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The Substance of Faith.com hosts the reflections, insights, and study of Joel Snider, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Rome Georgia.
Are you searching for information on the “the substance of faith?” More searches for that phrase bring readers to this site than any other. If that’s why you came, here is a simple summary:
The phrase comes from the King James Version’s translation of Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” J. B. Phillips translation clarifies the idea: “Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for…”
Clarence Jordan has a famous sermon using the phrase “the substance of faith.” . When Jordan’s sermons were gathered and published, the editor took the title from that particular sermon.
Clarence always made this point: faith is a verb, not a noun. He based this statement on the fact that the Greek New Testament contains both a noun and a verb form of “faith” but, the verb is more common than the noun. English has no verb that can be translated “to faith,” so in our Bibles, the verb is most often rendered “to believe.” The poor English equivalent leaves us thinking that faith is a mental activity: believing facts about Jesus.
So here is the idea behind “the substance of faith”: If you hope for something, then you live for it even if you can’t see the outcome. Living for what we hope for makes hope tangible; it gives hope substance. Living the convictions of our faith makes our hope concrete. Hope is just an idea – it is simply a wish – until we give it genuine substance through our actions. Living for the convictions we cannot see is the substance of our faith. As Clarence Jordan said, “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.”
I wrote my dissertation on the preaching of Clarence Jordan and his theology still has a major impact on what I believe. Thus, I took The Substance of Faith as the name for this website. I hope that you will find concrete expressions of faith in my posts. My goal is to apply real faith for the real lives we live.
The menu headings above are:
Bucket Books are the 50 books that have had a significant impact on my life. They include literature, fiction, business, theology and more. What books have been most influential in your life?
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Prayers – I’ve written some of these prayers. I’ve found the prayers written by others helpful.
Meditation Texts are printed in our order of worship every Sunday. They are printed to encourage engagement beyond the worship service.
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To continue the conversation for any post, click on the title of the post and a comment section will appear.
As I’ve been working on Sunday’s sermon about gratitude and generosity, I came across this video.
I’ve had multiple requests for the prayer from last Sunday, which was for elected officials at all levels of government.
O, God, we pray today for those who lead us in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Give to each one renewed energy for their lives and for their tasks of leadership. On this day may they find their bodies rested and their spirits restored. Give to each a new vision of their position. May they see new possibilities for policy making and new possibilities of good for the people they serve. Reveal to all elected officials a common purpose and a common good that benefits all.
We pray that Christ’s heart would be expressed in both the way they do their jobs and in the outcome of their efforts. Banish pride from each life and remove vanity from all hearts so that their only desire is to serve the citizens they represent. Lead them even to sacrifice if necessary in order that they might perform their duties without regard for themselves or reelection. Banish pride from each life and remove vanity from all hearts so that their only desire is to serve the citizens they represent.
And make us citizens that are worthy of our Constitution, worthy of our Bill of Rights, worthy of our liberty, and worthy of great leaders. For we know that if you grant our petitons, then we shall have the nation we desire.
In the name of Christ, our Lord, Amen.
The week I preached on this sin I conducted anecdotal research to see how many people thought they were prone to greed. Few people did. They admitted to anger, envy, and gluttony, but no one confessed a problem with greed. A few attributed greed to others, but not to themselves.
These isolated responses backed up my assumption: the face of greed has changed and few of us see it as a spiritual problem affecting us. The old image of greed is a character like Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting in a cold room, counting gold coins while earing fingerless gloves. Occasonal news stories back up our image when we hear of a woman in Detroit who was found frozen to death in an unheated house. Later authorities discover she had hundred’s of thousands of dollars in her bank account.
Or, we visualize Michael Douglas in the nearly 30-year old movie, Wall Street, saying “Greed is good.” Greed is something that afflicts hermits who count their money, or Wall Street “fat cats,” none of whom we identify with. Therefore, greed is someone else’s problem, not ours. Anyone teaching or preaching on greed today must overcome the listeners’ rationalizations of why they are not greedy. We need images of greed that fit our generation.
One modern portrayal of greed is shopping. People joke about it all the time: with number stickers such as “shop until you drop,” shopaholic,” or simply “gone shopping.” Our greed is not counted in gold coins, but in pairs of shoes or tech items. We don’t keep the objects of our greed in bank accounts but in rental storage units because there is no longer any room in our homes. We find sweaters or shirts in the bottom of a drawer that we forgot we had purchased. Older relatives die and we find item after item in the house – unused and with the price tags still affixed. We can’t stop shopping or spending on ourselves. We must possess – and that impulse is greed.
The second way the greed of our generation expresses itself: the more we have the less we give. We convince ourselves we will be more generous when we have more, but statistics show that as we have more, we give away a decreasing percentage of what is ours. Does spending more on ourselves imply generosity or greed?
Greed is a product of fear, often the fear of not having enough. The financial industry preys on this fear all the time: you won’t have enough to retire, or to send children to college, etc.
Or fear may express itself as the anxiety of missing out on what everyone else has. Consider how many times we hear the word “deserve” in advertising. We deserve what others have, so we must spend on ourselves.
What a terrible way to live. The anxious life of greed reveals its toxic nature. It is a “deadly” sin because it murders joy.
Consider a better way:
Matthew 6: 25-34 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Trusting God is the antidote for greed.
Perhaps both are one and the same: the greed with which we cling to what we should let go, and the fear of letting go. Fear tells us that things might take a turn for the worse. A sparrow in one’s hand is better than a pigeon on the rooftop. I am sure of what I possess, but I am not so sure of what I shall receive upon letting go what I have. Emil Brunner in Sowing and Reaping, p. 31
I’ve had multiple requests for this prayer, which I’ve taken the liberty to edit.
Lord, when you said “I was a stranger and you took me in,” we had no idea how many of you there would be. We had no idea that you would fill cars and trains. We had no idea you would appear as people at the borders looking for admission, hoping for help. We expected you to look like us, not that you would practice a different religion. We had no idea that you would bear the name refugee.
We pray today for refugees around the world who are strangers. Those who have come to a place where they don’t know the language, don’t know the customs, don’t know a way in, and have no network of help. We pray that you would use your people to welcome you as the stranger. May each refugee who knocks at the door find hospitality, opening to welcome them. May each find that a reception so gracious that recognize the gospel and hope. We pray that each one would come to know Jesus.
Remind us that the hope of the world is Jesus and remind us that His kingdom will never end and that His purposes will never be thwarted. Remind us that no enemy shall ever thwart what he wants done and no sheep of His fold will be lost. We place not our confidence in ourselves or in our abilities or in our wealth, but solely in your power. May the things we have, the things that we care about, the things we do, find themselves a part of what you are doing in the world today. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Green is the color of spring. Plants send out new shoots, dormant grasses revive, and trees bud into new life. Green is the color of plant life and those who grow flowers or vegetation well are said to have a green thumb. Green represents life among plants.
So why is the deadly sin of envy associated with the color green? Because in ancient cultures, a shade of green, different from plant life, is connected to death. Look no further than John’s Revelation: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (6:8). The word John uses for “pale” is cloros, the root for chlorine. Pour some bleach (Clorox gets it’s name here) into a clear glass and see what color it is. This color is associated with death because after life leaves the body, the corpse turns pale green as red blood cells break down. Before embalming was a common practice, people saw the dead as this color during the decomposition process. Pale green was also associated with various illnesses, particularly those which affected the liver. Pale green is not a color we wish to be. Consequently, Ovid, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all refer to envy as green. Dryden calls jealousy (often associated with envy) the jaundice of the soul. Envy is a deadly, sickening sin.
Angus Wilson points out the irony of envy, the only deadly sin which promises nothing except heartache: “All the seven deadly sins are self destroying, morbid appetites, but in their early stages at least, lust and gluttony, averice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, never ceasing in its appetite, and it knows no gratification, but endless self torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat, which gnaws its own foot in an effort to escape” (Seven Deadly Sins, p. 11).
Wilson is correct. Sloth seems to offer rest, greed wealth, lust pleasure, gluttony fullness – but envy promises absolutely nothing except sorrow. It is a moral boomerang that, when thrown at another, returns to us. I cannot find the quotation but remember another say it is like poisoning our enemy’s food, then eating it ourselves. Envy takes the heart out of praise we feel obliged to give a professional colleague. It keeps us silent when we hear a rival unfairly criticized. It makes us quietly glad when that rival fails. It is not a psychological problem which therapy will eliminate; rather, it is a sin for which we need to repent each time it rears it’s toxic head within our hearts.
Here are some additional helps for anyone leading a Bible study or preaching on the sin of envy.
Envy is the root of many familiar biblical stories: Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
“His eye was forever fixed on what he didn’t have.” Hugh Howey in The Sand Omnibus (Kindle Locations 2407-2408). .
“Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude—and destroy if possible—those who, by the simple fact of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts.” Denise Mina, in Still Midnight, p. 101 .
Anger. Of course it is a deadly sin. News stories about road rage and disgruntled workers shooting former coworkers remind us of the deep anger which permeates society. Envy has destroyed many relationships and on a national level can lead to war. Surely it is a deadly sin. But Sloth? Really? Are our neighbors sinning because they enjoy extra time in the Jacuzzi? Are our children sinning when they procrastinate? Am I sinning by mindlessly decompressing in front of my iPad? Is sloth that bad?
In fact, as a type A personality, I envy (oops, a deadly sin). people who can relax and not worry Maybe the productive people in our society could use a dose of sloth in order to chill out. Few educated, productive individuals see sloth as a personal problem affecting them, and calling it a sin? Forget about it. No one asks a pastor, “I need help. Can you recommend a good book on sloth?”
In our society we see sloth applying to a class of people: the chronically unemployed, the stereotyped deadbeat welfare recipient, the mythical people we hear about who are on disability when they could work. But those of us who work, those of us with calendars filled with obligations – well, there is no way that sloth is an issue in our lives, and it is certainly not a sin we commit.
Not so fast. A problem in our understanding of sloth is one of translation. What we call sloth was called acedia (in Latin) and connoted much more than laziness. A full recipe for acedia includes 1/2 a cup of laziness, but also contains an equal part of apathy. A-pathos – without emotion – it means we don’t care. Thus, when we mix apathy with laziness, it means we don’t care that we don’t care. The acedia problem becomes more difficult to root out. An individual suffering from acedia finds herself in an unfulfilling job in a job, but doesn’t care enough to look for another. A married couple with acedia finds their relationship barren, but continues to go through the motions because change is too much effort.
But apathy and laziness are only part of the complete recipe. We must also add a stick of boredom and stir thoroughly. Here is James Gleick’s portrayal of boredom:
You are bored doing nothing, so you go for a drive. You are bored, just driving, so you turn on the radio. You are bored just driving and listening to the radio, so you make a call on the cellular phone. You realize that you are now driving, listening to the radio, and talking on the phone, and you are still bored. Then you reflect that it would be nice if you had time, occasionally, just to do nothing. Perhaps you have a kind of sense organ that can adjust to the slowness, after being blinded by the speed. The void is not so dark after all. With the phone not ringing, the television switched off, the computer rebooting, the newspaper out of reach, even the window shade down, you are alone with yourself. The neurons don’t stop firing. Your thoughts come through like distant radio signals finding a hole in the static. (James Gleick, in Faster, p. 268)
Now for the final ingredient in the mixing bowl of acedia: two cups of distraction. At this time of year, our primary distraction is football. We pretend it matters so much because it really matters so little. But it does distract us from real life, meaningful relationships, or involvement in causes that could make a difference. Did you know the word “sport” comes from the Latin disport, which means to distract? The latest mass shooting pales in importance next to Tom Brady’s availability for a fantasy football league. God bless you, Tom Brady. Thanks to deflategate, I don’t have to think about those victims. Or my soul. But sports is only one distraction.
Even our crammed schedules are distractions: 5:00 am – Crossfit; 7:30 am – take kids to school; 7:45 am -work, where I multitask all day; 4:30 pm – take kids to French and fencing lessons, while on a conference call in the car; 5:00 pm – gourmet cooking class; 6:30 pm – drive through Chik-fil-a while on the way to scouts….. And so it goes.
The distracted life is a wasted life and not only do we not care, but we are glad. Secretly, we love our busy-ness because it distracts us from the need to look for God working in the world or to think about how we might invest in the work of the Kingdom.
In the end we have the perfect recipe for purposeless, unfulfilling, unredeeming “life.” We waste our lives on things that don’t matter. We ignore the greater calling of life, lest it demand something of us. Yet, we are bored with it all and not care. As ancient Christians pointed out: we despair of it, but we don’t care enough to repent of it.
Such a life is acedia and such a life is sin, precisely because of its waste and because it is self centered and ignores God. Sloth is not just a sin of an imagined lazy member of of the welfare class; rather it is the sin of all who waste their lives on loves that are too small and causes that are not worthy of our devotion, but serve to protect us from having to respond to the impulse of the Spirit to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and with all our might. The fact we don’t care enough to do anything about it is just a further indictment that the sins ours.
Here are a few quotes that related to acedia:
The word “boredom” does not exist in any ancient language. It first appears in the 17th century. No one knows its origin.
Peter Kreft in Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 187
The Church name the sixth Deadly Sin as Sloth. It is the sin which believes nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.
Dorothy Sayers in Creed or Chaos?, p. 108
The religion that costs nothing, that demands no hard sacrifices of other things, that does not lift the life out of low-level motives, is worth little and makes little difference to the life. The type of religion on the other hand, which costs the all, which makes the cross the central fact that dominates the life as its one driving power, becomes an incalculable force and turns many to salvation.
Rufus Jones in The World Within, p. 43
From The Seven Deadly Sins, Wilson Angus, editor:
The malice of sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty, but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair. p. 58.
Fiction and non-fiction alike are full of characters who fail to do what they should because of the effort involved. p. 19
Sloth is the background radiation of the day. It is the easy listening station of the culture. It is everywhere and no longer noticed. p. 20
Above: Ed Hine crests the summit of the Beartooth Highway at 11,000 feet.
These last two days were what we trained for: The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and Beartooth Pass. The Chief Joseph represented a spectacular climb, coming out of Cody. Ed, Tom and I made a strategic decision to ride in the van to the top of the climb, with hopes of finishing the day from there. The climb was so challenging that we were apprehensive that we might use all our energy for the climb.
As it turned out the day was difficult enough that we didn’t finish anyway. The descent from the top of the main climb was full of hairpins and the surface was bad “chip seal,” demanding extra care on the way down. Almost as soon as we bottomed out, we hit more ascents, one with a 10% grade for close to half-mile. The altitude and the headwind made me resort to weaving my way up the hill. After lunch, what should have been downhill still required much effort as the wind kicked up even more. We finally gave up the effort and rode the van at the end of the day as we had at the beginning. We were slightly mollified as only two riders finished the day on bikes. Altitude, wind, and grade are tough opponents.
The final few miles into Cooke City gave us a preview of the last day, as we would backtrack the final miles of Thursday to begin Friday’s attack on the Beartooth. As a result, all but two riders decided to take bump in the van Friday morning in order to start at a point that included some downhill in order to get warmed up before the remaining 24 miles of climbing.
Ed, Tom, and I took different bumps in the van, resulting in me riding for almost two hours by myself without a rider in sight. A few cars passed and one camper rode beside me so that a woman could lean out the window and take my picture, but the two hours were grueling.
Eventually I made the aid station and bumped past most of the group to where Ed had progressed with a combination of riding and bumps in the van. The last 4-5 miles was nothing but progressive switchbacks as we climbed toward 10,900+ feet. I actual found this stretch easier than many we had ridden. We had acclimated to the altitude and the grade was not like the much of the Chief Joseph or the first part at the bottom of the climb. We ate lunch at the top and I decided to begin my recovery there, declining to ride the remaining miles of the day.
I’ve not added exact miles, but I rode more than 250, many at higher elevations than I’d ever ridden before. I was pleased with the accomplishment.
It was a great week with friends – those from Rome – Ed Hine, Tom Watters, and Dan Greason; and friends made on previous Lizardhead trips – the Texans, the Pratt’s, and Tony. As always there were new friends as well. Cycling includes great people. I wish Floyd County’s elected officials could catch that vision.
Thanks to the Lizardhead guides, DeAnne and Emily. They are truly amazing young women with tremendous abilities that could be used in many professions. They provide great food, great support, and loads of encouragement and fun. And thanks to owner John Humphries. Though you weren’t with us on this trip, we felt your presence on every challenging climb. You make us old guys stretch the limits. There’s still life in these legs.
The Park Service ran antique buses restored by Ford Motor Corp.
Tuesday was a recovery day from riding and many of us took a hike in the Lamar Valley of the park. If you’ve never been to Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley is where you want to go to see wildlife. We heard wolves and saw hundreds of bison. We met two hiking guides, Josh and Emily Jo, who took us on a 4-hour trek. Both were very helpful and fun to be with. Their business is Yellowstone Hiking Guides. I would recommend them. They taught us a healthy respect for bison. Listening to the thunder of a stampeded far across the valley was a unique experience.
The next day started with an encounter with a large bison on the way to breakfast. Ed and I came around the corner of a cabin and there he was, just a few feet in front of us. After the warning of Josh and Emily Jo on the previous day, we backed up and detoured around a couple of cabins.
After breakfast we rode out of the Lake Lodge area and began our longest day. The first several miles were flat, in evergreen forests or beside the lake. The remainder of our miles were outside Yellowstone on US 14 and US 20. We began climbing as we left the side of the lake, making our way through new growth forests which were snoring up where a fire had been. The claims start to run together, but the downhill side was quite memorable. It was the safest downhill we saw and most of us flew down the mountain.
From there we made our way to Cody. The grade was largely downhill, but the winds was 20 mph+ from our front-right, making the ride much more difficult. We rode along the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and descended through a tunnel as we approached Cody.
After 81 miles, we met the van at the Irma Hotel, which some described as “funky.” Others said “quirky.” Their breakfast may have been the best part of the stay there. Hey – it is historic. You can stay at a Best Western anywhere. Gunslingers strutted though parts of the hotel. I never figured out if they were paid or just loved the personna. One of the riders in the groups saw the regular evening gunfight in the street outside and said it was lam
On Sunday we took a taxi to the La Quinta Inn in Belgrade where we met the guides and other riders. Emily and DeAnne, our guides for the week, set up bikes with our pedal and seats, loaded us up and shuttled us to the West Entrance to the park. Traffic was lined up to enter, meaning once inside and on our bikes, the pent up line of cars, trucks, and campers came whizzing by for the first several miles. As we went deeper into the park, traffic became more spread out and slightly less of a problem.
Almost immediately we started to see the quintessential Yellowstone scenes: large meadows cut by streams and evergreen forests. Our first test of climbing came at Gibbon Falls. It wasn’t terrible, but we had begun to creep into higher elevations than we were accustomed.
One person who had visited Yellowstone as a child told me all they remembered was traffic. Traffic became problem every time we saw wildlife. If a bison was off to the side, cars in both directions stopped on their respective sides of the road, making it difficult for two way traffic to move forward.
Deeper into the park we took a narrower road past Victoria Cascades. This road was off limits to buses, campers, and trailers, making it much more enjoyable for us. In fact, there was very little traffic at all. As we came back to the main road we had short, steep climb that left us all short of breath. We were keeping track of altitude and thought we had passed the highest point for the day, but we were wrong. A quick downhill and then another, longer, steep climb was a challenge.
We made our way to the Lake Lodge area, having to stop twice for bison on the road. Rangers bumped them with their SUV’s leaving us safe passage. Our first day we rode 58 miles and enjoyed ourselves all day.
The next day we rode from the cabins at Lake Lodge to Old Faithful. This stretch is one of the busier in the park, as everyone wants to see Old Faithful. We ate lunch, prepared by our guides, in the parking lot and then went to see the eruption. I guess you need to go if you are already there, but many of us found it a letdown.
Following lunch we road 6 miles to the Firehole Lake loo, where we saw an abundance of sulphur springs. The ride back to Old Faithful was against a strong headwind and accompanied by the heavy traffic in the area. Eleven of the thirteen riders in the group, including me, decided to take a bump in the van instead of recrossing the continental divide in the wind. Our second day mileage was almost identical to the first day.