What Faith Does (Lessons from Black Bags)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible… By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise… For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Hebrews 11:1-3,8-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:24 

We toured a small church school in a rough area of Puerto Rico, limited in space for growing interest while vibrant in spirit as the signs on its walls: Fruit de la Vida (fruit of life). Since Hurricane Maria, after which many public schools closed due to damage and families leaving for the States, the government has offered abandoned school buildings to private schools for a minimal charge for a set period of time, and if improvement, care, and maintenance are exhibited, the school can become theirs. We went to the nearby abandoned building they intended to transform, stripped by looters of its AC units, water-damaged from a partly-destroyed roof, doors secured but dented with a lock-picker’s brazen frenzy, and saw piles of black plastic bags stuffed with trash. ‘A group of us came last weekend and cleaned up our garden.’ This indomitable leader’s hope and faith were astounding; (I wanted some). What we saw as lifeless, dusty, decrepit, she saw as teeming with children, a garden, possibilities.

We toured another school that had already refurbished part of an abandoned campus, now bustling with vibrant teachers and smiling children for almost a year. Freshly painted classrooms boasted elementary artwork and cheery signs, walkways were lined with garden plots of sunflowers, corn, and tomatoes. I was riveted by a tidy row of black trash bags, lined up in the sun, bulging not with trash but with new seedlings sprouting in dirt.

How do I look at life’s challenges? The black bags at each school triggered the choices offered. Do I spend my time stuffing my bags with whine and blame, collecting critical scraps on others, trashing the atmosphere around me? Or do I see opportunity to clean up, open doors, refresh my life and zeal? When I see damage and decay from sin storms, do I languish and complain in helplessness, or look in faith to the One Who makes all things new? Do I coddle bad habits or genuinely repent and set to work planting life and bearing fruit that brings nourishment and beauty to others? These people trusted the faithfulness of God, and I can too. (Revelation 21:5)

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Faithful Father, thank You for inspiring me through faithful heroes and black bags. Keep me ready for every good work of faith, putting desolation of days and mind and heart behind, and striving ahead with You Who called me to bear much fruit. (John 15:16; Philippians 3:13; Titus 3:3,8,14)

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