What is this “it” that I am speaking about you ask? It is FAITH! Have you seen the way people live when they have faith? Have you heard people of faith speaking? Are you a person of faith? How are you living so that others can see it? hear it? and know that you are using it? Are you sharing the hope? Are you displaying your trust in God? What are you doing as potentially the only person anyone will ever see? Where have you been placed so that people may come to hear and learn about the truth in a situation where people who may never enter a church will get the chance to hear the Good News of Jesus?
Today’s Readings come from Hebrews 11-12 and Psalm 40.
Faith in What We Don’t See1-2The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.3By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.4By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.5-6By an act of faith, Enoch skipped death completely. “They looked all over and couldn’t find him because God had taken him.” We know on the basis of reliable testimony that before he was taken “he pleased God.” It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.7By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God.8-10By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.11-12By faith, barren Sarah was able to become pregnant, old woman as she was at the time, because she believed the One who made a promise would do what he said. That’s how it happened that from one man’s dead and shriveled loins there are now people numbering into the millions.13-16Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.17-19By faith, Abraham, at the time of testing, offered Isaac back to God. Acting in faith, he was as ready to return the promised son, his only son, as he had been to receive him—and this after he had already been told, “Your descendants shall come from Isaac.” Abraham figured that if God wanted to, he could raise the dead. In a sense, that’s what happened when he received Isaac back, alive from off the altar.20By an act of faith, Isaac reached into the future as he blessed Jacob and Esau.21By an act of faith, Jacob on his deathbed blessed each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own—as he bowed worshipfully upon his staff.22By an act of faith, Joseph, while dying, prophesied the exodus of Israel, and made arrangements for his own burial.23By an act of faith, Moses’ parents hid him away for three months after his birth. They saw the child’s beauty, and they braved the king’s decree.24-28By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff. By an act of faith, he turned his heel on Egypt, indifferent to the king’s blind rage. He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. By an act of faith, he kept the Passover Feast and sprinkled Passover blood on each house so that the destroyer of the firstborn wouldn’t touch them.29By an act of faith, Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Egyptians tried it and drowned.30By faith, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days, and the walls fell flat.31By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God.32-38I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.39-40Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.— Hebrews 11
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!4-11In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,but don’t be crushed by it either.It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;the child he embraces, he also corrects.God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.12-13So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!14-17Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.
An Unshakable Kingdom18-21Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words—“If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.22-24No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.25-27So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.28-29Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!— Hebrews 121-3I waited and waited and waited for God.At last he looked; finally he listened.He lifted me out of the ditch,pulled me from deep mud.He stood me up on a solid rockto make sure I wouldn’t slip.He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,a praise-song to our God.More and more people are seeing this:they enter the mystery,abandoning themselves to God.4-5Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,”ignore what the world worships;The world’s a huge stockpileof God-wonders and God-thoughts.Nothing and no onecomes close to you!I start talking about you, telling what I know,and quickly run out of words.Neither numbers nor wordsaccount for you.6Doing something for you, bringing something to you—that’s not what you’re after.Being religious, acting pious—that’s not what you’re asking for.You’ve opened my earsso I can listen.7-8So I answered, “I’m coming.I read in your letter what you wrote about me,And I’m coming to the partyyou’re throwing for me.”That’s when God’s Word entered my life,became part of my very being.9-10I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.I didn’t keep the news of your waysa secret, didn’t keep it to myself.I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truthFor myself alone. I told it all,let the congregation know the whole story.11-12Now God, don’t hold out on me,don’t hold back your passion.Your love and truthare all that keeps me together.When troubles ganged up on me,a mob of sins past counting,I was so swamped by guiltI couldn’t see my way clear.More guilt in my heart than hair on my head,so heavy the guilt that my heart gave out.13-15Soften up, God, and intervene;hurry and get me some help,So those who are trying to kidnap my soulwill be embarrassed and lose face,So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserablewill be heckled and disgraced,So those who pray for my ruinwill be booed and jeered without mercy.16-17But all who are hunting for you—oh, let them sing and be happy.Let those who know what you’re all abouttell the world you’re great and not quitting.And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:make something of me.You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—but God, don’t put it off.— Psalm 40