By Name Only

There are jokes we know so well, only the punchline is needed to get us laughing. They’re not that funny, honestly, it’s the memory of the laughter and fun they brought. And then there are those who had never heard the joke, but, often from peer pressure, laughed anyway. Over time, the joke was lost, but the punchline is remembered, and funny, but nobody can remember why. “Rectum? Dang near killed ’em!”, will usually bring a smile, but no one remembers the joke (although you can look it up).

In the same way, we can remember stories of characters simply by naming them. And yet, often, we can’t remember the story, only that the name is important for some reason. It’s like history: it happened, and we remember the names, but the details of what they did are fuzzy, and we can never remember the dates. Again, we can look it up if we like.

The writer of Hebrews, toward the end of the “Role Call of Faith” stops telling stories, and begins listing names. And it is supremely ironic to me that most of the names are from a book which most disciples of Jesus consider a collection of faithless mistakes of Israel.

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 NASB)

Four of the six names are from the book of Judges. And of the Judges listed, the writer seems to have chosen the ones we consider the worst examples of faith. Gideon needed to test God three times, Barak wouldn’t go into battle without a woman present, Samson is simply famous for his mistakes, and few people remember Jephthah because he’s so embarrassing pastor’s don’t teach on him. And yet, there they are, considered paragons of faith to God, held up as examples to follow.

Is it possible that we’ve become so jaded by what we have been told about these men that we have missed the perspective of their Savior? Oh wait, you don’t think they were saved, you say? Samson and Jephthah clearly didn’t get it, and can’t possibly be saved?

Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:35-40 NASB

These were looking for a better resurrection. Why look forward to disaster? They were looking forward to the Savior, as we do. Yet, their names made the list. Maybe just their names, maybe not their stories, but I wish their stories were told. I want to know how the writer of Hebrews understands their stories. We are ashamed of them, and our Savior isn’t. That should tell us something. That should shout loudly to us. A man who sacrificed his only daughter to Yahweh made the list. How is that? Perhaps we miss something in their stories.

Are we missing something in other stories? What about the stories in the lives around us? Is it possible that we have become so judgmental that we consider common what our Savior has sanctified (Acts 10:15)? The context of Acts 10 should scream at us that we, as Gentiles, would have no part in the Kingdom unless those in the Kingdom followed whatever God deemed holy.

These listed here in this collection of failures were considered holy by our Savior. Maybe we should revisit their stories to discover what we missed. It seems the punchline isn’t enough, we need the whole joke to truly get it. And once we have a better grasp of our Creator’s perspective, perhaps we will understand those around us better as well.

Just a thought.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


“Bad Tactic” Faith

Be honest, how often have you considered the things you find in Scripture to be impractical for our modern world? Turning the other cheek, not resisting an evil person, going the extra mile, and so on, all seem like they would cause you to fail today. Who really thinks the meek will inherit the world? They certainly won’t conquer it, which is what we consider valuable.

But even those are possible to believe, they have the potential to be successful, and there is value in kindness even for atheists. But what about when God asks you to do the stupid? “I know how we can take down the huge walls of Jericho, lets walk around them for 7 days!” Really? How about that sort of faith, how likely are we to adopt that level of belief in our Savior?

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.

Hebrews 11:30-31 NASB

Consider for a moment the absurdity of the siege of Jericho. It really wasn’t a siege at all. The sons of Israel only encircled the city during the day, as they walked around it once. After that, they simply watched it (Joshua 5:13). So, while the city was “tightly shut”, anyone could conceivably make an escape. I’m not sure that was the point, but it could have been.

Clearly, the sons of Israel had no concept of siege tactics currently in vogue at the time. No ramps, no ladders, no siege weapons, nothing expected. The Egyptians had used “siege towers”, and it’s very possible the people of Israel would have seen those depicted on the walls of the cities they built. But they still didn’t even try to make any.

Yet, by faith the walls of Jericho fell down. And when they did, one of the people who lived in the wall was saved. By faith, part of the wall fell down, except that portion where Rahab lived. And she lived in faith, believing that saving the spies was good for her and her family. And it was. She became an ancestor of David and Jesus, a testimony of faith, and made the role call by name. A prostitute in the genealogy of Jesus? Yes, because of her faith.

So, our Creator uses the faith of those we would never consider to achieve greatness. And He uses tactics we would never imagine. People and methods we would reject become His favorites. Think about that. In some sense that’s you and I. In another sense, it’s the people you and I discount every day, those living in parks, under bridges, in mansions, or even next door.

Will you and I have the faith to be obedient to the foolish commands of our Savior? Will we be willing to risk being unpopular to do His will? Rahab risked more than unpopularity, she risked her life, twice, if you think about it. Noah built an ark impossible to hide. Moses wandered in from the desert to confront the king of Egypt, and Joshua walked around a city quietly for seven days.

What is our Savior asking you to do? What does our Creator want from you? Who have you possibly marginalized, someone our Savior desires to use in your life? Are you open to that? Are you willing to be obedient when it seems silly? Will you listen to the voice of your Master as He speaks through the unexpected person around you?

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Interpreting Moses

Surely this has happened to you at some time, you see a movie that you thought was okay, but not great, only to have someone else describe it in glowing terms. When you press them for details, they bring up a bunch of stuff you didn’t see, or didn’t see that way. Or, perhaps you are on the other side of that, you are the one who catches all the details others miss. Either way, it’s amazing how two people can see the same events very differently.

Storytelling can be the same way. Different people can walk away from a story with very different ideas about what it was about, the quality of writing, even details about the main characters. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are many different interpretations of Scripture (and yet, it still rankles some people).

Even so, it still surprises me how the writer of Hebrews interprets Moses. In Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, he claims that Moses was “beautiful” (II.9.6), in agreement with the writer of Hebrews (11:23). But they diverge in their assessment of Moses’ parents in that Josephus writes that the parents feared death for being found harboring the child (II.9.4). The writer of Hebrews views it differently:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Hebrews 11:23 (NASB)

This isn’t a huge sticking point because what is meant by the writer of Hebrews could be that they acted in spite of fear, or bravely. But the next assessment of Moses is very peculiar:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Hebrews 11:24-26 (NASB)

Ironically, the entirety of the Exodus summary of Moses early life with his adopted mother is as follows:

The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

Exodus 2:10-11 NASB

That’s it, no detail at all. One moment he is weaned, the next, witnessing the beating of his “brethren”. Josephus has far more to say, with chapter 10 of book II being about Moses defeating the Ethiopians in battle, much to everyone’s surprise.

Interpreting Moses’ response to the beating of a Hebrew as “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” may be a stretch. On the other hand, if he were happy and content being an adopted child of Egyptian royalty, why go look over the people at all? Why would they be “brethren”? Why kill the Egyptian? It makes a lot of sense to accept this interpretation of “Nicodemus” (the writer of Hebrews).

To take it further and claim Moses was looking for more, for the “reward”, of heaven, if we accept the context, might also be a stretch. But there was an awareness of God, of God’s people, of Patriarchs, and promises, so, it could very well be that Moses looked for something from this God, so different from those of the land in which he was a prince.

But, then there is the reason Moses leaves Egypt. For Josephus, Moses leaves to escape a palace plot to take his life (Antiquities II.11). He says nothing of witnessing the beating of a Hebrew, or Moses’ killing of the offending Egyptian. For the writer of Hebrews, Moses leaves in what sounds like defiance of the king of Egypt:

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.

Hebrews 11:27 (NASB)

Moses records the reason in Exodus slightly differently:

But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

Exodus 2:14-15 NASB

So, was it defiance? Was Moses fearless to leave Egypt? Again, I think that the writer of Hebrews brings out a good point. Moses is obviously aware of something more than politics or economics when he tries to defend the Hebrews. His faith may not be huge or mature, but it’s growing. It becomes strong enough to defy Pharaoh, it becomes strong enough to enact the Passover. It becomes enough to lead the difficult people to Sinai.

So, how are we any different in that regard? Our faith may be immature. Our faith may be weak right now, we may be running scared. The thing is, are we running in the direction God wants us? Are we running from Him or to Him?

Faith of the Fathers

The three Patriarchs of the people of Israel were amazing examples of faith. Yet, it’s difficult to beat the example of Abraham offering Isaac in obedience to the One promising him children. This event is recorded in detail in Genesis 22. God tested Abraham. In the Hebrew, this word for “test” can refer to temptations as well as qualitative tests.

The word used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Septuagint) is also used by the writer of Hebrews in 11:17 for “test”. It refers to testing to determine quality, and sometimes originates from ill will (temptation). God does this sort of thing with us, but we are not to do such things with Him (Luke 4:12, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). The Pharisees did this sort of testing of Jesus constantly.

So, here’s the way the writer of Hebrews uses it:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Hebrews 11:17-19 NASB

Think through this test for a second. In Genesis 21, God has had Abraham send away Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael, telling Abraham that Isaac would be the “child of promise”. Now, “some time later”, this same Yahweh calls on Abraham to kill Isaac, specifically calling out both Isaac, and the special relationship between he and Abraham. Think about that for a second. It should give you chills. It should give you some pause for a moment, possibly even doubt. Because behind this story is the reader’s reaction of “what might my Savior ask of me?” And that’s a very good question.

The test of Abraham is of his quality of belief. God had promised that He would fulfill Abraham’s promise through Isaac. So, Abraham had to decide whether he would believe this God even when He seemed capricious. Did Abraham believe that this God would make good on a promise even when He seemed to be reneging? Do you?

When things aren’t going well, do you still believe in the goodness of our Savior? When it’s no longer “fun”, when it’s taking too long, when you are actually being persecuted and suffering, will you persist in your belief of the goodness of your Creator? Is Jesus still on His throne interceding for you? Is the Father still caring for you? Is the Spirit of the Living God still residing within you? Do you still believe, even when it’s not convenient, popular, fun, or even safe? What if persisting in belief and being obedient actually costs you something precious?

It’s easy to answer “yes” in the abstract imagination of “what might be”. I suspect that I have a limit to my faith. I don’t know where it is, exactly, but I suspect it wouldn’t be very difficult to find. I have spent time doubting my Savior. I have spent time behaving as if He was’t real, His promises weren’t sure, and as if He didn’t truly love me. For some peculiar reason, He still forgives me. I can’t answer the above questions with absolute confidence because I haven’t been tested to the extremes of my faith, not yet, but my day is coming.

How about you?

Being Unsettled

Have you ever heard someone say that the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture? What they mean, typically, is that the meaning of a passage is best found by what the other writers of Scripture thought it meant. That isn’t always easy, and not every passage of Scripture is referred to by other writers. But when it happens, it’s very convenient.

Scripture is “God-breathed”, and therefore has our Creator as its author even though there were many writers. Precisely how He worked through human agents is still hotly debated, and were not going to continue that debate here. In any case, when a writer of Scripture refers to another passage of Scripture, it’s pretty safe to say they are right about it.

The writer of Hebrews refers to a lot of old Hebrew Scripture, and here he interprets the life of Abraham and the other Patriarchs.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (NASB)

As I read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it never occurred to me that these guys were looking for a city. They never seemed to be interested in living anywhere other than their tents. But the life of Jacob and his sons brings out the “sojourner” belief about themselves. And Abraham was very clear about not returning to his home country. In fact, something he says about Isaac makes it clear that the life in tents wasn’t all that easy on them.

The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

Genesis 24:5-9 (NASB)

Now, this is not a clear assertion by Abraham. And it can mean that Isaac didn’t like the life, but not necessarily. Yet, as I read it, I wonder if Abraham was aware of the choice he made that Isaac never really was able to make. Haran had people like them in customs and speech. Yet they were shepherds living in a city not in tents. Isaac may not have even thought that was an option. Lot did, and moves his family into Sodom. Abraham couldn’t let that happen to Isaac.

Not that those among whom they lived, the Canaanites, didn’t tend flocks and live in cities, but they weren’t Arameans, they were Canaanites. They weren’t from Mesopotamia, their religion was different, their language was different, their customs and practices were different. And while the Canaanites were drifting away from El Elyon (God Most High), Abraham and his descendants were drawing closer to Him. It was critical that Isaac remain in the Land of Promise, and yet not become lost among the people of Canaan (Gen. 34:18-24). That required a life in tents.

Perhaps, you feel unsettled. You may feel like everything is temporary, and find it difficult to gain a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction, like you’re done. Good! If that’s you, it’s supposed to be what life as a disciple of Jesus is like. We aren’t home, we’re not “done”, we’re all “strangers in a strange land”. In fact, if you fell settled, like everything is set, and you’re fulfilled and satisfied, then you are done, just not in a good way. This place cannot be our home. The whole point of the writer of Hebrews here is that we should be looking forward in faith to the city to come.

This time of “lockdowns”, “quarantines”, and “pandemics” we can feel afraid of the uncertainties. Don’t fear them. Don’t fear what you cannot see, because what we have to look forward to is just beyond all this chaos. Take courage, in fact, be an example of courage. Be unafraid to love, to care, to encourage, and be respectful of others. What will distinguish disciples of Jesus from those who are perishing should be most evident in times like this. We should not fear what they fear. We will be able to love in the face of cold hard apathy, we will be able to care and encourage in the face of discouragement.

Who can you think of that you can encourage today? Do it! Let the Spirit of Jesus guide you to His work in the lives of those around you.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Faithful Example of Abraham

The “Role Call of Faith” continues in Hebrews 11. After the “antediluvian” examples, we reach Abraham. He is such an important example, there are four instances listed where he shows great faith. We’re going to look at three of them:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.

Hebrews 11:8-12 NASB

The first is the call. Abraham responds when Yahweh calls him to leave Haran and head to Canaan (Gen. 12:1-4). He responds by obeying, and this meant leaving the comfortable and known and going to the uncomfortable and unknown. There was a promise involved, so, obedience was to be rewarded. But there had to be belief involved, trust in the One making the promises. You and I are called. And there are promises involved. Will we obey, leave the known for the unknown, the comfortable for the uncomfortable? Will we trust the One making the promises?

And then we have the demonstration of faith in Abraham living as a sojourner in the land promised to him. Here the other patriarchs are mentioned, along with a reason for living this way. They were “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder are God.” Really? Is that why they lived in tents in Canaan? Reading the Genesis account of these men may not leave you with that impression, but what does become clear is that they lived in tents in a land they believed was theirs.

Living in a land believed to be theirs, meant living among cities of stone, and those who lived in them. It meant pasturing flocks around tilled fields of others in a land you knew was yours. It was an act of faith that waited for the timing of the One making the promise rather than taking matters into your own hands (except possibly for Simeon and Levi at Shechem).

How willing are we to faithfully persevere in obedience, even not seeing the promise? How long will we wait for the promise, while being obedient? Abraham sometimes waited more than a decade before another recorded conversation with the One making these promises. How long will we live in tents, temporary houses, waiting on the promise of real permanent mansions? The writer of Hebrews is pushing his audience to persevere to the very end.

And Abraham is used again, along with Sarah, in faithfully conceiving Isaac. Think about that, though. How much faith did that take? We tend to skip by the uncomfortable consideration of intimacy between spouses here. But, really, is it surprising they conceived? Abraham had been promised, and specifically promised that one from Sarah would be his heir, not Ishmael. He laughed, as did Sarah, but the “mechanics” of the process hadn’t changed. It’s just that this time it worked. And yet, the writer of Hebrews calls it faith.

And, I suppose, it was faith. After Sarah dies, Abraham has other kids, so it wasn’t Abraham who had the difficulty, it was Sarah who was barren. That’s not a criticism, it’s an important detail. Abraham doesn’t “jettison” his wife at any point along this process. She’s not the “problem”, from his point of view. He is dedicated and devoted to her even though she cannot, in herself, provide the promised child. In a way, her barrenness is what brings God to the forefront. Unless He steps in, nothing changes. But, even as long as he doesn’t, Abraham is faithful to this barren woman, and is for her whole life. That’s faith.

You see, we can become so pragmatic about how God’s promises are fulfilled. We can “see” His work, only under certain parameters, as if He can only work in certain ways. And yet, Abraham simply obeys God, remaining faithful to this woman who cannot provide him a son, an heir, the one thing he needs to see what he has been promised. And in remaining faithful to her, he remains faithful to the One promising.

Let’s pay close attention to the example of faith provided in Abraham. Let’s be uncomfortable, persevere without seeing our hope fulfilled immediately, and live faithful to the ones our Savior has provided to us. Being cooped up with people around the ones we love can strain that love. But it can also build it, renovate it, rejuvenate it, and make it new again. Your choice. Like Abraham, let’s choose faith.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Antediluvian Role Call

Hebrews 11 is considered the “Role Call of Faith” by many. And it is. The writer of Hebrews draws from many important examples in Scripture to point out the path we are to take in our own lives. His choices follow a chronological path through the Torah and Joshua, but stops right at Judges.

Let’s look at the those who lived prior to the Flood, the “antediluvian” examples:

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Hebrews 11:4-7 (NASB)

The first example, Abel, offered a better sacrifice. There has been a ton of speculation about why his sacrifice was better. The author of Hebrews seems to believe it was because of his faith. This is at least as good as any interpretation, and better than most. He doesn’t claim it was because Abel offered blood, since offerings of crops were common in Israel, that’s not a great interpretation.

In Genesis, we have a record of God’s conversation with Cain, not Abel. And it reveals something about Cain, and what probably went wrong with the sacrifice.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Genesis 4:6-7 (NASB)

Just a couple of observations. First off, Cain didn’t sin, but rather sin was close. So, to be clear, Cain did not aim at a mark and miss (sin by definition). What God claims is that “If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up?” In something, some qualitative way, he didn’t bring something regarded by God. The author of Hebrews thinks it a quality of Cain, not his sacrifice. Abel had faith, and Cain did not.

This will become clearer as we move on to Enoch who was “transferred”. The NASB translated what happened to Enoch as “taken up”. The important detail is that Enoch “pleased God” (Hebrew, “walked with God”), and God simply put him in heaven, no suffering death. What this means, precisely, is unknown. But the interpretation of the writer of Hebrews is that it was because Enoch pleased God by faith.

One of the struggles we face as disciples of Jesus is belief. It’s been two millennia, and still no return of our Savior. It’s difficult to hold out, persevering when there is no end in sight. The people then thought Jesus was coming back immanently. We don’t truly have that “angst”. The thing is, we are supposed to have that angst.

When we believe that our Creator and Savior exists and is One rewarding those seeking Him, we please Him. Think about that two-part criteria for a moment. We believe that He exists, which is good, although so do demons (James 2:19). The key activating the effect of faith is that we believe He rewards those seeking Him. Enoch, according to the writer of Hebrews, sought God.

Enoch sought God believing there was benefit in seeking Him. If you want a major point of application, this is where you will find it. Seek God believing there is benefit for you. And if you are curious about what it means to “seek”, or what the “reward” is, keep reading this chapter. It’s probably not what you might expect.

Noah is our next contestant. He has faith to build an enormous “box” in which to float about on the flood. But does so out away from the ocean. By doing so, he condemns those who reject his project, who don’t pay attention to what he’s doing or why. They continue on with life, business, family, friends, and what not. And then, one day, the rains come, and it’s too late.

Noah believed God’s decree, and probably built the ark over a period of 120 years (Gen. 6:2). So, for 120 years, people had an opportunity to catch on to what was happening. It wasn’t like there was no option for them to believe, there was ample time. They chose not to until the opportunity had passed. And in faith, Noah preserved his family before his Creator, who by then, was also his Savior.

Noah’s “right standing before God”, his righteousness, was based on his faith, which led to his obedience. It wasn’t just obedience, Cain did that. This was obedience that was motivated by faith, obedience as seeking God, obedience as seeking that reward, persevering in obedience because of what is to come.

Noah didn’t see it (Heb. 11:1), but he believed what God said was coming. He obediently built the massive ark, believing in the eventual reward, which he obtained. But his reward exceeded what he expected. He was recorded forever as one of those pleasing to our Creator through faith. He becomes an example for us.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning. What do you see?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Evidence Unseen

We say it, “seeing is believing”, but I don’t think we believe it . You can probably think of something you’ve seen (or you think you’ve seen) but still struggle to wrap your head around. I experienced a “near car wreck” in my ’20’s that I still struggle to believe, and when I tell people about it, they look at me rather incredulously. And they should. It’s difficult to believe.

So, when the writer of Hebrews floats a definition of faith by us, and we don’t stop to pick it apart, that’s probably why. We already can think of a few things that aren’t God and which we still struggle to believe, even with evidence. If we can struggle with faith in seen stuff, accepting unseen faith in God is easier. Does that sound backwards? That’s probably more psychological than philosophical, but it’s still true.

Even so, let’s look more closely at the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews, especially the second half:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NASB, emphasis mine)

The New American Standard uses “conviction”, but you may be more familiar with “evidence” here. Those two terms are not the same in English. “Conviction” is a conclusion derived from some process (perhaps including evidence), “evidence” is what is used to derive a conclusion. That’s not an unimportant distinction. Take a moment and think about it. Is faith the end of the process or an element of it?

As part of your process in drawing a conclusion about whether faith is evidence or assurance, keep in mind that this statement sits parallel to the first part of the definition, “substance of what is hoped for”, where, again, the NASB has “assurance”. Here, once again, the choice is between an element in the process of arriving at a conclusion, or the conclusion itself. Does that sound unnecessarily confusing? I hope not.

It isn’t absolutely necessary to think about what you think about. I find it helpful. I prefer the elements in the process of coming to a conclusion rather than being handed a conclusion. But honestly, in discussing the Creator of the universe, it makes more sense to simply receive the conclusion. Faith is received (Ephesians 2:8,9). Is it “evidence”? In a very important sense, yes, it is. But in another sense, faith is the conclusion we live by.

The word “things” in the term, “things not seen” is the Greek word from which we get “pragmatic”. For the Greeks it referred to “matters” personal, business, governmental, or even legal. So, events, points in time, of a practical nature, relating to daily life, but which are not seen, what are those? Creation? Salvation? Jesus’ life, His resurrection, His ministry of intercession? All of these, and all the rest of Scripture, make up the pragmatic things we haven’t witnessed personally, but about which we are convinced. 

Having been convinced of these things, we live our lives, make decisions about what to say, where to go, what to do. That is faith. We have hope in a future with Jesus, and faith gives substance to that hope. That assurance of such a future enables us to behave as if it’s true. But there is so much we cannot see, so much that affects our day-to-day lives outside of our view. And we need the gift of faith from our Savior to live out our days convinced it is all proven, even when we can’t see it.

Some thoughts about faith. I hope they help you through another day in quarantine. What are yours through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

What Is Faith

In John’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”. Ironically, earlier while Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples celebrating the Passover, He told His disciples that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Jesus answers the question, “what is truth” in Himself. But faith isn’t about truth, it’s about belief.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 NASB

This sounds simple enough. Faith is the “assurance”, or, as the King James Version puts it, “substance” (which is more correct). These are translations of the Greek word, “hypostasis” which you can look up here. Because of his previous use of this word writing of Jesus’ nature (Heb. 1:3), the writer here connects “substance” to “faith”.

In his previous use of the word, Jesus is the exact struck image of God’s “substance”, as if they were both coins struck from the same mint. Think about that in relation to faith. If faith is the “substance” of hope in the same way that Jesus shares the substance with God, how connected is faith to hope?

What is hope? Isn’t hope an expectation that a desire will be realized? For Paul and the other writers of the Christian Scriptures, hope relates to Jesus’ appearing, to heaven. So, hope implies that we desire heaven. Faith makes that desire real. Without that desire, though, there is no hope, and faith has nothing to substantiate.

Do you believe that Jesus died on a cross? Do you believe He rose from the dead? Do you believe that Jesus is presently interceding with the Father as the divine High Priest? If so, great. But so do demons, rebellious angels ruling the nations of this earth. They also believe and tremble (James 2:19).

The question isn’t whether you believe these people exist or whether these events happened. The question is whether you believe you are part of them. Are you a partner with Jesus? Are you a participant in His suffering? Are you seeking the place He has prepared for you? When you are involved in the things of Scripture, then faith has substantiated hope. Does that sound more like James than Hebrews? It’s both!

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Relational Religion

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NASB)

Religion: 1) The state of a religious (person); 2) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; 3) scrupulous conformity; 4) a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Relationship: 1) The state of being related or interrelated; 2) the relation connecting or binding participants in a relationship, such as: a) kinship, or b) a specific instance or type of kinship; 3) a) a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings b) a romantic or passionate attachment. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

You’ve all heard it, “It’s not about a religion, it’s about a relationship.”  You’ve probably even said it.  The problem is that it isn’t exactly true.

The truth is more toward a blending of the two than one over the other.  The way that Scripture describes the Creator and His people, there is both a relationship, and religious practice.  What is often missed, especially by the people on the pages, is that the the religious practice is about maintaining the relationship.

Not to oversimplify, but the practice of faith is mostly about “problem” and “solution”.  The problem is what’s wrong with our relationship with our Creator, and the solution is what’s being done about it.  Like a marriage, either we’re working on improving the relationship, or we’re letting it die.  Relationships don’t remain idle.

From the definition of religion above, there are two basic elements required: belief, and practice.  From the definition of relationship there are also two basic elements required: relation, and participants.  In Hebrews 11:6, we can find all four elements.

And without faith <belief> it is impossible to please Him <practice>, for he who comes to God <participants> must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him <relation>. (Hebrews 11:6 NASB)

Followers of Jesus exist in a religious relationship with Him.  It can also be said that followers of Jesus pursue a relational religion of Him.  He is the Participant, and the Object.  He makes the relationship possible, and we act out our belief within that relationship.

The primary problem is that He has the entire universe on his workbench as some sort of spinning decoration, and we’re infinitesimally small within that.  We can’t get out to Him, He has to come within to us.  It has to be our Creator who initiates the relationship.  We’re stuck with that.  What we do once He has is up to us.

But once in this relationship, we discover there are “rules”, that our Creator has established boundaries.  Think through that verse again.  We please Him.  We seek Him, and He rewards us.  The give and take elements of a relationship are there, but it’s truly about Him.  Why?

A relationship with our Creator has to be about Him.  He is “out there” where we can’t go.  It’s either His route or no route.  We won’t find Him accidentally, invade His space, or stumble through to His existence.  In order to get to Him, we need to follow His rules.

Sometimes people get so stuck on the problem that we have to follow His rules they forget He provided rules.  Think about that for a sec: The Creator of the universe provides a way for us to know Him.  We can’t get off this rock to get to Him (or anywhere, for that matter), and we pout because He didn’t provide the way we wanted?  We matter to Him, but that’s not enough.  Let’s be honest, we can’t be trusted to leave this rock.  We belong in a playpen.

But why do His “rules” include a cross?  Ah, yes, why indeed?  I’ll explore that next week.  Along with more of the “Gideon Saga”.

So, what’s your view of God through the fence?