Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bethany Bullet - August 20, 2013

A man fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down.
The following conversation ensued:
"Is anyone up there?"
"I am here. I am God the Lord. Do you believe me?"
"Yes, I believe. I really believe, but I can't hang on much longer."
"That's all right, if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch."
The man paused then said: "Is anyone else up there?"

Today we will look at the concept of faith.  We talk a lot about it, we throw the word around all the time, but what does it mean to live a life by faith?

 “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  (Hebrews 11:1) This is how the writer of the book of Hebrews describes faith.  What is faith?  You have heard the word in church an in society, but what does it mean? 

Let me add to the conversation about what faith is NOT. 
  • It is not blind optimism 
  • It is not a manufactured “hope-so” feeling 
  • It is not an intellectual assent

This is how others have tried to describe faith:
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” -Martin Luther King, Jr 
  • “God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.”  -Augustine 
  • “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends.” -George Muller 
  • “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien 
  • "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." - St. Thomas Aquinas

Are there times where you seem to be going through trials and temptations do you find yourself in circumstances where the future doesn’t seem very bright; where the promises of God seem so far away?  Is faith sometimes a difficult thing?

You are not alone.  Faith is not easy and at times it makes no sense. 

Take Abraham for example.  To say his life was hard is an understatement.  Abraham had to rely on faith to get him through.  There is no other explanation.  Consider the events of his life: 
  • He was called away from his home to live in a foreign land because of the promise of a God he did not even know. 
  • He was given a promise of land, family and a relationship with God but years went by and the promise remained just that, a promise. 
  • He was given the promise of fatherhood but mocked with a name that meant “the father of many” as he remained childless late into life. 
  • Famine forced him to leave the land of promise for food in Egypt. 
  • His wife was taken by a foreign king to be part of his harem, not once but twice. 
  • Finally after many years, and many doubts, Sarah gives birth to a son.  His name is Isaac which means laughter.  Was this bundle of joy to be the end of his trials and temptations? 
  • God told him to sacrifice that son, his promised son, his only son; a son for whom he waited so long, whom he received in so extraordinary a manner upon which his heart was set, to have this son offered up as a sacrifice, and that by his own hand; it was a trial that would have over set the firmest and strongest mind that ever informed a human body. 

What kind of cruel joke is this? Why would God raise his hopes only to dash them on the rocks?  Is God some sick deity who takes pleasure in seeing His children suffer?  Does not God not care about my pain, my problems, my predicament?  What about your promises God?  Why is this happening to me?

Have you been there?

Abraham found himself in a place that must have seen as not only incredible but completely contrary to all God had promised.  Why would God want Abraham to sacrifice his son when it was God who was fulfilling a promise by giving him that son? It didn’t make sense. 

Genesis 22 tells the story if you want to read it in detail.  Abraham, a man of faith saddled his donkey, took his son and two servants, cut some wood and heads off to sacrifice his son, the promised one.

We have the gift of hindsight.  We know how the story ends, but put yourself into Abraham’s position.
If it was me, I wouldn’t have left the tent.  I would have argued with God, I would have tried to talk my way out of it or buy my way out of the situation.  A heated bargaining session would have taken place.

I know you have been there, the situation is bleak, you can’t see a way out, and so you try to buy your way out.  With money or words or works, the currency of the flesh attempts to rationalize a solution.  But you cannot buy faith.

But friends you HAVE been bought!

Abraham is not alone when it comes to offering up his one and only son.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16) 

The word translated here as believes could be translated as “has faith.”

We have been saved by faith.  Hebrews 11 starting at verse 17, “When God tested Abraham, faith led him to offer his son Isaac. Abraham, the one who received the promises from God, was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. God had said to him, “Through Isaac your descendants will carry on your name.” Abraham believed that God could bring Isaac back from the dead. Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead in a figurative sense.”  (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Abraham lived by faith, even when he did not know why God was working the way he was.  Abraham trusted that God would resolve the problem.  Abraham believed in the power of the resurrection. 

Generations before Jesus would walk the earth, Abraham believed in the power of the resurrection, by faith!
You see, faith enables the believer to treat the future as present and the invisible as visible.  Faith apprehends as a real fact what is not revealed to the senses. 

He is not the only one.  In the 11th chapter of Hebrews there is a long list of the saints that have gone before us, and how they lived by faith.

Abraham along with many others looked beyond their present circumstances to a future shaped by God’s promises.
  • “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom

What present circumstances are you focused on and see no hope, no end?  Does the future seem uncertain to you?  Do the promises of God seem distant?

The promises of God find their climax at Calvary, in an event that doesn’t make sense, that is contrary to reason, where the Almighty God sacrifices His only Son to buy us miserable sinners back so that we can with a sure and certain hope confess, (say it with me if you remember it) “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” (Meaning of the Second Article of the Apostles Creed: Luther’s Small Catechism)

This comes to us by faith, a gift of God, not something that we come up with but that came to us when we experienced the Gospel, and continues to strengthen us when we encounter the word of God, partake in his meal at the table, and brings us to eternal life in heaven.

There was a tightrope walker, who did incredible aerial feats. All over Paris, he would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights. Then he had succeeding acts; he would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter read about this in the papers and wrote a letter to the tightrope walker, saying, "I don't believe you can do it, but I'm willing to make you an offer. For a very substantial sum of money, besides all your transportation fees, I would like to challenge you to do your act over Niagara Falls." Now, the tightrope walker wrote back, "Sir, although I've never been to America and seen the Falls, I'd love to come." Well, after a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. The tightrope walker was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the treacherous part of the falls -- blindfolded!! And he makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, and he comes to the promoter and says, "Well, Mr. Promoter, now do you believe I can do it?" "Well of course I do. I mean, I just saw you do it." "No," said Tightrope, "do you really believe I can do it?" "Well of course I do, you just did it." "No, no, no," said Tightrope, "do you believe I can do it?" "Yes," said Mr. Promoter, "I believe you can do it." "Good," said Tightrope, "then you get in the wheel barrow."

Are you ready to ride in the wheel barrow?  That is faith! The journey may be filled with fear, but faith trusts in the one who is in control, who sees the finish line, who has mapped the course, who is right beside you every step of the way. We live by faith, the only way.

Lord, give us such a faith as this, a faith which not only can move mountains, but also defy death, a faith which because of the death and resurrection of Abraham’s greater offspring, Jesus, we can shout with St. Paul, “Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting? …Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Amen.

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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