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Live By Faith: The Challenge

I will confess to you, right at the start of this series, that I am writing these articles as a personal journey. Like many of you, I was raised in the Christian faith and was taught that faith and obedience would result in answered prayers and blessings. Faith was taught to me as a simple

I will confess to you, right at the start of this series, that I am writing these articles as a personal journey. Like many of you, I was raised in the Christian faith and was taught that faith and obedience would result in answered prayers and blessings.

Faith was taught to me as a simple form of math: If I do “A” (believe and obey), God will do “B” (give me what I want). I like that math, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t add up. Doing “A” doesn’t guarantee that “B” will happen. Frankly, it doesn’t even seem to increase the odds that “B” will happen.

I’m learning that there is nothing wrong with faith, or with God. The problem is in our math – and in our motivation. No one ever says, “I pray and obey so that God will give me what I want.” Well, at least we don’t say it out loud, but it is what we expect. And when our expectations aren’t met, our faith struggles.

I have been a man of faith for most of my life. As a minister, I have studied faith and have taught on the topic of faith for over three decades. Still, I continue to be intrigued by this primal theme. Faith serves as the common denominator of every aspect of Christianity, and yet we find ourselves filled with questions:

• What is faith?
• How do we gain faith? Or more faith?
• How does faith affect us?
• How does faith—or even can faith—move the heart of God and result in a miracle?

I know that I am not alone on this journey. As a pastor, I am approached daily by people who are equally intrigued. They want to believe, and yet they find belief to be difficult — and at times, even painful. Some people have walked away from their faith, not because they didn’t believe, but because their faith didn’t seem to make any difference. They were disappointed in the math. When you truly believe, and yet that belief doesn’t bring about the desired result, it’s hard to keep believing.

Faith in the predictable is easy. Did you know that science has no explanation for the law of gravity? What we know about gravity is based solely on observation. And if gravity is anything, it is predictable. It is so predictable and reliable that every decision we make is in full obedience to it. The law of gravity never disappoints us. In other words, the math works: What goes up, must come down.

Faith in the unpredictable is hard – at least when it comes to the outcomes, we expect or try to anticipate. In the short term, you just never know what you’re going to get:

• One Christian couple raises their children in the faith, and all six of them become missionaries and ministers. Another couple raises their children in the faith, and not a single one of them follows Christ.
• One believer prays for healing and then receives a miracle. Another believer prays for healing and then suffers and dies.
• One believer, tithes faithfully and their business booms. Another believer tithes faithfully and their possessions are confiscated due to religious persecution.

As a minister friend of mine once said, “When it comes to faith, life is a crapshoot.” We desire guarantees. Hey, most of us would even settle for an increased probability. But the fact is, our faith-math disappoints us often. Doing “A” doesn’t guarantee that “B” will happen. We need a new faith equation to live by.

We are going to use Hebrews 11 as the basis for this series. It is known as the faith chapter. It is filled with stories of ancient people who demonstrated great faith. For some, faith resulted in success and victory. For others, it caused unbearable suffering and persecution. The passage is written (see verses 32-40) in such a way that the author doesn’t even bat an eyelash as the transition is made from one outcome to the other. What does the writer of Hebrews 11 know about faith that we don’t?

Sadly, we Christians have so little understanding when it comes to the short-term unpredictable nature of our faith that we can’t keep ourselves from passing judgment on others. We praise and admire those who succeed and question and condemn those who suffer. Our judgments produce pride in the blessed and cause the sufferer to wither. Is it possible that those who are suffering the most are actually the ones we should be admiring the most? What caused the writer of Hebrews to declare, “The world was not worthy of them”?

We have much to learn. Let’s go on the journey together.

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