You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
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?
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.
A few months ago I visited a woman who is dying. Her TV was on and a new anchor was listing a series of headlines that challenge a Christian’s sensibilities. As I left, she asked me to pray for the world, saying she was afraid, not to die, but for the direction of events in the world.
Dear God, what is happening in this world? The moorings seem pulled loose. The foundations are shaken. Virtues are criticized and things once done in hiding are now paraded in public an glorified. We confess that we are afraid – afraid of the changes we see and afraid of changes which are yet to come. We are afraid for our children and for our grandchildren who will live in this world long after we are gone. We pray that they will have faith and not be swept away in a secular tide which no longer washes against your Holy shore.
And, yet, you are God. You are your Rock and Salvation. The sun rose in the sky today and the moon will shine tonight only because you allow it. Remind us that past generations have also feared, but You have seen them through and faith in Christ is still found on the earth. Help us to see where in this world your Kingdom thrives and lead us to go there and join our efforts with those are faithful still.
Give us faith to move mountains and set before us the mountains you want moved. Give us faith to bring justice and faith to live righteously. May our speech always be shaped by Your grace, even when our fear expresses itself as anger. Make our hearts pure, no matter what the challenge of the day might be.
May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Through Christ our Lord………
Many part of the nation are in serious drought. Here is a prayer for rain.
Lord, we confess we do not always understand your ways or your methods of dealing with your children. We do not always see the lessons you would teach us from the events of this life, nor do we claim enough wisdom to understand your will. We would never presume to instruct you on what is right or what is good.
Yet, we cannot help but to ask for rain. The earth, which cries out for your redemption, also cries out in thirst to restore its parched soil. Those whose livelihoods depend upon the land call for your mercy. Those who will go hungry without water for their crops look to you for a demonstration of your compassion. Cities are in need. Hear the prayers of these people, and send the showers we need.
O God, may we never take for granted the basic needs of life. May we always remember the fragile nature of life and how dependent we are on your grace each and every day.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord…..
Pride is the fount from which all sin springs. Stephen King calls it the mother of sin, giving birth to all others. It is the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as they live out Bertrand Russell’s observation: Every man (sic) would like to be God if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility” (Power, A New Social Analysis, p. 11). Today, I am not sure anyone considers it impossible.
In my seminary days, the premier work on sin and pride was Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man: Volume One – Human Nature. On page 199, he observes:
Since the self judged itself by its own standards it finds itself good. It judges others by by its own standards and finds them evil, when their standards fail to conform to their own. This is the secret of the relationship between self-righteousness and cruelty.
Niebuhr’s comment is important. Pride leads us to view ourselves as exceptional and blinds us to our toxic sin. Who believes that speed limits apply to them? Who believes that, if in a hurry, we should wait our turn in line? Who really believes that rules of tardiness and absence apply to our children? Who does not justify their own lies, but condemns unmercifully anyone caught lying to them?
We all believe we are exceptional. We judge ourselves by the indulgent understanding of our best desires, whether we live up to them or not. We judge others at face value, never considering any other factor. Our prideful exceptionalism separates us from God’s grace (why change? We are special!) and from each other because our self-righteousness is so critical of the faults in the people around us. This is the way pride works.
An often overlooked Christian classic is William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. William Law makes several insightful comments on pride:
Many people live in pride and yet never suspect themselves to be governed by pride because they know how much they dislike proud people. They know how mightily the are pleased with humility and modesty wherever they find them. The fuller of pride anyone is himself, the more impatient will he be at the smallest instances of it in other people. (p. 108)
He who thinks he has humility enough shows that he is not so much a beginner in the practice of true humility. (p. 109)
If you think you are not in serious danger for your sin of pride, then you certainly are. If you are even a little proud of your humility, you are terrible proud indeed. (p. 99)
This is an exceptional age. Perhaps pride expressed this way is one of parenting’s greatest challenges. Parents fight with these subconscious thoughts: My child should not have to follow your rules. If my child breaks the law, my greatest concern is not that he/she face the consequences, but whether or not I can remove the consequences for them.
Those preaching and teaching on pride will have no trouble finding illustrations if they continue to think through all the ways members our society believe that rules don’t apply to them, but remain judgmental of others.
Recently I’ve been preaching a sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins. Keith Reaves, our Minister of Worship created the graphic, above, for use as our cover to the Sunday order of worship.
I will write a separate post for each sin here at The Substance of Faith. These posts will contain quotations I found helpful, references to books I used, and some insights I gained during study and preparing the sermons. Videos of each sermon can be found at www.fbcrome.org.
To get us thinking about this list of sins in this introductory post, I begin with a prayer by Howard Thurman:
Kindle thy light within me, oh God, that I may be guarded against self deception and the vanity that creeps into my spirit where a shadow is cast between me and thy scrutiny. (Meditations of the Heart, p. 159)
When considering the seven deadly sins, we must always guard against self-deception. Maybe we are convicted of lust. But pride? Sloth? Which of us thinks ourselves greedy? I’ve seen one person deny anger through clenched teeth. Therefore preaching on theses sins requires the pastor to overcome the mental caricatures of these sins because listeners use the caricatures to hide behind, denying that the sin fits them. A shadow is cast between us and God’s scrutiny, and that is the way we like it.
For instance, with greed our mental image is someone similar to Ebenezer Scrooge. None of us sit alone in cold rooms, counting stacks of gold coins. Because we don’t fit the mental stereotype, we rest easy with the belief we could not possibly be greedy. That belief is self deception. It is self preservation, for who wants to admit greed? Let the shadow fall between us and and God’s searching eye.
Anyone preaching or teaching on the sins will have to determine what images we use to hide behind, then breech the defenses of the listeners, either by frontal assault or by stealth.
In hindsight, I think I might have named this series “Seven Toxic Sins.” Toxic may communicate their danger better to this generation than Deadly. Who would not want to be warned of a toxic substance in drinking water or the air we breath? These sins are indeed toxic to our souls and they are a part of the ethos of this and every age. People need to be warned for they are in peril.
Finally, one general quote worth considering:
In medieval times, the seven cardinal sins were known to everyone, while nowadays, it is a rare university student who can name the seven. (Peter Kreft, Back to Virtue, p. 9)
People can’t be warned if they don’t know the names of the dangers around them.
A young man came to our church office, looking for food and someone to pray with him about his father, who was under hospice care in a cheap motel room. His small family was caught in the bureaucracy between the medicaid systems of two states. The hospital couldn’t keep the father and hospice needed a place to treat him. Most likely he would die in room 25 of the Rodeway Inn.
The wind swept life of this family was illustrated on the back of the son’s left calf. As he walked away, all I could read of the tattoo was “In memory of” and the years 1995-2014. The young man cared for his father among transients and memorialized a 19-year old in his nomadic flesh. He was living proof that we live in a dislocated age.
In the first sentence of Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, Nathan tells about his grandfather:
“I picked him up in my arms and I carried him home.”
In once sentence, Berry foreshadows a tender novel in which he weaves together love, family, and place. We immediately discover four generations live in that one sentence and they all know of home. They are rooted in the same geography and connected to each other by grief, vows, love, and land.
Here are a few other quotes on family and place:
Like maybe any young woman that time, I thought marriage as promises to be kept until death, as having a house, living together, sleeping together, raising children. But Virgil’s and my marriage was going to have to be more than that. It was going to have to be a part of a place already decided for it, and part of a story begun long ago and going on. p. 33.
Speaking of her first in-laws: They let me belong to them and to their place, and I needed to belong somewhere. p. 41
Berry writes this touching story though the eyes of Hannah Coulter, who, widowed twice and reflecting on her years, tells of people woven into her life and their collective geographic lens on the world, Port William, Kentucky. It is a story of great gratitude for small things in which Berry captures the heart of a woman, a wife, a widow, and a mother. Speaking of her daughter Margaret, Hannah says,
To know that I was known by a new living being, who had not existed until she was made in my body by my desire and brought for into the world by my pain and strength – that changed me. p. 54
I read Hannah Coulter about the same time I read Marilynn Robinson’s Gilead, a wonderful novel written by a woman in a man’s voice. Both of these books demonstrate powerful emotions and an uncanny ability of the authors to speak for the opposite sex in ways that avoid stereotype or caricature.
Wendell Berry fans already know of his compact style which is eloquent in its simplicity. A person could learn good grammar and effective punctuation by reading nothing but his books. The writing is clear and carries the reader from one image, one insight, to the next with ease.
Berry’s book makes Bucket Book status for me because of the way he locates life in community and in a community. The sweetness of Hannah’s character is not pollyannaish; rather, just the opposite. It is very real, sharpened by grief and disappointment, but never hardened.
The first time I read this book I wanted to highlight each of Hannah’s insights and words of wisdom. I found, however, that I would have to highlight so many sentences and paragraphs that they would often run together. The second time through the novel I didn’t want to bother with marking points to remember. I simply wanted to enjoy the kindness of Hannah’s heart and words, as when she remembered while grieving Virgil and carrying a half-orphaned daughter who would never know her father:
Kindness kept us alive. It made us think of each other. p. 50.
Berry has written, not only a good novel, but a needed message for our age. The poor have the Rodeway Inn, while the wealthy have multiple retirement homes, none more “home” than the other. When planning for their death, they say, “Just scatter my ashes at the lake” because they have no place where family and friends might come years from now to pay respects. Unable to answer the question, “Where shall I be buried,” they will be as scattered in death as they were in life. People are uprooted from a defining place all along the economic scale. Hannah Coulter makes readers want to connect to story that is larger and longer than their own. It makes them want to belong somewhere and to help other sojourners to belong as well.
I think again about the young man with the memorial tattoo on his calf and a father dying at the Rodeway Inn. Before he left, I prayed with him for his strength and for an easy death for his father. In hindsight I should also have prayed for more kindness to come into his life. A permanent kindness that comes with regularity and with tenderness. I should have also prayed for a place and a people of which he could be a part, so that, when the time comes for his own parting, it will be from a home – and surrounded by those who know his story as a faithful son and will tell it with gladness.
It’s the time to start thinking about books for the beach or lake. Many of us enjoy a good page-turner, but we don’t want to spend our time on pure trash. Here are some authors to consider for your summer reading.
First is British author Denise Mina, with three main sets of books. I started with the Garnett Hill trilogy, then read the Paddy Meehan novels, and I am now working on the Alex Morrow series. Mina’s female heroes are real people with real foibles. Paddy does love to eat. Try to read each set in their order of publication.
These women walk in the real world of dark crime and Mina can disturb you with her images. The style is very British (which I like) and I often have to infer the meaning of her slang. Her descriptions, however, are second to none and she can capture images of real life with deep feeling.
Here is a paragraph from The Red Road, describing Rose, a 14-year old being used by a pimp:
She had been covered in blood when they found her. They’d given her a basin to wash in but no mirror. Her face was washed with watered blood. Every future furrow, every crease that would one day be, picked out in dried crimson. It was in the folds of her forehead, the laughter lines around her mouth, the prophetic tracks of sorrow around her eyes. This newborn ancient looked up at Julius with the eyes of a disappointed mother.
I think that is a powerful paragraph. Enjoy Denise Mina, but be prepared to meet the underbelly of society.
Alan Furst writes historical espionage from pre-war and WWII in Europe with different protagonists in each novel. Furst’s primary characters are average people and often unlikely heroes. Each book contains revelations into how it must have been, living in Spain, France, Poland, or the Balkans. Furst’s books are stand-alone novels and can be read in no particular order. I’ve read Dark Star, The Polish Officer, Red Gold, Dark Voyage, The Foreign Correspondent, The Spies of Warsaw, andMission to Paris.
If you want something a little more educational, try Bill Bryson, who makes science and history amusing. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is a fascinating look at the development of English in the USA. A Short History of Nearly Everything covers scientific discovers from the cellular level to galaxies. It is full of interesting information on a wide variety of scientific subjects and is a treasure trove of illustrative material for preacher. A Walk in the Woods is the anti- Wild. Bryson and a high school friend attempt to hike the entire Applalchian Trail. Their preparations and trials make you realize how lucky Cheryl Strayed was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail unprepared – and lived to tell about it. Bryson is as witty as he is informative. A Walk in the Woods is hilarious.
I am a little reluctant to mention Philip Kerr. I have enjoyed his Bernie Gunther novels, about a detective who gets pressed into the WWII Gestapo against his will. It’s interesting to read fictional accounts of Heydrich’s and Goebbels’ feuds. I was extremely disappointed, however, with his stand-alone novel, Prayer, and it’s anti-God message.
If you have any favorite books that you think others may enjoy, let me know.
I first read Tobacco Road in the 1970’s. Erskine Caldwell’s 1932 novel of the rural south taught me lessons about poverty that have stayed with me for a lifetime. These are valuable lessons for a pastor who deals with requests for help every week from people in need.
I’ve reread the book in order to comment on it here. Additionally I’ve looked at a dozen reviews on popular websites. My conclusion? Many readers clearly don’t know enough poor people to analyze the book adequately.
In the past 25 years I performed marriage ceremonies for two couples who were borderline in competence for marriage. The clerk in the local probate office nearly threw me out when I attempted to help one of these couples obtain a license. Why did I perform those ceremonies? Because Erskine Caldwell’s character, Sister Bessie, taught me that sometimes, in the underclasses of ingrained poverty, marriage is about desperation. Certainly Sister Bessie is a sexually charged character and some her motives are as base as motives can get. But she’s also desperate to sleep under a roof that doesn’t leak every time it rains. The couples I married were desperate to join limited abilities and resources to escape homelessness or helplessness. I still believe I helped those couples find the best chance to survive by marrying them. If you dare, read Caldwell’s short story “The Masses of Men” for an even darker picture of poverty’s desperation. I read it not long after reading Tobacco Road and I still don’t like thinking about it.
I also learned from Tobacco Road that handing out money may stem a crisis for some people in poverty’s cycle, but it rarely cures the long term problem for them. A man once sat in my office and told me how he had mashed the accelerator to the floor in his car. “I told that transmission,” he said, “you’re gonna shift or blow. Well, it blew. Now I needs money to fix it so I can get to work.” I wanted to weep. In his story I heard echoes of Dude Lester’s treatment of Sister Bessie’s new car, which was ruined in a day and practically destroyed in a week. All the money in the world would not have lifted the Lester family or Sister Bessie out of poverty.
Let me pause for a moment, lest you think I am painting every poor person with the same brush. The poor are no more all alike than are the wealthy. There are people who work hard to escape poverty’s grasp (illustrated by Jeeter’s older children, who described but never seen). They may not have new clothes, but they always have clean clothes. I know poor individuals who save a small amount out a week’s paycheck that wouldn’t support many reviewers of this book for a day. When crises come, they may ask for help, but they only need a bridge over their immediate problem. Deeply ingrained poverty, however, can normalize procrastination and lethargy. The saddest moment in the book is when Dude becomes the bearer of his father’s unfulfilled dream of raising a crop of cotton. Jester, Sister Bessie, and Dude could win the lottery and they would never have enough money. Incentive would help them more. The key for people in helping professions is to weigh the need to alleviate desperation versus creating dependency. You will never know the struggle of that decision unless you actually know the people involved in the crisis.
Laziness and lust are never more than a page away. Perhaps Caldwell wants us to know that only lust can compete with hunger as a dominating motive in the human heart. Death is careless and painfully callous.
Reviewers debate whether Tobacco Road in a tragedy or a comedy. Certainly there are elements of both. How readers makes that determination will be based on how well they know the South and how well acquainted they are with poverty. I lean toward describing it as tragedy, but find no tragic hero.
Here are a few quotations, with page numbers from the 1995 edition, published by UGA Press:
Down there on the tobacco no one ever laughed. p. 31.
Prayer always did a man more good, she said, if there was something he was ashamed of. p. 45
There were always well-developed plans in Jeeter’s mind for the things he intended doing; but somehow he never got around to doing them. One day led to the next, and it was so much more easy to say he would wait until tomorrow…things had been going along that easy for almost a lifetime now….p. 60.
Good folks don’t want God to send them sermons by cussing preachers. p. 158.
He (Jeeter) still could not understand why he had nothing, and would never have anything, and there was no one who knew and could tell him. It was the unsolved mystery of his life. p. 173.
With the advent of the DVD, movie makers have offered viewers the option to watch alternate endings to their favorite movies. “Director’s cuts’ lets us choose one ending over another, according to our preferences.
Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, allows individuals in declining health or with a terminal illness to consider alternate endings to their own lives. For the aging, a typical ending includes a declines in mobility, mental function, and control over the most basic elements of life. The most common questions along this path include, when shall we move mom to a nursing home? Which one shall we use?” Neither the surrounding family nor the new nursing home resident finds the path hopeful or healing. Inevitably, the quality of life declines.
Gawande, a surgeon by training, explains why the traditional path rarely leads to a satisfying quality of life and then outlines simple steps that have proven to enhance life for aging people who need extended care. He describes more attractive alternate endings.
After discussing possible solutions for elder care, Guwande turns to similar factors surrounding the care of the terminally ill. As a physician he admits that he and other doctors have a very difficult time admitting when a patient has reached a stage when science and medicine cannot cure them. Not knowing any other way to treat the problem, physicians often keep pouring more and more medical treatment on a fire that will not be put out. Chemo to the last minute, or debilitating surgeries with little hope of changing the outcome are not always the answer.
Gawande suggests that medical professional learn to recognize watershed moments and learn to have conversations with their patients. He offers three questions to guide these discussions:
The first question provides a context for the patient and physician to be honest about the prognosis. The second question helps the treatment team know what is important to the patient. Does the grandparent want to take grandchildren to Disney World one last time? Does the music teacher want to continue giving lessons as long as possible. Does the sports fan want to watch one more season of football? Knowing these goals allows care givers to suggest the best ways to accomplish them. And, finally, when the situation is terminal, there are always trade offs. Does the patient choose pain over lucidity or lucidity over pain? What other trade offs are acceptable? Each case is unique, so it is important to know.
Above all, Guwande encourages conversations that include care givers, patients, and family. These honest discussions are critical to discovering the best endings – the ones with the highest quality of life and the deepest satisfaction for the patient. We must get over our denial of death if we want to encourage the fullest life to the very end of mortality.
The fact that Guwande illustrates many of his points with examples from his own father’s decline and death gives him great credibility.
I’ve sought out people in the health care profession who have read this book, and I’ve encouraged others to read it, even giving away a few copies to people I think could carry this discussion forward on a local level.
Hospice workers are very pleased these conversations are going mainstream. Other ministers have commented on how helpful it is to have the rubric of Gawande’s questions in discussing these matters with church members who feel the pressure to make decisions in critical moments.
Ministers and caregivers who regularly encounter aging patients or those in terminal circumstances will find this book helpful and encouraging. I believe it will be a watershed book that encourages healthy conversations about the quality of life.
Here are a few quotes from the book: