Middle of the Story – Part Two

When I step up on the Rock in faith, I must endure the testing of that faith. That’s part of the deal. I cannot “accept” Jesus but refuse the cleansing flame.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

The last blog looked at the first part of the above verse – that faith is the substance or essence of hope. It is the setting under me of the solid foundation, Jesus. The stepping up on the Rock. This time I want to look at the second half of this verse – faith is “the evidence of things not seen.”

The word translated “evidence” is the Greek word elegchos. It means conviction, as in assurance, certainty. But it also means proof – as in “that by which a thing is proved or tested.” My faith must be tested, but, as God meets and holds me up in the testing, his Word and promises are proved true to me in my life. They become my assurance, evidence of what I cannot see with my eyes. The word elegchos also means reproof and is used that way in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness …

Or as the Message puts it, “showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”

Exposing, correcting, training. It’s not God and his Word that needs proving or testing, but me. Testing is no fun. The Bible compares the testing of our faith to the purification or proving of gold.

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold––and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. 1 Peter 1:7a (NLT)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. Proverbs 17: 3 (NIV)

The proving of precious metals involves heating them to the melting point and skimming off the impurities that rise to the top. For me, there is still a lot of ugly stuff that rises when the heat is turned up.

Testing may seem harsh and even cruel in the midst of it, but God is love and the testing is loving. As Hebrews 12:29 declares, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Love does not let us remain as we are, far from Him and alone. But Love consumes, burns up the barriers and idols in our lives and hearts that divide us from him. Henri Nouwen has written, “Let God love you the way God wants.” Oh, that is hard. I want him to do things my way. I want to choose the test. Giving permission to that consuming passion in my life is scary. I want some kind of guarantee that things will work out the way I hope they will.

When I step up on the Rock in faith, I must endure the testing of that faith. That’s part of the deal. I cannot “accept” Jesus but refuse the cleansing flame. But he is always there with me in the proving. Indeed, he is the proof. He is the evidence. He is “the divine Yes–God’s affirmation. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in him” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20 NLT). He is good, and his ways and purposes are good, though I cannot comprehend it. And he is able to do, and is doing, immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, though I may not be able to see it now (Ephesians 3:20).

Lord God, give me the grace to let you be God, to let you love me the way you want, in the murky middle of my story. Call me, draw me, woo me to step up onto the Rock and allow your passionate, cleansing fire to sweep over me. Help me remember that Jesus was tested too, that he has traveled this way before me. And I will thank you in the middle of the story and I will dance with joy to the distant songs of deliverance.

I would have despaired unless I had believed (stood firm, trusted) that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NASB)

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10 (NIV)

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts (who is supported, upheld, confirmed, verified) will never be dismayed (will not topple, give way, run away, will not panic). Isaiah 28:16 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV)

 

Image is in the Public Domain

 

 

Middle of the Story

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Faith thanks God in the middle of the story.”[i] The middle of the story is the hard place, where behind me, and at my feet, is the stumbled-over rubble of past mistakes, rebellions, regrets. And before, is the obscured darkness of unknown hazards and hopes. Faith thanks God amid the wreckage. Faith asks me every day to turn from fear and trust the One who has promised. How do I do that? Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The amazing Greek word translated “substance” is hupostasis.  It partly means “steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution, confidence, firm trust, assurance,” and it is mostly translated that way as “confidence.” It literally means “a setting under”[ii] as in setting under a support, a substructure, a foundation, that which is firm. Faith is the setting under me of the foundation that makes or causes me to stand and be confident. Jesus is that foundation[iii] under me. He is the Rock on which I stand.

Thinking of it this way helps me, because it makes me realize that faith is not so much something that I “have,” something I am required to manufacture or come up with. But faith is something I do. I simply step onto the Rock. I place my faith and hope, not in my ability to produce faith, not in something that may or may not happen, but in Jesus – his faithfulness, his truth, his Word, his love and care.

But, the hidden treasure in this word is another facet of meaning. Hupostasis also means “actual existence, substance, real being, essence.” It is used in this sense in Hebrews 1:3.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (hupostasis) sustaining (bearing up, upholding, keeping from falling) all things by his powerful word.

Faith is the essence of hope as Christ is the essence of God – His exact representation. When I step onto the Rock, I am sustained, upheld, kept from falling by the very essence of God, which is love. God is love; his real being is love. I will thank God here in the middle of my story, confidently standing on Jesus, the Rock of my salvation, supported and sustained by his Love that was proven at the cross.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

There is so much in Hebrews 11:1! I will look at the second half of the verse next time. Read more about faith in the blog Faith, Part Two

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

[ii] All translations from NetBible.org and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:11 

 

Dig and Dig Deep

It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances.

I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:48 (NIV) 

 Two Greek words are used in the verse to describe how this person dug. The first word is skapto (σκάπτω), which simply means to dig. The second word is bathuno (βαθύνω), which means to dig deep, or deepen. Therefore, the Greek actually reads that he dug and dug deep, or deepened [the hole] until he got down to the rock. I think Jesus is saying that in order to put the Word into practice we have go farther than a few inches below the surface, the easy, softer stuff, and down into the hard, undisturbed, unplowed, full-of-gravel part. Anyone who has ever tried to hand-dig a new garden bed knows what I mean. Sod and rocks and tree roots need to be removed. You would have to dig through all of that and then dig very deep to get down to the bedrock. 

As an aside, the verb bathuno comes from bathus, an adjective that means “profound,” “deep,” and, interestingly, “very early.” Bathus is the word used in Luke 24:1, “On the first day of the week, very early (bathus) in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” As in the digging deep picture, two words are used here to emphasize how early it was. It reads that they came at early dawn – very early. John says it was still dark (John 20:1). Mark 16:2 uses a word that means it was greatly or exceedingly, exceedingly beyond measure, sore early (maybe Mark was not a morning person?). The women didn’t just come at dawn, they came very early, they went deep, and, consequently, they received the message from the angel, and saw Jesus (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:9). 

Back to digging. The root word of both bathuno and bathus is baino, the Greek word that means “to walk.” What does digging have to do with walking? In Luke 6:48 Jesus says the man “laid (tithemi) the foundation (themelios) on rock.” Tithemi and themelios are the same words that are used in 1 John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 3:11. 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid (tithemi) down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16 (NIV) 

 For no-one can lay (tithemi) any foundation (themelios) other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV) 

Jesus Christ, and his life laid down in love for the salvation of the world, is the foundation, and no other can be laid. He is also the Rock upon which this foundation is laid. We have to dig deep to lay this foundation in our lives, but if we do, the promise is that we will not be shaken. We will not fall when the storms come. It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances. Doubt creeps in, and rightly so, when we are standing on our own shifting, sinking strength. 

 What does it mean to “dig deep?” For me, it means not just to surface-read the Bible and check off a box that I did it. Rather, it means to study it and then ask the Author what it means for my life, how he wants me to put it into practice and walk it. 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:23-25 (NIV) 

 Digging deep is hard. Hard ground, rocks and (bitter) roots make it even harder. Hardness of heart, unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, wrong-thinking, self-centeredness, pride, idolatries, unthankfulness, anger at God must be dug and pulled out. Maybe some structures will need to be demolished (see Sawdust). But the more you do that, the more you walk out what you are learning, the softer the ground gets, the easier to dig, and, along the way, the more the good seed from the Word can put down roots and produce fruit. Persevere, keep digging deep, get down to the Rock. He is the firm foundation. You will not be disappointed.  

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NIV) 

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16 (NIV

 

Image is in the Public Domain