Faith

We did a 6-week study of Hebrews in our Young Women’s Bible study back in January/February. I was reviewing our notes from the lesson on Hebrews 11 and wanted to share with you all the “summary” of what faith looks like and what we talked about, I hope it encourages anyone who reads it!

Hebrews 4:2 touches briefly on faith, and how crucial it is: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.”

Today, we use the word faith to refer to two things, one is an object or noun, and the other is an action or verb. Generally when I use the word faith I am talking about what I believe. However, here in chapter 11, the author is not referring to the content of our faith, what we believe, but in the action of trusting and living it out. Make sense? So, he is saying that what we believe must be combined with the action of faith for it to be of any value to us. If we only have belief, but no active faith in it, then it will be ineffective in our lives. Faith is the linchpin between our beliefs and living them out in our lives.  

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is often looked at to give us a definition of faith, but every commentary I have read stresses the point that it is not a definition of faith, but a description of faith. A definition is the exact meaning of something but a description is a representation of something. So the author walks us through some events in the lives of believers recorded in the Old Testament in order to show us what faith looks like. And throughout the telling of their stories he occasionally interjects commentary on particular facets of their faith. 

The author begins his description of faith by stating that it is the assurance (or being sure) of things (or what) we hope for. The definition of hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, a feeling of trust”. So then we need to ask, what do Christians hope for? We hope for the fulfillment of what we are told in the Bible. Therefore,  faith is being SURE that those things will be fulfilled. He also says that faith is the conviction (or being certain of ) what we do not see. So again, what do we not see? We do not see the complete fulfillment of God’s promises and His plan of redemption, but we are convicted or certain that we will see them in the end of time.

Its important for us to note a few things here. First, he is not saying that faith is belief without evidence or that it is believing despite other evidence. And, he is not saying that faith is blind optimism or manufactured feelings of hope. But that is actually how the world would define faith. A secular writer in the early 20th century, H.L. Mencken, defined faith as “illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible.” But this is not the Bible’s view of faith and unfortunately ours has been skewed by how the world would define it.

Hywel Jones, in his commentary on Hebrews describes faith like this, “True Bible faith is confident obedience to God’s word in spite of circumstances and consequences.” What the author of Hebrews is referring to here is that it is always going to be our tendency to put our confidence in the visible things of the world rather than the invisible realities of God. We will be tempted to trust in the things of the world in both good times and bad. However, our hope and certainty is in the promises of God and the plan of redemption which we can not “see” with our physical senses.

In Hebrews 11 the author gives us a description of what true faith looks like by looking at people in the Old Testament who exemplified it in their lives, and I just want to share a brief list of what those aspects of faith are that we can learn from. 

A Description of What Faith Looks Like…

  • Worshiping God with all that we are and recognizing that all we have is from Him (Abel)
  • Walking with God, earnestly seeking Him, and living in relationship with Him in the midst of a fallen and sinful world (Enoch)
  • Believing in God and who He is, and believing in His promises and what He says. (v.6)
  •  Revering and fearing God, submitting and obeying God’s will, and refusing to do any of that to anyone/thing other than God. (Noah)
  • Living in light of the covenant and God’s Word, showing we believe God’s promises and will wait and trust in God’s perfect timing to bring them to fulfillment. (Patriarchs)
  • Obeying without fully knowing and despite what we are called to do, living set-apart from the world in order to live for God, not falling into unbelief but being strengthened in our faith, and being fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised. (Abraham)
  • Holding on to your faith even when God’s outcome does not appear to be what you thought it would be and passing on your faith and hope to the generation to come. (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph)
  • Recognizing the hand of God and not fearing man. (Moses’ parents)
  • Recognizing that the things of this world are temporary but the things of God are eternal and they will come to pass (Moses)  

Parting the Waters

Why are we drawn to tragic stories? Have you ever felt the tension between wanting to know every detail of a tragic story but then also wanting to avoid it because you subconsciously believed that if you exposed yourself to it then it might mean that it would happen to you? As I have thought about this I have begun to wonder if maybe, despite our fear of it happening to us, we are drawn to them because we know there is a chance something awful could happen to us, and we want to be prepared if it does. I often want to know how someone dealt with something hard….the death of a loved one who was the center of their life, a broken heart, a relationship torn by ugliness and evil, an incredible financial loss, or a vocational failure. Because, if I can learn from what someone else has gone through then it can give me the hope I need to get through it myself if it ever happened to me.

In her book Parting the Waters, Jeanne Damoff shares about a great tragedy her family suffered and the lessons they learned through it. And she was brave enough to look at this situation and ask what could be learned from it, and what good, if any, had come from it. Because she did that she was able to see the beauty of life even in dark times and see God’s goodness and love despite her heartache. She wrote her book for fearful avoiders like you and I, so that we could learn to view life through different lenses. Not lenses that simply categorize things as either “good” or “bad”, but lenses that see God’s plan transcending all things. That way, no matter whether we face a tragedy like hers or not, we can learn to see our lives through the eyes of God.

After Jeanne’s son nearly drowned it was not the death of her son that became her focus, but the death of her self. She struggled with self-pity and anger at the situation, wondering how she could live the rest of her life caring for her now debilitated son. But in the midst of these struggles a quite inner voice whispered to her the words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” A once easy concept to understand had suddenly become the only path of survival for her to take in this grim circumstance. It was not what she wanted for her life, but it was clearly what she was being asked to do. As the reality of her new life set in this is how Jeanne describes her battle to die to herself and live for God alone, accepting the life He had given her and her son,

“Tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. Father, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life caring for a vegetative son. But I’ll never be asked to pay as big a price as Christ. I can’t pay it. And I can never pay You back for my salvation. Make me wiling to do Your will, no matter what it is. I remember the voice that had shouted in my head earlier that day. ‘I don’t deserve this!’ I don’t deserve this? All I really deserve is to burn in hell, forever separated from the presence of God. But you’ve given me eternal life. Lord, forgive me for listening to self-pity. Understanding the truth and living it are two different things. I knew I wouldn’t morph into Mother Teresa overnight, laying aside all my hopes and dreams, gladly undertaking whatever nasty job came my way. But at least I was learning which voices to ignore. God, in His mercy, was taking me beyond myself and into His higher purposes, teaching me how to balance amid the rolling waves. I could choose to be introspective, or I could open my eyes and behold His marvelous works. As I learned to look for God’s design, I found beauty in the most unexpected places.” (p. 59)

If you are fearful of what your future might bring, or even currently fighting God over what you wanted your life to look like, I encourage you to read Jeanne’s journey. Be bold to ask yourself, what if this happened to me, how would I respond? Would I still believe God is good and loving? Would I be submissive to His plan and trust His ways? Would I look for the good in that situation and learn from it? Because the truth is, we do not have to wait for something tragic to happen in our lives to learn to live fully for God. We are told that we can live in that blessing today as we learn to live not for ourselves, but for Him and Him alone. Only then will our lives be characterized by faith and not fear, and will we experience the most true and pure form of joy that can only be found in dying to ourselves and living for Him.

Parting the Waters on Amazon

 

Jeanne Damoff’s Web page

Broken Relationships

As I have been spending time thinking through my life and where I am at today, the thing that makes me MOST SAD is broken relationships that have never been reconciled or still evoke bad feelings when I think about them. I have been thinking a lot about this lately in my life and ironically enough there are several people in my life who are currently struggling with broken relationships. It is a common problem and we all share the common heartache over them. Why must relationships be so difficult? Why is it so hard to reconcile with people who have hurt us or who we feel hurt by? Why do we even have to hurt each other in the first place?!

The answer is sin and it can’t be avoided. What does that mean? It means that there is no person on this earth who will live a life free of tension and conflict. Because of our ugly, selfish, sin natures we are all going to hurt and be hurt. In the Bible it says that we fight because we want something and don’t get it. What is it that we want? Respect, love, honor, loyalty, fairness? And when we don’t get it instead of turning to God who is truly the only one who can give us those things, we turn against the person who we perceive is holding those things back. When we are in the midst of it our actions and emotions make perfect sense. But the bottom line is that it is sin.

Psalm 133 says that living at peace with others is “good and pleasant” and that it is only when we live at peace with one another that we will fully experience God’s blessing and life. I know this is true because there is a void in my life where there are broken relationships. When I think of them there is a dull ache inside me that tells me it is not how it was meant to be and that God’s blessing is not there. Hence, the great sadness I feel over those broken relationships.

While there is so much that can be said about broken relationships, I am going to just say a few things for now. The Bible speaks often about striving for unity and peace with one another which tells me that we should live our lives very aware of the fact that we will be prone to not live at unity and peace with one another. It should not surprise us when we have problems and disagreements with others, especially those who strive to live by higher standards. It should not surprise us that we are tempted to say bad things about how awful others are and desire to distance ourselves from them. If it were not so then the Bible would not talk about it so much.

In Ephesians we are told to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Wow. If we actually lived out those words in our lives then we would NEVER have broken relationships!! What he is saying is that those who have the Spirit of God in them are able to live at peace because of it. We are not alone in our endeavor to be humble, gentle, patient, and peaceful. We have the ability to do it.

At times in my life when I have felt threatened or hurt by another person I have found in me the fear that they could ultimately hurt me or damage who I am and how others see me. This fear is often what causes us to put up our self-protective defenses. But Psalm 129 reminds us of something very important, that even if I have been “greatly oppressed” by someone since my childhood, “they have not gained the victory over me…the LORD is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.” If you are a believer in Christ then you can trust and know that the LORD will and is protecting you. When we are hurt by another person the Psalmist says to “wait for the LORD” and to put your hope in Him. Instead of focusing our eyes on that person, the situation, or what we fear will happen because of it, we must focus on the LORD and hope in Him.

The most important thing in all of this is that we are not just encouraged to live at peace with one another, we are commanded to. When Christ was asked what the most important commands to follow were, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and love your neighbor as yourself.” And we are motivated and enabled to do this because God has done it with us. He is the only one who has a right to keep a record of our sins, but He still forgives. It is because of His forgiveness and love of us that we are able to forgive and love others. He forgives us of ALL our sins and gives us FULL redemption. As we focus on what God has done for us and the joy that is found in that, it overshadows our desires to be at war with others and gives us the motivation to forgive and love. And when we forgive someone who has hurt us we are filled with joy, because we are carrying out God’s will for us and because it is a reflection of His forgiveness for us, and that is beautiful.

The truth is that reconciliation is what being a Christian is all about. We are Christians because God was willing to reconcile with us. And we show this as we reconcile with those who have hurt us who do not deserve to be forgiven. But we must remember that because of this the evil one hates forgiveness, unity, and reconciliation. So he will fight to keep you from doing it. He will fill your minds with thoughts and make it seem ridiculous and impossible to reconcile. And he will always be luring you to hate, judge, and hold grudges. So we must fight it with all that we are and remember that He who is for us is greater than he who is against us.

Vision

Without vision man dies. That is my paraphrase of a Charles Swindoll quote that sits on my desk. It has hung by my desk for at least 7 years, because every word of it has proven true. Here is the entire quote, “Vision is essential for survival. It is spawned by faith, sustained by hope, sparked by imagination, encompasses vast vistas outside the realm of the predictable, the safe, the expected. No wonder we perish without it!”

I have found over time that my definition of the word vision has been skewed because I neglect the main ingredients that Swindoll lists. I forget how essential to my life faith and hope is. I dismiss imagination. I write off enthusiasm. And what about those things that are outside the realm of “the predictable, the safe, the expected”? I often warp vision into something that is known, tangible, obvious, and predictable.

If you have read some of my recent entries, you know that right now I am seeking vision for my life and who I am. One thing I have found interesting is how much harder it is today to do this than it was 10 years ago. When I was in my early 20’s the world was my oyster….I dreamt big dreams and often wondered about my future. I watched movies like, “The Dead Poets Society” and “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” and I was inspired. I believed I could do anything! By no means was it easy to dream not knowing whether they would come true or not, but it was life-giving and it motivated me to try and to be hopeful.

 Today, many of my dreams have come to fruition and I am having a hard time coming up with new dreams. I feel that maybe I am too old for dreams and that imagination may be “unspiritual.” I don’t wonder about my future anymore because somehow I have been convinced that my future now fits into a set mold. Now that I have given many good years to my vocation, earned my degrees, gotten married, and chosen a hometown, what is left? And of course I have more failures today than I did back then, and they weigh me down and tell me I am not good enough. It seems safer to stay in the framework of my life and not take the risk to dream now that I am “experienced, older, and wiser”.

But the truth is, just living within a framework is not safe. As Swindoll said, it leads to death. If I stop dreaming, hoping, planning….then I die. Over the past couple of months I have reached out to various men and women in full time ministry seeking advice and counsel. Through them God has revived in me an ability to dream and hope. He has reminded me of how important it is to “be open” in order to be able to see and receive what it is God might have for me. Knowing that anything is possible and God is completely in control of my future has given me great peace and contentment as I wait for this next step in my life. This is my prayer today, that I will not shut out faith, hope, imagination, and enthusiasm…but instead embrace them and allow God to use them to give me His vision for me.

Change

I am amazed at how hypocritical my heart is. One moment I am passionately berating someone for something awful they have done and the next I am doing exactly what I had criticized them for doing. And while I am doing it I am quite content, knowing that it is wrong, but somehow justifying it anyway. Its different when I do it. It is so easy to name sin worn by another person, but when worn by me there are shades of gray.

I am constantly moved by deep thoughts and insights, quick to use them as illustrations when teaching Bible study, but resistent to actually apply them to my life. World Magazine writer Andree Seu talks about how often Christians do this, taking furious notes on a cool new insight and telling everyone about it, but then filing their notes away, forgetting all about the “life changing message” they had heard. We are really into “insights” but not so into change. Insights are easy and exciting, change is tediuos and painful.

I am beginning to believe this is exactly what most Christians in America, including me, have missed. We learn, we “grow”, we even become more firm in what we believe, but we rarely allow it to change us. We make superficial lifestyle changes for the world to see but rarely do we try to do anything about the harder and more humiliating changes that concern our prideful hearts. It would take too much and be too painful of a process. So we learn to live around it.

As I begin this process of peeling away my layers this is the first thing I encounter. It is depressing and discouraging. I am very tempted to feel like a failure. How is it that after a decade and a half of calling myself a Christian, did I let this slip by almost un-noticed? Did I mention that for two thirds of that time I have been in full-time ministry? (What scares me even more these days is how much more resistant I am to change the older I get!) The result has been a great clean-up job on the outside of my life, but as far as the inside goes I am extremely disturbed by how little it has changed. I do not mean to be self-deprecating, but simply honest because I long to know the freedom and change that is promised to those who believe. The fact of the matter is, in order for us to see that change we must first recognize our need to change and secondly, admit that we cannot do it on our own.

The surprise in this difficult place is that there is something strangely sweet about coming to the end of yourself. Breaking through your pride briefly, and weakly, yet so desperately, to admit you have failed and you need help. It is strange how strong we can feel in ourselves, but how much stronger we feel when we have to lean on God in our weaknesses. Perhaps even stranger is the fact that I have been here many times before but somehow I always drift away from that sweet dependancy and begin trying to do it on my own again.

I want to stop getting so excited about increasing my knowledge and discovering profound statements, and begin caring more about how those things can change me on the inside. This is the only way I will become who God intends me to be and where I will experience the changing power of Christ in my life. What is most important is not that my life looks “Christian” on the outside, or that I sound “Christian” to those who care to listen, but that I am allowing His truth to change me on the inside.

Who am I?

When I was a kid I always thought the “Who am I?” essays in school were so silly. My name is Ashley. I have blonde hair and green eyes. I have a mom, a dad, a brother, and a sister. I like sports. My favorite color is green. I looooove cats. I want to be an astronaut when I grow up. There. Don’t you feel like you know me now!

I laugh and make fun, but the irony is that today, a couple decades later, this exercise seems extremely difficult. Maybe its not for you, but it is for me. I have changed a lot over the years and my life continues to surprise me even to this day. I always thought when I was younger that you simply are who you are and then life is served and you eat it. I never knew life could change so much, and I especially never knew I could change so much.

I realized this year that I have always understood my identity through the lenses of my circumstances. Maybe that is ok, but I have become plagued with the notion that maybe there’s more to me than I even know. If I stripped away my circumstances who would I be? Perhaps what’s underneath is extremely awful and that’s why I have clothed it with my circumstances. Isn’t it easier to accept who we are based on what has happened to us rather than who we have become through those things? I think these are all very scary thoughts.

My last thought is, if I peel away the protective layers of life I have hidden myself under and do discover I don’t like what I see…is it possible to change? People don’t want to change at my age. We have finally come to accept who we are and the thought of changing sounds more like we are giving in to defeat and what others think (which our mothers always told us does not matter). Does anyone really care anyway? If they don’t like me they can go find someone else to hang out with who they do like.

But that is the most unsatisfying and depressing thing I have ever written. The day I stop trying to improve myself is the day that life is no longer worth living. We are such messed up and broken people that we will never arrive at the best version of ourselves no matter how hard we try. Therefore, I must always be striving to see who I am underneath all of those protective layers…the me that others see but I pretend is not there. And then seek to improve what I see, with a hopeful and eager attitude, not one that is beat down and desperate. Then maybe as I do that I will stop hiding behind my circumstances and allowing myself to justify my flaws….and take responsibility for who I am and who I am becoming.

Life

There is so much in life to write about, everyday is a new journey, every day offers new lessons and insights into life. I often find myself throughout my day wishing I could record my thoughts…my emotions at the exact moment that I feel them. Why? Because that is life, living in the moment, feeling at all times, thinking deeply, and not living this life in vain. Why should we mindlessly wander the earth and waste our lives? Each breath is precious and there is purpose all around us. The greatest tragedy would be to regret our wasted lives and wasted moments….we have a GOD who died so that we could live…so live we must. 

Each person lives a unique life. No one will ever live that exact life. No one. Just that person. Others will do the same things we do, but that does not make each moment of our life ordinary….because we have a chance to do it uniquely, as only we would do it. Because of this we each learn lessons and live experiences which define who we are and what we have to offer. What do I have to offer? Should I look around me and simply choose what I want to offer? No, it is already chosen through the life I live and the places I have been. My choice is to embrace the life I have been given and live it, to learn great lessons, to feel great emotions, to think great thoughts…and to share them with those around me. I believe a principle in the Bible is to live. I believe we are called to engage at every moment, to make the most of each moment, to look around and absorb the goodness of God and the amazing providence of every minute of every day. I hate the feeling that my mind has disengaged and I am on autopilot, what a horrible way to live life…what a waste of life. Lord, help me to live with purpose and not waste the life you have given me.

(Written February 19, 2007)