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The Substance of Faith.com hosts the reflections, insights, and study of Joel Snider, who recently retired after serving 21 years as the 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?
Other Reads are any other book I’ve been reading.
Observations are comments on life, culture, and faith.
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.
Quotes – I’ve collected thousands over the years. Here is a place for some of the best ones to see the light of day.
Elsewhere contains anything I’ve found on the internet that I want to highlight.
Life is my place for travel, hobbies, or anything that doesn’t fit the rest of the categories.
To continue the conversation for any post, click on the title of the post and a comment section will appear.
I recently taught the Seven Conversations approach at my home church. I promised a list of the parenting books I find most helpful. So here they are. Each one has played a part in developing Seven Conversations.
First is Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege. Levine explains clearly how families can be over involved in the wrong areas of a child’s life, while simultaneously being under involved in critical areas. Most parents confuse the the two. This book first pointed me to research on the importance of families sharing meals.
The second book is Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. You can follow the link to my initial review of the book. Tough showed me the importance of delayed gratification as a critical component of a child’s development.
The next book is a business book. Yet, writing as a professor at Harvard’s business school doesn’t stop Clayton Christensen from pointing out the power of conversations with our children. He also makes it clear how important it is to do things on our own and to be a person of integrity. How Will You Measure Your Life is the only “parenting” book I’ve given both my daughters.
A book that is out of print, but very helpful, is Lee Hausner’s Children of Paradise. Like Levine’s book, it is about raising healthy, responsible children in upper middle class families. An important note: in Levine’s work, she defined wealthy families as those with a household income of more than $75,000. Before you dismiss Levine or Hausner as not applicable to your life, consider that fact for a few moments. Hausner reminds us children have to do things for themselves to develop healthy self-esteem.
For anything about healthy sportsmanship, the guru is Bruce Eamon Brown. His books are typically short and readable. He writes for parents of athletes and for coaches. Don’t put a child in sports or take on a team to coach until you read one of his books. The book to the left is $5.00 on Kindle. It’s a small investment, considering all the time our children participate in sports.
There are other good parenting books out there, but these provide a solid background for the type of parenting that produces character. And, as participants in Seven Conversations can attest, the right kind of character produces the quality of life we pray our children will have.
O, Lord, we pray today that you would heal our nation. In the midst of campaigns and elections, deliver us from the need to belittle or attack those who look, believe, or think differently from ourselves. Deliver us, as well, from the divisions that stop us from living up to our highest and noblest standards.
We would not pray for the nation alone. O, Lord, we pray that you would also heal our world. Bring an end to the cycles of hate and retaliation and hate again. We pray for the end of ethnic anger and religious distrust. We pray that you would find a way to bring to an end all ancient grudges.
We offer ourselves to You in the hope that in, this year, our hearts would advance as much as technology. May our hearts be stirred, not by new inventions or new social media, but by the hope for peace that might come in these days. Whether in person, or on the internet, help us to acknowledge whenever our words wound and our spirits attack others. Should we demonstrate hostility, malice, or antagonism, convict us in the moment to cease. Help us to express our beliefs in ways that please Christ, no matter how others respond to us. In the greatest debates may we be found faithful, both in conviction and in expression. Make us instruments of your peace and teach us to examine our own words and the leanings of our hearts.
We also pray that you would heal our families. Come into our homes and give us hearts that love like Jesus, hearts that give, hearts that serve one another, hearts that forgive, and hearts that keep commitments. We pray that our homes might not only be at peace, but be sources for the peace needed so desperately in this world.
We pray today that you would grant grace to all who seek it. May every person who enters a church this Sunday know that you are love, know that you are welcoming, know that you have been looking for them, and know that their sins are forgiven. Grant peace to each restless soul.
Lord, make us more like your Son, Jesus, so that we might give glory to you and the world. In His name we pray, Amen.
Here is a sampling of quotations on God and Justice from my old sermon research notes.
For many people, justice is whatever they personally consider fair. It can be as arbitrary and changeable as stock market value, at the whim of circumstances and history, worth one thing one day and altogether another the next day. For others, it can be explained by such catch phrases as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And it all too easily can slide into vengeance, self-righteous demands, racism, or revenge and retaliation on an emotional level. But religiously in the Judeo-Christian tradition, justice always looks more like mercy than anything we would label justice. — Megan McKenna in Send My Roots Rain, p. 8
Charity is no substitute for justice withheld. — Augustine
Scripture and Christ’s explicit teaching make the call to justice just as non-negotiable as the call to prayer and private morality. — Ronald Rolheiser, in Against an Infinite Horizon, p. 124
If Jesus had only been a mystic, healer, and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics—because of his passion for God’s justice. — Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, p. 92
Another reason is the common misunderstanding of “God’s justice.” Theologically, we have often seen its opposite as “God’s mercy.” “God’s justice” is understood as God’s deserved punishment of us for our sins, “God’s mercy” as God’s loving forgiveness of us in spite of our guilt. Given this choice, we would all prefer God’s mercy and hope to escape God’s justice. But seeing the opposite of justice as mercy distorts what the Bible means by justice. Most often in the Bible, the opposite of God’s justice is not God’s mercy, but human injustice. — Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianit, p. 127
Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person? — Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz, p. 20
Consider a harder, but more excellent, way. A group of lively Christians gets together to pray, eat breakfast, and discuss strategy for demonstrating the lordship of Christ in their business practices that day. They ask: “How, today, can we write a policy, sell a house, lobby for a law, advertise a product, in a way that honors Christ and makes God’s name more respected? How can we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as members of our profession? How can we keep our jobs and still do what is right? How can we avoid being conformed to this world and yet work effectively in it as transformers of culture for Christ’s sake?” — Cornelius Plantinga in Beyond Doubt, p. 71
One might go as far to say that perhaps justice fails to be done only if the concept we entertain of justice is retributive justice, whose chief goal is to be punitive so that the wronged party is really the state, something impersonal, which has little consideration for the real victims and almost none for the perpetrator. We contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice, which was characteristic of traditional African jurisprudence. — Desmond Tutu, in No Future Without Forgiveness p. 54
Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as He lives, by dying as He died who died to Himself. — George MacDonald: An Anthology – 365 Readings (Edited by C. S. Lewis), p. 103
Half-truths are often the worst lies. It’s hard to think of an innocent half-truth. Their whole purpose is to deceive. They hide lies behind a portion of truth. Like a magician’s slight-of-hand, a half-truth directs our attention away from what we aren’t intended to see.
Among the seven deadly sins, lust is the most obvious half-truth and therefore, the greatest deception. It represents sin’s slight of hand.
To see my point, we have to understand the proper connection between sex and love. Our society conflates the two. We use the expressions “having sex” and “making love” in the same way. To society at large, their meanings are close enough to be used interchangeably. In a biblical world view, sex and love are related, but not identical.
Love is patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It’s not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never fails. (Of course you recognize the teachings of Paul in I Corinthians 13.)
When a couple loves each other this way and commits to each other for a lifetime, sex is the physical communication of their commitment in its highest form. Despite some flawed “Christian” views of sex, in this context, the context of marriage, sex is good.
Lust’s slight of hand tries to convince people that sex is always good, even when divorced from love, commitment, and marriage. It’s half-truth says that we can divorce the physical from the personal. From the biblical point of view, however, “casual sex” is an oxymoron. In this regard lust always fails. It can’t deliver the fulfillment it promises because it has come unmoored from it’s natural and necessary anchor, which is commitment. It becomes, what Eric Fromm calls, a “joyless pleasure.” (Think about that expression for a few minutes. It can describe binge eating, substance abuse, pornography addiction, and the hollowness of sex for the sake of sex. I find it revealing and haunting. See Fromm’s To Have or to Be, p. 100)
This is why lust always fails.
Here are some insightful quotes on lust.
Quoting Malcolm Muggeridge: “Christianity…does not say that, in spite of appearances, we are all murderers or burglars or crooks or sexual perverts at heart; it does not say that we are totally depraved, in the sense that we are incapable of feeling or responding to any good impulses whatever. The truth is much deeper and more subtle than that. It is precisely when you consider the best in man that you see there is in each of us a hard core of pride or self-centeredness which corrupts our best achievements and blights our best experiences. It comes out in all sorts of ways—in the jealousy which spoils our friendships, in the vanity we feel when we have done something pretty good, in the easy conversion of love into lust, in the meanness which makes us depreciate the efforts of other people, in the distortion of our own judgment by our own self-interest, in our fondness for flattery and our resentment of blame, in our self-assertive profession of fine ideals which we never begin to practice. Philip Yancey in Rumors of Another World, pp.123 ff
“When you have indulged a lust, your wing drops off;
you become lame, abandoned by a fantasy.
…People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
but they are really tearing out their wings
for the sake of an illusion.” Rumi
“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” John Paul II
Lust and disgust keep close company. John Updike
Many of the Seven Deadly Sins seem outdated. Take Sloth, for instance. Many millennials don’t want a lane in the rat race. Their life-work balance is skewed significantly in favor of life over productivity. Their parents see it as sloth; the millennials do not. Of course that is a misunderstanding of sloth, but the important point is that sloth as a traditional “deadly sin” doesn’t communicate well today. It, and others of the seven, feel like the character defects of a bygone era. Anyone preaching about these sins has to find ways to overcome the psychological resistance of the listener.
Not so with anger. This is anger’s hour to shine. It trends every day. It is one of the most defining characteristics of the society in which we live.
We see anger in the many rages we confront (or exhibit!) ever day: Road rage, air rage, office rage, desk rage, work rage, bike rage, commuter rage, sports rage, grammar rage, sports rage, technology rage, and the one about to drive our country into pieces – political rage.
The anger of our era doesn’t simply show in newsworthy moments of rage, such as the rise of shooting incidents in schools and in the workplace. It happens in thousands of other, less volatile moments as well. Anger is behind the rudeness you encounter (or express) in line at the grocery store. It’s the motivation behind a significant percentage of office theft. Disgruntled employees who feel they’ve been treated unfairly filch items as perceived compensation for the way they were treated.
Anger stokes talk radio, sets the scene for video games, and lurks behind the psyche of every bully. Perhaps anger has never been more destructive to individuals, families, and society than it is today. Anger is the spiritual carcinogen of our time. Never have Christians had greater need to confess and repent of their own anger. Pastors have no greater preaching challenge than confronting the anger that eats at the souls of their members.
Be forewarned: Sloth may seem outdated, but today anger is loved. Like many toxic, physical behaviors, people are addicted to their anger. What will they do at night if they can’t rail at an opposing team or political party on social media? Like substance abuse, it gives a big high. It feels like power. But it never, never – NEVER – satisfies a life. It never restores the soul. Even though anger kills, your parishioners may not like to have it taken away from them. Repentance of Anger comes at a high price.
Here are some quotations that might help those who step into the pulpit.
If it is true that the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, and if anger is disturbance of the heart, then there is no greater obstacle to the presence of the spirit in us, than anger. John Climacus
Honest anger obeys three rules. It does not distort; it is not rage; and it has a time limit. Ronald Rolheiser in Against an Infinite Horizon, See pages 168-170 about honest anger.
Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way, this is not easy. Aristotle
Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one. Benjamin Franklin
Angry people are not always wise. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
A man can’t eat anger for breakfast and sleep with it at night and not suffer damage to his soul. – Garrison Keillor
There is no psychological reward for anger…. Anger is debilitating. In the physiological realm, it can produce hypertension, ulcers, rashes, heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue and even heart disease. In the phsychological sense, anger breaks down love relationships, interferes with communication, leads to guilt and depression and generally just gets in your way. You may be skeptical, since you’ve always heard that expressing your anger is healthier than keeping it bottled up inside of you. Yes, the expression of anger is indeed a healthier alternative than suppressing it. But there is an even healthier alternative than suppressing it–not having the anger at all. In this case you won’t be confronted with the dilemma of whether to let it out or keep it in. WAYNE W. DYER, Your Erroneous Zones
Some of these quotes and ideas are expanded in a previous post Living in The Age of Rage
A significant number of hits for this site come from searches for prayers, particularly for prayers on perplexing subjects. My commitment when drafting these prayers has been to keep them above the fray of partisan politics. For instance, I wrote A Prayer for Elected Leaders in 2015 – in anticipation of a divisive election – and before anyone could claim it spoke to one side of the American divide or the other.
A Prayer for Refugees and Strangers appeared here before the current illegal alien debate. Again, whatever side of the divide you lean, surely we Christians can see the need to pray for people adrift in the world. Jesus did say, “I was a stranger and you took me in.”
I offer the following prayer in the same spirit. Our citizenship should be shaped by the living Lord, Jesus Christ. Not by which primary we vote in. Our nation when we are united. Surely we stand a better chance of being united when we all reflect the Spirit of Christ in the way we conduct ourselves in all things.
Therefore, here is a prayer for Christian Citizenship.
Lord of all life, we who claim citizenship in this great land give you thanks today for the benefits of liberty and freedom. Help us to use our freedom as an aid to do what is right without fear of punishment, rather than as license to do whatever we please without thought of consequences.
Teach us to live each day in a manner that honors those who died that we might enjoy these blessings. Remind us often that the sacrifice of the brave was not to protect us from all self-denial on our part, but in the hope that we might bear a lesser cost to pass a good nation to our children and to their children. In this country as in your kingdom, lead us to live in the gratitude of knowing something has been done for us that we have not done ourselves. May our lives today honor what past generations have given to us.
Remind us by your spirit that this country has always been its best for its citizens when our individual lives reflect the angels of our better nature. Remind us that the moral compass of our collective leadership in the world is never more influential than when we shine as a thousand points of light. Therefore, lead us always to seek first your righteousness. For if we know that if we live in a way that is pleasing to you we shall do our part in preserving this noble experiment of democracy and in spreading it to the world.
As we open ourselves to your Spirit, we see now that the best way to secure the blessings of liberty for each of us to live in a way that is worthy of your blessings. Teach us therefore, to speak peace, to live charitably with all, to bear our individual responsibilities willingly and nobly, and to fulfill our obligations of duty and citizenship with the same character that has made this country great.
Remind us that as much as we love this land, our highest citizenship is in heaven. That Jesus is Lord of Lords and the ruler of our hearts.
Look kindly upon all your children, in whatever land the dwell. Guard those who suffer merely for serving you. Hasten the day when the freedom of Christ and the liberty of the Gospel comes to them as well.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen
Several years ago I decided to read some of the longer classic books. One was Democracy in America, written by a French politician who toured the US and later summarized his observations of the American experiment for his readers in continental Europe. Alexis de Tocqueville had keen insights into the American psyche. Some of the things he wrote are instructive for pondering our history and the future of our culture. Many observations about us are as true today as they were in 1835. On this Independence Day – enjoy. All page numbers refer to the 1969 version published by Anchor Books.
During the past year I have served as a consultant in two churches involved in conflict. In both cases, misunderstood or inappropriate communication by email or on FaceBook increased the conflict. Out of those experiences, I wrote the following piece for the Center for healthy Churches. It originally appeared on the CHC website
|By Joel Snider
CHC CoachHave you ever:
If you haven’t had one of these experiences, you’ve had one similar. We can all share stories of digital communication gone wrong.
Members of faith communities today often ask, “How will we relate to each other as Christians in a digital world? How will we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ever-changing cyber-world?” Many assume they know the answers, only to discover that not all members of the fellowship share the same convictions.
How do we come to a common understanding of appropriate digital communication? A church may adopt an official policy on the subject, but policies are only enforceable with employees. How does the broader membership agree on principles of internet conduct?
While exploring this idea, I discovered the concept of a digital covenant between members – a common commitment to how we treat each other in the virtual world as part of Christ’s church. I don’t have a finished product, but here are some suggested principles.
Remember Colossians 3:17 – “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus….” We don’t have permission to stray from the mind of Christ just because we are angry, or participating in sports – or because we are on the internet. Paul mentions no exclusions to “everything.”
These are starting points for a covenant about how we treat each other in the digital age.Consider having a church discussion about the idea. Develop your own principles and then pledge together to treat others on the internet in a way that honors Christ.
I’ve never been on Facebook. I’m one of the few Ludites left who is concerned about privacy. Therefore, I’ve not seen firsthand the interest in one of my sermons on parenting that has resurfaced. I appreciate the kind words that have been forwarded about it
Based on that sermon, several parents have asked, “What are the questions to ask our children?” Since I entered retirement, I’ve been working on a book about this idea. The current title is Seven Conversations. I won’t try to preview the whole book here but in response to texts and emails, here are the basics:
How can we wait? Teaches delayed gratification.
How can you do that yourself? Teaches independence.
What shall we eat? Invites the family to a common table.
What are we thankful for? Teaches gratitude.
What shall we give? Teaches generosity.
What shall we pray for? Instills faith.
I’ll save the seventh as a tease. I’ll get to another post soon to explain why these questions and qualities are important.
If you are interested in more about parenting, scroll right and read my post “The Lottery,” if you dare.
Second Sunday of Easter – Year B
The Antidote for Suffering
Suffering implies some sort of pain. It may be the physical pain of illness, the hunger of poverty, the emotions of grief, or the shock of betrayal. One way or another, suffering includes pain.
Our society today is obsessed with remedies for pain. We consume vast quantitates of medications designed to mask the reasons for physical pain. We spend time with therapists and absorb countless self-help books in a quest to eradicate the pain of guilt. People hook up to avoid the pain of loneliness. As one song says, “Some drink to remember. Some drink to forget.” Both sides of the equation are about pain.
The list of the ways we look for an antidote to suffering is endless.
This passage for the Second Sunday after Easter suggests a different approach. It suggests community as a way to deal with suffering. A community is group of people committed to one another – and a common approach to life. In the case of the early church, it is a commitment to the risen Christ.
32 The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. 33 The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, 35 and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need. (CEV)
The testimony of the Word is that the member of the early church shared completely in this community and the suffering of want was eliminated. Community was the antidote to suffering.
This type of radical community has rarely been practiced in the history of the church. Many of us can name a few communities who have practiced it – primarily because they are well known due to their departure from the way most of us live – including me.
Too radical for you? Think of other examples where community mitigates suffering. Twelve-Step groups find their power in community. When crisis strikes, we ask for the prayers of as many people as we can because we find comfort in the prayers of Christian community. Don’t we often ask, “How do people get by in dire circumstances without Christian friends?” That question is simply a way of asking, “How do people handle suffering without community?”
Perhaps these more common ways of alleviating our suffering by gathering together might be hints that the radical community of the early church is not an ancient practice, long discarded; rather, it is a timeless practice waiting for people of faith to discover its full power.