Jackson Snyder, September 30, 2004
“On the debris of our despair we build our character.” -Emerson
The Road Not Taken
roads diverged in a yellow wood,
Then took the other, as just as fair,
3. Both that morning equally lay
shall be telling this with a sigh
Luke 17:5. The apostles said to the Master, “Increase our faith!” 6. And the Master said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7. Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table?’ 8. Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink?’ 9. Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10. So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Psalms 37: 1. Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers! 2. For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. 3. Trust in Yahweh, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. 4. Take delight in Yahweh, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5. Commit your way to Yahweh; trust in him, and he will act. 6. He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday. 7. Be still before Yahweh, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 8. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9. For the wicked shall be cut off; but those who wait for Yahweh shall possess the land.
Romans 12: 1. I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of Yahweh, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Yahweh, which is your logical duty (logikhn latreian). 2. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of Yahweh, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which Yahweh has assigned him.
2 Timothy 1:8. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Master, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of Elohim, 9. who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Messiah Yahshua ages ago, 10. and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Messiah Yahshua, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the good news. 11. For this good news I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12. and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
Do you feel like an unreasonable number of stumbling blocks have been pitched in your driveway? Too many tests of faith and strength lately? Do you feel as though someone with a great deal of power has commanded the sycamine (mulberry) trees to be rooted up and cast into your yard? Upon your house? Sure you do. I’ve heard you say so. Yet how fortunate you are that you have your eyes to see the stumbling blocks in your driveway, and your health to cut them up and push them to the side of the road. You have faith too – faith that some big truck will come along and cart them away – then you’ll be rid of stumbling blocks – at least for the time being. And you’ve been able, through your ordeal, to keep one eye on heaven – and the other on your work!
The Luke 17 apostles had been instructed beforehand of many stumbling blocks – some impediments would impede their journey upon the heavenly highway – some tempters would try to woo these little ones off the narrow route and smack them down in the darkness of the forest. Apostles! Trees are still falling. Stay on the true path and out of the dangerous woodland!
Now these apostles weren’t just Sunday Christians like most today. They’d given up their businesses and properties and families and the world they’d known for a promised Eden they’d never seen. They’d indentured themselves to a man whom they’d never really get to know well. But they believed their new Master was the gate to the promise, and they hung on His every word. Else they might’ve gained the whole world but lost their souls. They certainly chose the route less traveled by; and it made all the difference – to them and to us centuries later.
The Master warned them of tempters to come: those who’d deliberately set up obstacles. “Woe to him who sets stumbling blocks!” he said. “Better that a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea than cause little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:1,2). What an incredible punishment for those who deliberately waylay or divert milk lovers! What could be worse than being tied to a stone and sunk in the sea? I shudder to think of it. The apostles must have gravely considered the seriousness of this crime, and the danger it posed to their lives. With one voice they made their hasty request: “Increase our faith!”
Why would more faith help them with stumbling blocks? To answer that question, we must first define faith. Faith is the “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea or thing that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language). In order to be wary, these little ones would have to take their eyes off the heavenly Master to survey to the path before them. Faith, that is, “belief in a person that doesn’t rest upon material evidence,” would keep them through the difficult times when evidence of HIM was scarce.
“Help us not to stumble,” they all pleaded. “Increase our faith!” Yahshua had a plan to do just that – increase their faith. But it wasn’t what they thought it would be.
The Faith Wallet
Today, there’re several television formulas for ever-increasing faith. One evangelist says that faith’s like money – your faith’s kept in a heavenly bank vault for times when you need to make a withdrawal. Have plenty of it saved up; stormy days are ahead. (Get your account here.) Of course, the amount of faith you’ll put in that heavenly vault is in direct proportion to the amount of money you send in to the televangelist. However, when times have gotten tough for some of the faithful, I’ve never heard of the televangelist ever sending any of the increase of faith back. Have you?
Another televangelist recently sent me a faith wallet. (Get yours here.) It’s a paper wallet with instructions: I should put as much money as I could into the wallet, sleep with it under my pillow, then send it back to the preacher the next morning. When the preacher receives the faith wallet, he’ll pray that my faith will be released for a 100-fold financial blessing. Sounds too good to be true. But – I may try that faith wallet.
There are many such formulas. The point is, modern faith-increasing schemes have a common goal: we want our faith increased so we’ll get blessed – and the blessing most often promised is unrighteous mammon.
One minister did the most incredible thing to increase the faith in his little church. Several of his members had recently lost jobs. He called those who were cash poor up front – eight came forward. After prayer, he called the church treasurer up to the platform. “Bring that checkbook with ya,” he cried. The pastor instructed the treasurer to write each person who’d come forward a check for a thousand dollars. The treasurer knew the account only had a few hundred; nevertheless, in faith, he began to write eight checks for a thousand dollars each.
After distributing the checks, the pastor sent everyone back to their seats and announced, “You all know we don’t have enough to cover these checks. I want to increase your faith by showing you how G-d provides for his own. Ushers, come up here and we’ll take the morning offering – allowing plenty of time for the rest of you to make out your checks.”
There might’ve been fifty people in church that morning. What do you think happened? Do you think someone’s faith was increased? Do you think people had enough faith then to give what was needed? I was there! My faith was greatly increased by the discernment and action of the pastor and the Almighty who put him up to such an antic. (I’m told the offering was over ten thousand dollars. Even the preacher got paid that month.)
Yahshua has a plan for increasing faith, too. It’s not as direct as the heavenly bank account or the faith wallet. Yahshua’s is very indirect. He just tells a little story and makes the apostles fill in the details. The story goes something like this:
When your slave comes in from work, does he sit down and eat? No way. You’d tell your slave, “Go fix my supper and wait on me. When I’m done, you can eat, then you can clean everything up.” Do you thank your slave for his slavery? No way. The slave thanks you: “I’m an unworthy slave who’s only done his duty,” but he dare not tell you out loud because he not only thinks he’s unworthy to serve, he believes it. What kind of lesson is that?
Well, madam slave master, where does your slave get his daily food? From you. Where does he get his shelter? From you. If he’s sick, whose pocket opens to get him well? Yours. If he has a wife and children, who’s responsible for them. You are. And if his children have children, how do they live? Off you. You are the Master. The slave and his family are extremely fortunate to slave away in your household. Why so fortunate? Because you take care of their every need so they can continue to tirelessly serve you. That’s the least a slave owes his Master. That’s his logical duty (logikhn latreian, Romans 12:1b). Seeing the master prosper greatly increases the slave’s faith.
Slaving away in the king’s household was a highly esteemed position in those days. What lowly slave would feel worthy of such honor – to serve a king! And as time passed with faithful service rendered, the slave’s faith in his benefactor would certainly increase as the symbiotic relationship developed. Yes, humble servitude to a prospering master is a great motivator for increasing faith (see Genesis 40)!
In those days a free person who indentured himself to a master had a nail driven through the lobe of his ear. The nail was then bent around to form a ring. Sounds horrible, but now people do this all the time. It’s called “piercing.” Today they pierce far more than ears! Anyway, this earring was a symbol of voluntary slavery, and would remain as long as the slave lived. The nail became a constant reminder of whom the slave belonged too. It was also a reminder that it was the slave master’s responsibility to take care of what was his. So the ring in the ear, though a sign of bondage, could also be a great comfort to the slave – every time he lay upon the nail, pain reminded him of his master’s promise. And when he awoke, he gladly served with all his might.
Yahshua’s telling his apostles that their faith is increased by being faithful in their slavery. And though these apostles were mere men, sinful men, despised and vulgar men, untrained and ignorant men, they’d been chosen by the Son of Man to be slaves of their own volition. And though unworthy through their manifold sins, they humbly fulfilled their bounden duty. Through service to the Master of the Universe, their sins would be forgiven, they would come to love his service, and a mustard seed would be planted in their bosoms. The mustard seed would grow into the greatest of trees as their faith was increased.
This plan is something that has to be explained to us, because the concept is so foreign. Believers of today have little faith but great expectations – do little servitude but expect great service. Is this not true? I guarantee you that, in the world of the apostles, no explanation was necessary. There were plenty sojourning in the way with nails in their earlobes. The apostles got it. Do you?
Increasing faith through being faithful is found in the traditional text of the Communion Service. The words are still published in The Service of Word and Table IV (UMH 26). You old timers may remember the Prayer of Oblation (sacrifice, offering) spoken in unison before the breaking of the body. See if you can catch some of the ideas in Yahshua’s story as I read the prayer. Let us pray:
Father, here we offer and present unto thee ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice (oblation) unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that all we who are partakers of this holy communion may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences...
Since 1989 and the new hymnal, this prayer hasn’t been used much; but maybe it should be. It offers prayer for our inherent unworthiness to serve Yahshua because of our lawlessness, but it begs Yahshua to accept our duty and service and pardon our lack of skill in his slavery. And we learn that as we humble ourselves in this way, it is He who lifts us up in due time. And our faith is thus increased.
This kind of theology was in olden times called the Negative Way. Negative’s definitely out these days for increasing faith – positive is in. Positive thinking, positive confession, positive living, positive affirmation, self-love – I’m OK, you’re OK. Servanthood is out and being served is in. Slavery is definitely out – it’s illegal. Yet every single person, no matter how free she might appear, is a slave to something or someone. Everybody in the world has “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea or thing that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” By definition, faith is slavery. Who is your master?
Of course you’ve noticed some young (and not–so-young men) wearing an earring. That’s always been a sign of slavery. In more recent times, the man’s earring meant slavery to a ship – a man was shanghaied, the nail was driven into his ear, and he became the ship’s slave. To me a man with an earring indicates slavery to the world – it’s fads, trends, heroes, gods. Unfortunately, the signs of slavery to the world – the piercings, the tattoos, the brandings, the mutilation of the flesh – and many less tangible evidences – mostly inside rather than out – never go away. Such are the indications of worldly idolatry.
Slavery is alive and well; the slave always has faith in whomever or whatever he serves. One thing’s for certain. Unless the slave is indentured to the Master, Yahweh Sabaoth, he will, on that Day of judgment, lose all faith.
I have a pastor friend from school. We spent time together at Emory. Every other day we ate lunch. We filled each other’s pulpits, even had family outings together. I thought I knew Don pretty well. He was a gentle man, very well educated, well spoken, and a charismatic Christian with quiet faith and power.
Just before graduation, we were lunching in a Chinese restaurant. I complained a lot, but Don hardly ever complained, though he worked far harder that me.
“Just how is it,” I asked, “that you never complain despite some of the worthless stuff we’re made to do here?”
He replied, “I was taught to be very quiet in my former job, Jack. I dared not complain. I’m happy to be doing this now.”
“What did you do? Construction work?”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” he said.
“Oh, come on! Talk! It can’t be that bad. Are you a convict?”
“No. Should have been, though.”
Don began to talk. “I worked for one of the alphabet soup companies – you know – three letters?”
“Oh, you mean a covert, subversive organization like the CIA, FBI, CBS...”
“Yeah, something like that. I had a partner whose name was Jack. You remind me of him. Jack and I were trained to – kill – we were assassins.”
I laughed, “You’re kidding.”
Don looked up at me. “No I’m not. Do you see this chopstick?”
“Yeah, of course” said I.
He got a far off look in his eyes. “I could kill you with this chopstick and walk out of here without anyone knowing it.”
“OK, Don. I believe you. No need to demonstrate.”
He continued, “Jack and I were usually parachuted in over a target by night. We never knew where we were or the identity of the mark. We’d just land, find the target, and kill however many we had to – all silently. Then we had to get away. We were totally obedient since our trainers assured us we were serving our country. And we believed that.”
I was horrified. “Don, how many time were you sent out?”
He replied, “A lot.”
“And where’s Jack?”
“The last time we dropped we got balled up. Jack didn’t make it out.”
There was silence at the table while Don fingered the chopstick. And – there were tears in his eyes.
“It still really bothers you, doesn’t it?” That’s all I could think of to say.
He replied, “That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t want you to know what kinda person I’ve been. And, I didn’t want to tell you because I’m serving a new master now. I’m a new man. And I’m humbly grateful that he’s making a healer out of a murderer.”
I then understood why Don emphasized healing so much in his church services. After slaving for a devilish deception for years, murdering and believing he was doing right, he’d seen the error of his ways. Someone he cared for became a victim of the ruthless slave master; and, as a result, Don bound himself to a new Master whose venue was to heal and not kill.
I didn’t ask him anymore of how Don’s miracle of transformation had come. Yet since, his faith had increased because he’d been obedient to his new Master, and seen his Master work in healing when the former murderer prayed. Yes, he felt the kind hand of his new Master’s healing touch touching his own. He was made anew and so was everything else.
The assassin’s story is a perfect illustration of the well-worn words of Paul in Romans 12:1. Present yourself, body and soul, to Yahweh. It’s only logical that if you claim to serve him, you do so wholeheartedly and with perfect intention. Through the fulfillment of your duties as His slave, your mind may be renewed in regards to his providence. You can’t renew your mind at all until you’ve first become obedient to his call to slavery. You may have faith smaller than a seed at first, but if you persist in obedience, you’ll avoid all stumbling blocks and grow into a magnificent tree. No wind will ever put you down on the path – rather, you’ll eventually be transplanted into the fertile ground of the Eden of paradise reserved only for the faithful sycamine. An inscription will be carved into your trunk in letters of gold:
“Well done, good and faithful slave; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21).
 This story is recounted to the best of my ability. “Don” is a fictional name for a real person.