The Heart of a Champion: Keep Faith
Have you heard the story about the elderly woman named Mrs. Jones who called the bank one morning to check on her accounts and to ask about getting a better return on her money? The bank officer listened very carefully and then said: “Well, Mrs. Jones, are you interested in conversion or redemption?” There was a long pause and then Mrs. Jones asked: “Is this the bank or the church?”
We can understand Mrs. Jones’ confusion. In the complex world in which we live today, we do have trouble sometimes understanding all the words. With that in mind, I want us to zero in on the word “faith”, and see if we can get a handle on what it really means. We hear people say things like: Keep the faith. Receive the faith. Learn the faith. Share the faith. Proclaim the faith. Live the faith. But what in the world does all that mean?
I suppose you could find dozens of definitions for the word “faith”, but let me give you my own: Faith is trusting the message of Christ and risking our lives for the cause of Christ and working to help others in the name of Christ. You see, I have come to believe that the three key elements in faith are trust, risk and work. We see that truth dramatically displayed in Mark I as Jesus comes to the seashore and extends a call to the first disciples: “Follow me”, He says, “and I will make you fishers of men. Come join me and we will fish together for the hearts, souls and lives of people.” And look at what those four fishermen did. Immediately, they dropped their nets, left their boats, walked away from everything they had known up to that point in their lives, and they followed Him. Talk about trust and risk and work! They dropped everything and followed Him.
Now the word “follow” is a powerful word in the Bible. The Greek word is “akoloutheo” and it carries a strong meaning. It means “obedience”, the kind of obedience a soldier gives his commanding officer. It means “commitment”, the kind of commitment that is unflinching, unwavering, unshakeable. It means “love”, the kind of love that is total, complete, and sacrificial. It means “devotion”, the kind of devotion that calls us to lay ourselves on the line for a great cause, a cause outside ourselves, a cause that is bigger than we are.
So mark it down. This is serious business. When Jesus says: “Follow me”, He doesn’t mean “Let’s walk around the block together” or “Let’s wander around for awhile.” He is playing for keeps. He is asking for our devotion, our trust, our service. He is asking for who we are and what we have. He is asking for our lives—our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength. He is asking us to trust in Him, to risk for Him, and to work for Him. Those, I believe, are the key ingredients in faith. I’ll show you what I mean…
A number of years ago, an older man was traveling alone on a train in France. A much younger man, sitting next to him, watched as the older man took out his Bible and began to read. After awhile, the younger man decided to strike up a conversation and he asked: “What are you reading?” The older man replied: “I’m reading from the sixth chapter of John in the New Testament.” The younger man then asked: “What’s it about?” The older man replied: “It’s a story of the miracle of the loaves and the fish. Jesus was preaching to a vast crowd of people. As time passed, they got hungry. With only five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, Jesus fed the entire crowd of 5,000 and had food left over.” Scornfully, cynically, the younger man said: “Surely you don’t believe that!” The older man announced: “I most certainly do!” The younger man then said: “Well I can see that you have become brain-washed by ancient superstitions. Not mel I am a scientist. The only thing I trust and believe in is what can be proven scientifically. That story you are reading defies the laws of science, and therefore I cannot accept it. Give me provable facts. As a man of science, I have no faith in miracles. But, of course, I don’t expect you to understand that.” At that point the train began to slow down. “Here’s my station”, said the young man as he rose from his seat.
“It’s been nice talking to you…oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” With that the older man reached into his pocket, pulled out his business card and handed it to the younger man. The younger man looked at it. Imagine his surprise! The name on the card was “Louis Pasteur”, one of the greatest scientists of all time. You see, Louis Pasteur knew that the scientific method, valuable as it is, is not the only road to truth. He was a radiant, powerful, believing Christian.
The real truth is that the best things in life cannot be proven in a scientific laboratory. Love. Courage. Integrity. Honesty. Morality. Compassion. Kindness. Justice. Commitment. You cannot put those great things in a test tube. You cannot capture them in a mathematical equation. But we know how incredibly important they are, and we know how dramatically they are proclaimed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith then is, first of all, the capacity to trust—to trust beyond what we can see and touch—to trust the message, to trust the call, to trust the church, to trust our Christ. Yes, the first ingredient of faith is trust.
A Middle Eastern sheik tells the story about a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a Persian king. This Persian king had a strange custom. He would give condemned people a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. This spy was brought before the king, and the king said: “What will it be? The firing squad or the big, black door?” The condemned spy hesitated for a long time, but then he chose the firing squad. The king turned to one of his aides and said: “Isn’t that something? They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of what they do not know and what they cannot define.” The aide asked: “But sire, what lies beyond the big, black door?” The king answered: “Freedom—but over the years only a handful have been brave enough to take it.”
The story reminds us of how difficult it is to take a risk and to make a leap of faith. There is always the temptation to stay with the known, to stay with the familiar, to stay with the comfortable. When Jesus came that day to the seashore and said to Simon and Andrew and James and John, “Follow me”, it would have been a lot easier and a lot less risky for them to have stayed with their boats. But look what they would have missed! They took the risk, they dropped their familiar nets and they followed Him—and with Him they turned the world upside down.
All through the Bible we see it. The great people of faith. The people who trusted God and took a risk. They went out into the unknown, confident that God would go with them and see them through. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. Ruth. Deborah. David. Mary. Peter. James. Lydia. Paul and many, many others like them. They trusted God and they took the risk. Let me ask you: Will you take a risk in your life? Will you offer Him your time, your talent and your treasure? Will you step out and follow Jesus Christ in your life? The second ingredient in faith is risk.
Notice, please, what Jesus said to those fishermen. He said : “Follow me and together we will fish for the hearts and minds and lives of people.” In other words, He put them to work. The call to follow Christ in life is a call to service, to action, to work—glorious, joy-filled, ultimately satisfying work.
Homer and Emmy Lou were courting in the front porch swing. Did you hear about them? Homer was very much in love with his beautiful Emmy Lou. However, Homer was very shy and not very demonstrative of his affection. So he decided to try to impress Emmy Lou with some fancy language. He said: “Emmy Lou, if I had a thousand eyes, they would be looking at you. If I had a thousand arms, they would all be hugging you. If I had a thousand lips, they would all be kissing you.” Emmy Lou looked at Homer and said: “Homer, stop complaining about what you don’t have and start using what you do have!” Reminds me of some Christians I know. They say; “If I had more time, I’d spend it helping other people. If I had more ability, I’d be a leader in the church. If I had more money, I’d give it to the cause of Christ’s church in the world.” To such Christians, I would like to say gently, lovingly, encouragingly: “Stop complaining about what you don’t have and start using what you do have!”
The point is clear. Talking a good game is not enough. Just going through the rituals, just saying the creeds, just singing the hymns, just preaching a sermon is not enough. Those who have the heart of a champion for Christ are those who practice what we preach, those who live our faith daily, those who work for all we are worth to make this world more like the kingdom of God. Only when our creeds become deeds are they worth anything. Only when our faith becomes active and goes to work is it of any real value. Work is a key ingredient of faith.
In the last century, a tourist from America paid a visit to a renowned Polish rabbi, Hafetz Chaim. The American tourist was astonished to see that the rabbi’s house was only a single room, filled with books, plus a table and a bench. “Rabbi”, asked the tourist, “where is your furniture? Where are all your things?” “Where is yours”, replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “But I am only a visitor here. I’m just passing through.” Said the rabbi: “So am I.”
Those to have ears to hear, let them hear.