Our religion is not a system of ideas about Christ. It is Christ.
... Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)
I received this quote yesterday in my email. The profound simplicity gave me pause.
Is my faith really that straightforward? Do I really just "fix my eyes on Jesus" alone, or do I cling to a set of beliefs, relationships, habits and history?
Philippians 1:20 in the JB Phillips paraphrase calls me out in much the same way:
For living to me means simply "Christ", and if I die I should merely gain more of him.
To agree with Brooks' quote from the beginning, we know, serve and worship a person, the eternal person of God. This is radical, and unlike any other world religion.
On certain days, this reality is clean and clear for me; God feels present, close, and available. On other days (more than I care to admit), I get lost in what if's and how come's and but what about them's. On those days it is so hard to trust in the unknowns, when fears seem so much more real than anything else.
It would be so nice to know the future in order to get through the present. But in my more lucid moments I recognize the same thing that Jack Nicholson barked to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men:
You can't handle the truth!
In my old age I have to come to know that it is nearly always better to not know the future, because I couldn't have handled knowing it ahead of time anyway! God reveals things to us as we are able to take them in.
That was the jumble of thoughts that poured out of my mind as I read Hebrews 11 last night before I went to bed. These were the verses that stood out the most:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (verses 13-16)
Sure, I've read these words before. But in that amazing way that only scripture, the living Word, can do, it was as if I had never seen them. To believe in something does not make it happen. Faith is comprised in believing in the Giver, not what He gives. As it says so succinctly in verse 1, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."
In affluent, can-do America, this is a difficult pill to swallow. We want rock-solid guarantees before we commit. But Jesus asks us to put skin in the game solely on his words, his promise, his power and life. We must live by faith, not by sight. Otherwise, let's be honest: it's not faith. As Oswald Chambers says, “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.”
To quote the desperate father in Mark 9, "I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief." Amen.