Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Source of Faith

If you were advising a teenager or a young adult on how to live a happy and meaningful life, what advice would you give?  You might point to the people we often look to as models of success, to celebrities and athletes and CEOs.  In that case, you would advise this young person to take very good care of his body and his physical appearance, to establish connections that will enable him to advance in his chosen career field, and to work very, very hard, to be ruthless in promoting himself at the expense of all others, always with an eye to reach the top.  But of course, when you look closely at the lives of these so-called successful people, very few of them seem to be happy.  So you might tell this young person to find something he really loves doing and do that work to the best of his ability.  That seems like good advice, but it doesn’t say anything about relationships with people.  So you might then tell your young protégé to make sure he marries the right person, or if he chooses to remain single, to invest in one or two very fulfilling friendships.  But I can tell you by experience, as someone who definitely married the right person, no man or woman can bear the burden of making you completely happy.  That is far too much to expect from any human relationship.  Just to be clear: Attaining success, loving your work, and having a happy marriage are all good things, but they are not enough…even if you have all three. 
If you really want to give your young friend good advice, you will tell him that the most important thing about him is that he was created for a relationship with God.  In order to know God and experience God’s plan for his life, he has to trust God, answer His call and obey Him. That takes faith.  We’ve been talking about faith this month.  We started by looking at the journey of faith, how life consists of a series of turning points where we either trust God enough to obey or we do things our own way.  We then talked about the call of faith, and how God occasionally calls us to make big changes in our lives, and if we disobey Him, we get out of fellowship with Him.  But there are people who believe that faith is something you either have or you don’t; it’s like being tall.  This Sunday, we'll talk about where faith really comes from.  If the key to living a meaningful life is to know God and follow His plan, how can we have that kind of faith?
We’re going to look Sunday at one of the most inspirational passages in the Bible: Hebrews 12:1-3.  In the movies, whenever a commander sends his warriors out to battle, or a coach gets his players ready for the big game, there’s always a big, stirring speech.  These three verses trump them all.  And they show us how to gain the kind of faith that leads to the life God planned for us. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Call of Faith

A friend of mine was playing basketball one day.  He landed, took a couple of dribbles and collapsed; people playing with him thought he’d had a heart attack, but instead he had done something awful to his back.  For days after that, he was utterly useless.  He tried going to work and school, but he just couldn’t function.  The spine is a very important part of your body.  When we have dysfunction or pain in one part of the body--a sore throat, a bad knee, or a broken toe--we can usually gut it out, overcome it.  But the spine is like the hub of the body; everything is connected to that.  So my friend found himself lying in bed for days, popping pain pills and hoping it would go away.  This was a guy in his early twenties, by the way.  But, as he told me later, at that point he felt like he was 120 years old.  He was utterly feeble.  Walking to the bathroom required a herculean effort.  He started to get depressed, wondering if things would be bedridden for the rest of his life.  Then one day, one of his pillows fell off the bed.  He leaned over to pick it up, partially twisting his body as he did, and heard a loud CRACK.  That was a terrifying sound, but he immediately felt relief.  The next day he went off to work and school and was just fine.  I think about that story whenever I have back pain; unfortunately, I have never been able to twist my body just right…and no, I am not soliciting your recommendations for a good chiropractor.  The point of that story is this: In the same way the spine is the hub of the body, our relationship with God is the key to every other part of our lives.  If we are out of alignment with God’s plans for us, it is going to affect us in profound ways.  We may try to numb that pain or distract ourselves by focusing on other things, but nothing will bring joy and peace until we get right with Him.   
            In the month of July, I'm preaching about faith.  This Sunday, we'll be looking at the faith that is required to answer God's call on your life.  This message is intended for three different kinds of people.  First are those who feel that God is calling to a major change in vocation.  The second group are people who know God is calling them to a major change in character.  And the third group is those who God is preparing for His next big call on our lives.  I have news for you: The God we serve does not rest.  He is either leading you through a major change or He's getting you ready for one.  So how do we insure that we will not miss out on the call of God?  Sunday, we'll take a look at the call of Elisha from 1 Kings 19:19-21.  We'll see what he was being called to do, what he had to leave behind, how God called him, and how he responded.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Journey of Faith

Late last year, a 75-year old woman named Marion Shurtleff bought a Bible in a used bookstore in San Clemente, California.  When she got home, she found some folded sheets of notebook paper tucked inside the Bible.  As she unfolded the yellowed paper, she saw that it was a child’s handwriting, and she was struck by how familiar that handwriting looked.  She found the first page and saw the name at the top, and began to cry.  It was an essay that she had written to win a merit badge in Girl Scouts.  It was written 65 years before, when she was a 10-year old girl…in Kentucky.  No one knows how this essay made its way into a stranger’s Bible and traveled across the United States, but for Marion Shurtleff, it was an amazing gift; a treasure that unlocked a thousand childhood memories long forgotten.  And she found it in the pages of a Bible. 
The great thing about that story is that we all have the chance to find our story in these pages.  The men and women whose lives are recorded here were normal people, just like us.  They struggled with the same problems, weaknesses, and temptations that we do today.  So when we read their stories, let’s not see them as legendary figures or spiritual superheroes.  Let’s see what we can learn from their experiences. What do they teach us?   
This year, I’ve been preaching about representing Christ in a non-Christian culture.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking about faith.  We think of faith as belief; believing in a certain set of doctrines, or believing that God is going to work a miracle if we ask Him in just the right way.  But faith is really a series of decisions we make over the course of a lifetime.  In each of these moments, these turning points, we have to choose whether to obey God’s plan or not.  No one in Scripture bears this out better than Abraham.  This Sunday, we'll look at his story, and what it teaches us about the journey of faith.