you're reading...

What is Faith?

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

July 9, 2023

Click Here to join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Genesis 24:34–38, 42-49, 58-67 (ESV)

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, 38 but you shall go to my father’s house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’

42 “I came today to the spring and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43 behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” 61 Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way. 62 Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. 64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel 65 and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

What is faith? We throw this word around in religious communities, but I wonder if we understand what it means. Theology of the Protestant branches of Christianity, often says we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Of course, this statement is loaded. It is biblically supported but in many ways that statement has more cultural and political connotations to it than we might initially believe. It was derived from Luther’s devotion to sola scriptoria or scripture alone as the test of truth, but he developed this tradition of thought as a protest against the teaching of his clerical contemporaries. I am not opposed to this idea of Protestant theology. I agree that it is fully supported by scripture but what I question within this statement is what faith is. If we were to just type faith in a Google search, we will find a definition of the word which says faith is a complete trust or confidence in someone or something. The second definition listed is strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. I understand the meaning of the word, but do you see the problem? There are many that have faith. Even those that Luther opposed had faith. Even those that opposed Jesus had faith, yet Jesus taught that many will be told that the Father never knew them. When I first began pastoral ministry, I read a great deal. I still do, but early in my ministry I had many questions and I often felt like I was completely unprepared. I was unprepared. I did not get official training in a bible college to take on a ministry role. I studied crop science. I wanted to get involved in the emerging scientific breakthroughs in crop genetics and assist in relieving world hunger and malnutrition. I am still amazed at what advancements are being made in that sector of our economy. Now after twenty years of ministry I firmly believe that there was a reason I did not take the traditional path to ministry. I have a background that is different than many in the ministry. I asked questions that others did not. These questions I feel were and are important, because they are often the questions that many we see as deconstructing ask. We do live in an interesting and exciting time for the church. Many look at the world around us and they may not see what I see. But we do live in an exciting time. I mentioned the theology of Luther. He is widely accepted as the figurehead of the reformation. He of course is only one of many reformers. He lived in a time of great change within the western world. There were people that sought to reform the church prior to Luther, the anabaptists were among those that proceeded Luther, but their movements did not have as great of an early impact because they lacked something that Luther had access too, the printing press. Fifteen years ago, just five years into my pastoral career, we had a pastor’s retreat with pastors from the Evangelical Friends Church and Friends United Meeting. This was the only united pastor’s retreat there has been in twenty years. The speaker at this conference was Leonard Sweet. I was excited for this conference. I was excited because as I mentioned before I was unprepared for ministry. This prompted me to seek answers to my questions. This eventually led to me enrolling in a graduate program and while I was in school, I continued to ask the questions I had. Leonard Sweet was one of the authors that I had found that spoke to the questions I asked. In the early parts of this century there was a moment that was beginning lead by people much like me. It took on the name Emergent. And as the years progressed many of these leaders have fallen away for various reasons but I found their exploration fascinating. One theologian, Robert Webber, wrote a book called Ancient-Future Faith, Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern world. This was published in 1999, so even when I read this book it was a few years old. But what many in this Emergent movement wanted was to reunite with the ancient roots of our faith traditions. Leonard Sweet in that conference excited me because not only was it a conference uniting the divide among our own tradition, he spoke about the perfect storm within faith. Mr. Sweet explained that a perfect storm occurs when three different meteorological situations emerge into one. The warm air from a low-pressure system comes in from one direction, a flow of cool and dry air within a high-pressure system come from another direction, and they then combine with tropical moisture within a tropical story or hurricane. The result of this convergence is a massive storm that seems to come out of nowhere. This occurred in the early 1990’s and prompted a book and movie called A perfect storm. It is a fearsome and terrible thing, but when Leonard Sweet used this metaphor, it floored me. He explained that there were aspects within our culture, technological advancements, and spiritual curiosity that were coming together in such a way that could lead us into the next great era of the church. Many within the Emergent movement thought that they were in that place, the perfect spiritual storm. I believed it too. I was sitting in a conference where it appeared that there was going to be a reuniting of previously splintered branches. I was excited to see what would happen and I was excited to be part of this new emerging faith. That was fifteen years ago. The elements of Mr. Sweet’s perfect storm are still present, and I think the elements are stronger than ever before. We have been walking through the life of Abraham over the past few weeks, in the book of Genesis. I love this first book of scripture. I love it not because I am a fan of Answers in Genesis, but because this is the book that most of my questions start. As I mentioned before I studied crop science, much of what I studied in my degree often challenged this book of scripture. This is one reason I find it so bizarre that I eventually became a pastor. But the thing about the various traditions of Christianity is that the often encourage questions and exploration. People of deep faith tend to embrace challenging questions because they know that answers will be found. And this is what happened to me. I found a man of science that studied genetics and had deep faith. This man inspired me to continue to seek answers as well as continue to ask questions. We are walking with the patriarch of faith, Abraham, through Genesis. This book tells us about our origin, and it also gives us a glimpse into why there is struggle within life. We can look at it as metaphor or history, it really does not matter. What matters is if we have learned something from these words. There are three profound events that happened early in Genesis that speak to the chaos of humanity: The fall in the garden, the events that led to the flood, and the tower of Babel. These make the perfect storm of chaos and sin. We often only focus on the first of these, the fall in the garden, but all three are important to the story. The fall in the garden is the beginning of sin and of faith. But it is not until after Babel that God begins to focus his revelation through one nation or people. Prior to Babel, all humanity was equal, we were all one people. After Babel the languages were confused, and we are told in Deuteronomy that God divided the people of the nations among the sons of God. This is a weird phrase. One that confuses and even terrifies us. It might even cause us to question our faith. I think that is the whole point. Scripture acknowledges that there are spiritual forces and beings present in our world. These spiritual beings can be benevolent or demonic. They can either point us to the most high God or distract us from him. This story sets the stage for human history. It allows us to look at the various religions of the ancient world together as one. There is a spiritual and physical battle waging between the nations of the earth. Which god will become the greatest, which nation will rule them all? This is human history, even to this day. This is why we fear the rise of Islam in the western world. We are afraid that maybe our God is not as powerful as we once believed. This is why we are so worried about culture wars because we have this perception that political power proves divine favor and power. God did not choose the powerful. Out of all the nations of the world that were divided among the sons of God at Babel, God chose Israel as His inheritance. God chose a nation that at that point in history did not exist and would not exist for centuries. God did not choose power in the eyes of the kingdoms of men. God instead chose a different path. The path of faith. Out of the land of Ur, God called one man. He promised this one man that he would be the father of a multitude and the light to the nations. He promised this yet this man was childless and would remain childless until he was a hundred years old. God did not choose power. Eventually God did provide this promised child. One child is not a nation. One child is barely a family. Yet this is the path God chose as his inheritance. Abraham continued to walk with his God. He entrusted his life to this God. Eventually Abraham’s wife of many years died, and his son had yet been married. Abraham had a problem. He was to be the father of nations, and his promised son, his heir, was also childless. This is not a recipe for a great nation. Abraham sent his trusted servant, we are not told exactly who the servant is, only that this particular servant was the oldest of his household, the one who had charge of all that he had. This servant in many ways was like a son to Abraham, but cultural norms relegated were such that this servant would remain a servant within the house, because the heir was the one that would inherit. This servant was loyal to Abraham and was also loyal to Isaac. His future and the future of the entire house was with Isaac. Abraham took this servant and gave him a task, “swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant was skeptical of this charge. He challenged his master and said, “perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said absolutely not! “The Lord, the God of heaven, will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” And the servant took the oath. I want us to really consider this oath he has taken. Oaths are not something people in ancient times entered lightly. This is one reason Friends have a testimony against oath taking. We are people of integrity and to place our word on something that we cannot fulfill is something we find abhorrent. The same can be said of the ancients of this culture. If you enter an oath, your life is on the line. This is why the servant was hesitant at first. What woman would come with him to marry some guy she did not know?  Nothing about this situation made sense, and he was told he could not take Isaac with him at all, even if Abraham happened to die before the servant found a wife for him. Abraham had faith that God would provide, and he assured the servant that if the woman would not come, he was free from the terms of the oath. This servant went to the land of Abraham’s father. He took the camels and the various goods Abraham provided and he entered into this bridal quest. He came to a spring at the end of his journey. Before him was either a glorious future or defeat. This is where we are as well. A glorious future or defeat. But notice what the man does. He prays. “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink.’  And who will say to me, ‘drink, and I will draw for your camels also,’ let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.” This servant did not know God, in the same way his master did. He knew of God. He had saw how Abraham remained faithful to this God. He had saw how this God had provided wealth, and even in the twilight years provide a son when all hope was lost. This servant knew of God but had not encountered him for himself. Yet this servant called upon God the only way he knew how. He asked God for a sign. We often see this as testing God, but all of us have participated in this form of prayer at some point. Entire religious movements have been dedicated to this sort of spirituality. God can use this. He can provide for our needs, he at times will provide exactly as we have stated and at other times, He provides in a way that seems coincidental. This servant’s prayer is acceptable because it is in accordance with the faith he has. His faith is in the God of Abraham, he is praying within Abraham’s faith not his own. Abraham’s God is not the servant’s God at this point, so he asks God to provide a specific so that, he be sure. We are told that before he had finished speaking in his heart, Rebekah came out with her water jar. The servant asked his question, and Rebekah quickly drew the water, and without hesitation she offered to draw water for the camels. The servant then visits Rebekah’s family and recites this story to them. And they too are amazed. This is part of the story we did not read today, but the response of Rebekah’s brothers was, “The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” We might find this response hard to handle today, but it is interesting. They gave the blessing before they saw, they gave permission before they had received any traditional bridal price. But what is more important is they allowed Rebekah to choose. They called her to them and asked her, “will you go with this man?” and She responded, “I will Go.” Rebekah and the servant then travel back to the place Abraham and Isaac are living at that moment. The servant went not knowing what to expect. Rebekah went not knowing what to expect. Both proceed into the fogs of the future with little to no assurance, yet they go. And as they approach, they see Isaac. He went out to meditate in the field. This is an interesting point in the story. Some translations say that Isaac was walking or relaxing in the fields, but many say he was meditating. This is because this phrase uses a word that is only used once in all of scripture. We do not fully know how to translate this word but can only look at how other words from a similar root are used. Some of those words mean meditate while others can mean walking or relaxing, some others are even gossiping or praying. The context leads us to believe that Isaac is alone, so gossip is not what is going on. He very well could be walking in the cool of the evening but there is a sense surrounding the scene, that he is not merely walking aimlessly. The manner in which he is holding himself attracts attention. When Rebekah sees this man in the field, she dismounted the camel she was riding on and immediately asks who this man is. She saw something in him beyond words. She saw a quietness, a gentleness, she saw reverence and faith. She saw in an instant the very peace that was within her when she said that she would come flowing from this man. And her response was to put on the marriage veil. And after the servant told the story once again to his master’s son, Isaac took her to his mother’s tent and at that moment they were united. This story is one of faith and growing in faith. The story begins with the faith of Abraham, but it extends through the servant, Rebekah, and Isaac. At every moment each person could have turned away from the course set before them, yet they do not turn, instead they walk confidently forward into that unknown future. What is faith? We can define it with words, but words are not enough. Words fail us at times, they can usher in doubt, and this doubt can cause us to question and turn. What is faith? Faith is walking forward through the doubt. Faith is asking questions and trusting that answers will be found. Faith is personal, and faith is communal. I agree with Leonard Sweet. I do believe that we are nearing a perfect storm of spiritual awakening. I believe this more every day that I live. I believe it because of the very things that bring many to fear. But I do not fear. I do not fear, because faith is not assurance, but submission. It is trust. I have faith because my father had faith. I have faith because my grandfather had faith. I have faith because Dr. Francis Collins, a man I have never met, has faith. All the people that have encouraged me through my life have a similar theme throughout their life, they trusted God. I am lucky because I have a rich heritage of faith. Others do not have the same story. But a servant went out one day after pledging an oath to his master that he would bring a wife back for his master’s son, and God provided. A woman left her father’s house and traveled across the wilderness to marry an unknown man, and God provided love. And from the simple faith of one man, that spread to a servant, to a woman and a son. Through prayers of meditation and pleas for a sign, God provided. And through this one-man God has provided a great multitude and a light to the nations, through a son that emerged from this one man. God does not choose power and politics; he chose to reveal himself through the seemingly impossible. And a storm is brewing. A storm that will cause many to fear and some to marvel. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works but believing loyalty to God who has revealed himself to us through Jesus our lord. Will we have faith?

To Donate to Willow Creek Friends Church Click here:

To donate directly to Pastor Warner click here:

About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply


Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
%d bloggers like this: