Weak-Faithed Fears

When was your faith first challenged?

For me, it was my freshman year in college, when I first met people who openly opposed Christianity. Before that, my faith was safe and easy, but when my new peers boldly questioned my beliefs, I stumbled, fearful and shocked. For a while, I was afraid to talk about faith issues, but eventually, those early experiences served to strengthen and confirm my faith in Jesus.

Now, in my 40s, I occasionally meet a believer who fearfully grasps his small beliefs and lashes out at anyone who challenges those beliefs. No offense, but faith can’t grow when we hold it so tightly, and it seems a miserable existence next to the broad confidence available to all who believe.

Paul saw this contrast when he finally made it to Rome.

Acts 28:17-31.

Around AD59 or 60, the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to get rid of Paul as quickly as they could. Some even vowed to kill him (Acts 23:12). But when he arrived in Rome, the Jews there wanted to hear about Jesus and this new sect called “The Way.” Why the contrast? What’s the difference between these two groups of Jews?

I posit that the Jews in Rome had stronger faith than those in Jerusalem. Why? Because they had been challenged and questioned.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.Philippians 2:12b

These Jews in Rome were confronted with other faith systems daily. They had to dig into their own beliefs and really know what was true. They had to make daily choices about following the guidelines of their faith. Some even defended Judaism in public forums.

Jews in Jerusalem, however, were surrounded by other Jews. They had gotten complacent, allowing their faith to be more of a national identity than a life-informing, daily influence. The faith of Jerusalem Jews was weak—not their knowledge but the actual working out of their faith in daily life. They knew more than anyone, but they hadn’t tested all that knowledge. As a result, they were afraid of conflict, afraid of things changing, afraid of trying something new. Isn’t that why they killed Jesus? Because he was trying to do something new.

You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  –James 1:3-4

Spiritual maturity is the result of testing, and confrontations with those who believe differently is one form of testing.

I’m reminded of modern discussions about social media “bubbles” in which we’re only seeing and interacting with people who already think like us. A recent Washington Post op-ed suggested social media algorithms generate an “echo chamber” for the user in which we only see posts with which we agree (reference). How can our faith be tested in such an environment? (Also see my previous post, Lean In, Listen, and Learn.)

When Paul arrived in Rome, the Jews weren’t afraid to sit down and talk with him, to hear his story and draw their own conclusions (Acts 28:21-22). Paul couldn’t have asked for more.

Like everywhere he went, however, not all the Jews who listened to Paul became believers (Acts 28:24). That’s okay. Some did.

Another benefit of their strong faith was that the group could manage disagreement. If the people in a church or small group have no practice discussing/defending their faith, they won’t know how to handle internal dissent when it arises…and it will arise. A bunch of believers who have rooted their faith in the Word and tested it in the world will persevere through an internal conflict much better than their weak-faithed counterparts.

Friends, be like the Roman Jews: unafraid to hear a challenge or consider a different point of view. When your faith is strong, you can take challenges from outside and disputes from within. Nothing will destroy your faith!

Our faith is strengthened by challenges. There’s no need to be afraid of someone who thinks/believes differently. Don’t isolate yourself for fear of losing your faith! Any #confrontation is #NotAboutMe.

Have you had your faith challenged? How did you feel and how did you respond? I hope you did better than I that first time. Please let us know in the comments below. Thanks.

Nameless: Centurion in Capernaum

He was a centurion. That’s all we need to know: a Roman invader, part of the occupying force. He commanded 100 men. Is that where he found his identity: in his authority and nationality? He was also generous, perhaps as a political move to placate the local religious leaders or perhaps genuinely desiring to do good. His words and actions suggest the latter.

This powerful, generous person of authority is quite a contrast to the others we’ve studied in the Nameless series. That’s why I find him so interesting.

Luke 7:1-10. Matthew 8:5-13.

Continue reading

Abraham: Obedience Over Outcome

We’re wired to make plans, to expect results, to accomplish goals. (I think it’s a Western thing, actually.) Our wiring makes it difficult for us to obey God.

God says, “Jump.” We say, “How far?”

God says, “Go.” We say, “Where?”

God says, “Be still.” We say, “Why?”

In every command from Him, there’s an unspoken affirmation: “Trust Me.” But we don’t trust.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of a guy named Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-19). Maybe you’ve heard of him? Continue reading

More Than One Way to Move a Mountain

Since before I wrote Walls and Weapons in October, we’ve been singing “Do It Again” from Elevation Worship at church. (The first line is about walls. It’s an obvious connection.) The bridge goes like this:

I’ve seen you move, you move the mountains, and I believe I’ll see you do it again.

Well, the walls I described back in that October post are still standing. The mountain that needs to move isn’t gone. As we sang this song again on Sunday, I mentally reminded the Lord that, while I absolutely believe He’ll “do it again,” we’re still waiting. Immediately, this phrase came to my mind:

There’s more than one way to move a mountain.

I stopped singing. My mouth may have hung open. The wheels in my brain started turning, and images began to cycle…images of the many ways mountains can be moved.

Erosion

07-15 trip to Cherokee (8)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC (c) Carole Sparks  (My Grand Canyon pics are on film. Sorry!)

The Grand Canyon is the product of erosion. So are most cave systems and the smooth tops of the Appalachian Mountains. Slowly and steadily, wind and/or water wear away at soil, rock, and everything else, turning jagged edges smooth, wearing towers down to nubs. You can’t watch it happen, but you can clearly see evidence of it.

05-28b Cumberland Caves (36)
Cumberland Caverns (c) Carole Sparks

Sometimes our problems very gradually dissipate as “springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17, also John 4:14) flow in and around us. The key is to keep the water flowing, that is, to stay close to Jesus. We’ve seen the smoothing of some rough edges on our mountain, making it a little easier to manage every day.

Equipment

12-27 Table Mountain (11)
A long way down – from the cable car station atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. (c) Carole Sparks

I love heavy equipment! (How could I not have any photos?!?) A bunch of bulldozers and dump trucks can roll in and remove a mountain in a matter of weeks. It’s not pretty and may not be good for the environment (e.g. strip mining), but it’s possible.

We can move our spiritual mountains through the application of human resources, too.

  • Doctors and medicines
  • counselors
  • friends lending their services
  • charity organizations…

all help us tackle the mountains in our lives. After praying for God to move our particular mountain, He has guided us to some heavy equipment to tackle part of the job.

Environment

04-24 Tarangire (51)
In Tarangire, the river grows wider due to erosion and animal traffic on its banks. (c) Carole Sparks

The mountain’s environment: Beavers chop down trees to make dams that back up streams. Birds carry away twigs for nests and deposit seeds that become trees. Moles tunnel through the ground, loosening soil that the wind blows away. Men clear space for roads and fields. Many factors alter or remove small parts of the mountain.

05-28c Bean Station overlook (3) lake hills view bridge
TVA dams turned mountains into hills and islands. (c) Carole Sparks

As our environment changes, our mountain changes. It wears down. It loosens up, making erosion easier. Some small things have changed, some small steps have been taken so that the mountain is looser. It’s a little easier to live here now, and it may come down more quickly in the future.

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Mt. Kilimanjaro is the snow-capped peak on the right. We were about 100 miles away. (c) Carole Sparks

The believer’s environment: It’s also possible to simply move away. Maybe the mountain doesn’t need to move as much as we need to move out of its vicinity. A change in our environment produces the same results as moving the mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro doesn’t look quite as impressive from one hundred miles away.

We’ve changed a few things around here (and stood firm on a few other things) to get a better perspective on our mountain. While we can’t move, we’ve learned to simply look in a different direction occasionally by getting away for a vacation or holiday.

Earthquake

Very rarely, the earth shakes and the mountain crumbles—gone in a matter of minutes. That’s entirely the hand of God. Earthquakes are dangerous for miles, the land often racked with instability and aftershocks. (Kinda thankful I don’t have any first-hand photos of earthquakes.)

When Jesus talked of moving
mountains, He was thinking
about motives, not methods.

It seems I was looking for the earthquake or some miraculous disappearing act—a heavenly sleight of hand—that would solve our situation without much work or patience on my part. Clearly, that’s not God’s only way to work.

When Jesus talked of moving mountains, He wasn’t worried about methods, just motives.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.  –Matthew 17:20

So I’m willing to wait and watch, knowing God has a purpose in the methods He’s using for us. Because God does move mountains, one way or another.

Or perhaps, one way and another.

God does move mountains—one way AND another. This #mountainmoving is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you seen a mountain move in your life? Please encourage me by sharing a bit in the comments below. I really would LOVE to hear from you!

Random connection: Good fiction about moving actual mountains

Podcast Interview

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Chester doing the interview at our dining room table. He makes house calls.

I recently sat down with Chester Goad on his Leaderbyte podcast to talk about the creative process, writing, faith, and some other fun stuff. Chester made it interesting and easy to talk–even about myself. Still it’s #NotAboutMe, as you’ll hear.

If you want to know more about me or where I’m coming from, listen to this. Continue reading

One Man’s Treasure

11-24 children's Bible (1)
my first “real” Bible  (c) Carole Sparks

Jesus had just spent an hour or so with some kids. He hugged them, patted their heads, and blessed them (Mark 10:16). How do you picture that scene? I think he probably stooped down to be on their level or pulled them up to sit on his lap. I think he chatted with each one, smiled at them, comforted them, and just generally enjoyed himself. I think he learned their names, their pets’ names, their favorite activities, and anything else they wanted to share. I think he was patient when they stuttered and laughed at their silly jokes. After all, the Kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” This is one of my favorite images of Jesus, and not just because it was on the front of my very first Bible as a child.

Mark 10:17-22.

As Jesus stood to go from that happy, relaxing time, a man ran up and fell onto his knees in front of Jesus. Did he push some children out of the way? Did he see that Jesus was Continue reading