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James Meehan - What Is Faith?

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    James Meehan - What Is Faith?
TOPICS: Culture Makers, Faith

James Meehan: What is up, everybody? Welcome to this week of our show "Switch Uncut" where we wrestle with your questions about faith, following Jesus and the Bible. We just kicked off a brand new series of messages titled "By Faith" where we are walking through the Book of Hebrews, specifically chapter 11, the faith chapter, and exploring what faith is, why it matters, and how we can grow in our faith. And now on "Switch Uncut" what we wanna do is answer some of your questions about what faith is. But we're gonna start by outlining what faith is not. And so in today's conversation we're gonna look at four bad conceptions of faith, four misunderstandings of faith that unfortunately a lot of people have held onto that have caused more harm than good. And what we wanna do is respond to those bad ideas with better ideas based on the truth of scripture. So, with that being said, Kaitlyn, take it away.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: All right, here we go. Four misconceptions, as you mentioned. We're just gonna hit one at a time, so track with us. First misconception. Faith is believing without seeing. And I think this misconception maybe comes from the chapter that we're literally talking about, Hebrews 11. The first verse says, "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see". So, what's going on here? Is there seeing and believing? How do those things actually correlate?

James Meehan: Yep, such a great question. And I think that's the thing, is getting to that idea of faith is kind of easy to do because there's that verse that Kaitlyn just mentioned, Hebrews 11:1, and also I believe 2 Corinthians 5:7 where the apostle Paul says that we walk by faith and not by sight. And so if you take Hebrews 11:1 and you take 2 Corinthians 5:7 and you rip them out of context then all of a sudden those pieces on their own seem to put faith and what we can see as opposing forces. But when we put those pieces back into the context of the greater passage, what we discover is that that's just one piece of the puzzle and that when we read the context of what's surrounding it, in Hebrews 11:1, verse two says, "This is what the ancients were commended for". This confidence in what we hope for, this assurance about the things that we do not see. And the rest of Hebrews 11 is exploring all of these different people who lived by faith. And the way that we define faith in Switch is that faith is trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. And now the thing is that in just that one statement of Hebrews 11:1 we don't get that full definition. But when we look at all of Hebrews 11 as a chapter exploring what faith really looks like, not just in a single sentence but actually in practice, by looking at the examples of all of these people who lived by faith, people like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Moses and Joseph and Jacob and Samuel and the prophets, all of these people who lived by faith, what we see is this consistent pattern of them trusting God based on evidence, most often the evidence that existed for them was them literally having an encounter with God. Like Abraham was called by God, God spoke to Abraham and told him that "If you follow me, if you go into this covenant with me, then I'm gonna use you to bless all the nations. I'm gonna give you children and your descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore". And so you've got this encounter with God that was this evidence that helped Abraham to trust God and then live with obedience because Abraham followed where God led him. And so what we wanna do is make sure that as we are reading these verses, like Hebrews 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 5:7, that we're exploring the context, because it's always the context that helps us understand what these verses really mean. And so when we look at the context in both of these scenarios what we see is that faith is a lot more than believing without seeing. Now it's important to say that sometimes faith does look like believing in things that we cannot see in front of us. When Abraham was given this promise from God that he would be the father of many nations, at that point in his life Abraham had zero kids. Abraham's wife was beyond the childbearing years. But he trusted in the promises of God. He had faith, confidence in what he hoped for, assurance in the things that he did not see. But that faith wasn't blind. It was based on the evidence of having a conversation with the God of the universe. And because of that Abraham was able to say, "God, I trust you based on this evidence and it is going to lead to obedience". That's what faith is, not believing without seeing but trust based on evidence that leads to obedience.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: Yep, I love that. I love that we get that, pick that definition of faith right at the beginning of the chapter and then it is followed up by literally example after example after example that provide evidence for us and also demonstrate that these people were not blindly believing. They had experiences and encounters with God that led them to trust him and then fueled their obedience to him. The 2 Corinthians 5 passage that you mentioned, the evidence that we get to look at in that passage is the physical resurrection of Jesus. That's what Paul is teasing out in 2 Corinthians 5 where he's talking about the hope that we get to have for resurrected bodies, and the evidence that we base that on is that Jesus resurrected from the dead. So, you know, again, it's trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. So yeah, that's our first misconception to knock out. Faith is not believing without seeing, it's trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. The second one that we're gonna talk about is faith being used as a formula to get what we want. Like if I just believe hard enough or believe the right things, then it will produce the right outcomes in my life.

James Meehan: Yep, if you pray hard enough, believe the right things, say the right words, and do it in Jesus' name, then God has to give you what you want. So, one of the things that was really interesting in my own journey of following Jesus was my wife Mandy, we've been married for a little over five years, but right before we got married she got diagnosed with some really significant health issues that she's still in the process of recovering from and it's one of those things where when she got sick we did what we do, we prayed for God to bring healing. And things didn't get better, they actually got worse. And so six months into our marriage my wife had to step away from her job and she began experiencing symptoms of pretty intense depression, anxiety, to the point where she was having multiple panic attacks a week on top of the extreme fatigue and pain she was dealing with. And this was really hard because we were continually praying and asking God to bring healing, there were so many people in our church that were praying for my wife to be healed, and I remember having so many people come up to me and tell me, "Hey, this is how you need to pray". Or, "This is what you need to do". And, honestly, I tried to pray in the ways that they told me to pray. And yet my wife wasn't getting better in the way that we wanted. And it was one of those things where it was this really beautiful lesson for us, that sometimes God heals us in this powerful and miraculous way, and sometimes we endure these really difficult things and God uses those for good. Because the truth is that we live in a world that is fallen. That is infected by sin. Where there are things that are not the way they are supposed to be. This is what the biblical story is all about, from Genesis 3 forward. The world has been fractured because of the human rebellion against God that took place at the fall and we are living in the effects of this fractured and fallen world. So, because of that, sickness is real. Suffering is real, death is real. But because of Jesus we know that heaven is breaking in, that the kingdom of God is coming on earth as it is in heaven, and so there are absolutely moments where God works miraculously in our fallen world to bring healing and that's why we pray, we seek God, we ask him to show up in powerful ways, because we know that he can and we know that sometimes he does. But because this world is still fallen, that Jesus hasn't returned to make all things new, there are gonna be times when we pray and it seems like those prayers aren't being answered the way that we want them to. And I think this is what we have to remember, is that faith is not a formula for us getting what we want from God. God is not this cosmic vending machine that if we just push the right buttons to get the right numbers, then we will get that thing that we want. God is our Father. And he wants us to trust him. To seek him. To come to him when we are in pain so that he can comfort us. And so think about this idea of faith. We wanna resist wholeheartedly to temptation, to use our faith as a way to manipulate God to get us to do, or to get him to do what we want him to do. Because the reality is that, yes, we are told throughout scripture to pray, to seek God in Jesus' name, to ask him to show up in miraculous ways. But just because we pray, just because we believe does not always mean that God's gonna do what we want him to do. And it's in those moments where faith actually steps in because we have to trust that God knows what's best. That God's way of doing things is actually better than our way of doing things. And if I were to try to tell you that five years ago when my wife first got sick, I wouldn't have been able to with honesty. But it's only in hindsight, after going on this journey for the last 5 1/2 years where my wife still isn't fully healed from the illnesses that she's been dealing with, that I can point back and see all the ways that God used this experience to bring her and I closer together and to bring us closer to him. Because there are times where actually the suffering we endure, us not getting what we want when we want it is a way that God matures us, he grows us, he builds us, so we can become more like Jesus for the sake of others.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: Right, yeah. Oh man, that's so good. Faith is not a formula, it's not about inputs and outputs like a math problem. It's about trusting a person in the process of getting to know him more intimately.


Okay, so, I have a question that kind of is a sub-point to this question. I think another kind of passage about faith that gets quoted a lot and is kind of misunderstood is in Matthew 17 but also in some of the other gospels where Jesus is talking about faith and he says, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move". Okay. What the heck does that mean? 'Cause I ain't seen that happen, and that sounds kind of inputy-outputy. Like if I say the right thing, if I say, "This mountian move," and I have faith this much, then mountains are gonna jump into the sea?

Yeah, for sure, exactly. That's exactly what Jesus meant.


But here's what's funny, it is that idea that it sounds like if you do this then I will do this. And so it does sound like a formula and that's what can happen, is when we read these pieces of the Bible out of context of the greater story of the Bible, it can be really easy to run with it and come up with these ideas about what it is that Jesus really means that are actually different than what he's hoping to communicate to us. Because Jesus also says in John 16:23, "Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name". And so some what people will do is they'll say at the end of their prayer, "In Jesus' name". And it's almost like stamping Jesus' name on your prayer so that God will give you what you want. Now, we pray in Jesus' name because we wanna pray in a way that honors his name, that's in agreement with his mission. That when we are praying for the things that God wants, God will make those things a reality. So there's that, now coming back to the faith the size of a mustard seed. What's so funny is that that idea is what some people will run with which leads them to say if you have enough faith, because it's in that passage where Jesus says, hey, the problem is you don't have enough faith. If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, then here's what will happen. And sometimes what people will think is, oh okay, the problem is I don't have enough faith. This number of things that if I have enough of then God will give me what I want. And it's like no no no no, remember, what is faith? It's not how hard we pray. It's not saying the right words. It's not just magically stamping Jesus' name on the end of the sentence so that he'll give me what I want. Faith is trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. And so the question is, if you trust God just the size of a mustard seed, literally the teeniest, tiniest amount, based on whatever evidence you've been given that leads you to obedience, then God can do incredible things through you. I would argue, and I think most people agree, that what Jesus is doing when he says if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed then you can say that this mountain jump into the sea, what Jesus is doing is he is using hyperbole, he's exaggerating, he's making a point to show that here's the thing that matters. That you have faith, how much? The tiniest amount. And, again, it's almost as if we have taken these words of Jesus as a way of telling people you gotta have more faith. And Jesus is saying the amount of faith you have to have is the tiniest amount. Just this tiny little bit, that's how much faith you need to have for God to move on your behalf. Now, again, what we acknowledge is that because we live in a fallen world there are things that happen that go against the way things are supposed to be. And so we pray, we ask in Jesus' name, believing and trusting that God is good, that he wants what's best for us and for his good world, but we have to have enough trust to say that maybe sometimes what I think is best is different than what God actually knows is best. So instead of trying to pray with the exact right words, with some undefined amount of faith that somebody told me is enough to get God to do what I want him to do, maybe I actually have enough faith to trust God just this much. And then even if he doesn't do what I want him to do that doesn't mean that he doesn't love me, it doesn't mean that he's not good. It just means that I don't fully understand what it is that God wants to do through this education.

Yeah, oh man, that's powerful and that's crazy, our tendency as human beings to take something and basically flip it entirely on its head to say the exact opposite thing that Jesus is saying in that passage. It's not an indictment to, dude, you just don't have enough faith, this is ridiculous, I'm so embarrassed by you. It's not an indictment, it's an encouragement of, like, my goodness, just this much. Just this much. So, anyways, that's crazy. And I think that that actually leads though into the next misconception that we're talking about, and it's this idea that faith is the same thing as certainty. Like if I have faith and I have a strong enough, deep enough faith, I should never doubt. I should never have questions. And if I do, oh man, I'm screwing something up.

Yeah, I think this is a really really important thing to talk about because there are absolutely places in scripture where Jesus talks about, hey, doubting is not exactly the best thing in the world. Or like James who talks about how we shouldn't be double-minded, split between two different ways of thinking. But we wanna be careful that we don't over-apply those teachings on doubt to every question that people have. Because the reality is there's plenty of times throughout scripture where the people of God had questions, they had doubts, literally the Psalms are full of these doubtful cries asking God to show up, asking God where he is. If you ever have questions about whether or not God is there for you and you aren't sure if you're allowed to have those questions, just open up the Psalms to Psalm 88 and Psalm 89, those are two of my favorites, because Psalm 88 is literally, "God, you've completely abandoned me. My only friend is darkness". And then Psalm 89, the first three quarters of it is talking about the promises that God has made, and then all of a sudden the last quarter is this shift that says, "Hey God, you've made all these promises, so where are you now"? And those Psalms are in the Bible, the inspired Word of God. And so I say that to say what we don't wanna do is we don't want to be obsessed with doubt but we also don't want to demonize doubt. What we wanna do is have an appropriate understanding of doubt. These questions, these struggles, these things that we have a hard time understanding. Because one of my favorite examples of this is in Matthew 28:17. So, in Matthew 28, the last chapter of Matthew's Gospel, verses 18 through 20 is the Great Commission where Jesus standing on this mountain, post resurrection from the dead, is speaking to his disciples and tells them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, so now I'm telling you to go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I've commanded you and don't worry, I'm gonna be with you till the very end of the age". And then that's the end of Matthew's Gospel, this incredible commissioning by Jesus to these disciples to go and change the world. And right before this happens verse 17 tells us that some of these disciples worshiped Jesus and some of these disciples doubted. Some of them worshiped and some of them doubted. And I think this idea is so important for us to wrap our minds around, that even after the resurrection of Jesus from the grave we are told that some of his disciples that are standing there, hearing him speak post resurrection, still have doubts. They still have questions. They are not 100% certain of what's going to come in the future. But here's what's so important. All of them kept following Jesus. Some worshiped, some doubted, but all of them kept following Jesus. And because they did, because they lived by faith, trust based on evidence that led to obedience, now here around the world 2,000 years later we can share stories of how God is moving in our lives, because these incredible followers of Jesus who with their doubts chose to go and make disciples. This is why it's important to remember, that doubt does not disqualify you. It doesn't make you a bad Christian. It actually just makes you human. And so the thing about certainty, certainty is being 100% sure that something is going to happen. And the reality is that faith and certainty do not coexist because if we have to trust in someone it means that there's actually the possibility that we might be let down. Now let's be clear, God is always faithful, he will always keep his promises, he's not going to let us down. But when it comes to relationships, I do not always know what my wife is gonna say or do or think. But I still love her, I still trust her, because we are in a relationship with each other. The reality is we can't fully wrap our minds around God, he's way too big for us to do that, and so there are gonna be things that God does or the ways that he acts or the things that he calls us to do that we don't fully understand and we don't know how it's gonna turn out, but we can still trust that he's good, that he cares, that he loves us, that he wants to partner with us, because of all of the evidence we've seen of him working in our own lives and in the lives of others and that can inspire us to move forward in obedience.

Yeah, it sounds like it's so much less about future certainty and so much more about future commitment. Like I am accepting God's invitation to trust him and that is a commitment, that is a daily choice, to I don't have to know all of what the future is going to look like to make the decision today to continue to follow Jesus, to continue to trust him and his perspective. And I've shared part of this story before but the walking through doubt and the shame that accompanied that for me as a middle schooler was crazy. I was having these doubts and questions about the existence of God, the way that eternity works. I just did not know how to wrap my mind around a lot of these things and started to doubt and question. And holy cow, I did not wanna tell anyone. I truly believed that it made me a terrible Christian. That if I told someone, specially someone who I admired that was further ahead of me in this faith thing, that they were gonna be like, "I can't believe you just said that. Put it back in, shove it back down. Conceal, don't feel". All of that. And I eventually got to the point where I was just like, all right, I've had enough. I can't work through this on my own, I need to bring someone in. And so I remember the night that I confessed to my mom that I was having these doubts and these questions, and I'm coming in already crying, thinking that I'm bringing this dark, dirty confession, and she just received it with so much grace and met me right there, like, Kaitlyn, we've all got questions. We have all wrestled with these things. We don't come out of the womb with this intimate, complete knowledge of God. We get to walk through our whole lives and develop that relationship where we get to know him better and better. And so the way that she handled my confession of doubt was really a pivotal moment in my walk with Jesus. And so, again, doubts do not disqualify you. Questions don't make you a bad Christian. They actually allow us to dig deeper and to find good answers and to bring people into the process which in turn strengthens relationships. It doesn't cut them off. So, letting people know, bring your questions to God, process your doubts to the people you trust, and stay committed to following Jesus.


So, the very last misconception of faith that we wanna tackle is this idea that faith is a feeling that kinda comes and goes. Like sometimes I feel like I have really strong faith in God and he's really close to me, sometimes I don't. How do we deal with that?

I think this is really important for us to talk about, specially in the world and culture that we live in today that puts such a high value on what we feel that sometimes we can devalue what's actually real. And so this is the thing...

Come on.

Is that our feelings are real but they aren't always reliable. That sometimes you may feel really close to your best friend and sometimes you may feel really angry at your best friend. But at the end of the day what you feel in that moment does not determine whether or not you are still best friends with that person. Because what you feel might motivate you to make certain decisions that you're either glad you did or maybe you wish that you didn't, but ultimately a relationship is so much more than what we feel. And this is the thing that's important to recognize about faith. Faith is not a feeling that comes and goes. Faith is a relationship that we build. One of the things that I really like is there was some show, don't remember what it was, it was super corny, not a great show, I wouldn't recommend people so I'm glad I don't know the name, but on this show this guy was talking about how he doesn't believe that people fall in love, he believes that people grow in love. And what he does is he's kinda countering this idea that love is this feeling that we fall into. That if all the circumstances are right then all of a sudden we'd fall in love. The problem with that idea is that if love is just a feeling that we fall into then it's also a feeling that we can easily fall out of. But what he understands is that love is something that we grow in, it's something that takes work and effort. It's more than what we feel or how we think. It's actually a part of what we do and how we live. And so when I think about my relationship with my wife I think about the fact that it is a relationship that intentionally day after day I choose to invest in, I choose to build, I choose to serve her, to say nice things to her, to listen to her when she speaks. And as I do these things my faith is being, oh sorry, my love for her is being built because our relationship is being built. The same thing is true with our faith, with our relationship with God. God is not just some abstract entity out in the distance. God is a personal creator who wants a relationship with you and me and that's why this is so important, is that there are going to be times where you feel really close to God and there's gonna be times when you don't feel close to God. What's important to remember is that how you feel does not define your relationship. Because in the same way that you may not always feel close to your friend or the person that you're dating or, if you're married, your spouse, whatever that looks like, the truth is that what matters is do you keep showing up consistently, caring for them and doing what love requires of you? Because if you do, then that's gonna build your relationship which in turn will build your faith, because remember faith is not a feeling that comes and goes. Faith is trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. Faith is a relationship that we build or, sadly sometimes, we neglect.

Yeah, it makes me think of the Psalms again and how in multiples Psalms but specifically Psalm 23 is coming into my mind because it's David acknowledging that even in the darkest places, in this place called the valley of the shadow of death, that God is still with him even when it doesn't feel like it.


He had learned through his life, like David's story is crazy. He spent a huge portion of his life running for his life from King Saul. This dude knows what it's like to not necessarily have all of the sunshine and rainbows and be experiencing the good things that we think, you know, that even God had promised. Like he was going to be king but he wasn't there yet. And so in this space in between where he's literally running for his life, David had come to know and experience God's presence even when he had every reason to not feel it. And so he writes Psalm 23 and he talks about how "even in the valley of the shadow of death you're with me". And so I think that there's an element, again, faith is trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. We have the opportunity to trust the story that God is writing instead of the one that our emotions are telling. The story that we tell ourselves is so important. And, again, feelings are real and they're good. I think they're a way that we're actually made in the image of God.


But they're supposed to be indicators that point us back to the heart of God. But if we let them become the driver, they tell a different story. And so we have the opportunity to choose to trust the story that God is writing instead of the one that my emotions are telling. And, yeah, so, we just tackled four misconceptions of faith, and now that we know a lot of what faith is not, I'm excited to continue to have conversations throughout this series that help us build that foundation of trust based on the evidence that leads to obedience. So, yeah, thanks for having this conversation. Is there anything else you would add?

Yeah, last thing I wanna add is make sure as you have questions leave them down in the comments below. If you know of other people who have questions, then let us know what their questions are. We'd love to be able to respond to those. Don't forget to like, subscribe if you haven't already, and we're just thankful that you continue to show up and be a part of this conversation with us.

See ya.

See you.
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