Faith-shaking faith – those moments in life when all you can do is:
- hold on by your fingernails as you cling to trust in God as the direction of your life leaves you shaking in your shoes.
- believe in the unquestionable presence of God as you encounter intensely questionable moments in your life.
Faith-shaking faith – it is not a term you will find in the dictionary, but it is a reality that can define your life when the only thing you can do is trust that the God of faith will grant you faith to endure.
Louis Silvie Zamperini was an American World War II veteran and an Olympic distance runner. He took up running in high school and qualified for the United States in the 5,000 m race for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, finishing 8th.
In 1941, he was commissioned into the United States Army Air Forces as a lieutenant. He served as a bombardier in B-24 Liberators in the Pacific. On a search and rescue mission, Zamperini’s plane experienced mechanical difficulties and crashed into the ocean. After drifting at sea on a lifeboat for 47 days, with two other crewmates, he landed on the Japanese Occupied Marshall Islands and was captured.
He was taken to two different prisoner-of-war camps in Japan where he was tortured and beaten by Japanese military personnel—specifically by Mutsuhiro Watanabe—due to Zamperini’s status as a famous Olympic runner. He was later taken to a new prison camp at a coal factory, and after much hardship, he was finally released. Following the war, he initially struggled to overcome his ordeal, battling with post-traumatic stress.
Zamperini related that after the war, he had nightmares about strangling his former captors and began drinking heavily, trying to forget his experiences as a POW. His wife Cynthia attended one of the evangelistic crusades led by Billy Graham in Los Angeles and became a Christian. In 1949, at the encouragement of his wife and her Christian friends, Zamperini reluctantly agreed to attend a crusade. Graham’s preaching reminded him of his prayers during his time on the life raft and imprisonment, and Zamperini committed his life to Christ. Following this, Zamperini forgave his captors and reported that his nightmares ceased.
Later Graham helped Zamperini launch a new career as a Christian evangelist. One of his recurring themes was forgiveness, and he visited many of the guards from his POW days to let them know that he had forgiven them. This included an October 1950 visit to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo, where many war criminals were imprisoned and expressed forgiveness to them as a testimony to his faith in Christ.
Today’s scripture lesson from Mark 13 is about faith-shaking faith as Jesus tells Peter, James, John, and Andrew about the beatings and trials before governors and kings that they will endure because of their testimony about him. In the midst of this faith-shaking news, Jesus tells them about what will be required of his followers as they bear testimony to faith-shaking faith: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Faith that endures to the end is the testimony of faith in Jesus. This is the witness of faith-shaking faith in Jesus as you:
- Cling to trust in God when the direction of your life leaves you shaking in your shoes.
- Believe in the unquestionable presence of God as you encounter intensely questionable moments in your life
In an article entitled Faith Isn’t Easy, Teri McDowell Ott shares these thoughts about faith-shaking faith:
By its very nature, faith isn’t easy. Faith is not something that we can rationalize, or explain, or even obtain with any measure of success. If we were to attempt to explain it we might talk about reaching for the unreachable, finite hands grasping for that which is infinite. Faith is the bridge that is built between stark dichotomies; it is hope in the face of despair; it is love in the face of hatred; it is peace in the face of violence; it is beauty in the face of ugliness; it is justice in the face of injustice; it is courage in the face of fear. Faith is a dynamic, spirited force that moves us from the place where we are to the place where we ought to be.
Which is why it is so difficult. Faith is supposed to move us. Faith is supposed to change us. Faith is supposed to better us and open us, deepen us and mature us. And that journey isn’t easy. In fact, it’s the most difficult, most intimidating, most risk-filled journey we will ever take because it means consistently stepping out of the safety of the boat into the wind and the waves and the storm.
Theologian Paul Tillich describes faith as “dynamic.” If faith becomes static, if it fails to move us, open us, deepen us, better us, then it is no longer faith. Instead, it is an idol; it is simply another idol that we put up on the mantle to worship but with which we don’t actually do anything.
Couldn’t you make this a little easier, Jesus? Thanks be to God the answer is “No.”
Brian Birdwell was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when Flight 77 was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. He suffered burns over extensive parts of his body. He describes the aftermath of the attack as his two co[workers were killed and he suffered burns over extensive parts of his body in the White Chair Film, I Am Second.
“Just moments before, I was in a hallway that I was exceedingly familiar with. I knew exactly what direction I was going. And in that next moment, after the impact of the aircraft, and being set on fire. I’m sustaining a life-threatening injury with no way to escape, no way to know which is to safety, which way is to danger. That darkness and that blackness. That panic when you meet those two circumstances. And those moments seem to last an eternity. And I did what we in the military are never trained to do, and that’s surrender. And I came to that realization that I was no longer struggling to survive. But I’d stepped over that line from the desire and that zest for living that we’re all created with to that acceptance of my death, and recognizing that this was how the Lord was going to call me home. I just screamed out in a very loud voice, ‘Jesus, I’m coming to see you.’ That feeling would not come. I would lay there thinking, OK, Lord, c’mon. Let’s get on with this thing. But the Lord had other purposes.”
Brian was rescued by four friends, and in the years that followed was required to live with faith-shaking faith. In receiving critical care at the beginning of his journey of recovery, he stated ‘… it was with the strength not of a soldier, but of my faith in Christ” that he has faced the ongoing challenges of that day.
In the years that have followed, Brian has endured over 39 reconstructive surgeries. Today, as a retired lieutenant colonel, he is a member of the Texas State Senate. As Brian reflects on the faith-shaking events of 9/11, he admits that he is still working on forgiving, but he also confesses that his wife and he “concentrate more on the grace of the Lord’s actions.”
Next Sunday is the last Sunday of the Christian year – Christ the King Sunday. It is the day we proclaim Jesus as our Savior as he endured what he told Peter, James, John, and Andrew they would endure – being beaten and placed on trial, enduring the faith-shaking faith of the cross so that in the words of Hebrews 12:3, we “may not grow weary or lose heart” when we endure as we remember that Jesus did not make the journey of faith-shaking faith easier. Jesus makes the journey of faith-shaking faith possible
by Pastor Marc Brown
November 14, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: Hebrews 12:1-3, Mark 13:1-13
(full online service video below)
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for November 14, 2021
The Good News “Faith-Shaking Faith”
Scripture Lesson Mark 13:1-13
Music “Your Labor Is Not in Vain” The Porter’s House
Closing Music “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” arr. Ron Loree