As I was sitting down to write the newsletter, one phrase kept repeating over and over in my head, and that is the wonderful line from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 13:13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” In fact, I began to see that this would be a great trio of themes that go along with the ordering our lives for the New Year. So, I hope that when this series is done, you will understand this verse and powerful witness of Christian faith, hope, and love.
The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms says that faith “in Christianity (is) belief, trust, and obedience to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is the means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9) or eternal life (John 6:40). Faith affects all dimensions of one's existence: intellect, emotions, and will.” I only put this in here to provide a starting point. When we talk about faith, it means so many different things to so many different people. Some people have a great deal of faith, and you would never know it. Conversely, there are many who you think are deeply rooted in their faith who actually are not. To that end, faith can be a very touchy subject.
My basic theory as to why churches spend so much time arguing about budgets and money is that they are more comfortable with that discussion than to speak about their faith. When I was in seminary, I participated in a class offered at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. While there, I had a sit-down interview with Alexander Beloposky, who was in the Orthodox tradition working on issues of youth and Ecumenism. It was a fascinating interview for many reasons. Most interestingly, I vividly remember the discussion on faith. He said that one of the most difficult areas in ecumenical dialogue was to talk about what people believed, not because they were afraid of the discussion, but because they did not want to offend others.
My experience (after working in the church as a missionary, youth director, chaplain and pastor for the past 16 years) is that regardless of the age, many people have a difficult time talking about faith. Often, when people do begin to talk about their faith, they leave out those times of struggle, creating what appears to be a perfect and unquestioned faith, as if the individual's faith was untouched. I remember visiting a Presbyterian seminary where an individual was telling us the story of how God clearly spoke to him as he was eating a hamburger, telling him to go to seminary. I did not go to that seminary. The reality is that while there may be the occasional person who has never questioned their faith, I have yet to meet them. We all struggle at one point or another, and often it is in the struggle where we get that moment of clarity about our faith and begin to see God in a new way.
The further reality of faith is that it is messy and often not very clear. It sometimes puts us in difficult situations, and sometimes it lifts us up for no apparent reason. Ultimately, faith is this incredible relationship that we have with God. Paul speaks often about faith throughout his letters. He reminds those in his communities that the faith is open to all since it is not a faith owned by humankind, but one that is owned by God. He writes in Romans 4:16: “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”
We just enjoyed the Christmas season. If you gave up everything and did not even have a dollar to buy a gift, could Christmas still be special? Well, of course! Christmas is definitely not about things in this world. It is about our relationship, our faith in God! Honestly, the greatest gift that you could give to anyone, or at least the one that would last the longest, is to share your faith story. THE GOOD AND THE BAD, the ups and the downs; it is all part of it. The faith stories of the Bible do not always paint a rosy picture of God, but they do let us know that in the midst of everything, God really does love us and in the end comes through for us. Now, that is faith!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen