have no other time in which to live. The past is gone; the future has not arrived; we never shall have any time but the present… No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Devotional).”
Our service cannot be the basis of true faith (look at all the good stuff I do, I must be saved!), but it will be the result of it (this freedom is such a gift, I want to show everyone how great it is!). I am not earning my salvation, I am living it. Earning implies there is something I’m lacking, but I’ve already got my reward in Christ. If we say we believe, then we should act like it.
I pray you’ll take a minute for a self evaluation to make sure your “faith walk lines up with your faith talk.” I don’t know about you, but James gets me fired up to sprint out the gate and do some good in the world! Much of the time though, living our faith is more of a marathon than a sprint. That’s the analogy I found in Hebrews for the importance of endurance in our faith. The author of Hebrews is writing a sermon-of-a-letter encouraging believers to hold on to their faith through the trials they are facing; that this hope would anchor them so they will not be tempted to drift away.
The author, who is unknown, has a lot to say on the subject of faith, and there’s an entire section that outlines the lives of the great heroes of faith (see Hebrews 11). He then points out that these superstars that have gone before us are now surrounding us; imagine a large stadium with all of them in the stands watching us and cheering us on, their stories inspiring us to keep going when we struggle to inch on. I envision myself approaching the starting line, svelte and strong, ready to run the spiritual Olympic marathon of my life. I’ve already thrown aside the training weights; the sin I so often choose to carry with me that the author warns of in chapter 12, verse 16.
Svelte and strong are not how we’re described in the text, though. We’re described in verse 12 as having “drooping hands” and “weak knees.” We are runners with injuries, scarred and broken from our run ins with the snares of the world. And yet, no one is too injured for this race, there is no wound that cannot be miraculously healed in the running. It’s the sitting on the sidelines or the running off-course where we get ourselves into trouble. As long as we keep moving forward along the straight and narrow path, even if only at a snail’s pace at times, we will eventually share in the glorious culmination ceremony which awaits us on the other side of the finish line.
Through obedience, by our actions, with endurance, faith gets results. In the book of the same name, Nehemiah’s life is set before us as part historical document, part memoir. The book covers thirty years of his life, starting when he is a young man with the high position of cupbearer to the king, tells the amazing journey of uniting the people of Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, his promotion to governor, his zeal for God’s word, and his many reforms to help bring the people of God back into a right relationship with Him. By faith, Nehemiah spent his life not pursuing the promising political career he was already positioned for, but instead using his influence to further the visible manifestation of God in the world and to lead others to a reformed relationship with the God of their fathers. A wall was built in 52 days and God’s people confessed their sins and turned back to Him in true worship.
If my faith rests in a power greater than myself, then there is no task that is too great for me to accomplish through this divine enabling. It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20 that, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” I had always thought this meant my faith must be microscopic since I’ve never moved an ant-hill, let alone a mountain. It struck me just recently though that maybe I should be focusing on the size of the mountain instead of the mustard. Maybe the results of our faith are so hugely disproportionate to the amount of faith we bring that instead of feeling convicted for my lack, I can feel comforted in God’s ability to more than make up for it. All Nehemiah, or you or I, have to offer is this one life, which in comparison to the extraordinary scope of the cosmos seems inconsequential, but that can be used by the infinite Almighty God to leave an enduring mark in this age and the age to come. What results will God achieve with the amount of faith we place in Him?
In the end, it is where we place our faith that makes all the difference. Faith can be placed in the spiritual, mystical, physical, scientific, relational, economical, cultural, or counter-cultural. I’m not going to waste our time running down any of those rabbit trails except to say I know the One truly worthy of our trust. Anything else we turn to is just a cheap, twisted imitation of the truth He brings. Whether we accept it or not, all things are from Him and through Him and to Him (Romans 11:36).
Hebrews 12:2 calls him, “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” This is the bedrock where we can safely anchor our faith. In faith, Jesus was completely obedient to the will of the Father, from living a life without sin to His torturous execution. In faith, Jesus acted upon His love for His Father by demonstrating His great love for us. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, sought out the marginalized, taught the seeking, and forgave sinners. In faith, Jesus, “endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2),” and running ahead to pave the straight and narrow course we continue in His pursuit. Jesus’ faith results in His being seated at the right hand of the Father and offers us the opportunity for a deeply personal, intimate relationship with Father, Son, and indwelling Holy Spirit that will change your life for eternity.
He doesn’t care if you’re a redneck that owns a beer joint or an urban erudite, a DINK (dual income no kids) or a Duggar. Who you think you are holds no weight against who He says you are in Him. You are made perfect through His sacrifice, you are an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven, and by His wounds you can be healed. Precious child, run into the strong arms of the Father who is already running to you.
Or you can place all the faith you have that He not be there. All I’m saying, is that I have faith that He is.
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6