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Following after Faith…Faith builds a bridge across the gulf of death

01 Apr

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The story is told of a good woman known for her great calmness in the midst of many trials and for her simple faith.  Another woman heard of her and said, “I must go and see that woman, and learn the secret of her strong and happy life.”  She went, and speaking to her asked:  “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” she replied, “I am not the woman with the great faith; but I am the woman with the little faith in the great God.”

It’s my greatest blessing in life to have known some men and women who “lived their whole life for their death.” People who loved the Lord daily and longed for eternity moment by moment.cropped-cropped-394466_10150708621696040_1634662704_n1.jpg

They understood that the most important things in life are things we cannot see.  They knew a faith that hasn’t been tested can’t be trusted. Their motto: without Christ, not one step; with him, anywhere!

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!” Faith has never yet outstripped the bounty of the Lord. And faith is a gift but we can ask for it.

Faith comes by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Thus, we trust a book, whose original we have never seen, to help us learn about a man we have never met, to save us through an event we have never seen, and take us to a place we have never visited. Nevertheless, we believe.

There are three kinds of faith in Christ: 1. Struggling faith, like a man in deep water desperately swimming; 2. Clinging faith, like a man hanging to the side of a boat.; 3. Resting faith, like a man safely within the boat (and able to reach out with a hand to help someone else get in).[1]

When people come in for counsel, and begin to list their many difficulties, I often ask a simple question, “How much time have you spent in Bible study the past month?” Without exception, those who have ‘little faith’ in themselves and in God working with them in their circumstances have spent little or no time in His Word.

   Our need to be in charge of ourselves, others, and situations often makes our relationship with Christ life’s biggest power struggle.  We are reluctant to relinquish our control and allow Him to run our lives.  We may believe in Him and be active in the church and Christian causes, but trusting Him as Lord of everything in life can be scary.

We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God, or we can write the great American novel.  But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord, or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.  For the opposite of sin is faith, and never virtue, and we live in a world which believes that self-control can make us virtuous.  But that’s not how it works. [2]

Even though we pray about our challenges and problems, all too often what we really want is strength to accomplish what we’ve already decided is best for ourselves and others.  Meanwhile we press on with our own priorities and plans.  We remain the script writer, casting director, choreographer, and producer of the drama of our own lives, in which we are the star performer. [3]

The principal work of the Spirit is faith … the principal exercise of faith is prayer. [4]   Our faith becomes practical when it is expressed in two books:  the date book and the check book. [5]

We are encouraged to never doubt in the dark what God told us in the light. We should not put a question mark where God has put a period. To have faith is to believe the task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us. To me, faith means not worrying.

Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God. [6] Faith is a refusal to panic. [7] Faith is a strong power, mastering any difficulty in the strength of the Lord who made heaven and earth. Faith is an activity; it is something that has to be applied.[8]

We human beings instinctively regard the seen world as the “real” world and the unseen world as the “unreal” world, but the Bible calls for almost the opposite. Through faith, the unseen world increasingly takes shape as the real world and sets the course for how we live in the seen world.[9]

Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.

The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith.  The two are at opposite sides of the same coin. [10]

The writer to the Hebrews went on to say: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”(Heb. 11:1-3)

Faith is absolutely certain that what it believes is true and that what it expects will come.  It is not the hope which looks forward with wistful longing; it is the hope which looks forward with utter conviction.  Faith is not a sense, nor sight, nor reason, but taking God at his Word.

In the early days of persecution they brought a humble Christian before the judges.  He told them that nothing they could do could shake him because he believed that, if he was true to God, God would be true to him.  “Do you really think,” asked the judge, “that the like of you will go to God and his glory?” “I do not think,” said the man, “I know,” [11]

A person who has faith is prepared for life and to do something with it. [12]

Moffatt distinguishes three directions in which the Christian hope operates. It is belief in God against the world.  If we follow the world’s standards we may well have ease and comfort and prosperity; if we follow God’s standards we may well have pain and loss and unpopularity.  It is the conviction of the Christian that it is better to suffer with God than to prosper with the world. 

In the book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are confronted with the choice of obeying Nebuchadnezzar and worshipping the king’s image or obeying God and entering the fiery furnace.  Without hesitation they choose God (Daniel 3).  The Christian attitude is that in terms of eternity it is better to stake everything on God than to trust to the rewards of the world.

The Christian hope is belief in the spirit against the senses.  The senses say to a man:  “Take what you can touch and taste and handle and enjoy.”

The Christian hope is belief in the future against the present.  Long ago Epicurus said the chief end of life was pleasure.  But he did not mean what so many people think he meant.  He insisted that we must take the long view.  The thing which is pleasant at the moment may bring pain in the long run; the thing which hurts like fury at the moment may bring joy in the long run.  The Christian is certain that in the long run no man can exile the truth for “great is truth, and in the end she will prevail.”[13]

It was precisely because the great heroes of the faith lived on that principle that they were approved by God.  Every one of them refused what the world calls greatness and staked everything on God and history proved them right.

Many of us need to be more like the little girl whom the farmer found lost in his meadow.  The farmer said to her, “Do not cry; I’ll take you home.”  The little child snuggled up to him, and with a smile, said, “I knew you would; I was waiting for you.”  “Waiting for me?” said the man. “What made you think I was coming?”  “I was praying you would” she said.  “Praying?  When I first heard you, you were saying A B C D E F G.  What was that for?” She looked up again and said, “I’m just a little girl.  I was praying all the letters of the alphabet and letting God put them together the way He wanted to.  He knows I was lost, and He knows how to put them together better than I do.”

What a difference if we would only let God put the letters of our lives together.[14] Faith does not struggle; faith lets God do it all. [15]

Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom, as whatever it is in our hearts–whether we believe in God or not–that keeps us human enough at least to get by despite everything in our lives that tends to wither the heart and make it less than human. To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift. [16]

Two little girls were on their way to school one morning. Having been detained in starting, they were very much afraid that they would be late. One said, “Let us kneel down and ask the Lord to not let us be late.” The other said, “No, I think I will run as fast as I can, and pray to God while I am running to help me to get there on time.”

Folding our hands in prayer is not an act of resignation. Prayer does not lead us to accept every circumstance with passive calm. Is prayer our steering wheel or our spare tire?

Two gentlemen were one day crossing the river in a ferryboat. A dispute about faith and works arose, one saying that good works were of small importance and that faith was everything, the other asserting the contrary. Neither being able to convince the other, the ferryman asked permission to give his opinion. Upon consent he said, “I hold in my hand two oars. That in my right hand, I call ‘faith’; the other, in my left, ‘works.’ Now, gentlemen, please observe. I pull the oar of faith and pull that alone. See! the boat goes round and round, and the boat makes no progress. I do the same with the oar of works with precisely similar results — no advance. Mark! I pull both together. We go on apace, and in a very few minutes we shall be at our landing place. So, in my humble opinion neither faith without works nor works without faith will suffice.  Let there be both, and the haven of eternal rest is sure to be reached.”[17]

Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking.  First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again–until you can scarcely distinguish which is one and which is the other. [18]

When G. Campbell Morgan was young he used to visit several elderly ladies once a week to read the Bible to them. When he came to the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Morgan read, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He added, “Isn’t that a wonderful promise?” One of the ladies quickly replied, “Young man, that is not a promise. It is a fact!”

Saving faith is always a working faith.  It not only trusts God for everyday needs but also motivates the doing of good deeds. One of the strongest evidences of the relevance of Christianity to human suffering and need is the good that believers do because of their relationship to Christ.

John Stott observed that ”every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.” Put another way,  if there are two words that should be said in the same breath and said regularly to ventilate our hope, that should be flamed together, branded as a signature of our faith, they are the words “faith” and “courage.”  It takes courage to believe, and in order to have that courage, we must believe. [19]

On day six of the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. If they failed, they might never return to Earth.

   To conserve power, they shut down the onboard computer that steered the craft. Yet the astronauts needed to conduct a thirty-nine-second burn of the main engines. How to steer? Astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through their tiny window, they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination–Earth.

   As shown in 1995’s hit movie, Apollo 13, for thirty-nine agonizing seconds, Lovell focused on keeping the earth in view. By not losing sight of that reference point, the three astronauts avoided disaster.

   Scripture reminds us that to finish your life mission successfully, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).

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, “Tightrope, 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, Tightrope 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. Tightrope 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.”

Often, God is ready and willing to provide help and security to us, yet we’re not strong enough in faith to allow it to occur.

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.”  The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”

At other times we place our aspirations for the future on items which are temporary or vain or weak.

In April of 1988, a TV cameraman jumped out of a plane with some other skydivers.  His goal was to record the exciting jump of the skydivers as they fell to the earth.  What’s more, this footage was shown on the local TV news, but not for the reasons why the cameraman had originally recorded the event.

After several minutes of “free fall,” the cameraman then filmed the skydivers as they one by one opened their parachutes. Of course, the final skydiver was the cameraman himself and the time came for him to pull his parachute ripcord.

However, when the cameraman reached for his ripcord, he realized to his horror and shock that he had no ripcord.  It turns out that he had completely forgotten to put on his parachute.

For the next several minutes, the cameraman was able to capture the sheer terror as he ultimately fell to his death. Indeed, toward the end of the film, the picture went berserk and eventually went dead.

This story is not only tragic, but it is also ironic.  Ironic because the cameraman took a plunge into what appeared to be an exciting and thrilling jump.  But tragically, in a moment of foolish carelessness, he made the worst mistake of his entire life: he jumped to his own death.  Yes, his faith had been based upon a parachute — a life support — that wasn’t there.

In the same way, if we based our lives upon anything other than faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, then we will make the biggest mistake of our entire lives as well.  That is, faith other than in Christ will lead to our spiritual deaths!  What’s more, this spiritual death will be for all eternity — forever and ever!

Dr. John MacNeill once said that if he heard his little three-year-old girl crying piteously for a piece of bread, knowing that she must be very hungry and having the bread with him, he would not think of telling her to cry on for another hour and if she coaxed hard enough he would give it to her!  Yet how slow we are to believe that God means what He says, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13) God is eager to come in His fullness.  We need not to coax, but to receive.

Michael Faraday, the great scientist, was taken ill.  When it  became evident that the sickness that had fastened itself upon him would soon result in his death, a group of fellow scientists came to see him–not so much to talk about science as to talk about death.

One of them said to him:  “Mr. Faraday, what are your  speculations about your future?”  With evident surprise to them he replied: “Speculations!  I have none.  I am resting on certainities.”  Then he quoted II Tim. 1:12:  “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

Several years ago a scientist wrote an article entitled, “Seven Reasons Why I Believe in God.” He said, “Consider the rotation of the earth. Our globe spins on its axis at the rate of one thousand miles an hour. If it were just a hundred miles an hour, our days and nights would be ten times as long. The vegetation would freeze in the long night or it would burn in the long day; and there could be no life.”

   He said, “Consider the heat of the sun. Twelve thousand degrees at surface temperature, and we’re just far enough away to be blessed by that terrific heat. If the sun gave off half its radiation, we would freeze to death. If it gave off one half more, we would all be crispy critters.”

   He said, “Consider the slant of the earth.” I think he said twenty-three degrees. “If it were different than that, the vapors from the oceans would ice over the continents. There could be no life.”

   He said, “Consider the moon. If the moon were fifty thousand miles away rather than its present distance, twice each day giant tides would inundate every bit of land mass on this earth.”

   He said, “Think of the crust of the earth. Just a little bit thicker and there could be no life because there would be no oxygen. Or the thinness of the atmosphere. If our atmosphere was just a little thinner, the millions of meteors now burning themselves out in space would plummet this earth into oblivion. These are reasons,” he said, “why I believe in God.” [20]

Imagine a ship filled with people crossing the Atlantic. In the middle of the ocean there is an explosion. The ship is severely damaged and slowly sinking. Most are dead, and the rest are rushing for the lifeboats. Now suppose one man doesn’t know about the lifeboat, so he does not get aboard. He doesn’t have knowledge, so he is not saved. Suppose another man knows about the lifeboat and believes it will save his life, but he is grief-stricken over seeing his wife killed, so he chooses not to get aboard and dies with his wife. He has knowledge and mental assent, but he is not saved. Others believe the lifeboat will save them, and they get into the boat. They are saved by faith, that is they have knowledge, mental assent, and trust. However, it is not their faith that saves them–no matter how much they have. It is the boat. Saving faith trusts Christ, and Christ saves. [21]

Everyone has faith in something–faith in some religion, faith in one’s self, faith in fate, faith in evolution, faith in mankind. Even the atheist has faith in his own reason.

But there is only one real faith that works for time and eternity. True faith is faith in the one true God–the God who made us, who will judge us, and who has paid the price to save us. This faith is an understanding faith, for it is “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3).

It is a saving faith, “for by grace ye are saved through faith, “for by grace ye are saved through faith” (Galations 3:11), it is, therefore, a living faith, and a growing faith, “because that your faith groweth exceedingly” (II Thessalonians 1:3), and a working faith, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

There is more. The true faith is a justifying faith (it makes us righteous in the sight of God) because, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It is a protecting faith because, with “the shield of faith…ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16). It is a stable faith, “for by faith ye stand” (II Corinthians 1:24).

This faith is also a purifying faith, “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). Furthermore, asking faith receives answers to its prayers, “in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6), and a strong faith recoiling “not at the promise of God through unbelief; but…strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20).

Finally, the Christian faith is a triumphant faith. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” ( I John 5:4).

This faith–even our faith(!)–is an understanding, saving, living, growing, justifying, purifying, working, protecting, stable, asking, strong, triumphant faith!

We need to feed our faith and our doubts will starve to death.  Faith is nothing at all tangible.  It is simply believing God; and, like sight, is nothing apart from its object.  We might as well shut our eyes and look inside to see whether we have sight, as to look inside to discover if we have faith.

We are all asked to do more than we can do. Every hero and heroine of the Bible does more than he would have thought it possible to do, from Gideon to Esther to Mary.

Faith is not a contract. Faith is surrender. If no other relationship in our experience is one of self-surrender, it’s all contractual; people won’t know how to believe.

Some people think the prayer of faith is crawling out on a limb and then begging God to keep someone from sawing it off. But that is not real prayer, that is presumption. If God makes it clear that he wants you out on a limb, fine–you will be perfectly safe there. If not, it is presumptuous to crawl out on that limb, expecting God to keep you there. [22]

An old lady in England who had stood the bombings with amazing fortitude was asked the secret of her calmness in the midst of such frightful danger. She replied, “Well, every night I says my prayers and then I remembers how the parson told us God is always watching; so I go to sleep. After all, there’s no need for both of us to stay awake!”

 

[1] Dwight Lyman Moody (1837–1899)

[2] Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 4.

[3] Lloyd Ogilvie in 12 Steps to Living Without Fear. Christianity Today, Vol. 32,  no. 3.

[4] John Calvin, Christian History, no. 12.

[5] Elton Trueblood.  Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 1.

[6] John R. W. Stott (1921– )

[7] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981)

[8] Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983)

[9] Philip Yancey (1949– )

[10] A.W. Tozer.  Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 4.

[11] William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews

[12] Sadie and Bessie Delany, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.

[13] Ibid, William Barclay.

[14] Knight’s Illustrations  p. 186

[15] Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983)

[16] Frederick Buechner, Christian Reader, Vol. 35, no. 2.

[17] William Moses Tidwell, “Pointed Illustrations.”

[18] William Booth in The Founders’ Messages to Soldiers. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 10.

[19] Fay Angus in Running Around in Spiritual Circles. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 5.

[20] Frank Pollard, “Our Greatest Victory,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 175.

[21] Evangelism, A Biblical Approach, M. Cocoris, Moody, 1984, p. 77

[22] Ray C. Stedman in Man of Faith.  Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 7.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Sermon

 

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