The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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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

Many parts 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.

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.

See Also:

Seven Deadly Sins:Envy

Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Seven Deadly Sins: Pride



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