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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Multnomah Books (April 14, 2009)
Larry Osborne is senior pastor of the multi-campus, 7,000-member North Coast Church in Vista, California, recognized as one of the ten most influential churches in America. A pioneer in the sermon-based small group movement, Larry also founded the North Coast Training Network and is a highly sought-after consultant for business and ministry leaders worldwide. A frequent contributor to Leadership Journal, Larry’s books on genuine spirituality and leadership are designed to reach a wide audience. He lives in Vista with his wife and family.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (April 14, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I’ll never forget the day my wife and I stopped by the local hospital for what we knew would be our last visit with her friend Susan.
For three years, Susan had put up a valiant fight against a disease that was now in its last stages. Her labored breathing, gaunt figure, and deep-set eyes made it painfully obvious that she would not be around much longer.
As we sat by her bed, wondering what to say and how to pray, I was stumped. (I’m a pastor and I’m supposed to know what to say in these situations.) But before I could say anything profound—or even trite—our awkward silence was broken by the entrance of Susan’s husband, John, into the room.
We exchanged hugs and a quick greeting. Then John began to talk. He spoke of the plans he and Susan had for the future. Not in a regretful reflection of what could have been, but with a powerful conviction of what was yet to be.
It was weird.
Susan lay there barely cognizant, struggling for each breath, seemingly hours from death. Yet her husband stood inches away talking about future vacations, a kitchen remodel, and their retirement years as if the four of us were hanging out at a backyard barbeque.
While John and Susan had often spoken of their confidence in God’s ability to heal, this was different. He wasn’t talking about an assurance that she could be healed. He was describing his absolute certainty that she would be healed. He didn’t have an ounce of doubt. It was already a done deal.
Then he told us what had happened. That morning, while in prayer for Susan’s healing, he’d been overcome with a powerful sense of God’s presence and a deep conviction that God had answered his prayer. As he continued to pray, biblical passages proclaiming God’s protection and care flooded his mind. He felt as if God had physically reached down and touched him, whispering in his ear, “I’ve heard you. She’ll be okay.”
Brimming with confidence, he figured he’d arrived at the epitome of faith because he had absolute assurance of what he hoped for and complete certainty of what he had not yet seen.1He was as giddy as a prospector who’d just tapped into the mother lode.
I didn’t know what to say. Could it be that God was up to something big? Were we about to witness a miracle? Was John’s faith going to pull her back from the jaws of death?
I wasn’t so sure.
He was absolutely certain.
That night she breathed her last breath.
John was devastated. For years after Susan’s death, he limped along spiritually, disillusioned with God, prayer, and the impotence of faith.
But his spiritual meltdown had nothing to do with God letting him down. It had nothing to do with the promises of the Bible being hollow. It was the predictable result of having placed his trust in the fool’s gold of faith’s best known and most widely believed spiritual urban legend: the myth that if we have enough faith, we can do or fix anything.
Unfortunately, John’s concept of faith (what it was and how it worked) didn’t come from the Word of God; it came from the word on the street. He had banked on a set of assumptions and beliefs that simply weren’t true. And they had let him down.
The Word on the Street
The word on the street is that faith is a potent mixture of intellectual and emotional self-control that when properly harnessed can literally change outcomes through positive thinking and clear visualization.
It’s what successful people tout as the key to their achievements, survivors of great tragedies cite as the source of their endurance, televangelists credit with healing power, and motivational speakers make a sweet living espousing.
It’s why, when our team is five runs down with two outs in the ninth inning, we’re not supposed to think negatively. Instead, we’re supposed to hang tough, visualize a big inning. Because as long as we really believe we can win, there is a good chance we will.
This kind of hopeful thinking is more about
faith in faith than faith in God. Yet it’s what
many of us have been taught to believe God
wants from us when we’re confronted with
Same with a medical crisis. Did the tests come back showing the cancer has metastasized? Don’t panic. It can be beat. Just think positively.
Or perhaps your son is a five-foot, two-inch freshman with dreams of playing in the NBA. Whatever you do, don’t discourage him. Who knows? It could happen. After all, nothing is impossible as long as he pursues his dreams with hard work and unwavering faith.
Unfortunately, this kind of hopeful thinking has nothing in common with what the Bible calls faith. It’s more about faith in faith than faith in God. Yet it’s what many of us have been taught to believe God wants from us when we’re confronted with insurmountable odds.
We’ve been told that for those who can muster it up, an all doubts-removed, count-it-as-done faith has the power to fix anything. It’s God’s great cure-all, a magic potion.
In fact, in some Christian circles, this kind of faith is said to have the power to actually manipulate the hand of God. I recently heard a TV preacher claim that God has to answer prayers of unwavering faith no matter what we ask for. As long as we have no doubt, he has no choice. It’s a law of the universe. Apparently it even trumps God’s sovereignty.
Though I’d hate to be the one to tell him so.
How the English Language Mucks Things Up
While faith is a concept deeply rooted in the Christian Scriptures, most of our modern ideas about it aren’t. Much of the blame can be placed on the way the original manuscripts of the New Testament have been translated into English.
It’s not that the translators are unskilled or deceptive. It’s simply that translating anything from one language to another is a difficult task, burdened by all the ancillary meanings and uses found in one language but not another.
A quick comparison of how we use the words faith, belief, and trust in modern-day English with how they were originally used in the Greek language of the New Testament can be eye opening. Let’s take a look to see what I mean.
For most of us, the word faith conjures up an image of confidence. It’s the opposite of fear and doubt. It’s often defined by our feelings as much as by anything else. That’s why most teaching on faith tends to focus on eradicating all fear, doubt, and negative thoughts. It’s also why “You gotta have faith” has come to mean “Think positively.”
On the other hand, the word belief usually conjures up an image of intellectual assent. We say we believe in something as long as we think that it’s probably true. And since our beliefs are thought to exist primarily between our ears, we’re not particularly puzzled when people claim to believe in something—say UFOs, Bigfoot, Darwinian evolution, creationism, even Jesus—but live as if they don’t. For most of us, beliefs are intellectual. Acting upon them is optional.
You can see this definition of belief in the way many of us approach evangelism. We tell the Jesus story to people and then ask them if they believe it. Those who say yes are immediately assured that they’re headed for heaven. After all, they’re “believers.” It doesn’t seem to matter that the Bible adds quite a few qualifiers beyond mere mental assent.2
In contrast to our use of faith and belief, when we use the word trust it almost always carries an assumption that there will be some sort of corresponding action. If we trust a person, it’s supposed to show up in our response. For instance, if the parent of a teenage girl says, “I trust you,” but won’t let her out of the house, we’d think that parent was speaking nonsense. There’s no question the daughter would.
Clearly, each of these three words carries a distinctly different meaning in the English language. But to the surprise of most Christians, almost every time we find one of these three words in our English New Testaments, each is a translation of the exact same Greek root word.3
That means that the Bible knows nothing of the sharp distinctions we make between faith, belief, and trust. Biblically, they not only overlap, but they are practically synonymous. To the writers of Scripture, our modern distinctions between faith, belief, and trust would seem quite strange and forced.
So, What Kind of Faith Does God Want?
The kind of faith the Bible advocates and God wants from us has far more to do with our actions than our feelings. In fact, biblical faith is so closely tied to actions of obedience that the Bible ridicules the very idea of someone claiming to have faith without acting upon it.4
God doesn’t care if we’ve mastered the art of positive thinking. He’s not impressed by the mental gymnastics of visualization. He doesn’t even insist that we eradicate all doubts and fears. In fact, more than once, he’s answered the prayers of people whose “faith” was so weak that when God said yes, they didn’t believe it.5
When the first response to an answered prayer is shock and amazement, the people who offered that prayer certainly don’t fit the standard definition of having faith. Yet God answered anyway because their prayers fit his definition of faith. Their simple act of praying was an act of faith—they trusted God enough to do what he commanded, even though they were certain it wouldn’t work.
To better understand what biblical faith is and how it works, let’s take a look at the most famous faith passage in the Bible: Hebrews 11. Often called God’s Hall of Fame, it offers a lengthy list of examples, each one showing what God-pleasing faith looks like and what it produced.
The writer of Hebrews starts with Adam’s son Abel, then moves on to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, laying out a series of vignettes that describe their steps of faith and the great victories that followed.
Then, almost as if he is running out of steam (or his audience is running out of attention), the writer adds twelve more examples. But this time he offers only a name or a cryptic reference to the great victories their faith accomplished.
It’s an inspiring list. At first glance it seems to support the popular notion that faith rightly applied can conquer anything. It tells of kingdoms won, lions muzzled, flames quenched, weaknesses turned to strength, enemies routed, the dead raised. All in all, a pretty impressive résumé.
But the writer doesn’t stop there. He goes on.
But I warn you. What he said might mess with your head. It certainly messed with mine. After reciting a litany of victories, he suddenly switches gears and changes direction. Now he speaks of people whose faith led them down a different path—folks who were tortured, jeered, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in two, and put to death by the sword. He ends with a reminder that still others were rewarded with financial destitution, persecution, and mistreatment.
Then he writes these words: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”6 In other words, these weren’t the faith rejects, the losers, the ones who couldn’t get it right. These were men and women whose faith was applauded by God. Yet their faith didn’t fix anything.
In some cases it made matters worse.
I guarantee you that no one taught my kids this side of faith in Sunday school. Imagine if they did. “Okay, children, today we’re going to learn how trusting and obeying God might get you torn in two, thrown into jail, hated by your friends, and force you to drive an old beater the rest of your life.”
That would thin the herd.
It would certainly rile a few parents.
But it’s essentially what the Bible says that faith (at least the kind of faith that God commends) might do. It may lead us to victory. It may lead us to prison. Which it will be is his call—not ours.
That raises an important question. If faith is primarily about trusting God enough to do what he says, and yet it won’t fix everything and sometimes will make matters worse, why bother?
One reason stands out above all others. It’s what God wants from us. He says so himself: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”7
Now, it seems to me that if God is really God, and not just some sort of mystical force, cosmic consultant, or favorite uncle in the sky, then knowing what he wants and doing it is a pretty important thing to pay attention to. Few of us would mess with our boss’s stated preferences. What kind of fool messes with God’s?
A thousand years from now, all the things we
try so hard to fix with our positive thinking,
visualization, and drive-out-all-doubt prayers
won’t matter. The only thing that will matter
is our awesome future and our face-to-face
relationship with God.
Another reason to live by faith (even if it can’t fix all the problems we face) is that it does promise to fix our biggest problem and our biggest dilemma. What do we say and do when we stand before a holy and perfect God who knows every one of our secrets and all of our sins?
Honest now—what’s to keep us from becoming toast?
But that’s where the real fix-it power of biblical faith kicks in. Jesus promised that all who believe in him (remember that includes trusting him enough to actually follow and do what he says) will receive forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.8 A thousand years from now, all the things we try so hard to fix with our positive thinking, visualization, and drive-out-all-doubt prayers won’t matter. They’ll be but a distant memory, if they can be remembered at all. The only thing that will matter is our awesome future and our face-to-face relationship with God.
God’s GPS System
There’s one more benefit to a proper understanding of biblical faith. Biblical faith gives us something that all the positive thinking and visualization in the world can’t provide. It gives us a life map, something we can depend on to always take us exactly where God wants us to go.
Admittedly, it’s not always an easy map to follow. It takes time, experience, and an occasional leap into the dark to master. It can be frustrating—and scary at times. But in the end, for those who are led by it, it’s a trusty guide, guaranteed to always take us where we need to be.
In many ways the adventure of learning to live by biblical faith is a lot like my love/hate relationship with the mapping software on my GPS unit. Let me explain.
I’m a geographical moron. My wife has no idea how I get home after traveling to speak somewhere. She’s always surprised to see me walk through the front door.
My problem is twofold. First, I’m often in two places at once, mentally. I call it multitasking. My family and friends call it something else. But the end result is that I can be completely oblivious to my surroundings. And when that happens, I literally don’t know where I am. I may think I do, but I don’t, mainly because I haven’t been paying attention.
My second problem is an absolute lack of an internal sense of direction. Without the Pacific Ocean and the mountains as bench-marks, I have no idea which direction is north, south, east, or west. That means that along with not knowing where I am, I often don’t know where I’m heading.
Put those two together and you have a recipe for search-and-rescue. But fortunately (or so you would think), I live in a day when GPS is within reach of the common man.
Yet, despite the promise that an affordable GPS unit has to offer, there is one frustrating problem. The pesky voice in my Garmin often tells me to turn the wrong way.
My first response is always a quick flash of annoyance at the company that makes the mapping software. I wonder why they can’t get it right. I know there are lots of streets they have to include, but come on. That’s what I paid for. And I’m not talking about thinking I should turn left when it says to turn right. I’m talking about those times when I know I should turn left.
To make matters worse, as I make the turn that I know I should make, the little lady in the box starts nagging me. In a mildly disgusted tone, she repeats over and over, “Recalculating. Recalculating.”
Faith is not a skill we master. It’s not an
impenetrable shield that protects us from
life’s hardships and trials. It’s not a magic
potion that removes every mess. It’s a map
It’s enough to make me reach over to hit the Off button. But before I do, I’m usually struck with a haunting realization. I’ve been certain I was right before—but somehow ended up wrong. And despite the fact that my GPS sometimes seems unaware of a street or two and occasionally takes me on a circuitous route, it’s always found a way to get me where I want to go.
But doggone it, this time I know I’m right. I’m absolutely certain. I don’t care how many times she spouts off, “Recalculating.” She’s wrong.
So, what do I do?
This is, in essence, a crisis of faith. I have a choice to make. Will I place my trust in my own sense of direction, knowing that this time my not-so-trusty GPS has gotten it all wrong? Or will I place my faith in the little box and turn right, despite my certainty that it’s directing me far from where I want to go?
You probably know the answer. Based on my past experiences, I’ve learned to shrug my shoulders and do what the unit says. So I reluctantly make a turn that makes no sense tome. As I do, my pulse quickens and my stomach churns. My mind fills with images of speaking engagements lost and flights missed.
I turn anyway.
And that’s the reason that I always surprise my wife when I walk in the front door. Somehow east magically turns into west and the “wrong” route gets me there anyway.
Once I arrive at my destination, it really doesn’t matter what doubts or concerns I had along the way. As long as I follow the directions or quickly get back on track after a little “recalculating,” I always end up where I need to be.
That’s exactly how biblical faith works. When rightly understood and applied, it doesn’t matter how many doubts we have. It doesn’t even matter if we’re convinced that all is lost. Ultimately all that matters is whether we have enough faith (maybe just a mustard seed’s worth) to follow God’s instructions. Those who do, get where they’re supposed to go. Those who don’t, end up lost somewhere far from home.
Faith is not a skill we master. It’s not an impenetrable shield that protects us from life’s hardships and trials. It’s not a magic potion that removes every mess. It’s a map we follow.
It’s designed to guide us on a path called righteousness. Along the way, it doesn’t promise to fix every flat tire. It won’t reroute us around every traffic jam. It won’t even stop the road rage of the crazy guy we cut off at the merge.
But it will take us exactly where God wants us to go. And isn’t that where we want to be?
CAN FAITH FIX
They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put
to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins
and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the
world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts
and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none
of them received what had been promised. God had
planned something better for us so that only together
with us would they be made perfect.