the Stone and the Oak

A journey into bible education with the stronghold of the of the oak the accountability of the stone

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This is Emily.

Her drink is an oat milk cappuccino from Kuppa Joy (her current place of employment!)

Friends, this Sips & Scripts was particularly cool for me because Emily was once a student in my English 3 class. Back before my last baby was born, I taught a class or two each semester at the local college. I typically taught composition, though this particular class was about argumentation.

Emily impressed me so much with her writing that I urged her to apply to be a tutor in the center of our college. (She tells that story slightly differently: she tells me I said “Emily! Please come apply to be a tutor in our center… if you think you can be on time for your shifts.” So I am guessing punctuality is something that Emily has grown into).

Emily is the younger sister of Amanda who you know from Sips & Scripts: Following His Calling to the College Campus. Both ladies are incredibly intelligent with hearts for the Lord as big as can be.

Emily only tutored for our center for one semester before she felt God’s calling to join Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Australia. And off she went, spending over two years in various countries and becoming further involved in different positions therein.

When we sat down on one of the first lovely days of fall together, she talked with me at length about how she listens to God in order to be obedient to the plans He has for her.

2020 DISRUPTED A LOT OF PLANS

“I have always had a pretty long-term plan. I planned to return to Australia in March to help staff a school for YWAM which would run about a year.

After the year, I planned to return to the States to get my degree, and then move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film.

As you know, March of 2020 fit into no one’s plans. Not long after I landed in Australia, we went into lockdown, and the school I was preparing to staff was cancelled entirely.

The cancellation presented an even bigger complication because my visa was not for an extended stay in Australia; it was supposed to cover me for the first and last part of the school mission. In between, I was scheduled to be in Europe and Pakistan.

I had no idea what would come of the year, but I let God lead me to the next right thing which was to work in online evangelism with a program through a Facebook group called Why God?

As you might imagine, the pandemic and lockdown caused a lot of people to seek answers and guidance online. Why God? connected us to so many individuals seeking answers, and people were giving their lives to Jesus. I longed for a house church to direct these new believers to, but in the lockdown, I could only remain grateful that they were reached through online evangelism.

Choosing to follow God’s lead to Why God? gave me a passion for church planting that I don’t think I would have had if I had continued in the YWAM staffing program. In fact, I feel like my passion had found a more specific focus: I have a friend who owns a coffee shop in Norway where he is able to disciple to his clients and then get them connected to his house church. I would love to do that. Church…coffee…community— these are all things I love that work together so well.

And so I worked for as long as I could on this special visa and then the next right thing was to fly home to California and to see what God had for me next.

And of course He presented an opportunity: through my mom’s work, I can get my Associate’s degree in Business Administration online for free. A BA degree would help me make my dream of owning a Christian coffee shop a reality. So in this time of limbo, this is what I am currently pursuing.”

MEETING HIM AT THE PLANNING TABLE

“When I converse with God, I like to pray out loud. This way, my thoughts are being vocalized, and then any phrases that circulate my mind are distinguished as His and not confused with my own.

And when it comes to planning out what is next for me, I sometimes get my imagination involved. For instance, when it came to deciding what to do about film school, I pictured sitting with God at a table and discussing the different avenues I could take.

In my mind, I presented different options to him (on paper is how I imagined it), and then based on his answers, I shifted the papers of plans around in response to what He tells me.

For instance, early on, He told me ‘Go do Discipleship Training School (DTS) for 6 months in Australia,’ and I obeyed which meant the film school paper was already sent to the margins.

After I completed DTS, I had the option to join YWAM staff or go to further schooling in YWAM. God directed me to join YWAM staff, and so I remained with YWAM for two more years in Australia amongst other countries.

I finally picked up in the pattern: film school was never in the plans He presented me.

I remember sitting in my room quietly one day, and I asked him, ‘God, are you trying to change my plans about film school?’

He said ‘yes. Shove the film school plans off the table’

I said. ‘Ok, God. There they go. And I shoved those plans off the table.’

He knows what is best for me. I know I would go into film programs and the industry with good intentions, but the work and the environment could so easily overpower my mission to share the gospel in LA. He showed me that this overpowering would be the result if I went down that path, and He is absolutely right.”

FOLLOWING HIS PLANS WITH OBEDIENCE LIKE ABRAHAM

“I want God to see me respond to His plans with true obedience. In YWAM, I learned that true obedience follows three criteria:

  • True obedience is immediate: one can’t obey God based on one’s own timeline.
  • True obedience is complete: one can’t have half obedience to God.
  • True obedience is wholehearted: one can’t begrudgingly be obedient to God.

This is why Abraham is one of my greatest Biblical heroes— he was obedient to the fullest extent as evidenced in Hebrews:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Hebrews 11.8, ESV

Abraham had to set aside any plans of his own in order to be fully obedient to God. And the verse about ‘not knowing where he was going’ is something I can completely relate to.

I love a full plan. God knows this about me. I can become secure and autonomous in a well-established plan. I go in to those kind of plans without conversing with God regularly, and that’s not what He wants. He wants to do the steps with me. He is not sending me off on my own to report back. He wants me to be where I come to Him daily.”

ADJUSTING TO THE CHANGED PLANS.

“Though I know that He led me the right way, it’s been a bit difficult to adjust to my new situation.

YWAM has an incredibly fast pace. Changes happen suddenly. We worked long days for outreach. When I was there, working so hard for the Lord, I felt affirmed in the busyness. I fell into ‘work = worth’ mentality a little bit— not that YWAM preaches that at all—but I felt so useful to God.

Now that I am home, the pace is slow and my workload is lighter. I take classes online and work at the coffee shop, but I often find extra time on my hands. And at first, it felt strangely unfulfilling to have all of this empty time. It’s hard not to fall into the American misconception that relaxation is selfish. It has been a process to get out of those busy rhythms and that work mentality.

One book that has helped me change my mindset about rest and margin is The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. Comer was a pastor of a mega-church in Portland, but he hit a point where he had burned himself out. So he scaled back and reflected on hurry and busyness and how to best serve the Lord. He makes the point that if we are so burned out at the end of the day, we don’t have time for communion with God and prayer; we just binge Netflix.

One of my favorite passages in the book is when Comer quotes Walter Adams:

To walk with Jesus is to walk with a slow, unhurried pace. Hurry is the death of prayer and only impedes and spoils our work, it never advances it.

The pace of God is a slow pace. It is a pace of love. It is willing to wait. God teaches me in the waiting.”

MOVING FORWARD

I asked Emily what we can pray for. She asked for prayers for loneliness— living in a flat of twelve and then coming back to her parents’ house means she is no longer surrounded by peers. She also asks prayers for direction, clarity, and guidance for what she should pursue in 2021.

Next year, they want to run the school that Emily signed on to help with that did not get to run in April. Emily may be called back to run that school, or God may direct her to finish her AS and pursue the passion of running a coffee house. She will listen carefully to God, and shove whatever papers off the table that He asks her to.

May we all strive for the obedience that this young, twenty-something woman has.

with His love,

Adelaide

Almost nine years ago, I was walking in the woods behind my house in Tallahassee. The afternoon sun was waning and my infant son was sleeping in his wrap against my chest.

I was walking with Him, too—praying, listening. Suddenly, I felt a presence to my right.  With my hand on my baby’s head, I turned my glance and there, in the grey, lifeless setting of the still-wintery woods was one solitary cardinal with his remarkable red feathers standing in stark contrast to the sullen branches that surrounded him.

Before I explain the significance of that cardinal, I need to first describe the many dark weeks that led up to that moment.

A THORNY START TO MOTHERHOOD

In my first pregnancy, I wanted to get everything right—perhaps obsessively so.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I went to childbirth classes.  I scrutinized every baby item that came into the nursery for appropriate toxicity levels.  I felt fully responsible for this baby’s wellness, and I was not going to be caught off guard.

Little Henry was placed on my chest at 1:00 in the morning in a dark hospital room with just one lamp near the delivery table and a small handful of people. He remained in the same spot on my bare chest, precisely where the midwife placed him, for what seemed like twenty minutes. He seemed impossibly delicate, so I hesitated to maneuver his tiny form. In fact, I had to ask my husband to tell me what his little face looked like since I was not ready to move him. All I could do was nervously kiss the top of his gauzy, warm head.

The Lord had sewn a seed in my life—the seed of motherhood.  But like the parable of sower who sows the truth of God’s word, Jesus warns us that if the seed is sewn among thorns, what he calls “the cares of this world,” the thorns “choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4: 18-19, ESV).

As someone prone to anxiety, I found myself wrought with fears as I held this fresh life in my hands and was being trusted with it; these fears were the thorns threatening to choke out a blooming, thriving motherhood.

FIGHTING MY OWN WAY OUT

In those early weeks at home, there were times that I felt safe and calm in my role as a mother, particularly when my baby and I were lying together in bed as he nursed. 

But for a good portion of the day, intrusive thoughts about my baby getting hurt would flood my mind.  I would try to fight these thoughts with all of my own reasoning and logic, but the darkness would whisper back still, it could happen.

As a result, I began putting irrational behaviors in place. For instance, we lived in a house with a fair amount of ceramic tile, and I would do my best to avoid carrying him over the tile. On walks, I would take his stroller the long way around our local lake instead of crossing over the wooden bridge. And at church, I avoided taking him up to the second balcony of our church, opting for the ground level.

Writing about these behaviors, nine years removed, the irrationality of these fears and behaviors are painfully clear to me. Unfortunately, when powerful fear is paired with the shifting chemicals in the brain after birth, it can be difficult to look at things rationally.

All the while, I felt so downhearted— this was not what my first weeks of motherhood were supposed to look like. God had put the desire for motherhood in my heart and here I was, blessed with the gift of a baby, unable to enjoy any of his newborn days due to the dark fears swarming my mind. Inevitably, I blamed myself for this brokenness: I concluded that I must not be worthy of a peaceful motherhood.

During this time, the extent of my prayer life was a series of laments and desperate demands: Why, God? Why is this happening? Make it stop.

THE FAÇADE OF PEACE

I struggled through probably three full months in this unbearable state while presenting a façade of being well-adjusted to friends and family. But as everyone knows, pretending has a threshold—one can only do it for so long before truth begins to crack its pristine exterior.

Pretending has a threshold

I began to open up to my loved ones about the fears that had overtaken my mind, and I reached out to my doula for a referral to a mental health specialist.  She knew of a well-reputed Christian counselor.

I made the appointment. I showed up. I sat waiting in the counselor’s office which was situated underground beneath the public health clinic. I remember being fidgety—scared of what she would say when I told her of my obsessive thoughts about my baby being harmed.  Would she find me unfit to be his mother? Would she take him away from me? 

Regardless of these concerns, I knew something had to change, so I went into the meeting ready to tell her everything in the hopes of a solution.

The first activity she guided me to complete was to take a piece of paper and in several free-floating circles, I was to write out all of the fears that were consuming me.  Shakily, I wrote each one out, even “I’m afraid of my baby being harmed and that it will be my fault.”  I held the breath in my chest as her eyes scanned my answers. I braced for her response.

“All of this…” she traced my written fears with her forefinger, “all of these are good.”

Good?  Did she not read them closely?  How could thoughts like these be good?

“All of these are good because you are a human having human thoughts.”

I wish I could adequately express in words what it feels like for months of utter anguish to dissolve—in the mind, in the body, in the soul. She spoke these words to me: I was still good even if dark and scary thoughts broke through.  Suddenly, I felt worthy of healing.

Of course, you and I know that we are always worthy. From the instance God creates us to our final breath, we are worthy because we are His.

We are worthy because we are His

Why had I forgotten that? How had I gotten so off-course? Why had I allowed the evil one destroy the beautiful gift God had given me?

I left that appointment feeling a bit like the invalid near Bethseda before Jesus heals him. Jesus finds the man bemoaning his condition, and asks him a simple question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5: 6, ESV). I never actually asked for healing. I complained. I blamed. I demanded it stopped. I took matters into my own hands. But I never trusted He who created me to heal me.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRAYER

Newly reminded of my worth as His child, I began to open up a true dialogue with God again.  I abandoned the bitter, desperate laments I had previously been hurling at God, and replaced them with space to listen for his guidance.

I stopped asking Why, Lord? And began asking, What now? What do I do next?

He led me to acupuncture and a supplement plan.  He led me to journaling and long prayer walks in the woods behind our house.

With my son wrapped tightly against me, I would walk into those woods with my boots pressing onto fallen leaves and my heart pressing into Him. I would ask Him questions and listen for answers.

THE AFTERNOON HE MET ME

This brings us to the cardinal.

I don’t think I can adequately describe the feeling that overcame me when I saw that cardinal looking directly my way in the barren woods.

It stood with such stillness—such steadfastness—and yet such presence, and I knew it was sent for me.  I felt God in that moment. It was as if the cardinal was sent to remind me of the nearness and constancy of our God even when our surroundings appear bleak.  The message I got was that He had always been with me and that He would always be with me.  Don’t forget me in your trials, He seemed to say; I am hereI always will be near you.

Eyes full of tears—absolutely overwhelmed by this visceral message, I kissed my sleeping son’s head just like when I first met him, except this type of kiss was not as a frantic substitute in the midst of fear. The kisses on that afternoon meant we’re going to be okay.

ROOM TO BLOOM

The thorny fears that I had been unintentionally feeding began to dry up and fall away. The seed of motherhood that God had planted finally had room to bloom.

I began seeing cardinals everywhere: several in the trees that arched above my head while I pushed the stroller down our street; one perched on the wooden cross that stood outside of our neighborhood church; and one—as unlikely as it sounds–on the cover of the bible study packet that I gripped in disbelief when I joined a local young parents’ group. 

Each scarlet-clothed visitor acted as a reminder to let the fears pass through and to hold fast to His promise that He was by my side. His plans are to give me “a future and a hope…not for evil” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).

I always loved my son, but now I was able to enjoy him and embrace motherhood in the way God intended.

A SEASON REDEEMED

It did not take long for God to use my incredibly difficult season to bear fruit for others.  Having gone through such a difficult transition into motherhood myself, I began to notice the signs of new mothers who were quietly struggling.  One of the telltale signs is when an active participant on social media suddenly drops off her handle in radio silence.  True, new mothers are busy and tired. But I knew from experience that one who finds herself pretending is often too exhausted for online presence.

In those cases, I would send the new mother a message—not a prying message, but one of confession: “I know the newborn days can be tough and I had some dark ones.  Want to talk on the phone?”  I would detail the hardest parts of that season, and inevitably, the mother in question would respond that yes, she was struggling, too.

My season of suffering suddenly had purpose. 

God was able to use me and my broken experience to begin the healing of other moms in distress.  I remember hearing their sobs of confusion, which rang so familiar, and would stay on the phone with each one until she found her way to the moment of relief–it’s not only me. And I will get through it.

I now have three sons whom I am able to love without shaky hands or nervous kisses.  All of the new mothers with whom I shared my confession now have multiple children of their own and are thriving in their roles.

And the greatest outcome of all? I learned to turn my face toward Him in difficult times. I still have seasons of anxiety, but I listen to His directions, and He guides me out.

In 1 Peter, we learn that the testing of our faith is like gold being refined in fire— the act itself is not pleasant, but we emerge shiny, new entities—ones that reflect the image of our Refiner all the more.

Whenever I fly back to Florida and visit those woods, I walk through its quiet paths and feel its sacredness as a place of rebirth for me. There He met me and has sustained me since.

with His love,

Adelaide

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P.S. I never really do this, but I am going to share a slew of photos of Henry (and me) over the years. In them is proof that God truly redeems even the darkest of seasons.

In the midst of the dark days— in the field, at the edge of the woods I described

This is Kim.

Her drink is a homemade butter coffee (your guess is as good as mine… all I know is that Kim is really disciplined with her Keto diet).

Kim and I seized an ebb from the smoke in the skies to head out to the park for our chat. Before we dive in, let me share how Kim and I met (it has a similar God-orchestration such as how I met Hilary from the last Sips & Scripts).

At my family’s first-ever event at the elementary school— Kindergarten Orientation for my oldest— we walked over to see where his classroom was, and there was another family who was doing the same.

The boy in that family, my son’s soon-to-be classmate, looked an awful lot like my son: light brown hair, rail-thin build. We got to chatting and had the boys introduce each other.

Fast forward a little and the only way to describe the boys’ friendship is through clichés: they were two peas in a pod. In fact, they haven’t shared a teacher again in three years and yet they are still thick as thieves.

My son on the left and Kim’s on the right at the start of 3rd grade this year

As you might imagine, the kids bonding meant that we moms got a chance to know each other. And to my delight, Kim holds many of the same values and parenting ideals that I do. In fact, she’s an inspiring mom to me because she turns every conversation with her kids into a learning opportunity, and I just love that.

So it came as no surprise to me that during our chat, Kim not only discussed verses that were important to her, but also verses that she feels are important to impart in her kids.

Like me, Kim has a storied past— we both felt that there were years when we de-prioritized God and gave priority to the things of this earth. Though God has forgiven her for all of her past choices, Kim has chosen to take those experiences and turn them into lessons for her own children.

TEACHING HER KIDS TO TURN TO THE WORD FOR TOUGH DECISIONS

“I lived in New York City for awhile, and housing can be tricky there. My roommate and I slept in bunk beds to consolidate space. She told me she wanted her boyfriend to move in… and sleep in her bunk. Clearly, this was not going to work for me.

I had to decide if I was going to put in for another roommate, or try and move to another apartment. After weighing the options and rationalizing with myself, I opened my Bible. I landed on Acts and I read Paul’s simple line ‘After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship and returned home’ (Acts 21.6). That word home almost jumped off the page at me. I knew God was using that verse to tell me it was time to move home.

I’ve told my kids this story and that logic and reasoning is not always the way to the right decision. Turning the decision over to God often means it will be made in the heart, not the brain. Sometimes we have stop working so hard for answers, and open ourselves up to messages from Him.”

Sometimes we have to stop working so hard for answers, and open ourselves up to messages from Him.

TEACHING HER KIDS TO LISTEN FOR MESSAGES FROM GOD

“When I was a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, I heard the voice of God asking me to buy my co-worker a Bible. I didn’t even know the girl that well, and I felt pretty awkward about just handing her a Bible. I put His direction off for a bit. But I kept hearing it. So I researched Bibles, and found the one I would want to give her. It cost $43. At the end of my next shift, I counted up my tips and they totaled $43 exactly. I felt like saying, ‘God, I hear you loud and clear!’ And I bought her the Bible.

When I share this story with my kids, I want them to know that the voice of God can be a feeling in their gut… a phrase that gets stuck in their minds… or an image that they get in their imagination.

Because, ultimately, they will get lots of different messages— even within the church— and I want them to understand that the relationship they develop with God will guide them better than anything else.”

TEACHING HER KIDS NOT TO HIDE FROM GOD WHEN THEY MESS UP

“When my son was little, he got in a fight with his sister and hit her. He immediately ran to his bed and hid in his covers, hoping that hiding from me meant he would not get in trouble.

This was the perfect opportunity to talk to him about never hiding from God. We are going to mess up— it dates back to original sin. Eve and Adam made a wrong choice and what was the first thing they did? They hid from God.

But God knows everything. Hiding not only doesn’t help, it puts distance between us and Him. I told my son to confess and he will always be forgiven.”

TEACHING HER KIDS TO EQUIP THEMSELVES FOR THE ENEMY’S ATTACKS

“In the darkest part of my dark years, I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t feel like I could get myself above the surface. I asked God how much longer I would be drowning.

Again, I turned to the Bible. I read the verse ‘Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5.8, ESV).

It felt like the enemy was trying to devour me. So I asked God for insight, and He told me that the enemy was trying to take my strength and my honor: the two attributes of my name.

It was Psalm 139 that really helped me find a way to the surface:

You have searched me Lord, and you know me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise;

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all of my ways.”

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Psalm 139. 1-5, ESV

In those days, I was still reeling from abusive relationships, and I needed to be known like that. Feeling so intimately known by Him was what really got my prayer life back on track. I didn’t have to be formal or all put together with Him; I could just be me and speak to him from where I was.”

TEACHING HER KIDS THAT THEY WERE GIVEN A PURPOSE AND CAREFUL DESIGN

Psalm 139 has continued to guide and shape our family. When I was pregnant with my first child, my daughter, I had an ultrasound and in the image printed, she was smiling. I framed it with the verse you knit me together in your womb:

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made

Psalm 139.13-14

To me, this is one of the most convicting scriptures— the creator of the universe so carefully designed me and my children.

This knowledge helps if I ever am struggling with a parenting challenge— I pray and ask God to help me know them like He knows them.

And when I talk to my daughter about her careful and purposeful design, it helps instill in her that her identity can be in Him and not in the things that might try and influence her.

I have heard her recite this message to one of her friends who was calling herself ugly. My daughter said to the girl ‘God made you perfectly and so carefully! You are just as you are meant to be.’

Her friend had never heard that verse before.

And so the lessons we teach our children can have a beautiful and important ripple effect.”

TRAINING OUR CHILDREN IN THE WAY THEY SHOULD GO

Kim has turned her struggles into important lessons in abiding in God. I commended her tactic of discussing these things on the front end, before the ways of the world try and sway our children.

Like Kim and like me, our kids may have a spell when they stray or doubt God. But if God is in the roots, then the tree won’t be fully knocked over by the storm of doubt or the storm of disobedience. If the roots remain, new growth can always occur.

If, like the Proverb says, we “Train up a child in the way he should go” he will not depart from that way even when he is old.

And training up our kids means letting them know the mistakes we have made and the struggles we have had and how God redeemed them.

This is how we equip them for the storm or, perhaps, it equips them to help others through the storm.

with His love,

Adelaide

For the umpteenth time, I tapped the weather app on my phone, and once again saw an Air Quality Index (AQI) of over 170– unhealthy. I dropped my phone glumly and planned for another day confined to the walls of my house.

Typically, September is one of my favorite times of the year. Our scorching valley heat starts to wane and the mornings are delightfully cool. I take my mug out after the sun spreads its meager September light for some quiet mommy time. I plant mums. I eagerly await the start of autumn.

Not this year.

As I am sure you know, California wildfire season has raged more furiously this year than an any point in recent history. And the Creek Fire has hit very close to home as it tears through the local mountain community. We know many people who have been personally affected by the fire, and I have been to my local evacuation site to offer the little that I could.

So many people are suffering serious devastations from the Creek Fire, and the battle is not over yet.

I realize that being confined to my house because of hazardous air quality is nothing compared to the displaced and those suffering serious losses.

But in a pandemic that has already placed serious restrictions on where I can go and what I can do (though I understand why), facing weeks of an even tighter confinement really got me down.

I prayed for God to contain the fires, and then I had to admit to Him that I wanted them contained for myself in addition to the mountain community. Selfish as it sounds, I asked that he clear up the air so my family could go outside again.

And in my prayer I told God that I know blue sky is up there, and I had full faith that I would see blue sky again.

What a day that will be! I thought. I will praise Him with all my heart when I see that blue sky.

I will praise Him with all my heart when I see that blue sky?

Let’s put a pin in that statement and revisit it in a bit.

THE MANUAL FOR FAITH

I read the book of Hebrews for my September reading, and my pre-reading investigation led me to understand that the unknown author is trying to convince Jewish Christians that Jesus is greater than all that they hold dear from the Torah.

Jesus is compared to angels, to Moses, to priests, and to sacrifices, each time making the case for why Jesus surpasses them all.

And then the final chapters of Hebrews meditate around the idea of faith. In fact, our pastor refers to Hebrews as “the manual for faith.” And it is this subject, these verses, that sauntered into my heart and took up residence there while I battled the gloom of the smoky skies.

Chapter 11 starts with two definitions of faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,

the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11.1, ESV

The definition first pairs hope with assurance that our hope will manifest.

The second definition is the certainty or belief in things we cannot see, or at least we cannot see yet.

So, if we go back to my example about the blue skies, it stands that I had faith in that moment. I hoped for blue skies and felt assured that I would see them again. And though all I could see was a smoky sky, I was certain that the smoky sky would been replaced by a blue one.

And yet… (it seems I always have an “and yet”), I was saving my praise for the Lord until I saw the results I wanted.

Is faith complete with suspended praise? I would argue probably not.

Making praise conditional on the end result is a faith half-baked.

Does God only love us when he sees results? Certainly not.

So why would I hinge my faith on results?

And so, rather than waiting for the blue skies to say God you are SO good because you answered my prayer, I need to say Him, amidst to the smoky skies, God you are SO good. Always.

It’s hard to do.

But radical faith is the catalyst for unimaginable goodness.

Radical faith is the catalyst for unimaginable goodness.

TO WHOM SHOULD WE LOOK AS MODELS OF GREAT FAITH?

The author of Hebrews uses almost an entire chapter (11) to recount some of the hall-of-famers of faith in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah)— the text this particular audience will value.

And for each faith role model mentioned, I started asking myself questions:

  • Did Abel wait for God to reward him before offering the firstborn of his flock? (Gen 4.4; Heb 11.4)
  • Did Enoch only walk with God after God had blessed him with many sons and daughters? (Gen 5.22-24; Heb 11.5)
  • Did Noah wait for the rains to start before building his ark? (Gen 6.11-22; Heb 11.7)
  • Did Abraham wait for the bestowment of the promised land to be obedient to God? (Gen 15.18-21; Heb 11.8)
  • Did Sarah wait until Isaac’s arrival to delight in the blessing of a child? (Gen 18.12; Heb 11.11)

Spoiler alert: the answer is no— a resounding no to all of the above.

These faith role models exhibited the important byproducts of faith: praise, obedience, and a close relationship with our Lord. Incomplete faith waits on results, whereas complete faith waits for nothing.

Incomplete faith waits on results, whereas complete faith waits for nothing.

The chapter goes on to list many more examples of great faith in early believers: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jepthath are all mentioned for their great faith. All of these individuals are what the author calls the “cloud of witnesses” as he/she begins the next section.

WE LOOK TO THE PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH

The first two verses in chapter 12 are so rich in poignance that I had to create a graphic for them:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses

let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,

and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy that was set before him

endured the cross, despising the shame,

and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.1-1. ESV).

The fourth line holds so much for us to unpack. First, Jesus is the founder of faith in that before him, salvation came from adherence to the law. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law…So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3.24-25).

Faith is the gift that was bought and paid for by the body of Christ. Faith is a gift; the least I can do is not take it for granted– not continue to offer incomplete faith. And this fact ushers in the next part of that line: Jesus is the perfecter of our faith. Faith isn’t a black-or-white entity; it is not always “you have it or you don’t.” We can improve the faith we have. We can make our faith whole and complete.

And how do we perfect our faith? The answer is in that same fourth line– we look to Jesus.

And how do we perfect our faith? We look to Jesus.

We remember what he endured in faith to atone for our sins and save our souls. We remember this when we are enduring a long race– even when the road ahead stretches farther that the eye can see.

We remember Jesus’ endurance when the smoky skies settle heavy for days on end with no hint of blue above.

Ash may be falling from the sky, but we need not let it coat our hearts.

with His love,

Adelaide