There are those two four-letter words – HOPE and LOVE – and then there’s that five-letter word – FAITH. While faith is not scripturally the greatest of these, it is quite possibly the hardest because its essence is the unseen, the not-yet, the still to come. And while trying to measure faith is an exercise in silliness, there do seem to be those moments in life when extraordinary faith is called for, something beyond the day-by-day trust we place in God.
“Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.”
Our study for the week comes from the New York Times best selling book Same Kind of Different as Me. We begin with two excerpts highlighting extraordinary faith. The first excerpt concerns a dream Debbie Hall had that is at the core of Same Kind of Different as Me.
She did have one other fear, though: missing the call of God. And she felt called to work at the mission. I wish I could say I felt God had tapped me for the assignment, too, but I didn’t. But I did feel called to be a good husband, so I went.
The Union Gospel Mission sits just beyond the beauty of the restored section of Fort Worth, a city that became a national model for downtown revitalization, thanks to the billionaires who loved it. In that part of town, soaring glass towers pulse with legal intrigue and high finance. Nearby, warmer-looking buildings refaced with brick and brownstone line sidewalks graced with raised iron flower boxes, manicured trees, and – after all, it’s Texas – topiaries of long-horn cattle. A cultural district spans three city blocks, housing three world-class museums, the Kimbell, the Amon Carter, and the Modern. A mile east, cafés open onto cobblestone plazas where dazzling urbanites can sip lattes and mineral water, and watch cowboys amble by in their boots and spurs.
Travel farther east, though, and the colors and flora of restoration fade into hopelessness and despair. Drive under the I-30/I-35 interchange, pass beneath an impossible pretzel of freeways called the Mixmaster and through a tunnel that efficiently separates the haves from the unsightly have-nots, and there are no more plazas or monuments or flower boxes and certainly no more dazzling urbanites. In their place: tumbledown buildings with busted-out glass. Walls scarred with urine stains and graffiti. Gutters choked with beer cans and yellowed newspapers. And vacant lots blanketed in Johnson grass tall enough to conceal a sea of empty vodka bottles and assorted drunks.
Driving out of that tunnel shocks most people into realizing they made a wrong turn. But on a sun- splashed Monday in the early spring of 1998, Deborah and I drove out there on purpose, she propelled by her passion to help the broken and I propelled by a love for my wife.
As we passed out of the dark tunnel onto East Lancaster Street, we witnessed a curious one-way migration, a streaming of people, like tributaries all flowing east into a single, larger river of souls. On our left, a string of shabby men staggered from the Johnson grass that covered a lot. To the right, a parade of women and children in dirty, mismatched clothes shambled along, dragging green garbage bags. One boy, about eight, wore only a man’s undershirt and black socks.
“They’re going to the Mission!” Deborah said, beaming, as if the entire ragtag bunch was long-lost TCU alumni and she just couldn’t wait to catch up. I managed some sort of agreeing noise and a thin smile.
To me, they looked as if they’d somehow found a portal from the Middle Ages and squeaked through just in time to escape the plague.
When we reached the mission, I bumped our truck over the driveway dip where a brown-trousered, fat man dangled a cigarette from his lips and stood guard at a rusted chain-link gate. I offered my friendliest east Texas grin. “We’re here to volunteer,” I told him.
He flashed back a toothless smile, and I swear his cigarette never moved, just clung to his bottom lip as though he’d tacked it there with a stapler.
I had pulled into the parking lot wondering how quickly I’d be able to pull out again, but Deborah suddenly spoke in a tone that you learn to recognize when you’ve loved someone for years, a tone that says, “Hear me on this.”
“Ron, before we go in, I want to tell you something.” She leaned back against her headrest, closed her eyes. “I picture this place differently than it is now. White flowerboxes lining the streets, trees and yellow flowers. Lots of yellow flowers like the pastures at Rocky Top in June.”
Deborah opened her eyes and turned to me with an expectant smile: “Can’t you just see that? No vagrants, no trash in the gutters, just a beautiful place where these people can know God loves them as much as He loves the people on the other side of that tunnel.”
I smiled, kissed my fingertips, and laid them against her cheek. “Yes, I can see that.” And I could. I just didn’t mention that I thought she was getting a little ahead of herself.
She hesitated, then spoke again. “I had a dream about it.”
“About this place?”
“Yes,” she said, gazing at me intently. “I saw this place changed. It was beautiful, like I was saying, with the flowers and everything. It was crystal clear, like I was standing right here and it was the future already.”
Watch the Video
The second excerpt describes an incredibly painful episode in the life of Denver Moore the man who would later surprisingly become best friends with Ron Hall and co-worker in the homeless ministry envisioned by Debbie Hall. This experience could have embittered him forever had it not been for the mustard seed of faith in his life and the lives of those around him.
I was just puttin the lug nuts back on when them three boys rode outta the woods and asked the lady did she need any help. ’Course, the redheaded fella with the big teeth was the one that first spotted me and called me a nigger. And the next thing I knew, I had a rope squeezed tight around my neck and black terror slitherin through my belly like a water moccasin.
“We gon’ teach you a lesson about botherin white ladies,” said the one holdin the rope.
’Cept I hadn’t been botherin her, just fixin her tire. But she didn’t volunteer no other story, and I didn’t say nothin ’cause for sure they wadn’t gon’ be believin me. I figured if I spoke, it would just add to my troubles.
I kept an eye on the boy with the rope, and when he lashed it to his saddle, I knowed what was comin and got real scared. With both hands, I reached up to try to get the rope loose. That’s when they snapped their reins and took off just a-laughin.
The horses trotted at first, goin slow enough for me to run. I was stumblin along behind, my hands still graspin at the noose and me tryin to keep my feet under me. The horses was only maybe ten feet in front of me, and I could hear their feet beatin the dirt. The dust stung my eyes. I could taste it.
Then I heard a whoop and a holler. My feet flew out from under me and I crashed down in the dirt, my knees and elbows skiddin down the road. The horses pounded and pounded and I held on to the noose like a steerin wheel, tryin to pry my fingers inside of it to keep the noose from closin in tighter. The dirt was blindin me and chokin me. My shirtsleeves and the knees of my britches tore away, then my skin peeled back like a rabbit ready for the skillet. I couldn’t hear no more laughin, just the terrible thunder of them horses draggin me down to die.
I expect I would a’ died if Bobby and his aunt, the Man’s wife from the other plantation, hadn’t been drivin down the road right then. I’d about blacked out by that time, and I don’t really remember too much of what happened next. I just know the draggin all of a sudden stopped. I peeked through my eyes, which had swoll up to slits and seen Bobby’s aunt standin in the road pointin a shotgun at them boys on horses.
“Cut him loose!” she hollered. I felt the noose go slack and seen the raggedy end of the rope fall to the ground like a snake with the evil gone out of it. Then I heard them boys ride off laughin.
Bobby and his aunt hustled me into their car and drove me to my auntie’s house. She tended to me with her roots and potions, slatherin a paste on my eyes to ease the swellin. I stayed in her bed a week till the swellin went down and I could see good again. Took about that long for my skin to scab over so I could put on pants and a shirt.
I knowed who done it. And I figured their daddies was in the Klan. But in Red River Parish, colored men had learned it was better to keep their mouths shut than tell what they know, ’less they wanted worse things to happen to their family, like maybe wakin up in the middle of the night with the house on fire.
Lookin back, I figure what them boys done caused me to get a little throwed off in life. And for sure I wadn’t gon’ be offerin to help no white ladies no more.
Read the following statement and the section below, and then discuss as a group.
Mommy, I ran out of strong. ~ Carson Hall
Matthew 8 contains two stories of contrasting faith: one tells of a centurion, a man under authority who displayed a confidence in Jesus and His power to heal, while the other tells of an incident in the lives of the disciples. As a group member reads aloud, pay close attention to these stories in light of the earlier excerpts.
The Faith of the Centurion
Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8:5-10)
Jesus Calms the Storm
Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:23-27)
After seeing the centurion’s level of trust, Jesus qualified his faith as great, or you could say extraordinary. But the word used to describe His own disciples’ faith was little. Not really what you might expect, is it?
Extraordinary faith. Great faith. And for a little different variation on that theme, Ron mentioned that Debbie had a scary faith, one that not only challenged him but unsettled him as well. Take a moment and consider that last adjective – scary. First off, what do you find scary? Don’t overthink it; just go with what comes immediately to mind, and share with the group. Then, what are some ways that FAITH can be scary, not only to yourself but also to those around you? Give yourself a moment to think before sharing.
Watch the Video Segment For Same Kind of Different as Me
Same as Me
- When you consider the time you placed your faith in Christ, did it look more like Debbie’s (well researched/C. S. Lewis–like) or Ron’s (rather quick and immediate/Damascus road–like)? Share a little bit about that experience.
- What are some of the dreams you have for your life? They may be personal or corporate or both. Do you feel that any of those dreams are God-ordained, something you have to do, and that they might call for extraordinary faith?
Different than Me
- Ron and Debbie Hall were Texans, accustomed to a certain lifestyle, living in the bustling metropolis of Dallas/Fort Worth. That’s their story. What is yours? Where do you find yourself in life at this time? Be as specific as you can.
- Initially, Denver was skittish around Ron and Debbie, not really knowing their intentions. What about you? Has there been a time when someone significant to your life reached out to help or befriend you, but you initially kept that person at arm’s length? Share briefly about that time. How can that memory inform some of your own attempts at helping in the present?
The Real World
- Take a few moments and come up with two ways you can practice extraordinary or even scary FAITH this week. As you think about those scenarios, who are the other characters involved (family, friends, coworkers)? If you had to guess, what would some of their reactions be to your exercise of risky faith? Will they be supportive? Surprised? Might they just walk away? As you share your thoughts, remember that you are committing to the other members of the group an intention to actually try to exercise a level of faith that’s uncommon for you.
Two words of encouragement:
- Start small; don’t try to change the other person or the world or yourself overnight. And remember Philippians 4:13.
- At the same time, don’t forget that Philippians 4:14 reminds us that when we run out of strong, God wants to strengthen us by the presence and support of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
After everyone has had a chance to share, take a few minutes to pray, asking God to bless the group’s efforts at extraordinary faith in the week ahead.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well that you shared in my distress. – Philippians 4:13–14
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What are your responses to Fred’s study questions? Are there people in your life who are extremely different from you – different economic situations, different lifestyles, different ways of practicing faith in Jesus? Come join the conversation on our blog!