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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 on that phrase bring readers to this site than any other search. If that’s why you came, here is a simple summary:
The phrase comes from the King James Bible’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. 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 (in the Greek New Testament, the verb is more common than the noun). If you hope for something, you live for it, even if you can’t see the outcome. Faith (living our convictions) makes our hope concrete. Hope is ephemeral until we give it genuine substance through our actions.
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.
Stewardship is a dreaded word. Once when I tried to recruit a man to serve on the Stewardship Committee, he responded, “That’s as bad as being asked to teach sixth grade boys.” Stewardship is church code for “money.” At least that is what people think. And we all know people talk more openly about sex than they do money.
In our congregation it is the time of year when the Stewardship Committee is hard at work, preparing the emphasis for this fall. We set the theme; we’ve outlined the main information booklet to be mailed. I’ve struggled over how to address the issue in worship – again – for the 33rd time (by my count). Once again I am confronted with the task of trying to convince people that Stewardship really isn’t about money; it’s about discipleship and it’s about love. If our congregation discovered it sits on top of an oil well and had all the money it needs for 100 years – We would still need stewardship because it is about discipleship and it is about loving God.
Many years ago I came across this marvelous book by Jeavons and Basinger. Each year since, at the beginning of stewardship planning, I retrieve it from my shelf and reread many of the passages I highlighted the first time through. The book grounds me in the task of reminding believers why we all give. It grounds me in taking the correct theological approach so that people grow and express their love of God through giving.
I really don’t like the term fundraising for church. To me the task of a fundraiser if different than that of a pastor. And the tools of fundraising may include a raffle or rummage sale, while stewardship is about giving, tithing, and offerings. Jeavons and Basinger, however, help me see the crossover between the two. Thus, the book is equally helpful for congregations engaged in stewardship and for any faith-based organization attempting to fund its mission. If your task is theologically based, this book will help you perform your task better, whether you call it fundraising or stewardship.
If you are leading an effort to engage givers in a Christian mission, this book will provide reminders and encouragement that you will find invaluable.
All quotes from:
Jeavons, Thomas H. and Basinger, Rebekah Burch, Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising As Ministry, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000. Copyright by the authors. Perhaps these quotes will encourage you to read the entire book.
Jesus did not say to his disciples, “Your money will follow your heart.” That is conventional wisdom in fundraising but may well be the best explanation for why volunteers in many organizations are generous donors themselves, but it is not the essence of this teaching of Jesus. He told his disciples, “Your heart will follow your money.” In this teaching, Jesus points out the very powerful connection between the way people use their wealth and their emotional and spiritual commitments. p. 2
Henri Nouwen once said, “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.” p. 27
Note that this practice (tithing) also requires one to trust God enough for one’s own essential needs. It requires one to act on faith. p. 43
If Christian fundraisers show as much concern for their donors’ spiritual growth as their own organizations’ financial needs, these fundraisers will help grow their donors’ hearts, resulting in donors who are truly and more consistently generous over a lifetime. p. 67
Quoting Hannah Whitall Smith: “The greatest lesson a soul has to learn is that God, and God alone, is enough for all its needs. This is the lesson that all God’s dealings with us are meant to teach, and this is the crowning discovery of our entire Christian life. God is enough!” p. 71
In contrast, when Christian organizations approach the end of one fiscal year after another clawing and scratching toward their stated goals, a very different message is communicated to constituents about God’s ability to meet the needs of the church. These organizations say they serve a God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” but, plainly stated, many Christian ministries operate in a perpetual state of scarcity and financial panic. The message conveyed to supporters out of this panic is that God is unable to supply even the most basic needs, let alone provide funds for new programs. If this message of panic is a contrived fundraising technique, it is doubly harmful. p.73
“I don’t need a calendar to know it’s May,” the longtime friend of a Christian ministry stated. “Any day now, I’ll get that ‘with two months to go in the fiscal year, we still need $300,000 to balance the budget’ letter. I’ll give again, but I have to tell you, after more than twenty years, the crisis approach is wearing thin.” p. 81f.
Appeals that focus exclusively on crises, whether internal or external to the organization, reinforce donors’ perceptions of scarcity, and work against joyful giving in response to God’s great abundance. p. 83
As one observer puts it, “Our fundraising methods reflect not only the character of our organization, but also its values. They reflect who we are. Whatever methods we use ultimately come from the hearts of the leadership.” p. 109
We take care to check up on what sponsors hear in what we’re doing.” Compassion International actually runs focus groups to find out what people glean from the material the organization puts out—what message the donors are taking away—not just what is making them give. p. 110
Quoting one development officer: “If possible, during donor visits, I try to encourage the individuals with whom I’m meeting to talk about what God’s been doing in their hearts as a result of their giving.” p. 111
Quoting Bishop Manuel Moreno of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson: “It’s more than just money that people are giving. It’s part of their life. They worked hard to earn what we are asking them to give away.” p. 118
N.T. Wright, in Simply Christian:
I do not think that Jesus “knew he was divine” in the same way that we know we’re cold or hot, happy or sad, male or female. It was more like the kind of “knowledge” we associate with vocation, where people know, in the very depths of their being, that they are called to be an artist, a mechanic, a philosopher. p.119
Peter Gomes in Strength for the Journey:
Now, I have nothing against vocation; I am not antivocational; I hope that everyone has a job. I am certainly glad that I have a job, and a wonderful job; but a job, my dear friends, is not a life. p. 109
Tom Long and Thomas Lynch in The Good Funeral:
Burning bushes are almost never as dramatic in actual experience as they seem in Scripture. The call to ministry is rarely a Star Wars moment. Instead, the burning bush turns out to be a book we read, a speaker we heard, a tugging at our heart that won’t go away, a chance comment made by the person seated next to us on the flight to Akron, a random observation by a friend. And burning bush experiences are not confined to the clergy. There are burning bushes aplenty in the middle of every one of life’s desert. God, it seems, has everybody’s number and is constantly making calls, summoning us beyond ourselves to some holy vocation. p. 40
Brian J. Mahan in Forgetting Ourselves On Purpose:
The idea of vocation is worth liberating from night school. p. 9
Hugh Walpole, A Biography by Rupert Hart-Davis:
If you are uncertain of which of two paths to take, choose the one on which the shadow of the cross falls.
Stanley Hauerwas in Christianity: It’s an Adventure:
What we do when we educate our kids to be happy and fulfilled is to absolutely ruin them. Parents should say to their kids, “What you want out of life is not happiness but to be a part of a worthy adventure. You want to have something worth dying for.” It’s awful when all we have to live for is ourselves.
Emmet Fox in Your Heart’s Desire:
Already in your past life from time to time, God has whispered into your heart just that very wonderful thing, whatever it is, that he is wishing you to be, and to do, and to have. And that wonderful thing is nothing less than what is called Your Heart’s Desire. Nothing less than that. The most secret, sacred wish that lies deep down at the bottom of your heart, the wonderful thing that you hardly dare to look at, or to think about—the thing that you would rather die than have anyone else know of, because it seems so far beyond anything that you are, or have at the present time, that you fear that you would be cruelly ridiculed if the mere thought of it were known—that is just the very thing that God is wishing you to do or to be for him. And the birth of that marvelous wish in your soul—the dawning of that secret dream—was the Voice of God himself telling you to arise and come up higher because he had need of you.
A friend in the community recently told me of a situation where a young mother was diagnosed with cancer. “They decided not to tell the children (teenagers),” she informed me. No one asked my opinion in this particular situation, but I think it is a bad idea to withhold that information. In today’s Facebook-driven, Twitter-filled world – there are no secrets. The children will find out.
Some examples. Family X has a student off at college. Father X is diagnosed with cancer and surgery is scheduled for Friday. They decide not to tell Student X, because they don’t want to upset her. The X family, however, lives next door to the Y family. Wife Y puts on her Facebook page “please pray for our neighbor who will have cancer surgery Friday. “ The X family’s daughter, off at college, sees neighbor Y’s Facebook page and frantically tries to get in touch with her parents to see what is happening. Is that really how the family wanted her to find out?
Family A receives a dire prognosis for Grandfather M, who is still sedated from surgery. They decide to wait a few days before telling Grandfather M how serious the future looks. But, granddaughter M tweets to her friends how sad it makes her to think about living without her grandfather. She never mentions they are not telling Grandfather M his own prognosis. A well-meaning visitor to the hospital has seen the Tweet and expresses sympathy to Grandfather M for the anticipated shortness of his reaming life. The next moment is awkward and painful for everyone. How does a friend know, but the patient, whose information it is, doesn’t? Remember: there are no secrets. We need to tell the people near us the news that we don’t want them hearing from someone else.
Additionally, remember to be respectful with someone else’s information. Emails asking friends to pray for a neighbor make their way around the entire country, while the neighbor’s family is still deciding how to tell the people nearest them. I had a cycling accident last year. It took about 20 minutes to get upright and shake the fuzziness out of my head. THE FIRST THING I did have a friend take my picture with my cell phone so I could text it to my wife. I didn’t want her to hear from someone else and worry whether or not she had the whole story. I wanted to tell her what happened.
Too late. She had already heard. So, before you post information about other people on Facebook, or before you text 3rd parties about circumstances in their lives, make sure they’ve had a chance to tell the people they want to tell. Of course they want your prayers. But they would appreciate not being the subject of your information “scoop.”
Repeat after me: “There are no secrets.” Tell the people you love what they need to know. Right now. Because they will find out -with you or without you.
Repeat after me: “There are no secrets.” Then ask yourself, “Do I want to be the person who circumvents the right of my friends to tell important information to the people they care about most?”
An official study of jerks? What you always knew about irritating people, but did not write down.
Headers, chip shots, behind the back…all 136 World Cup goals from the group stage in one video.
Lab quality medical testing at home? Swab yourself.
Does anyone really care what you “like to buy.” Gallup’s surprising study on the limited effect of social media on our purchases.
The owner of a nearby auto repair business serves on the board of the local Boys and Girls Club. While waiting for an oil change in his shop, I noticed a printed page, framed and hanging on the wall of the area reserved for customer seating. It was the story f the Star Thrower. You’ve heard it before. The most common version is about a man who walks along the beach and sees a boy throwing star fish into the sea. There are dozens, or hundreds of starfish on the beach and the man challenges the boy, “There are too many. You can’t make a difference.” And the boy throws another starfish into the waves and says, “It makes a difference for that one.” The story is used by organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and hundreds of pastors in need of an illustration in a sermon to say one person can make a difference.
Unlike many preacher stories it is true. Unfortunately it is shortened and condensed to a point that the common versions miss the most poignant parts of the story.
The author is Loren Eiseley and the events happened to him in the Galapagos Islands. The thrower was not a boy, but a man Eiseley encountered after a storm when many shell collectors combed the beach, looking for something to sell. “Do you collect shells?” Eiseley asked the man who was throwing starfish. The thrower replied, “Only ones like this…and only for the living.”
The thrower stooped again, and skipped another star neatly across the water. “The stars,” he said, “throw well. One can help them.” He looked full at me with a faint question kindling in his eyes. “No, I do not collect,” I said uncomfortably, the wind beating at my garments. “neither the living nor the dead. I gave it up a long time ago. Death is the only successful collector.” I nodded and walked away, leaving him there with the great rainbow ranging up the sky behind him.
The encounter challenged Eiseley, a naturalist and Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. In his work, Eiseley developed the conviction that the universe is chaotic and all creatures are selfish, looking after their own survival. Yet, here was the Star Thrower, whose purpose was to fight wanton forces of nature and to save life. After a long night wrestling in his soul, Eiseley comes to the self awareness
“But I do love the world,” I whispered to the empty room. I love its small ones, the things beaten in the strangling surf the singing bird which falls and is not seen again, the lost ones, the failures of the world.” Thus was the renunciation of my scientific heritage.
At dawn, Eiseley left his room with the focused mission to find the Star Thrower again. .
I found him on a projecting point of land in the sweet rain-swept morning. Silently, I sought and picked up a still-living star, spinning it far out into the wave. I spoke once briefly. “I understand,” I said, “call me another thrower.” Only then I allowed myself to think. He is not alone any longer. After us there will be others. We were part of the rainbow – like the drawing of a circle in men’s minds, the circle of perfection. I picked and flung another star. I could feel the movement in my body. It was like a sowing – the sowing of life on an infinitely gigantic scale. I looked back over my shoulder, and small and dark against the receding rainbow, the star thrower stooped and flung one more. I never looked back again. The task we assumed was too immense for gazing. I flung and flung again while all about us roared the insatiable waters of death, the burning sun, for it was men as well as starfish that we sought to save, a thrower who loved not man, but life.
“Call me another thrower.” The story is not complete until Eiseley picks up the mission to love the “small ones, the things beaten in the strangling surf the singing bird which falls and is not seen again, the lost ones, the failures of the world” It is about joining the battle against “the insatiable waters of death” that threaten our world.
In the book, there are other essays which provide vivid insights into additional areas of life. In “The Bird and the Machine” Eiseley tells of a time in the Rockies when he stumbled upon an unused cabin in the Rockies. He was collecting fauna and realized there were birds inside. Not realizing the kind of birds he hunted, Eiseley reached into a dark eave and came out with a male sparrow hawk, which put up quite a struggle. The ensuing confusion allowed the mate of captured hawk to escape. The male was placed in an appropriate cage and awaited transport back to civilization.
The next morning was one we dream about if we were to visit the Rockies: a deep blue sky with rocky outcroppings everywhere pointing upward. A good day to be alive. Eiseley looked for the mate, but saw no trace.
An impulse led him to release the male hawk, captured the day before. He removed it from the cage and placed it on the ground. In his words:
He lay there a long minute without hope, unmoving, his eyes still fixed on that blue vault above him. It must’ve been that he was already so far away and heart that he never felt the release from my hand. He never even stood. He just lay with his breast against the grass.
In the next second after that long minute he was gone. Like a flicker of light, he had vanished with my eyes, full on him, but without actually seeing even a premonitory wing beat. He was gone straight into that towering emptiness of light and crystal that my eyes could scarcely bear to penetrate. For another long moment there was silence. I could not see him. The light was too intense. Then, from far up somewhere a cry came ringing down.
I was young then and had seen little of the world, but when I heard that cry my heart turned over. It was not the cry of the hawk I had captured; for, by shifting my position against the sun, I was now seeing farther up. Straight out of the sun’s eye, where she must’ve been soaring restlessly above us for untold hours, hurtled his mate. And from far up, ringing from peak to peak of the summits over us, came a cry of such an unutterable and ecstatic joy that it sounds down across the years…
I saw them both now. He was rising fast to meet her. They met in a great soaring gyre that turned into a whirling circle and a dance of wings. Once more, just once, their two voices, joined in a harsh wild medley of question and response, struck and echoed against the pinnacles of the valley. Then they were gone forever somewhere in the upper regions beyond the eyes of men. (p. 90f)
The Star Thrower makes my list of Bucket Books for a variety of reasons. One is Eiseley’s writing ability. He is a master and most people could learn a bit about eloquence from reading any of his works. But the primary reason is the power of his vision – to see life – and call his readers to a higher and nobler place. After reading the story of the hawks, who does not desire to be more faithful to those we love? If birds exhibit fidelity, then why can’t we? Who does not want to participate in a selfless mission against the insatiable waters of death after reading the “Star Thrower?” Reading Eiseley makes me a better person.
I’ve read all of Eiseley’s books and invite you to do the same.
[Here is a guest post by my friend Jack "Chip" Bishop from Waynesville, NC. We spent a lot of time talking about writing as a way to express important ideas on our minds. Here is an idea Chip has been pondering]
In regard to Gilligan’s Island, if the SS Minnow was just going on a three hour tour, why did Thurston and Eunice “Lovey Howell” need all that luggage? That’s a funny question. Not necessarily one that one we would ponder all day, though.
Googling “good questions” yields queries like:
What can I do better today than I did well yesterday?
What would you grab first if your house was on fire?
What do I absolutely love about my life?
What would I stand for if I knew nobody would judge me?
What would I do with a billion dollars?
Good questions, but great? One of life’s paradoxical experiences is when the best answer to our questions is a question itself. A rabbi friend was asked why he asked so many questions in his teaching to which he responded, “I do?”
Educators credit teaching by asking good questions to Socrates. The Socratic method involves asking logical questions about current beliefs to determine consistency. If one believes such and such, then does that imply a further belief …? Plato echoed Socrates while plumbing the depths of philosophy to help determine consistent moral beliefs. Such teaching methods give students the courtesy and responsibility that there is something lurking within us already to help resolve dilemmas. Don’t we all flinch when a teacher or speaker or preacher overexplains a point?
Good, professional career coaches are helping this method gain purchase again. The coaches some of us had in earlier days berated and chided and invoked fear. The only questions I remember ever being asked by a coach in high school was, “BISHOP, DO YOU KNOW HOW BIG THAT DEFENSIVE TACKLE IS FROM WALTERBORO IS AND WHAT HE IS GOING TO DO TO YOU FRIDAY NIGHT?!” and the core corps drill sergeant/coach question, “You thought? You thought? Who told you to think?”
These days, good coaches ask probing questions that show they have been listening carefully to a situation we describe to them and instead of stating a cookie cutter prescription for action, they pull realizations and actions from within us with good questions. Maybe a good buzz word is “ownership” for a decision and action because we feel like we came up with the answers.
Interesting questions. Good questions. Maybe they’d occupy our minds for a while longer than the Howell’s luggage. But what about really great questions that startle and itch and wrinkle the brow of our souls with intrigue? Questions that are immediately piercing with readily applicable truth?
That lay rabbi Jesus asks great questions, doesn’t he? Some questions clear the air and get to the point right away:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?, Luke 6:34 NIV
He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?,Mark 4:13 NIV
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?,Matthew 7:9 NIV
Some questions are great because they open our lives to the length and breadth and depth of life:
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?,Matthew 16:15 NIV
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.,John 11:40 NIV
Some questions are agonizing because Jesus voices how we have felt:
Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”,John 9:35 NIV
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?,Luke 17:8 NIV
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life ? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?,Luke 12:20 NIV
And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ).,Mark 14:48 NIV
The point of all this is like somebody once said, “I still don’t have all the answers, but I’m asking better questions.”
Jack “Chip” Bishop
What would my grandfather have done on Saturday afternoon? How would the man who instilled washing the car every week have handled owning a Nissan that washes itself?
So your financial institution rates your password as “strong?” Think again.
My daughter came home from her second tour in Iraq eight years ago this month. We missed her dreadfully while she wae gone and I remember greeting her in the Atlanta airport on her return as one of the most joyous moments of my life.
Her absence, our worry for her safety while she was gone, and the powerful joy, relief, and thanksgiving at her return have shaped me on may ways over the past decade. My prayer life is deeper and my patriotism more emotional, just to name two.
As a child, World War II was a memory for my parents’ generation; for me it was only history. I differentiate the two because I was born in 1952, and had no perspective how close in time I was born to the events of June 6, 1944. I was born as close in time to D-Day as we are today to my daughter’s second tour in Iraq. When I was born World War II was not only recent, its memory was still raw for many people.
This past week I visited Normandy for the first time. I’ve now seen the number of graves at the US cemetery and the height of the dunes at Omaha Beach, the improbable cliffs at Pointe du Hoc and the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. I understand better how the events of that war and that day in particular shaped a generation.
I understand the human psyche. We shouldn’t remember people now deceased as better than they were. Humans have always been self centered and self-preserving. No one wants to die as those young men died at D-Day. But fortunately for the world, they believed in something larger and nobler than themselves. They believed in a vision of human freedom that served every person, not simply their personal, selfish expressions of freedom. Consequently, they were heroic. Their heroism and sacrifice shaped the personality of America for a generation.
Political discourse today does little to encourage a vision of the world that benefits all people. The political left advocates advancement without incentive, while the political right advances Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “enlightened selfishness” and dares call it Christian. The idea of the greater good, the concept of sacrifice, and the biblical idea of community are nowhere to be found. Yet, they are virtues we need desperately.
I am glad those young men at D-Day did not succumb to the temptation to think only of themselves.