What Is Faith?

“ Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  – Hebrews 11:1.  

What exactly is faith? Is it positive thinking, or determining to believe something even in the face of difficulties? Do some people just have an innate ability to have more faith than others? Faith is an integral part of Christian life. The Bible views the subject of faith as being important: faith appears 458 times in the New International Version. So what is faith?

First of all, faith is trust. Faith begins when a person chooses an object in which to trust. Christian faith is about trust. Hebrews 11:1 tells us what faith is according to the Bible: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” Faith is the substance or assurance of things we hope for, but have not yet received. Faith is also our evidence of that which is not seen—the invisible spiritual things. Faith comes before a prayer is answered or before an individual has received what he or she has requested from God. If we have received what we asked for, then faith is not needed.

Then faith is action. Faith requires bold action in the face of uncertainty. It is not something you feel; it is something you do. Essentially, faith is hope in motion. The Bible says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14)  Christians know and love God and shape their life around God without having all of the answers.  

Third, faith is perseverance, Difficulties are inevitable. Obstacles, time, and resistance can cause a person to feel depleted, discouraged, and worn down. Faith requires intentional loyalty. Faith is the willingness to go to immeasurable lengths to keep a promise, even in bleak circumstances. Faith means keeping our eyes fixed on the prize even as wey are renewing and strengthening our faith. 

Finally, faith is confidence in the ending. We have the promise that faith will have a sure, happy ending in spite of the pain in this world; eternal life with God.  James 1:12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” 

What is faith? To summarize, faith is trust, assurance, and confidence in God. Living faith is not just believing that God exists. It is demonstrated by one’s service and obedience to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define faith? What is the difference between faith and belief?
  2. What can we do this week to renew and strengthen our faith? 

The Book Of James

“Dear brothers and sisters,  when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” – James 1:2-5. 

James is a favorite for many Christians. It is only 108 verses, but it offers a great deal of truth and knowledge. James is uplifting and encouraging and will deepen your faith. It will instill confidence in Christians who take the time to study this incredible book.    

James wants believers to understand that there is more to faith than just hearing it.  He really wants the Christian to live out his faith for the glory of God.  It is important to seek ways of putting our faith to work and seizing opportunities presented to us to put our faith to work.

For James, faith was no abstract proposition but had effects in the real world. James offered numerous practical examples to illustrate his point: faith endures in the midst of problems, calls on God for wisdom, bridles the tongue, sets aside wickedness, visits orphans and widows, and does not play favorites. He stressed that the life of faith is comprehensive, impacting every area of our lives and driving us to truly engage in the lives of other people.  

More than any other book in the New Testament, James places the spotlight on the necessity for believers to act in accordance with our faith. How well do our actions mirror the faith that we proclaim? This is a question that we all struggle to answer well. As we study James, focus on those areas that he mentioned beginning with your actions when you face trials and problems in your life. Allow James to show the power of faith when the pressure is on.  

The faith journey isn’t easy. Believing is only the first step onto the narrow pathway. We need to obey, even when it means personal, painful sacrifice. That’s the long, hard journey of transformation that leads to the type of faith that will impact the world.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the natural reaction to trials?
  2. How do these trials/problems test our faith?

What Do You Think About God?

“What comes into our minds when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” – A.W. Tozer

Do you remember the first time you really thought about God? Maybe it was in elementary school, or middle school, high school, college, or later in life. What did you think of God when you first thought of Him?  

Did you think of God as a grandfather type in that He’s been around forever, and is kind, but doesn’t understand kids today: after all, my grandfather doesn’t understand the cloud concept or how to stream music on his phone. Or maybe you thought of God as a heavenly scorekeeper. He is tracking everything you do, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And someday you will have to hope the good outweighs the bad and the ugly. Or maybe when you think of God you think He’s a cosmic Siri or Alexa: somebody that is always in the room, always listening and showing up in your news feed the next day, but you don’t actually think about them until you need them.  

Our view of God is critical. In the Old Testament, God used judges, prophets, and kings, to try and communicate His truth to humanity. They failed more than they succeeded. Fortunately, even while we were in sin and separation from God, He loved us enough to pay the highest price for us. So great was His depth of love for us that Jesus laid down His own life as the atonement for our mistakes, failures, weaknesses, and sin. God sent His Son Jesus to earth to help show us and teach us more about who God is. Jesus teaches us that God is a judge, a provider, and a creator. In addition to that, Jesus shows us 189 times in the 4 gospels that God is a Father. Just two examples are: “And you saw how the Lord your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child. Now he has brought you to this place.’ (Deuteronomy 1:31) And Psalm 103:13 adds, “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.” God as loving father is mentioned more than any of God’s attributes.

The image of an earthly father, as a way of understanding God, is a good picture but it is still just a partial glimpse at something much bigger. Our awesome God is gloriously incomprehensible. If we’re going to center our lives around meeting with God, we must understand the nature of His love for us. We must begin to relate to Him as our good and loving Father above all else. We must cast aside any notion that He is angry with us, far from us or void of affection or desire for us. We will only be drawn to our heavenly Father to the degree that we take him at His word and trust in His love for us. 

Take time today to be grateful for the overwhelming, unconditional love of God for you. Allow His love to reestablish or rejuvenate your perspectives and beliefs. Respond to His great love by opening your heart and having fellowship with your Creator, Sustainer, and all-loving heavenly Father.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was your image of God growing up? How did you picture Him? How about now?
  2. What can we do this week to recognize God’s love in our life? 

Take A Step Of Faith

“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16. 

Sometimes the big scary moments in a person’s life aren’t the ones that happen while they are watching a horror film, they’re the ones that happen as part of life. Riding a bike for the first time, the first day of school, the first date, the first day of work, getting married, having children. Taking a step of faith and fostering or adopting a child can all be big scary moments. Most people have faced several of the “big, scary moments.” Even though they’re all different, they’re almost the same. It takes an act of faith to face your fears and move forward. That is exactly what happened in the movie Instant Family. They took a step of faith into the unknown. 

The Israelites had taken a step of faith when they left Egypt, but now they were complaining en masse against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

The Israelites were having a scary moment as they wandered through the wilderness or desert. But they were also learning how to walk in the way of the Lord, and it wasn’t the easiest thing they’d ever done. They saw no reason to go further. In their opinion, there was no way that God could provide enough food to meet their needs in one of the most non-productive stretches of desert in the world. Have you ever sensed God prompting you to action, and deep in the heart you really want to obey, but fear stands in your way? 

God taught them a lesson, not only for them but for all of us who are worried about taking a step of faith. The lesson was and is today, that God provides what we need in order to take the next step of faith. And that is true no matter how difficult that step may seem. It probably did seem unlikely that all the Israelites could be fed, but God provided manna. Every morning they rolled out of bed and gathered enough to eat for the day. Thus they continued their journey. In the same way, God will provide what we need if the Spirit prompts us to take a step of faith. 

Stepping out of faith sounds easy, but it means leaving our comfort zone and facing our deepest fears. The path ahead may seem frightening, especially when you do not have all of the answers. Often, our lack of faith hinders us from stepping out with full dependence on Him. But God calls us to trust Him and step out in faith.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

One Person Can Make A Difference

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:40. 

If Jesus ever taught us anything, and the truth is He taught us countless things, He taught us that one person can make a difference. His life on earth is the greatest example of that truth we will ever know. We all want to top great things. We all have good intentions; we want to help others. But somewhere along the line, we tend to get caught up in the day-to-day stress of life and those good intentions are just that “good intentions” but nothing is done. When that happens we will never know how much a difference we could have made in people’s lives, because we did not act on the opportunities presented to us.    

In the movie Instant Family, Pete and Ellie had to learn to be parents more quickly than normal. What makes a difference is they took hold of the opportunity presented to foster the three kids. God can use each of us to make a difference in the life of others even when we don’t feel like we are capable. It may be in small ways every day or it may be something monumental.  God can use us to help someone no matter what stage of life we are in or what we are going through if we open our hearts to Him. God created us for a life of service to love others so we must follow His calling.

Today, with the world struggling with a pandemic, there are many people feeling hopeless and desperate. This is the perfect time to show the love of Christ and make a difference to those around us. We should not take lightly our responsibility as Christians during this pandemic.  We must share hope, faith, love, and kindness more than we ever have during a time when many are afraid and losing hope. One small kind gesture could make the difference that a person is needing today. 

And that includes the least powerful and self-sufficient — the orphan. “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice…” (Deuteronomy 10:18). The Prophets echo the same truth: “…No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” (Hosea 14:3). And, again, in the Psalms, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families…” (Psalm 68:5-6).

James 1:17 says, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…” Everything good comes from God. This means when you feel your heart being prompted to do something good for someone—it’s most likely being steered by God. We simply must be a vessel willing and able to be used by God to make a difference no matter how big or small it may be.  Those small differences may be the very thing a person needed just to make it through the day. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have other people made a difference in your life? How? 
  1. What can you do this week to make a difference in somebody’s life? 

When The Spirit Moves You

And in a similar way, the Holy Spirit takes hold of us in our human frailty to empower us in our weakness. For example, at times we don’t even know how to pray, or know the best things to ask for. But the Holy Spirit rises up within us to super-intercede on our behalf, pleading to God with emotional sighs too deep for words. God, the searcher of the heart, knows fully our longings, yet he also understands the desires of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit passionately pleads before God for us, his holy ones, in perfect harmony with God’s plan and our destiny.”  – Romans 8:26-27 (TPT).  

In the movie, Instant Family, Pete and Ellie are a forty-something couple that enjoys flipping houses. They’re good at it. They make good money. They live uncomplicated lives—in contrast to Russ and Ellie’s sister, Kim, whose existence is defined by chaos. But suddenly, the couple starts talking about adoption. Pete’s resistant for about a minute. Then he sneaks a look at a foster care website Ellie’s been perusing. Soon he’s crying right along with her. He is moved, so the couple sets out on their adoption quest. The question is what do we do when the Spirit moves us. 

As powerful as the Holy Spirit is, He never forces, impels, commands, or controls us. Rather the Spirit of God influences our thinking; He suggests. We as believers can’t run off on our own and go perform for God or discipline ourselves to greater degrees of holiness. Nor can we sit passively by waiting for God to turn us into holy people.   

Author John Ortberg describes our cooperation and partnership with God’s Spirit in this way: “Spiritual transformation is a long-term endeavor. It involves both God and us. I liken it to crossing an ocean. Some people try, day after day, to be good, to become spiritually mature. That’s like taking a rowboat across the ocean; it’s exhausting and usually unsuccessful. Others have given up trying and throw themselves entirely upon ‘relying on God’s grace.’ They’re like drifters on a raft; they do nothing but hang on and hope God gets them there. Neither trying nor drifting is effective in bringing about spiritual transformation. A better image is the sailboat, which if it moves at all it’s a gift of the wind. We can’t control the wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts the sails accordingly. Working with the Holy Spirit, which Jesus likened to the wind in John 3, means we have a part in discerning the winds, in knowing the direction we need to go, and in training our sails to catch the breezes that God provides. That’s true transformation.” (Leadership Journal)

God’s part is to work in us “to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Our part is to work out what God is working in us to do. By “work out,” it means we must participate in the process through—among other things— faith, reliance, and obedience. The Holy Spirit indwells you and He will lead, direct, and empower you. Whether the Spirit’s influence in your life is significant or insignificant depends upon your participation in the process. Your life is better when you are moved by the Spirit. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a time in your life that you took a leap of faith after being nudged by the Holy Spirit? 
  2. What can you do this week to better understand how the Spirit is moving you?

A Family This Instant

“People who take in foster kids are really special. The kind of people who volunteer when it’s not even a holiday. We don’t even volunteer on a holiday.” – Pete from the movie Instant Family.  

Movies that tackle serious topics can do it in any variety of ways. Sometimes the producers want to create some drama and use a serious tone. Others take a light tone and use a smile and laugh to unpack a serious subject. Foster care and adoption is certainly a serious subject. The movie Instant Family conveys the gamut of emotions that a foster/adoptive family experiences — including fear, anxiety, and, most importantly, joy — but tells the story through the lens of laughter. The movie was inspired by the story of a couple who adopted three children through the foster care system about seven years ago.  

The movie follows Pete and Ellie as they transform from a work-centric couple who never want to have children, to a couple who want to adopt three siblings. The delightful romp follows a family through the foster-to-adoption process with a clear message: all kids need and deserve parents who love them. While it was a bumpy road Lita, Juan and Lizzy realize that Pete and Ellie have the unconditional love to give them the time and special attention they need and agree to be adopted. We, too, were adopted by God

Romans 8:15-17 says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”                                      

Adoptive parents understand what it’s like to set out on a mission, to take responsibility for a child with a unknown past and an uncertain future. That’s what God did for you. He knew you would be a problem, that you would cause trouble, yet He sought you, found you, paid the price for you, took you home, gave you His name and the right to call Him “Abba.” Adoption isn’t something you earn, it’s a gift you receive. 

You never hear foster or adoptive parents say, “We’d like to adopt Tyler, but first we would like to know what his I.Q is, does he have money for college tuition, a high aptitude for sports and a wardrobe commensurate with the status of the neighborhood.” I think when the adoption people got over their initial shock they would say, “you’re not adopting him because of what he has, but because of what he needs. He needs love, hope, a home, and a future.”  We don’t earn our adoption by God; we receive it by faith. 

If you are struggling today and wondering where you belong, you are right where you’re supposed to be. Sometimes God places us in families that are biological, and other times they’re chosen. But most importantly, you are part of His family, chosen by Him before the foundation of the earth.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does family mean to you? 
  2. What does being “adopted” into the family of God mean to you?

“I Have Doubts”

“To be honest, I didn’t want to believe that Christianity could radically transform someone’s character and values. It was much easier to raise doubts and manufacture outrageous objections that to consider the possibility that God actually could trigger a revolutionary turn-around in such a depraved and degenerate life.” ― Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith:

In 1980, Lee Strobel’s award-winning, investigative reporting earns him a promotion to legal editor at the Chicago Tribune. Things at home aren’t going nearly as well. His wife Leslie’s newfound faith in Christ compels Lee to utilize his journalistic and legal training to try and disprove the claims of Christianity, pitting his resolute atheism against her growing faith. The movie Case for Christ documents Lee Strobel’s journey to erase his deeply felt doubts.  

Doubt is an everyday occurrence in the life of most Christians. Yes, we believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, but sometimes we can doubt His abilities and promises. When Peter walked on water he doubted. When Christ was crucified, His followers doubted. And, despite the mountains of evidence we have today that tell us God is real, Christ walked the earth, died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, we can still have doubts. When Christians begin to have doubts about something as significant as the truth of their Christian faith, it’s quite understandable that this might worry or even frighten them.

“I have questions,” a believer said. “But I don’t think I had ever admitted that out loud. I’m not exactly sure why, but I always just kept those doubts inside of me. Questions about why God lets the Coronavirus run rampant or why racism still exists. Why do so many of my friends refuse to believe? The truth is I have my doubts.”

Reflecting on this issue in The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel wrote: “For many Christians, merely having doubts of any kind can be scary. They wonder whether their questions disqualify them being a follower of Christ. They feel insecure because they’re not sure whether it’s permissible to express uncertainty about God, Jesus, or the Bible. So they keep their questions to themselves—and inside, unanswered, they grow and fester . . . until they eventually succeed in choking out their faith.”

So what can we do if we find ourselves struggling with doubts about the truth of Christianity? Why do such doubts arise?  Just like Lee Strobel, chase down the doubts you have to see where the evidence leads… you’ll find it always leads back to the eternal truth of God’s unchanging Word.

Whenever they come and whatever form they take, we must each deal honestly with our doubts. To ignore them is to court spiritual disaster. But facing them can lead ultimately to a deeper faith. A faith that’s challenged by adversity or tough questions . . . is often a stronger faith in the end. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think it’s difficult for some to admit they have spiritual doubts? What prevents you from speaking out about your doubts? What makes you feel safe and unafraid to honestly open up with others about your spiritual questions?
  2. How would it change things if you saw your doubts as opportunities to grow deeper in your relationship with Christ, and not a reason for alarm? 

My Favorite Day

“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” – Nehemiah 9:6. 

What is a perfect day for Winnie the Pooh? Every day is a perfect day for doing nothing says Winnie the Pooh. A hug is always the right size. “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.” And finally, “what day is it?” asked Pooh. “it’s today, “ squeaked piglet. “My favorite day, “ said Pooh. 

I know what you are thinking: Pooh is a little too perky or trite or cliché. Cute sayings or mantras or life philosophies that are tall with wisdom but short on reality will not make your day better. Hanging out with Pooh each day will make your life better, but if we “hang out” with Christ daily, we will eventually become more like Christ; and it doesn’t get any better than that.

My favorite day is any day I get closer to God. To get close to God, we must experience God. We must feel God’s presence in our lives, feel the changes in our attitude, our priorities, and the way we see and experience the world. We must experience that feeling deep inside our person: that God is real and tangible.

Searching for God is like searching for a treasure. We don’t wait for someone to show up at our door and hand us a treasure. We go look for it. We are willing to do what it takes to find it. We may not even know exactly what the treasure is but we know it has great value and, therefore, are willing to do the things necessary to find it. The Bible promises that if we seek God, He will come to us. If we truly want to find God, we will find Him.

 I don’t know exactly what a great day is for you or what following God will look like for you, but I do know that if we want to grow closer to God this year, we’ll have to distance ourselves from whatever is distracting us. We’ll have to lay aside whatever we are prone to delight in more than Him. We need to ask God which distraction(s) we need to distance ourselves from in order to grow closer to Him, and then we need to get to work.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes a great day in your opinion? 
  2. What can we do this week to draw closer to God? 

Awaken Your Joy

“You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9 ).

Circumstances come into our lives and affect us. Sometimes for the good but sometimes for the worse. The “worse” circumstances can rob us of our silliness, our joy, and wonder. In 2020,  joy or happiness has become complicated and often tied to our circumstances or some unattainable goal. When Winnie loses his balloon, he is sad. Christopher says what every parent has said in that situation “You don’t need it anymore.” Pooh replies “But it did make me happy.” It is hard to find joy today in the little things like a red balloon, a pot of honey, or quality time with the wife and kids.  

It is easy to identify with Christopher Robin. The last couple of years have been pretty rough, filled with chaos, change, and a burdensome feeling of uncertainty about the future. Stress and worry are palpable as you worry about your job, your teenage kids, and decisions you make that could have far-reaching implications. It is not that far a leap to worry about everything. Where is the joy in that? 

Christopher Robin wants joy. I imagine even Eeyore wants joy. You and I want joy. But can anyone deliver it? God can. God wants His children to be joy-filled. Just like a father wants his baby to laugh with glee, God is not interested in putting a temporary smile on your face. He has no interest in giving you shallow happiness that melts when faced with adversity.  God longs for us to experience a deep-seated, heart-felt, honest-to-goodness, strong sense of joy that can weather the most difficult of storms.

Peter referred to this joy in the opening words of his epistle in 1 Peter: “I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (I Peter 1:1)  Peter was speaking to persecuted Christians who had been driven from their cities and separated from their families. Their rights had been taken. Their property and possessions had been taken. Their futures were unsure. But their joy had not been taken. Why? In 1 Peter 1:8 (TPT) Peter says, “You love him passionately although you did not see him, but through believing in him you are saturated with an ecstatic joy, indescribably sublime and immersed in glory” The source of their joy? Jesus! And since no one could take away Jesus, no one could take their joy.

Each day can seem like the epitome of the mundane. It’s easy to sense joy in great events, but it is much harder to find it returning to the routine of work and school, and family. Unless your joy is in Jesus.

This week rediscover the joy each day, in the everyday things of your life — yes, even the red balloons. Because Jesus is in the details, every detail, we can enjoy Him everywhere, even in life’s everyday familiar routine.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How/when do you find yourself hiding your true self from God? What would it look like for you to live openly before God? 
  1. What are the obstacles to taking off our mask? What are the benefits?