The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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About – The Substance of Faith

 sub·stance  [suhb’- stuhns] n. that of which a thing consists; the actual matter of a thing


The Substance of 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.


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Yellowstone – Hiking Day and Cody

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.  DSC02981_2We 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





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Yellowstone Days 1 and 2

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.

As a matter of fact, he does own the road

As a matter of fact, he does own the road

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.

We were told the British pronounce this word as "gee-zer," giving new meaning to the picture.

We were told the British pronounce this word as “gee-zer,” giving new meaning to the picture.

On the way to Old Faithful we climbed across the Continental Divide, the highest point yet on our trip.

On the way to Old Faithful we climbed across the Continental Divide, the highest point yet on our trip.



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Fishing Day

Ed Hine, Tom Watters and I arrived in Bozeman on Friday afternoon, in order to have a day to adjust to the change in altitude.  The Yellowstone trip promised higher climbing than any of our previous Lizardhead trips.


Ed loves to fly fish, so he secured a guide and took Tom and  me along for the day in search of trout.  We fished the Gallatin River, which is, by all standards, one of the finest rivers anywhere for fly fishing.  We went early to the Bozeman Angler, where we meet the guide which Ed had prearranged. We had a wonderful day, with a patient guide who continuously pointed Ed to the better spots and helped Tom and me learn to cast.  I had a few good strikes but did not land any fish.

Tom's feet got wet

Tom’s feet got wet

Ed and our guide with a good catch

Ed and our guide with a good catch

We ended our Saturday by catching up with all the other Lizardhead riders for dinner at the Open Range restaurant.  Most of the group are people we’ve ridden with on other trips, but there were a couple of new faces and we all anticipated a good first day on Sunday.

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Yellowstone Cycling

Thanks to everyone who has been stopping by this week, looking for updates on the Yellowstone cycling trip.  I did not have opportunity to write a preview, and once we arrived in Montana/Wyoming, cell service and wifi were almost nonexistent – at least int he places where we were.

Check out the link to Lizardhead’s summary of the trip.

I’ll be posting a review of the trip over the next few days.


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A Prayer for the World

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.

Photo: Earth_1 by Robb Courtesy

Photo: Earth_1 by Robb

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 and 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………

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A Prayer for Rain

Photograph by Hotblack from

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…..


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Seven Deadly Sins – Pride

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 7.27.09 AMNiebuhr’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.


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The Seven Deadly Sins – Introduction

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

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.


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Bucket Book – Hannah Coulter

img002 (2)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.


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Beach Reading – Some Authors to Try


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 walk in woodsmakes 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.

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