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Tuesday
Feb092016

True Leadership

Luke 22:24-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 7, 2016. 

We have been looking at the Passover Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed.  Each of the disciples was destined to have a critical role in the work of Jesus moving forward.  Yet, this brought great temptation with it.  They renewed an old favorite pastime of squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest disciple.  This argument gives rise to great insight from Jesus into what makes a great leader.

Who is the greatest disciple?

It is common in any group to have a clash of inflated evaluations of self and the disciples were not immune.  Verse 24 brings this out.  Of course, self-evaluations are always there and are not wrong necessarily.  However, Jesus taught that judgments should not be according to appearance, but rather should be righteous (John 7:24).  Clearly the disciples failed on this evening.  Yet, they become an example of what we should not do.  Take joy in the fact that, even when you fail, you can provide an example to yourself and others.

The word translated as dispute is a bit unclear.  The word that is translated here means more than just a dispute and the strife that goes with it.  It is literally a “love of disputes” that is referred to.  Thus this was not just a difference of opinion, but a love of arguing with each other.  Sometimes when you argue with someone you realize that either you or they fall into the trap of arguing for arguments sake.  You may use logic for your point but then refuse that same logic from the other side, which is both illogical and hypocritical.  Such love of dispute is not anchored in a love of God, or a love of righteousness and truth.  It is anchored in contention itself.  Conflict can become a habit that mimics addiction.  However, Christians are called to be peacemakers, not lovers of strife.  Their question of which of them is the greatest stirs up a spirit of arguing within the group.

Jesus steps in and uses the situation to teach about true leadership.  Notice the word “considered.”  They are all concerned on how they are considered by the others.  They each think the others should consider them the greatest.  Jesus points this out as a problem.  They are thinking like the world about power and position.  He reminds them that in the world the rulers exercise dominion and rule over the people.  The people in turn often admire them and give flattering titles like “benefactor” to them.  Thus in the world leaders are often seeking the admiration of the crowd and the titles that they may give in consideration of them.  People will often take pride in an oppressive leader if they think the leader is benefiting the status of the nation within the world.

Greatness is defined by Jesus

Our knee-jerk answer to the question of which of them was the greatest might be to exclaim, “None of you are great!  Only Jesus is great!”  Yet, take notice that this is not how Jesus responded.  None of them are claiming to be greater than Jesus.  They are only thinking among themselves, and Jesus gives them an honest explanation of what greatness is in God’s eyes, rather than men’s.  So who do you want to “consider” you great, God or people?

Christian leadership must not seek privileges nor to be served by others.  Jesus points out that in the systems of this world the older ones obtain privileges the higher they move up in leadership.  To become like the younger is not to use the system for these privileges.  In fact it is to be as one who has none.  One of the problems with our government today is the many privileges that they have legislated for themselves.  This is also seen in the way that great leaders of this world are served by lesser leaders.  To move up in leadership is to have more servants at your beck and call.  This creates a kind of sycophantic system in which younger leaders serve greater leaders in flattery and unhealthy ways in order to obtain position and privilege.  Think of how corrupt religious and secular institutions can become through this dynamic.  Even in the sciences there is a system in which the younger plebes do research and write papers in order to please the older ones who hold the power of their advancement.  In a perfect world this would not be a problem.  But, welcome to Earth.

How does the Lord respond to this?  “Not so among you!”  It is sad to see how often we have tossed such words aside in the heat of the moment in order to obtain what our flesh desires, greatness.  Whether in local churches, within denominational structures, or among the body of Christ as a whole, we have continued to transgress this command and to our own detriment.

Yet, Jesus then points to himself.  The example that Jesus gave of servant-leadership is contrary to the way of the world.  It would be interesting to know exactly when the foot-washing of the disciples occurred.  Even so, it works the same whether he had already done it or did it right after these words.  As Jesus washes their feet, he takes a lowly position that would be given to the lowest plebe in any worldly system.  All of the disciples would have stated strongly that Jesus was the greatest among them.  Thus Jesus highlights the inner dissonance that exists.  They know that he is the greatest and yet they continue to follow the world’s ways in order to obtain their own greatness.  The greatest leader in God’s eye is the one who will come down off their throne and serve those under them.  The world serves for the privileges and the accolades of men to the expense of pleasing God.  The disciples of Jesus must not follow that model.  The believer must reject privilege and use the position and power to serve those “under” their authority.  Even then, the service must be done not to please those you help, but instead God.  Of course Jesus was within 24 hours of his ultimate service.  He would become the substitute for the punishment of their sin.  If Jesus led to please his disciples, he would have never gone to the cross.  They didn’t want a crucified leader.  They wanted Jesus to walk into Jerusalem and take over.  They wanted the fame of the world, not the hatred.

The rewards of following Jesus

In verses 28-30 Jesus changes his tone.  Though he has verbally stripped them of any appearance of being great disciples, he transitions to what they have done that he thinks is truly great.  On top of that he tells them they will be rewarded for it.  Many had left Jesus over the course of the last months.  The crowds had quit following after him.  Even Judas was in the middle of leaving him.  The disciples themselves would scatter in unbelief of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  Even today, followers of Jesus are being challenged.  Will we leave Jesus in order to give allegiance to something else?  Or, perhaps we will simply redefine Jesus and thus serve “another” Jesus, a Jesus of our own making and in our own image?  These men had remained with Jesus through his trials.  The word has the sense of a trial that is intended to prove the genuineness of something.  Jesus was enduring a test to prove whether he truly was the Anointed Son of God.  His teachings and way of living life was undergoing a test.  And, as he is being tested, so those who are learning his way are to be tested.  Jesus was joyous to have these men in all their weakness and frailty, who had nevertheless stuck with him.  “Who else has the words of Life, Lord?”  The truth of Christ and his way is undergoing a test in this generation.  Will we stand by Jesus unwavering, or will we betray him?  Will we learn to seek his approval, or will we seek the consideration of each other, striving to be seen as great?  His testing is our testing.  So, learn to trust the master.  His way leads to life.

Verses 29-30 are interesting.  In a sense Jesus speaks of two kingdoms: one that he is giving to his disciples and one that they will join him in later.  The way they lead in the kingdom that he gives them will be rewarded in the Lord’s kingdom later.  He will not be present as they lead the Church after his ascension.  Thus their faithful service in the first century to lay down a foundation for the Church to be built upon would be rewarded in the coming millennial kingdom.  If we will listen to the commands of our Lord then we will find sure reward later.  Do not worry about the level of your authority and strive to get higher and higher.  Whatever authority comes your way in life, use it to honor Jesus and not yourself.  Use it to serve those under you in a way that will cause the Lord to think you are great.  At times that may make people under your influence to think less of you.  But that must not matter to us.

Do not embrace worldly thinking in any part of your life, much less within the Church.  It is high time that we drop the ways of the world and adopt the ways of the master, our Lord Jesus.

Leadership audio

Wednesday
May272015

Faith, Duty and Being Offended

May 24, 2015-Luke 17:1-10

Today’s passage follows the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  The parable was given to the Pharisees, but at this point Jesus turns back to his disciples to instruct them on obedience in these matters.  It is easy to treat the instructions of Jesus as optional, and only for those who want to move to higher levels of discipleship.  But in this passage Jesus drives home the importance of listening to him.  When people live for themselves and without thought for others, we end up sinning against each other.  Eventually those sins heap up on top of each other and create large separations between us.  In the last chapter Jesus spoke of how wealth could be used to bless people around us in His name.  But in this chapter Jesus deals with the other side of the equation: when you are the one being overlooked or sinned against.

Make Sure You Are Not A Cause Of Stumbling

It is very easy in this area to only focus on the sin of other people.  But Jesus warns against causing each other to stumble.  In 1 John 2:10 it says, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”  When we truly love one another we will rid ourselves of those things that get in each other’s way.  Yet, when something does happen, we can let it bother us so much that it impacts our ability to trust God and obey Him.  Thus Jesus puts this in very strong terms; as a command and as a warning.

So what is meant by “offense” in this passage?  In verse 4 it is to sin against your brother.  The word that is translated “offense” here is more than just being offended by someone.  It is used to refer to anything that causes a person to be trapped or to fall.  It was used to refer to the stick that triggers a trap.  The Bible also refers to a “stone of offense (or stumbling)” in which the same word is used in regards to causing someone to fall and be injured.  Here it is being used of spiritual matters.  When we sin against each other we are causing a situation where the other person is tempted to fall into a trap of sin with us.  Jesus says that it is impossible for these offenses not to happen.  In fact it is impossible for us to live in this world without being an offense to others.  Some are an offense because they could care less about pleasing God and living for Him.  However, we can be an offense even when we want to please God, simply because we have a heart of flesh.  Christ is calling those who want to follow him to learn to deal with sins that inevitably crop up between them and others.

Jesus then pronounces a woe upon those who offend others.  This is a warning that when we walk this way (offending each other) we are headed for grief.  Like the Rich Man we will wake up one day to find ourselves weeping and crying for mercy.  Jesus gives very stern warning to those who do not take these matters seriously and learn to restrain themselves.  Even though Jesus does not flesh out what the woe would detail, it is clear that it can involve a number of things.  How we treat one another can affect our eternal destinies.  But, it can also affect our lives in the here and now.  It can bring grief to every one of our relationships and spoil the good it is intended for.  In fact, many times people who reject being a part of Christ’s Church do so out of hurt and bitterness.  They see Christians sinning against each other without dealing with it and it causes them to reject Jesus.  What a woeful condition we can find ourselves in when we reject God’s way and follow our own.

Ultimately Jesus is challenging us to pay attention to ourselves.  It is our tendency to be so focused on the sin of others that we pay little attention to our own.  We are told to “pay attention” to ourselves.  Inspect, and analyze how you treat others and how you respond to them.  Make sure there is no cause for stumbling within you.  It would be good to recognize that even if someone sins against us, there is a secondary temptation for us to sin against them.  Thus, especially in this situation we need to watch ourselves carefully.

Now the way Jesus lays this out, it doesn’t seem that there is much mercy.  I believe he puts it so sternly because our pride does not need coddled.  Yet, we know that God does not just warn us of woes, but also calls us to take advantage of the grace He has provided in order for us to deal with our sin correctly.  The heart of this instruction is that we work on not sinning against each other and that we exercise mercy with each other regardless of what side of the problem we find ourselves.  When we think of the rich man and Lazarus we clearly see the warning for the rich man.  But, Lazarus was being tempted to fall and to be trapped in the sin of bitterness and unbelief.  He could have refused to serve a God who would allow such a horrible life to happen to him, and yet, he clearly kept his faith in God.  What a sad turn to this story it would be if Lazarus would have been filled with such bitterness and hatred that he found himself right beside the rich man in the fires of Hell.

Reconcile With Those Who Sin Against You

Though Jesus doesn’t use the word reconcile here, the two instructions he does give to those who are sinned against are what help believers overcome the separating influence of sin and keep themselves tied together in relationship.  Sins separate, but forgiveness overcomes that separation.  Thus God does not give us any excuses to pull away from working things out with each other.

So, verse 3 gives the first instruction to you when someone sins against you.  Rebuke them.  Now that word sounds pretty harsh, but it simply means to correct them.  It is easy when we are hurt to lash out angrily or to retreat silently.  Neither one is a godly response to sin.  The believer is under a command from the Lord to face it when others sin against us and to deal with it.  Yet, correcting someone is a skill that needs to be honed.  Just as you were not born able to walk, so you are not born able to correct.  Sure you can do it, but are you causing more damage than good?  In this case we can be so right, in that we were sinned against, and yet so wrong, in that we rebuke harshly and angrily.

Now let me remind us that not all things are big enough to merit a rebuke.  We cannot expect people to speak and act perfectly all the time.  Little things that are merely aggravations can be and should be overlooked.  1 Peter 4:8 reminds us, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  Now that doesn’t mean we are covering up sins.  But rather we cover it much like we would cover a bill for which someone else is short the money.  Also in Proverbs 19:11 it is said this way, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”  Thus discretion is found in thinking about ourselves and how we need to give mercy to others that we expect from them.

So how do we properly correct each other?  Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love with one another.  Love is that guiding principle that should surround our decision to correct someone.  This takes some serious time spent in prayer asking for wisdom as to what to say and for control over our own spirit.  I can sin against my brother in how I rebuke him.

Thus we are to correct and then forgive our brother.  Now forgiveness is a skill that needs to be honed as well.  We all have emotional barriers to overcome in order to truly forgive someone.  When we truly forgive someone we release them from the desire for justice we could hold over them.  When I see them their sin is no longer a part of the picture because I have released them from it.  Now this passage assumes a brother repents.  What do you do if he won’t repent?  You have to go to Matthew 18 for that information.  But let me just say that it follows the same spirit of this passage.  You must reconcile with your brother as far as is possible from your side.  There is no choice, if you are going to follow Jesus, and you are never free to flee from reconciliation.  Thus in Matthew 18 we first correct our brother in private and without telling others what happened.  If the brother rejects us then we widen the circle and bring in one or two others to try and help us reconcile.  If he still refuses to repent then we take it before the Church and its elders.  If a person still refuses to repent even when faced with a whole church that is calling him to repentance he would be treated as if he wasn’t a believer.  Of course at any time he could repent and rejoin the assembly.  But, until then, he would not be received as a brother.  Why?  If he was truly following Jesus he would have no problem repenting.  Today we can get offended and go down the street to another church.  This is a weakness in the church today.  Instead of being reconciled and becoming more like Christ, we are fractured and become more like the spirit of this world.  God forgive us for running from reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

In fact Jesus goes on to instruct us not to limit our forgiveness.  Even if your brother sins 7 times in one day and continues to ask forgiveness, we must forgive him.  There is no wiggle room to deny the repentant forgiveness.  We are under a command.  Now seven times is amazing to us.  We would question such a person’s sincerity.  However, the truth is that our flesh questions their sincerity on time number one.  If he is not sincere then his master (Jesus) will take care of that.  The rich man did all manner of religious things in his life, but eventually his lack of sincerity caught up with him.  Quit worrying about a person’s sincerity and start worrying about your own soul.  Yes, we can even rebuke a person regarding their sincerity or lack thereof.  But we still must do so in order to reconcile and out of love.  Now, seven is not some lucky number that allows us to quit forgiving.  Elsewhere, Jesus gives the number 70X7, i.e. 490.  The numbers are really meant to be so incredulous so as to cure us from counting.  Love keeps no record of wrongs, i.e. it doesn’t keep count.  Instead it speaks the truth in love and forgives.  If you limit your forgiveness to others, do you not limit it to yourself?  If you are merciless to others are you not asking God to be merciless to you?  Think on this.

We Have A Duty To God

Now Jesus ends on a note of duty.  He does so particularly because his disciples are amazed at what he expects of them.  “Increase our faith.”  Now surely this is a prayer we all should pray.  However, that is not what they are doing.  It is the equivalent of saying, how in the world do you expect us to do that!  Lord, I don’t have enough faith to do that!  Now before we talk about duty let us all understand that God wants us to do the right thing for more than duty.  He would rather we obey Him out of love for Him and also a love for His character, and the way that He does things.  Our obedience is best when it is the cry of faith, “I want to be like you, Lord!”  Yet, underlying this higher motivation must be a foundation understanding that I am also duty bound.  Like a foundation is to a building, so duty is to our desire to be like God.  When a hurricane strikes and wipes out a house, it leaves behind a foundation.  So, there are times when our desire to be like God and our love for him is wiped away in the storm and trial of temptation.  Yet, there must always be a foundational response of duty before God.  If you are a follower of Jesus then you have become a servant of God, duty-bound to Him.  Duty can save us when our own love fails us.  But, we must never settle for duty as the sole motivation.  We must build upon this foundation a whole structure of love and desire to be like Jesus.

Now the instructions of Jesus make it clear that the disciples do not need their faith increased.  You do not need great faith to follow these commands.  You need only a small amount of faith.  The amount of faith is not the problem.  It is my own stubborn pride.  The problem isn’t that I can’t believe and do it, it is that I don’t want to do it.  It is simple to do and yet hard because my flesh fights it so.

Yet, even our pride and wounds can be overcome.  The mulberry bush in this passage represents the root and bush of the sin of unforgiveness and bitterness that can grow in our hearts.  If we even have a mustard seed of faith in Jesus we can send our own bitterness into the sea of God’s forgiveness.  If we even trust Jesus one speck we could free our brother from his sins against us.  It is only our pride that stands in the way of forgiving another person.  So why am I so prideful?  And, if it causes me to reject the command of Jesus, am I truly trusting and believing upon Him?

Thus, the call to duty is given by Christ.  There is a reward for those who will serve him in this matter.  Yes, a reward in the life to come, for sure.  However, there is a reward in this life.  We will be enabled to become one with a spouse, and to raise a family.  We will be enabled to build a church body that brings honor to God.  We will be able to be a peaceful influence everywhere we go and enjoy the fruits of brotherly love rather than the bitterness of selfish endeavors.  We will be rewarded according to what masters us.  So who is your master, your own fleshly pride or Jesus?

Being Offended mp3

Tuesday
Feb192013

Serving the Head Shepherd

Today we will be looking at 1 Peter 5:1-4.  In this passage Peter speaks to the elders within the Christian body.  Although you may not be an elder in the Church it is instructive to all of us how God would have us serve in any position of authority, whether as a parent, Sunday School Teacher, or fellow Christian.

Called To Be Elders And Overseers

Peter first lets us know that God calls some within his people to serve as Elders and Overseers.  The word elder refers to someone who is spiritually mature and wise.  Although it has an age aspect, the spiritual maturity is the emphasis not as much as age.  Thus Paul warns Timothy not to make a new Christian an elder, even though they may be physically older than others who are serving as elders.  The Greek word that is translated as elder is where we get the word presbyter or Presbyterian—more on that later.  Overseer is mentioned in verse 2.  It is more of a reference to one of the duties of an elder.  However it quickly became a title.  The Greek here is where we get the word Episcopalian.  The word bishop also comes from this word.  Throughout the New Testament the words elders and bishop or elders and overseers are used interchangeably.  However throughout history they have taken on different forms from one another.

Peter reminds them that he is a fellow elder, although a “special” kind of elder.  He is also an apostle of Jesus.  He was a witness of the teachings, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ.  He is not just an witness in that he saw it all.  But he is also a witness in that he is actively telling others what he saw and heard.  Peter was also a “partaker of the glory that will be revealed” (verse 1).  To be a “partaker” is to be one who has a share or portion in an endeavor.  Much like an inheritance, Peter has a portion that belongs to him in the glory that will be revealed.  This is clearly looking forward to that great unveiling of Christ at his Second Coming.  The curtain will be pulled back and the full Glory of Christ will be revealed to the nations.  However, Peter had “partaken” or had a “taste test” at the Transfiguration.  This event can be read about in the gospels.  Peter also speaks of it in 2 Peter 1:16-19.  Peter says that they were eye witnesses of his “majesty.”  What Peter had a taste of the other elders could only imagine and wait for the Second Coming.

At this point it would be helpful to have a brief, historical reminder of the governance of the Church that developed and changed through the centuries.  As Christians spread out and converted others to Jesus the groups began to grow and quickly needed leaders.  Thus we see in the New Testament a development of elders who would serve the spiritual needs of the Church and deacons who would serve the natural needs of the Church.  Generally one of the elders would stand out as a “leading elder.”  In fact generally such lead elders from larger churches would tend to have influence and sway with the elders of smaller or more rural churches.  Over time (500 AD) the Bishops of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople were viewed as having authority over the churches in their areas.  A system had developed where the priest of a small church would answer to a bishop of the area, who would in turn answer to the “arch” bishop from one of these cities.  Of course this is highly simplified.  It the turn of the first millennium the issue of authority over doctrinal matters led to the division of the Eastern catholic church from the Western or Roman Catholic Church.  But it wasn’t until the Protestant reformation that the system of governance was changed at all.  Some Protestant groups retained the hierarchical system of bishops.  Thus the term Episcopalian is a reference to how the Church should be governed, i.e. by individual leaders accountable in series to a supreme leader.  Some felt that this system was too open to abuse through the years and called for a Presbyterian form of governance.  It focused on groups of elders who were accountable to a larger group of presbyters.  Even further groups have what is called a “congregational” governance which treats each individual church as sovereign in its own right.

Now the Bible does not tell us exactly what system should be used.  In fact it could be said that God has left that up to us.  However, it has given clear instruction that those who are spiritually mature and wise (i.e. elders) should watch over the people of God’s Church.  No matter what we are accountable to be leaders in God’s people.

Shepherding the Flock of God

So what are the duties of Church leaders?  Primarily they are to “shepherd” the flock of God.  Peter clearly uses language that Jesus had used personally with him back in John chapter 22.  Jesus told Peter that if Peter loved him then he would feed his sheep (not that Peter wasn’t a sheep himself).  This wording is also found in the Old Testament.  David in Psalms 23 recognized that God was like a shepherd to him.  Why?  He saw that God gave him spiritual drink and food.  He saw that God led him on the paths of righteousness that led to these places.  He saw that God was his protector and rewarder.  Thus the task of Leaders hearkens back to the very character of God.  Jesus had shepherded the disciples and now he wanted them to be like him to those they would be sent.  They would also need to raise up other elders to shepherd the flock of God.  Ultimately we are to help our brothers and sisters in the Lord’s stead.  What a weighty calling and one that we will be accountable to him.

Thus the term Overseer is not about dictatorial control.  Rather, it is about care and concern for well-being.  Perhaps the best example in our modern day would be to compare doctors with government.  A doctor asks all manner of personal, even embarrassing questions, that we put up with because in general we know they are using that information to help us or heal us.  Thus doctors keep personal information confidential and the best ones have good bedside manner.  However, when the government shows up, either as an auditor or a regulator of some sort, we do not have that same feeling that they are there to help us.  We know they are there to control us.  God’s leaders need to be like doctors.  They need to always operate for the spiritual health and well-being of God’s people.   If we lie to ourselves about what that is…well, then we will give account to the head shepherd.

Peter then describes the reasons we should lead and many that we shouldn’t have.  On the “not” side, he warns against serving because you were forced to, or in order to dishonestly gain (financial or otherwise), and not to “lord” leadership over others.  Positively, they need to lead because they are willing to serve their Lord this way and have a ready mind.  We also need to lead by example rather than being a dictator.  It is not our church and they are not our sheep.  We come alongside fellow sheep and point them to Jesus.  Words are cheap, but our life will back up (or not) what we say.

Thus leaders in God’s Church need to watch over the souls of those in their charge and willingly, lovingly help them to keep their eyes on Jesus in the midst of the junk of this life.

Serving Well Will Have Its Reward

God does bless us in this life, but it must never be the ultimate reward we seek.  At his appearing Jesus will bring with him our reward for serving well.  The chief shepherd will not just reward, but will also have some who say, “Lord, we prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and have done many wonders in your name.”    Can you imagine standing before the Lord and hearing, “I never knew you.  Depart from me you who practice lawlessness.”  Ouch!

Peter speaks of a crown of glory.  This crown is not a royal crown, but rather a victor’s crown for accomplishment.  The New Testament mentions several crowns such as: the crown of Life, the crown of righteousness, and the crown of glory.  It is not clear if these are different crowns/honors or if they are different words for the same thing.  However, the point is not the crown itself, but the unfading glory that will be ours when Jesus returns.  Our greatest reward is the fact that when the glorious Jesus shows up, we belong to him and him to us.  We will share in his great glory.

Final Thoughts

We are all a part of the flock of God and should resist those inevitable tricks of the enemy to separate us into clergy versus laity.  Leaders are not better than the people who are not leaders.  In fact they are in a far more precarious position of responsibility, with far more difficult temptations and deceptions to face.  Leaders should serve as a brother and those who are not in leadership should love them and recognize the burden they carry.  God has not given all his gifts to every believer.  We need each other and, if we trust God’s Word, we will help each other to cross the finish line of faith.

Serving Head Shepherd Audio

Tuesday
Jun052012

On The Journey

On this Sunday we celebrate the time that we have had with Dr. Caleb Tindano of Burkina Faso.  He will be going home on June 12 and we are going to miss him.  This brother has been on a journey both literally and metaphorically.  Similarly we are all on a journey through this life.  The Bible uses this same imagery in Hebrews 11 to teach us how to walk in this journey of life and how to do it well.

Believers Live By Faith

In Hebrews 11:8-12, the Holy Spirit reminds us of the life of Abraham and Sarah.  They were called to leave their home country and to travel to an unknown place.  There they would live in tents with a nomadic lifestyle.  They would also have kids at an extreme age (90 and 100).  Lastly they would be the source of multitudes.  These descendants are more than just the biological, but more importantly, include those who are children of Abraham by their faith in Jesus Christ.

Over and over again the passage states that they did all this by faith.  Now this is important because in Hebrews 10:38 it says that “the just shall live by faith.”  This is a quote from the Old Testament passage of Habakkuk 2:4.  It is similar to Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  Now what did they do by faith?  Several verbs are given to explain their actions of faith.  First is “obeyed.”  Obedience is something we naturally resist.  However, faith enabled them to go to a country that they didn’t necessarily want.  They also, “dwelt,” “waited,” and “bore.”  Each of these were things that were not easy to do.  They dwelt in a land in tents, as nomads, and among hostiles.  They waited when all of us would vote or now.  And, Sarah gave birth at 90 years old.  When do you say, “no thanks, but I changed my mind.”

Faith is that inner knowing and trust that God will do what he has said he will.  But far simpler than that, faith knows this: at the end of the day God is good.  The strange thing about believers is that they could look at all the stuff going on around them and quit trusting God.  But instead they continue to trust that God is what he says he is, he is good.

Believers Die in Faith

In Hebrews 11:13-15 we are reminded that Abraham, Sarah, and all other righteous people died while having faith in God.  To those who don’t believe in God this would probably be the strongest argument for walking away from this “God.”  The Spirit reminds us that though Abraham didn’t see all that was promised to him, it wasn’t because God wasn’t good or that he doesn’t really exist.  It does mean that the scope of his promises is far greater than our life.

There is a modern phenomenon that psychiatrists increasingly encounter called “Truman Show Delusion.”  The Truman Show was a movie in which a man’s whole life was secretly filmed and he eventually discovers that everyone in his life, even his wife, is an actor in a show in which he was the only real thing.  However absurd this may seem we sometimes act like this in regard to life.  God’s promises are greater than you and your life on this earth.  They encompass all believers of all time and all life, both this temporary life and the eternal life we have begun to enter.

Abraham didn’t see all the promises.  But he did see them by faith, “afar off.”  He was also assured of them.  This assurance can only really come from God himself.  When we assure ourselves it only works so long.  This is a supernatural assurance that is in the face of even death itself.  They “embraced” those promises as well.  They changed their lives and raised their kids in the environment of a full embrace of God’s promises.  “We want them and we will see them someday.”  By doing this they were confessing their true identity as nomads in this world.  God’s promises are about things that are beyond this life, which makes us nomads among those in this world who see this life as all there is.

By faith, believers are citizens of a heavenly kingdom (vs14).  Just like people who go to another culture experience a cultural dissonance, so believers feel that dissonance everywhere they go, even in their home town.  This world does not value true faith in the One True God.  Spiritually it is not our home and this makes us homesick for that place we have never been.  We know it by faith.  It is a country and a capital city that will be supplied by God himself.  No civilization or world of man will create them.

The reason I entitled this section, Believers Die in Faith, is because of the words of verse 13.  Believers not only live by faith, but when they come to the end of their life, that same faith continues.  It looks forward with the trust that God is good and it is not over yet.

God Rewards Our Faith

Ultimately our very salvation and eternal destiny is tied to our faith in God, specifically the Lord Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

But another aspect of this in Hebrews 11:16, is that God is not ashamed to be called their God.  More than that, he is not ashamed to claim us in the life to come.  He walks into a room of the world’s rich and powerful, beautiful and strong, and picks up those whom the world looks upon as weak, poor, ugly, undesirable.  They are beautiful to God simply because of their faith in him; faith that endures through death.  You are beautiful to God to the degree you trust him.

Thus God has prepared this place for those who have trusted him in life and in death.  God’s kingdom will come down and not just be in our hearts.  Jesus will literally come through those clouds and establish a world of peace that operates on the basis of trust in God.

No matter where you are on this journey, your faith will be tried.  You are a stranger in a strange land and that is an uncomfortable feeling.  May you remain faithful to Him who is always faithful and in the end will be found to have been completely good.

On The Journey Audio