Faith, quite a topic, isn't it?
Where do we start? Let's begin by saying that spiritually, faith is the air we breathe or to use another image, it's the water in which we swim. Its viability, its ability to sustain us, is determined by the location or direction of our focus.
This morning I hope to show you that the proper focus of our faith is God and that any time our focus drifts away from Him, our faith diminishes; it weakens. In a way, we are like spiritual solar energy collectors and God is our sun. If we turn away from the source our spiritual voltage drops, our spiritual battery weakens.
This morning the goal is to strengthen your hearts, by strengthening your faith, because without faith, the heart of a believer starves and shrivels up to nothing.
So, before we start I want you to ask yourselves this question, "Where is my focus?" That question should be the background to everything that we discuss this morning.
Are you ready?
Now, all three of our readings, The OT lesson about Abraham, the Gospel story from Luke, and of course the famous passage from Hebrews, deal with readily identifiable aspects of faith, which we will examine later. However, if you think about the Psalm we read, you might legitimately ask how it touches on faith. Well, let's look.
Initially, Psalm 33 appears to be about rejoicing in the Lord, about praising God. However, when you look a little deeper you see something interesting. Let's look first at verses 4 and 6 and 9-11.
4. For the word of the LORD is upright; and all his work is done in faithfulness.
6. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
9-11. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth. The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nought; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
These verses remind us that God is true and faithful. He is sovereign and in control, both of creation and of the events that occur within it. He is everlastingly reliable and dependable.
We could say that God exudes certainty.
This certainty is in direct contrast to what we see in verses 16 and 17, which speak about the world around us.
16-17. A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
The psalmist tells us that salvation is not found in political or military strength, or even in physical strength or the ability to escape the problem. We cannot save ourselves.
Then, notice the contrast…
Verses 18-19 point back to the earlier verses in the psalm about God being in control.
18-19. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine.
It is God who saves and sustains, not man or any efforts by man. The in verses 20-22, the psalmist address how we are to react to God's loving faithfulness.
20-22. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Yea, our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let thy steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in thee.
Our soul waits - we are patient. One of the most difficult things in life, patience, but an integral part of the life of the believer.
We are glad and we trust - it is the joy in our heart that demonstrates our faith.
We hope - we look forward to a meaningful future, a future in God, our savior and redeemer.
So… Where does this psalm place our focus?
1. It reminds us that God is in control of everything and utterly trustworthy.
2. It warns us that neither man nor natural power nor anything else in creation can save us.
3. It enjoins us to wait, to trust, and to hope in God.
As a result, our focus is on God, not on our problems or on ourselves; God is the source; the source of our solution, our faith, our hope. It is on Him we focus.
Let's now turn to the OT reading from Genesis 15 and explore the covenant God makes with Abraham about his future inheritance. Notice how God begins his conversation with Abram (his name was not yet changed to Abraham), he begins "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
Abram had a problem. He had no heir. When he looked at himself and his wife Sarah, at their age, at the condition of their bodies, he saw no solution, no hope, no salvation. Somewhat ignobly Abram immediately blames God. He takes the , "It's not my fault" tack. He says, "You have given me no children…"
It is obvious that Abram has lost his focus; it is no longer on God, except to complain. God, however, not put off by his accusation, lovingly answers him:
4…a son coming from your own body will be your heir.
Not only does God assure Abram that his immediate concern will be addressed but gives him hope for much more by adding:
5 …Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.
What a turn of events, the heirless man will have uncountable heirs. Not only will a son be born, but also that son would live and have children, and his children will also have children and so on and so and so on. I can assure you that this promise will weigh significantly on Abram years later when God asks him for the life of his son Isaac as a sacrificial offering.
What is Abrams response to this remarkable promise?
6. Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Abram's focus had shifted; off his own problem and his own concerns and back to God. His trust and focus were now on God, and his faith, his acceptance of what God said as true, was credited to his account as righteousness.
When we look at our Gospel in Luke 12 we see that it starts the same way…
32. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."
We are not to be afraid, and if we remember who it is that is for us, how can we worry about who is against us. There is no basis for fear.
Then God immediately reminds us about where our focus should be.
34. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.
In Psalm 33, the psalmist talked about the fact that strength or power or escape failing to save us. Here Luke addresses wealth and the concerns of our life. God wants our treasure to be Him; He is supposed to be our focus.
The rest of the passage covers the need for patience. We do not know when the master will return, when the promise will be fulfilled. Whether it is at our death or at the second coming.
So Luke reminds us that God is in control and he wants to be our treasure, our focus.
40. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Faith is always ready. It is patient and diligent. It doesn't know, it can't see when or how, but trusts as if it knows, as if everything is certain. It is never startled or unprepared. I would venture to say that the motto of Christians should be similar to that of the Boy Scounts - "Be prepared."
That takes us to our final reading for this morning, Hebrews 11.
But, before we look at Hebrews, let us reexamine where we are so far?
1. Our focus is on God.
2. It is who God is in control.
3. It is God who saves.
4. God can do the miraculous when necessary for his purposes.
5. God demands trust and patience from us.
With that in mind, let's look at Hebrews 11:1
1. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
This is the only place that I know of in the Bible where faith is so directly defined. Faith is the sureness of hope and the certainty of sight in the darkness.
Now this verse begs a question. What kind of faith is the author of Hebrews discussing here? Is it a generic faith, the kind of faith we exhibit when we drink that directly from that Mountain Dew can after popping the lid, without looking inside? We already saw in Psalm 33 that there is such a thing as misplaced faith and it is useless. So it must not be talking about generic faith.
What we did see is that successful, useful faith is integrally dependent on the object of faith. That is why our faith, our focus, is on God.
I would also suggest to you that the context of the statement in Hebrews 11:1 is God. Faith is being sure of what we hope for in God and certain of what we do not see God doing. This is spiritual faith and its operation is a function of our focus. If you focus on God, your faith will grow. If you turn away from God, your faith will shrivel up and die. You cannot hope in what you have turned away from, or be certain of what God is doing, if you have turned from Him.
With that in mind let us look at the rest of the verses in our Hebrews reading.
11:3. 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.
Faith helps us to understand what is, what the true reality of creation is. (Nicene Creed "…maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.)
11:4. By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
Faith helps us to make a proper offering to God. I am reminded of Romans 12:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship."
He himself is our proper focus, our just worship.
5. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
We are taken. If necessary, God can remove us from the situation; the problem, whatever… or we can be taken to where we need to be. God is in control.
I want to hold verse 6 until another time. Unless of course there is someone who doesn't believe in God? Let's look at verse 7.
7. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
We build, but not for us, to please ourselves, instead it is for God's purpose, to please him. (Reflections on the physical church building)
8-10. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
We go and live - we go where God sends us and we make a life where he plants us. All quarters in this life are temporary, mere tents compared to what God has in eternity. Why do we hold so tightly to things that will pass away?
11-12. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
When we go and live where God sends and bloom where God plants us we become something new, life flows like living water from what was previously dead. For Abraham and Sarah, it was a son. For us, it is the new life God given us in His son Jesus Christ. How that life is manifested will be different for each of us, but it will be living water from a previously dead spring.
The essence of this section revolves around waiting and patience. We trust, even though we may not see the fulfillment. We stay the course, even though we may not see the end of the journey. We don't look back. We are not tempted to return to our former life. Abraham did not go back to Ur; Moses did not go back to Egypt; Ruth did not go back to Moab; Paul did not go back to Gamalial and the Pharisees. Neither do we go back. We press forward, as Paul said in Philippians 3 13-14, Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus
So, what can we take from our efforts to study and show ourselves approved this morning?
For a starter, we take some questions. What is central in our life? Is it faith focusing on God, or something else? Are you focused on the people, the problems, the temptations of your daily life, always impatient to be somewhere, to have arrived, to be over the struggle.
I should warn you, the Devil and his disciples are always there, tapping us on our shoulder, trying to get us to turn around, to take our focus from where it belongs, on God, our call and the road ahead, to tempt us to give up.
Well you say to me, sometimes I just get tired. OK. Fair enough. Let me answer that by turning to a sports analogy. Everybody gets tired--its how you perform when you are tired that counts--when your faith is being tested--that's when it counts. (image of Ray Lewis and the fourth quarter medicine ball)
So my brothers and sister in Christ Jesus, how does your faith sustain your efforts? Do you keep your focus on God, on His purposes in your life; do you wait patiently whenever necessary?
Do you grow impatient, shift your trust to people or your own strength or your assets, trusting instead in what you know or can do, in your abilities or talents.
Where is your focus? My closing questions are two:
1. Who has the power to save you?
2. Where does the focus of your faith need to be?
My closing admonition is this, taken from God's words to the church at Ephesus, in Revelation 2:4
4. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
Remember your first love. Remember God, who is your focus, the object and context of your faith. Trust him and you will see in the darkness and not stumble. You will have hope.
Now to the Lord who will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ , who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is faithful and just to complete the good work he has begun in you, be all honor and glory. Amen.