The Faithful

“The faithful are not from here, and the faithful are not staying here.”

Pastor Jay Greener, based on Hebrews 11

Faith is one of those things that’s easier to see in other people than in ourselves. It’s also easier to see looking into the past. And faith is by definition oriented toward the future.

In other people

The faithful are not from here: like Abraham, the faithful are travelers in a foreign land, called out from that which is known into the unknown, because there is something that isn’t yet known to be found.

The faithful know themselves to be from somewhere else: like Moses, the faithful look in the mirror and see themselves dressed in the costume of a foreign people.

The faithful are not staying here: like Noah, the faithful readily use their material resources to prepare for the coming age, when all those material things will be underwater anyhow. No sense preserving either gopher wood or social standing.

Listing off Abraham, Moses, and Noah, along with many others in Hebrews 11, gives the impression that “the Faithful” are the greats. The A-listers, the best in class But that’s not the point the author of Hebrews is making. He precludes his list of the Faithful with these words:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward….We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Hebrews 10:35, 39

His point is, in speaking to believers, that we are to see ourselves as one of a long line of faithful ones, peoples who lives illustrate a dogged belief in something greater and in Someone better.

In the past

To shift abruptly into personal reflection, I’ve found it much easier to discern whether I’ve been acting in faith when there are a few years’ distance between me and my actions.

The fact that I can reflect on our missionary career (my husband’s and mine) without too many regrets is a faith builder in itself. God made it his own prerogative to see that our motivations were saturated in faith, born out of belief that he rewards those who diligently seek him.

God’s methodology in properly grounding our motivations had a lot to do with restraint. Knowing how generous he is, I imagine it was hard for him to wait to give us the rewards we were asking for. Instead, he gave us the gift of himself as a personal trainer, working with us toward a longer-lasting version of what we were requesting.

Let me speak in plain terms about our experience as campus missionaries. When we sought to establish a new ministry, we didn’t expect it to grow overnight, and we enjoyed the beginning. Starting with about 15 students (several of whom are still close friends), we added about 5 people per semester in those first few semesters. We thought that was pretty great.

We were learning a lot, praying a lot, pastoring our students to the best of our ability, and attempting to train students to lead others into the faith.

After a few semesters, we began to see some stagnation in our growth numerically, even though we were seeing many of our students grow deeply on a personal level. We were trying to establish a living, growing community, and we were living but not growing. Additionally, some of those we helped to get started in their faith had walked away from Christ shortly after. Others walked away from our community, leaving with critical words or callous indifference.

In the midst of all this, we experienced the death of two loved ones. My father and one of our young staff members.

Those years felt like tilling the hardest of soil. Although we were not fruitless and enjoyed the fellowship of many sweet students and staff, we had to work so hard for every inch of ground.

The effect of these dry times was to send our roots pushing into deeper ground in search of water. Again and again we had to ask ourselves, “is this worth it? [yes]; could someone else be doing this better? [yes!]; are we going to struggle like this forever? [maybe].” And each time, God gave us the grace to eventually remember—after plenty of bad attitudes and tears—that he is our commanding officer, and the results of our obedience are his concern. He rewards obedience, not success.

We also had to nurture the belief that faith is a seed that starts very small and grows into something expansive, but its growth is slow and mostly underground.

Had we experienced immediate raging success, we would’ve had a whole other set of temptations to fight, different lessons to learn, and a different type of battle scars. Still, we often caught ourselves wishing for that kind of struggle, the one where you try to stay humble and keep your head when everyone’s shouting your name.

Looking back, I feel at peace about our journey, and I feel great joy about the students and staff who now call our community their family.

So what does it mean to be faithful? For us, it has meant being empty and God coming along and filling us with the belief that what we see now is not all there will be.

Looking ahead

The true reward for our service in campus ministry is not the years of simple growth and enjoyment that followed those dry years. It’s not even the individual faces that fill our minds when we remember the goodness of God.

Our true reward in the present is the water that comes up through those roots, the Spirit of God himself. And our reward looking ahead is the promise of a greater capacity to be filled. To know him as we are known.

May this day be another step towards that great day.

Close to home: writing about leadership transition

This week, I wrote an article for Bible Study Tools that shares “Lessons on leadership from the Book of Joshua.” My editor thought that was a simple title, but really this article is for followers. Many church members have been through the wringer lately with leadership transitions that are both public and messy.

As my family has experienced, even leadership transitions that are relatively healthy and scandal-free can be very difficult. Maybe they always are?

This May, we moved from Indiana to the Chicago area, leaving our “baby”—the campus ministry we helped to establish—in the care of new leaders, who are very capable and very dear to us. The real lessons are probably being learned now in our absence, but we discovered how closely one clings to the mast of Christ at these times.

Though Joshua lived long before the time of Christ, he found his moorings in the same spirit of wisdom that stabilizes us today. I hope this article is helpful whether you’re a leader, church member, or onlooker of the messy church world.

Lessons in Leadership from the Book of Joshua

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/lessons-in-leadership-from-the-book-of-joshua.html

I wouldn’t want to be God

God gets the worst presents. I give him my worries, my fears, my anger. The other day, I was headed into a doctor appointment where I feared bad news. I told God, “Lord, I’m just giving this to you.” Wow, happy birthday, God. Have some unfounded, overly dramatic fear because I love you so much. And then in return, he gave me peace and hopeful expectation, and an “all clear” from the doctor.

God also gets my songs that are too embarrassing to share with humans. And a daily rundown of the things I hope will happen and things I need his help with. He gets a shopping list of things I’m not sure how we’ll pay for. (And I wonder if he’s got a separate list of all the stuff he’s planning to give us that I don’t think to ask for.)

So I really wouldn’t want to be God, because he gets the worst gifts. But then again, maybe it would be nice to God, because he seems perfectly happy to receive them.

Encouraging parents to stay involved in their teens’ spiritual lives

I have a new article up at Bible Study Tools! At first I was hesitant to write on this topic, since my kids haven’t become teenagers yet. But then I realized I worked with teenagers for 15 years! Also I was teenager once…a pretty difficult one, I think 😉

How to Encourage Your Teenagers to Read the Bible

My editor chose this photo, but I really like how moody the guy looks.

Raising hands in worship: a new (or very old) way of thinking

Some of my students call it Football Hands: both hands lifted high in the air like a ref calling a touchdown. They try to predict what part of the worship song “everybody will go Football Hands,” when the music becomes the most moving and people want to express themselves more fully to God. This bothers me as a deeply serious person, but they’re joking in the way kids sometimes can, without real cynicism.

Raising hands, dancing, clapping, and shouting are hallmarks of Pentecostal worship. Having grown up in a well-behaved Baptist culture, I was drawn to this aspect of the college group I joined, which I later learned was Pentecostal. I could see their sincerity on the outside as well as the inside. Worship was about more than singing—it was an experience.

There’s a weak side to this expressive culture. Sometimes you’re expected to wear your worship on the outside for all to see. And if you don’t, you’re thought to be a bit less than spiritual. I’ve been guilty of raising my hands because I didn’t want to be the only one not doing so.

Now I’m attending a somewhat formal liturgical church and I’m back to square one on figuring out when to raise my hands. A few people do in our church, but honestly, one of the biggest obstacles is the printed bulletins we all hold with the words to the songs and prayers written out (no powerpoint slides.) Lifting one’s hands also means waving around a bulletin and not being able to see the words.

Should I overcome this obstacle when I can, or does it not matter much? Why is it wrong to raise my hands for others to see? Why is it weird to be able to predict when everyone will spontaneously go Football Hands?

Scripture is full of descriptions of people worshipping with their bodies, emotions, and minds. Just to keep things brief, I’ll only bring up a few that talk about raising our hands.

Psalm 63:4 says, “I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”

Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”

And Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.”

Maybe there are some scriptures that describe raising hands as an involuntary action, but most of the time it’s either an exhortation or a commitment. (“Lift your hands” or “I will lift my hands.”) It comes across as a choice we can make.

As usual, there are really good reasons for this instruction and practice for God’s people.

When I raise my hands in worship, my mind tends to be more engaged. It takes some attention to keep my hands in the air, and sometimes I have chosen to stay in that position even when my arms were tired. It’s a way of saying to God, “I am fully here. Body, mind, emotions. I mean what I am singing, and I’m not letting my mind wander. I’m not saving my energy for something else.”

Is it right to raise my hands if I don’t really feel overcome by worshipful emotions? Isn’t that insincere? I would suggest that it’s no more insincere than singing words that we’re not really “feeling” in the moment.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Our devotion to God—singing worship songs, spending time with Him, obeying His commands—has to do with his deserving our devotion, not necessarily with our feeling devoted. He deserves our feelings too, but we don’t have a lot of control over that. We do have control over our minds and our bodies and our actions.

One of our choices is to involve our bodies in worship, and people have been doing that for eons. Anyone with an arm or two can participate. This simple act transcends cultures, centuries, languages and social classes.

Raising our hands helps us focus our minds, give God our energy, and make sure that worshipping is the only thing we’re doing at the moment. It’s hard to multitask when your hands are in the air, not to mention awkward.

I’m not suggesting that “real” worship must be punctuated with raised hands. There are plenty of other ways to fully involve ourselves in worship. This includes holding my preschooler on my hip and holding the bulletin in the other hand to sing unfamiliar songs to the best of my ability. My utmost for His highest looks different in different moments.

To those who feel strange doing something unfamiliar, afraid that others may notice and judge: try to shift your attention to God’s view of your actions. Try picturing Him watching you worship, listening to your words, and seeing your face. Try turning on a worship song at home and lifting your hands as you sing. Imagine yourself in a crowd with the holy people of old, King David even, hands raised; and there is God, so pleased with His people.

Writing is being like God

It’s bad press to say that you want to be like God. It’s absurd and sounds delusional. But God invites us to be like him. “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Holy means “set apart.” But how can we be different as God is different? Maybe part of the answer is tht we can be set apart from the world of plants and animals, by joining in his creative work.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In his image

We are made in God’s image. Humility and logic would lead us to believe that we are a shadow of his image or a cheap knock-off that makes you wish you had the real thing. But when God first declared that we’re made in his image, the very next thing he said was that we were to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and rule the earth.

We are to be creative, to reproduce, to fill, to lead and to rule. Those are things God does. This call to be like him was not a parody or an off-brand version of being like God. He told us to do the things he does. He gave us that ability.

Photo by Brian Jimenez on Unsplash

Of course there are limits to that. Thank God there are limits. He holds the blueprints and supplies all the materials, and he trains us to do the work. The wonder of it is that we were invited to the jobsite in the first place.

Something out of nothing

Writers are being like God—fulfilling their call to be like God—when they open a blank document in Microsoft Word and begin to write, multiplying and filling the page with that which was not there before. Writers create something out of what was once nothing.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Granted, we have some material to work with: our experience, the language we’ve been given, the sights and sounds around us. We’re responding to something. But creating a short work of fiction, for example, is creating something new.

In the business of doing new things

God busies himself with new things. Behold, he says, I am doing a new thing. I will bring springs of water in a dry land. I will pour out my Spirit like new wine into empty vessels. I will stretch and expose, I will turn traditions on their head, I will grow a new sprout out of a sawed-off stump.

Before I would call myself a writer, I had to wrestle with some cynicism about writing, especially in the Christian sphere. There are SO MANY books. Name a topic and surely there are at least 12 books in print that can say what I would say, only better. But still I have this desire to write a book someday.

I think that desire may be partly the call of God to be like him. Each person has different ways that they can be like God, and a drive under the surface of our consciousness leads us to take a crack at it, even though we know it may fall short of our hopes.

My daughter has recently been asking why I wanted to become a mom. She’s asked 3 or 4 times, and I’ve given her a different answer each time. The one that felt the most right was that I wanted to be like my mom. I have a wonderful mom, and it feels like I was made to be like her in a lot of ways. But I think underneath that is a desire to be like God. God makes people and takes care of them. Being a mom is being like God.

Powerful words

The other thing about writing is the power of the words themselves. Somehow, stringing together a combination of syllables in a written code can change lives. This power comes from being like God! God’s words have power: power to create, power to heal, power to change history. Being made in God’s image means the words people say or write or hear also have power.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

This can go wrong. While God’s words always bring life, people’s words someimtes bring death. Proverbs says “the tongue holds the power of life and death.” (Prov. 18:21) Being a writer means using the power of words and if it’s done for the purpose of bringing life, in that way we’re being like God.

This case can be overstated. Being like God doesn’t mean we replace God. Doing the things God does is meant to bring us into closer relationship with him. Working on the job site with him means we get to spend the day with him. It doesn’t mean we tell him not to show up tomorrow, because we’ve got this figured out.

What a wonder he is, the Maker of our universe! He not only creates something out of nothing, he creates someones who, in some smaller way, can also make something out of nothing.

Update!

To the faithful and few QuickReads followers, first, I thank you for reading, and I wanted to share a couple of updates.

  1. I have another BibleStudyTools.com article: How Do We Wait Upon the Lord?
  2. I have officially made this my personal blog, which I said I’d never do. What I mean is that I promised myself not to journal online, because there is already so much good material online (and there’s plenty of lousy writing out there, which I wanted to be careful to avoid contributing to.)
  3. My new aim for this blog is to share with my readers what I am learning presently, in my voice and in my own way. Writing for others as a very-part-time occupation has made me miss being able to write my own thoughts without concern for how it reflects on others. QuickReads is an outlet for that.
  4. Also, my family is treating Sundays as our Sabbath day (i.e., our day to rest), and I’ve decided that the afternoon is a perfect time to regularly contribute to my own blog. Therefore you will hopefully see more blog posts coming on Sunday afternoons!

Thanks,

Allie