I was at the beach with family in Hatteras, North Carolina and we were doing a little shopping. As you know, shopping holds little allurement for a four year old boy. But my nephew Aidan and I found a rocking chair. He climbed up in my lap while we waited for his mom and sister to finish. Sitting facing me, he examined my necklace, gently rubbing the texture of the front, turning it over to look at the back.
Now before I go on, you need a little insight on Aidan. He is “all boy.” Rough and tumble, silly, hilarious. He loves pretend guns, pretend arrows, legos, and pirates. He does boyish things. But there’s a tenderness too.
The necklace he was so thoroughly discovering is, of course, Jon’s thumbprint. I never take it off. And I’ve found that every child that I’ve gathered in my arms has to touch it. From babies in the nursery, to my former kindergarteners, something about the shiny silver pendant is irresistible. Oh how endearing is their careful examination! For it’s the way children understand their world. And everyone knows I’m a toucher too. I suppose I’m still extremely tactile in the way I figure out the world! I guess I never grew out of that stage of life. Well, at least I don’t put random objects in my mouth. So, anyway I totally get that little kids need to touch intriguing things.
As Aidan turned the pendant over, he noticed the words on the back.
“What does it say Aunt Ami?”
“It says ‘Love always, Jonathan’ It was written by Uncle Jon.”
I could see the gears turning in his head.
“Do you remember Uncle Jon? Not Aunt Carol’s Uncle John (for my sister’s husband is a John too), but my Uncle Jon?”
Still he thought.
“Do you remember him reading stories to you on Christmas morning?”
Illumination. A huge grin of remembrance. But his grin quickly gave way to thoughtfulness.
“Yes, but now he died.”
“Yeah, that’s true buddy. Uncle Jon died.”
He thought again, sadness crossing his little face.
“Why did Uncle Jon want to die so now I don’t get to know him?”
Of course, tears sprang to the corners of my eyes. Thoughtful questions from kids always produce this response. It’s one reason I just love small people. They ask what’s on their minds.
“Well buddy, he didn’t want to die. But Jesus decided that He loved Uncle Jon so much that He just had to have him there in heaven. He decided it was better for Uncle Jon to be there with Him instead of here.”
“But I don’t know who heaven is.”
“Well heaven is a place. It’s the place where God is. It’s the place where Jesus is right now, and where Uncle Jon is.”
With assurance he replied, “And just because we can’t see Jesus, doesn’t mean He’s not there.”
Now my voice waivered, caught in the beauty of his confidence. “You are exactly right. Jesus is there. And guess what? One day Jesus is coming back. And we will see His face. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“And I will see Uncle Jon too.”
“Yep, as you get older you’ll understand more and more. And if Jesus becomes your Savior, you really will see Uncle Jon again.”
Then with all the faith and expectation a little boy can muster, he proclaimed.
“Yes, I will see him.”
And I was struck by the profound simplicity of child-like faith. How often we adults muddy the waters and complicate things! How easy it is for children to believe. And so Jesus said, we must become as children for “their’s is the kingdom of heaven”
Faith. Everyone believes in something. And in our culture faith has almost become a buzz word losing the depth of its meaning. “Keep the faith” “He came to faith” “Have faith” Have faith in what I wonder? A nebulous belief that somehow something or someone cosmic is working in your favor. A type of karma perhaps. What goes around comes around. No, I can’t believe that. There’s so much more.
I mean even atheists have faith. Faith that there is no God. For surely they must dismiss plenty of empirical evidence that suggests otherwise. But I digress. Even Christians fall into the trap of misplaced faith. We put faith in our government. Faith in that fact that we are America (be sure to pronounce that ‘Murica), the home of the free and the brave. We put faith in our education system. We put faith in medical technology, financial security, success, prosperity, the fences that guard our homes… We look to these things to be our savior. Sometimes it’s other people. And yes sometimes we put faith in ourselves. I hate to tell you folks, but all these people and things will fail. If you haven’t seen that yet, don’t worry, it’s coming.
So then where is there hope of someone who will not fail? I would submit to you that true faith rests in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the character of God. And in His revealed Word. This isn’t an apologetic, so I’m just going to assume you’re all here with me, without further need to convince.
So what is true faith?
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1
This speaks of confidence. An expectation. Faith is knowing that unseen things are true. I came across some beautiful commentary on Hebrews 11 that I’ve been tossing about in my mind the last several days.
“Faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Instead, faith is a settled confidence that something in the future– something that is not yet seen, but has been promised by God– will actually come to pass because God will bring it about. Thus biblical faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable “leap in the dark”; rather, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy—the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ…” (ESV Study Bible)
So then, biblical faith is persistent confidence in the truths about God. It is confident expectation that He will do what He says He will do. And at the center of biblical faith is Jesus Christ.
As I continued to read Hebrews 11, I mulled over the faith of the Old Testament believers. Though they didn’t get to see the promises fulfilled, their faith was in the coming Messiah! They looked forward to a time when One would come who would crush the serpent’s head. Hey guess what? That’s gospel. They had to believe the same things we do– That there was a better Rescuer. A better Priest. A better Sacrifice. A better King.
Think about all they didn’t know, however! They didn’t have the benefit of looking back to see the finished work of Jesus. Isn’t their faith astonishing then? Absolutely yes. But more astonishing than that is their God. Because faith is a gift. (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, the marvelous faith displayed by Abraham, Moses, Rahab and many others was a result ONLY of God’s faithfulness to give them power to believe. They couldn’t have drummed up true faith on their own any more than we can. So what if we change our mindsets? Perhaps Hebrews 11 isn’t the “Hall of Faith,” but rather the “Hall of God’s Fame.” For the point is not, be like Abraham. Or be like Joseph. Or be like David. Rather, the paragraph leads to its climax at the beginning of chapter 12.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:1-2)
Looking where? To Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Not to ourselves. Not to our spouses. Not to America. But to Jesus. This is why their faith was so great… It was firmly rooted and grounded in the greatness of the coming Christ. And all these thoughts led me to some substantial application. Just as they couldn’t see it all, neither can I. And I might not ever. You see, one of the constant cries of my heart over the last 8 months has been,
“God don’t waste Jon’s death! Please God do something big!”
At times those cries have been uttered with the attitude of “Prove it God. Prove to me that this is good. Prove to me that you are accomplishing your purposes.”
So this brief study on faith revealed my sin. God doesn’t owe me anything. And how truly arrogant it is of me to demand proof from God who is holy, majestic, transcendent, Creator, Redeemer…
I think Job tried that once. And God merely said, “Who are you? Were you there when I created the world?”
One of my favorite songs says it well. “Who has given counsel to the Lord? Who can question any of His Words? Who can teach the One who knows all things? Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds? Behold our God, seated on His throne. Come let us adore Him. Behold Our King. Nothing can compare. You will reign forever! Let your glory fill the earth!”
Behold our God. There is a difference between asking in humility that God would use Jon and me and demanding that I see evidence of why He’s crushed me.
How dare I require proof. He is God and I am not. For He already went so far as to give His own Son. And that’s just it. He already proved that He would give far better than answers. He gave Himself. God didn’t have to reconcile Himself to man. But He did. The God who’s wrath was righteous, who was completely just, was also the God who conceived the plan whereby justice and mercy could meet. Because of the cross of Christ, I can have the sweet, sweet confidence that I know God will always do what He says He will do. Job never had the benefit of seeing the cross, but I get to.
And the higher I exalt Christ, the lower I see myself. For gazing at Jesus shows me the beauty of His holiness and the ugliness of my sin. As a result, the cross that bridges the gap must get larger and larger. God’s character is enough to trust Him. Yet he gave us the finished work of His Son. How then can I not believe?
John Piper said, “the gospel is the good news that because God did not spare Christ, He will not spare any omnipotent effort to give everything that is good for us” Wow! Think about that for a minute. “He will not spare ANY omnipotent effort to give EVERYTHING that is good for us.”
I think that’s the irony. As much as I have pleaded with God to “not waste Jon’s death” and arrogantly asked Him to “prove it,” I already know Jon’s death isn’t wasted. I already see some fruit. I don’t deserve it. Yet it is God’s generous mercy.
So, God brought me again to the place of surrender. “Lord you owe me nothing. And I deserve nothing, but you’ve already given me everything in giving me yourself. Forgive my arrogance in demanding anything from you. Even if I never see Jon’s death resulting in what I think is ‘big,’ you are doing good. You are accomplishing your purposes. You don’t need me. You don’t need Jon. I don’t believe Jon’s death is wasted, but even if it was, that is your good and sovereign choice.”
“So return me Lord, to the profound simplicity of child-like faith. The waves have subsided for a time, but when they threaten again to drown me, keep me looking to Jesus, the perfecter of my faith.”