Friday, March 29, 2019

Faith as small as a mustard seed

 Do you remember sitting in the church building on Webb Street a couple years ago for our Sunday morning worship and the kids were reading?

Do you remember five years ago when the air conditioning had kicked in and was shaking that old church building during our Wednesday night service?

Do you remember going downstairs last year for the fellowship meals?

Why is it that I can’t remember those things?  Maybe it’s because they never happened.  At least those things didn’t happen at the old church building for the last fifteen years or so.  We have been in this building for 15 years, and then some.

We actually had a couple of services before the building was what it is today.  We did a lot of service in and around this building, but for the past 15 years, this is the building that we call home.

How did we get from that little wooden church to this place?  In a literal sense, you drove east to Highway 44, then turned north until you went through the traffic light.  Then you were here. 

You know that’s not what I am talking about.  How did we get from there to here?  I will give you a hint.  It’s been the topic of our messages for most of 2019.


It’s faith, small as a mustard seed faith.

I won’t share the whole story, but we have a fellowship meal following this message and I would ask you to ask some of the folks who were here then about how we got here now.

There are stories of faithful tithing.  There are stories of building plans and committees.  There are stories of driving to Tuttle to pick up pews that we had purchased.  There are stories of busting concrete or cinder block walls or in the case of Jimmie Delp, throwing a brick through the old glass windows on the front of the old grocery store.  That one checked one off Jimmie’s bucket list.

There are stories of nothing but waiting. 

But the story that moved us from there to here is one of faith, because the facts and stats and money just didn’t add up.  We were a people who had a $30,000 budget and were going to build a million-dollar building.  That’s just crazy.

Oh, by the way, the building that we wanted was way overpriced.  In spite of what the circumstances of the world appeared to be—and they should have appeared as overwhelming—a small body of believers stepped out in faith.  Only then did things start to happen.

The disciples couldn’t drive out a demon.  They had success at other things but this one had stumped them and they wanted to know why.  Maybe there was a sequence or process that they didn’t know or understand.  Maybe they tried at the wrong time of day.  Maybe they should have had the sun at the back like an old west gunfighter.  Maybe…

But Jesus said, “How long am I going to put up with you?”

You perverse, you wicked, and twisted and unbelieving generation!  There is no complex formula.  There is no ritual.  It all boils down to one thing, and you don’t need truckloads of it.

It all comes down to faith, just an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, no there’s no bikini coming in these lyrics.  It’s just a mustard seed’s worth of faith.  Just a little bit of faith takes us beyond the boundaries of the world’s limitations.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This is the defining verse from the King James Version that has taken us from early in this year until now and it is just as applicable now as when we began.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Previously we talked about the substance of things hoped for using the faith of the Son of Timaeus as an example of faith having real touch and feel.
All Bartimaeus needed to do was get to Jesus.  He had no doubt that he could and would heal him.  He made quite a show of calling out to him.  He was bold because of his faith.

This blind beggar had faith that had substance to it.  Most people have faith that is still in the conceptual realm.  The son of Timaeus had faith you could wrap your hands around.

But how much of this touch and feel faith do we need?  A ton?  A Pound?  An ounce?

Jesus said, just the smallest amount will do incredible things.  Faith the size of a mustard seed will move a mountain.

I think that I have faith but I have never moved a mountain.  You might think, “Well, when have you needed to move a mountain?”

After two decades in the Marine Corps, I have a long list of mountains that I would have just as soon moved as climbed up.  Oh, you don’t know how I would have loved to have said, “You guys keep on humping up the mountain, I’m just moving it out of my way.”

Don’t think that this scripture didn’t come to mind a hundred times when I was marching up hill with a hundred pounds or so on my back.  But I have yet to move a mountain. 

But I have been right in the middle of moving a church building, or working to get a new one.  Some of you are blessed to have known what it is to have a mustard seed’s worth of faith and take that next step.

You were there.  Now you are here.

Several years ago, I was sitting at my desk in the Ministerial Alliance meeting and a couple other pastors were talking about mission trips.  They said they would be glad to have me along any time.

I said, when the Lord calls me to go somewhere, I will know it.  Two days later, I get this email from a man in Africa named Chris Luswetti asking me to come train pastors and church leaders in western Kenya.

After first making sure this wasn’t some crown prince who was in prison and only needed my credit card numbers to get him out so he could share his buried millions with me, and after some prayer, I was in the middle of preparing for my first overseas mission.

Rick Ellis soon came on board and we raised about $14,000 for our first trip and about $18,000 for our return two years later. 

This was not an organized mission trip that you just signed up for and a tour guide took it from there.  This was a mission in response to an email.  This was a missionary effort that was built from the ground up.

I had some money that I had set aside.  I knew I could preach and teach.  I had organized many endeavors.  I had traveled internationally many times and knew that I could get there and return.  That is to say, just about everything was taken in faith.  All of the nuts and bolts of this trip were by faith.

I’ve never moved a mountain, but I have responded in the affirmative to an email asking me to go to the other side of the world not having a clue what was really involved.

You have these experiences too.  Perhaps yours do not take you to Africa, but you know what it is to step out in faith.

You know what it is to take the faith you have been given and take the next step.

I have shared with you a couple times words that I never want to hear from Jesus.  The first words are any sentence that begins with Woe unto you…  I don’t want any part of that sentence.

The next are the words, You wicked, lazy servant.  Again, I don’t want to be the subject or direct object or anywhere near that statement.

I want to add one more statement to that list.  This is one more thing that I don’t ever want to hear from Jesus.  Oh, you of little faith!

Jesus used this phrase a couple times in the gospels, but I don’t want it in any form or fashion.  I don’t want to be lumped in with this perverse and unbelieving generation.  Make no mistake, this designation applies today.

How do you get to hear those words?  Faith.  Faith as small as a mustard seed that is put to use.

I don’t know that I will ever move a mountain, but I don’t want to spend a day on this earth without living by faith, no matter how small that measure of faith may be.

Let’s do everything that our Master—our Lord Jesus Christ—has commanded.  Let’s do it without it being a burden.  Let’s do it in love.  And let’s do it with faith.

Faith as small as a mustard seed is enough for us to do great things in the name of the Lord.

Our challenge, individually and collectively, is to take the faith we have been given and do what our Lord is calling us to do.

I doubt it will be to move a mountain.  I expect it will be something much more meaningful in the life of your family, your friends, this church body, and this community.

Let’s take the faith that we have, however small, and do the great things the Lord has called us to do!


Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Righteous will live by Faith!

Did anyone look at the lottery jackpot this week?  I think one of them is pushing half a billion.  It went over a billion a year or two ago.

Did you fantasize a little about what you could do with that money?  No more house payments.  No car payments.  No more worry about bills or bill collectors or how much tip to leave.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to suddenly win the lottery and say, “I’m not starting from way down here?  I am starting the rest of my life from up here.”

Now that would be something.  It’s something to fantasize about anyway.
We continue our exploration of faith, so let’s begin with what should be a very familiar defining verse from the King James Version.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The last time we talked about the substance of things hoped for using the faith of the Son of Timaeus as an example of faith having real touch and feel.

Before that we bit into faith and perseverance, taking counsel from James to consider it pure joy when our faith is tested, knowing that we will grow if we don’t give up.

If we turn back the calendar a little further, we get to where we find our faith enabling us to say, I am crucified with Christ.  Christ lives in me.

As I am strolling down message memory lane, let’s go back another week.  It was one of those challenging weeks.  I warned you in advance that the message could be a might prickly and I challenged you to see if your faith had taken you to a special place.  That place, that condition, that state was that Jesus was not only your Savior but your Lord as well.

Do you remember walking by faith not sight?  There was some challenge there as well.  We have been on a journey filled with both challenge and support from God’s word that began with these words.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

And now we come to this point where we read the righteous will live by faith.  Do not understand this as right living gets us to salvation.  Do not read this as being right with God causes us to live by faith. 

Understand that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  God kept on loving us anyway.  The blood of his Son atoned for our sins.  God himself made us right with him.

We receive the gift of salvation by faith.  We call this gift grace because we didn’t deserve it.  It is unmerited forgiveness from God.  It is living in his favor because of what he did for us and not the other way around.

Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow.

Paul notes that he is not ashamed of the gospel.  Whether he is proclaiming this good news to his fellow Hebrews or to pagans who have been left to figure out right from wrong by what God has intrinsically placed in every creature made in his likeness, this prolific New Testament letter writer says it is by faith regardless of who you are that you come to receive the righteousness of God.

From first to last, richest to poorest, most education to the ignorant, everyone must come by faith.

You might know the law inside and out, but only faith connects you with God’s righteousness.

You might not know diddly about theology, but faith will bring you into God’s righteousness.

You might think that someone in the remote regions of Nepal isn’t getting this message, but God has left all people without excuse as to knowing that he is real.

When someone says there is no God or makes up their own god or hops on the flavor of the month theology train, they know what they are doing and saying.  They have deliberately ignored the truth and deluded themselves.

By the evidence of creation itself, people know there is a Creator.  There is a being that brought everything into existence.  We are also told that Satan has blinded unbelievers.

We know our Creator to be God almighty.  He is righteous.  He is just.  He is love.  He is our heavenly Father.  He has redeemed us from the Evil One.  We are his.

Do you remember these words?  I am crucified with Christ.  Christ lives in me.

We got to this point by our faith.  Some may have studied more than others.  Some may have procrastinated for a long time.  Some responded the first time they heard the gospel, but we all got to where we are by faith.

Out of blindness into the light.  We have been saved by God’s grace which we have received by faith.

I doubt there have been any big revelations thus far, but let’s go further. Regardless of where we started, we have come to where we are now by faith. 

The question for today is, how will we proceed from here?

Faith got us to the point that we received the best gift ever—salvation that came straight from God’s heart—but what now?

We have been made right with God, but what now?

God has claimed us for all eternity but what now?

What now?

Too many see salvation as the finish line.  Yippee!  I am saved from sin and death and hell.  I’ve checked the block now let me get back to living.

That’s cause for celebration for sure.  What if we celebrated all of that but instead of getting back to living, moved forward to real living, abundant living, living in faith.

What if our life from this point forward was lived completely in faith?  We all had a journey to get here, but there is a journey ahead.  It’s not just, “OK, let’s sit this thing out until eternity.”

The righteous will live by faith.  From first to last, it’s faith.  Faith got us here.  It is faith that moves us forward.

God made us right with him.  His grace that we received by faith got us here.  Going forward we must live by faith, not because of rules but because of our identity.

We are truly God’s children, his heirs, brothers and sisters and friends of his one and only Son.  We are family and this family lives by faith.

Amen, hallelujah, and what exactly does that mean?

Let’s start with thanksgiving and praise.  That is now our nature.  We are a thankful people.

Let’s continue with bringing glory to God.  This gives us purpose.  In everything we do, we have an easy answer as to what to do or how to do it.  Does this bring glory to God?

Let’s go farther and affirm that we are people who live in truth.  We live in the light.  Nothing is hidden from God, so let’s not hide anything from ourselves.

Let’s go further and testify that we will live wisely, not as the pagans who tout their foolishness as wisdom.  We choose wisdom now more than ever because the days are evil.

Where did I get these things?  We need only read a little further in the chapter.  Paul is still talking about humankind having no excuse for not know there is a God.  Knowing God through Jesus comes later in this book, but Paul wants all to understand that we have no excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Paul gives us the negative examples here.  Paul tells us of those who chose darkness over light, but that is not who we are.

We are people of righteousness.  That sounds a little bold, don’t you think?  I hope it does.

Do you remember when I asked about winning the lottery?  I said it was a fantasy, but in actually some people do win.  The odds are against it.  I think they are something like 50 to 1 against winning the 400 million.  Maybe it’s more like 50 bazillion to 1.

But you have won more than the lottery jackpot.  We have been made right with God.  The odds were against it but God doesn’t care what the odds are.  God chose you to be in right standing with him and he did everything needed to make that happen.

We won the billion dollar jackpot!

We are in right standing with God because of what the Lord Christ has done for us.  Why would we ever be timid about that?

Because we don’t feel righteous.  We are still more comfortable belonging to the world than to Christ. 

Guilt, shame, and darkness still have a home in who we are.  It’s time to deliver some eviction notices!

Do you remember this one?  I am crucified with Christ.  Christ lives in me.

The righteousness that comes from God is from first to last.  Our starting point does not determine where we finish.  Jesus said, it is finished.  Our future is secure.

Sin and death have no power over our eternal destination.  They can only impact the abundant life that we are to know now.

But why let them?

Let’s talk the lottery again.  I don’t know the stats but we hear the stories time and time again.  Somebody wins.  They have life-changing money.  They could live out their days without worry but somehow, they end up broke, even in debt, strung out on drugs, or dead.

The lotto money was going to give them a new life but they couldn’t let go of the old one.  All of their worldly cravings were just put on steroids for a while.

The righteous shall live by faith.  We are the righteous.  God has done this for us.  We have a new starting point.  We don’t have to work our way to righteousness.  God put us here.

Now we are to live by faith, not by our old models. 

We are to live by what God tells us not by what the world says is better.

We are to step out following Jesus even though the worldly path seems well paved and has many lanes.

We give thanks in all circumstances even though the world tells us to take it all for granted.

We praise the name of the Lord every day and at every opportunity even when the world says we are fools.  You want something to praise?  Here’s an actor or a football player or a high you get from a drug.

The world wants us to praise and worship people or things within the creation.  We worship only the Creator!

The righteous will worship God alone.  The righteous will live by faith.

God made us right with him.  We are the righteous.  Now we live by faith.

The righteous will live by faith.

We live by faith!


Friday, March 8, 2019

Substance with your faith

We continue our exploration of faith, so let’s begin with what should be a very familiar defining verse from the King James Version.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Last week we talked about being faithful even in trying times.  That faith in those times produces perseverance and perseverance helps us grow.  It matures us.  It helps us get to where we are complete.

Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking, “I sure do hope my faith is put to the test and I get to persevere through something today.”  It’s hard to imagine that attitude of looking forward to having our faith tested, but James told us it was something to be joyful about knowing it produces growth.

We have looked at the evidence of things not seen.  Now let’s consider the substance of things hoped for.

Today we join Jesus and his disciples as he works his way back from the Jordan heading to Jerusalem.  The road goes through Jericho.  Many are following and excited that Jesus is passing through.  They have heard of the Jesus of Nazareth and there is excitement in the air.

Sitting on the side of the road is a beggar.  We don’t really know his name.  We know his daddy’s name so that’s how we will address him.  He is the son of Timaeus, or in those days would have been called Bar Timaeus.

In today’s circles, we call him blind Bart.  For the purpose of this encounter with Jesus, we don’t need to know what name his parents gave him.

Jesus and the disciples are passing through.  There’s a buzz in the air.  People are surely saying, it’s Jesus.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  People have heard of this guy by now.

And there is this beggar just sitting there, wrapped in what the biblical authors describe as a cloak.  Today, people only wear a cloak with tuxes and evening dress uniforms.  But two millennia ago, it was likely a versatile coat, blanket, and general-purpose outer garment.

Oh by the way, this beggar is blind.  We don’t know how long he has been blind.  That part doesn’t seem to be a factor in this story, but we know he is blind.

He also happens to be very vocal and when he hears that Jesus is nearby, he cries out, Jesus of Nazareth help me! Right?

No.  He calls out to Jesus, Son of David.

People tell him to hush.  They have this celebrity in town.  Jesus of Nazareth is coming through and they didn’t need Timaeus’s kid messing everything up.  So, they tell him to be quiet.

It had the opposite effect.  He cried out all the more.  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

Jesus has been on the move, but he stops and tells the crowd to call him.  The same crowd that was telling him to be quiet is now excited that Jesus wants to see this man.

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 

This is some stuff.  The man packs up his belongings, tidies up his area, and meanders over to Jesus.  Not!

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  There is no hesitation.  There is no preparation for not getting what he wants.  He jumps to his feet.  He was blind, not lame.

He throws his cloak aside and heads to Jesus.  I’m guessing that the crowd helped him get there.  He got to Jesus and Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do?”

This blind man replied, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

I want to see!

The Son of Timaeus didn’t have a list.  He didn’t say that he needed a year’s provision. He didn’t say he needed a new cloak.  He didn’t say that his accommodations were substandard.  He knew what he wanted.

Jesus replied, “Go.  Your faith has made you whole.”  The man was healed immediately.

There was no asking if Jesus could do this.  If you go to the 9th chapter of Mark’s gospel we see a man ask Jesus for help with his demon-possessed son.  Well, he asked for help if this was within the skillset of Jesus.

The Son of Timaeus had no doubt who he was talking to and what he could do.

Rabbi, I want to see.

Your faith has healed you.

Jesus could have been a bit more eloquent.  “In the name of my Father and that Spirit that goes wherever it wants, I pronounce you healed. You had better not miss another synagogue lesson.”

Instead he says, “Your faith has healed you.”

He didn’t have to put mud on his eyes.  He didn’t have to make a house call.  He didn’t even have to touch the man or even know his name.

Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you.”

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Let’s talk about the substance of things hoped for.  The Son of Timaeus didn’t wish he could see.  He had hope that he could.

How is hope different from having a wish list?  It is stuff that we wish we had or would come true.  It’s like a biblical fairy tale sort of thing, right?

For some people, that’s what they believe, but we know that hope is real.  Much like faith we must have eyes to see what we hope for.  Last week we talked about growing in faith through our struggles.

Paul makes a parallel discussion.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Hope is the crescendo of this process.  It all begins with faith so that when we encounter trials and tribulations, we see this process in action:  suffering, perseverance, character, and then hope.  It all begins with faith.

So consider again the first half of Hebrews 11:1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.

Did the Son of Timaeus have faith?  Did he have hope?

He just needed to get to God.  If he could somehow get to God, he would see again.  Now we are back to believing is seeing.

The crowd was excited that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through.  The Son of Timaeus knew that this was the Son of God.  This was the Anointed One.  This was the Son of David.  This was the long-prophesied Messiah in the line of David. 

This was the man who could give him his sight.  He was passing by.  He would be gone soon.  The thing about faith is that it requires action. 

You can’t just say, “I sure hope that Jesus swings by where I have my begging station. That would be so cool.”  You must act on your faith.  I will go so far as to say our faith compels us to act.

This whole Son of David business had not been the topic of the day, but it sure got the attention of the Master.

And when the Master called him, the blind man did not hesitate.  In fact, I would say he acted with abandon.  He threw off his cloak.  That wasn’t a big concern.  If he needed it later, he would be able to see where he left it.

When Jesus asked him what he wanted, there was no hesitation.  Rabbi, I want to see.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for.  The blind man’s faith was more than wishful thinking.  It was hope that would materialize.

We all have ailments and things that need fixing.  Some more than others.  Some of you keep getting the same things fixed over and over.  Some prefer to spread the repairs around.  Most of us have something that we would love to hear Jesus say, “Your faith has healed you.”

Those words ring true for all of us who have proclaimed Jesus as Lord and know for sure that God raised him from the dead.  By his stripes we are healed.  We will not need Medicare or Medicare for All or Tricare for Life in eternity.

But we would like some healing in this life as well.

So, does our faith have the substance of things hoped for?  I’m not asking if we have faith and a wish list.  Does our faith tell us that what we hope for in the Lord will materialize?

And our old self creeps in and says, “You had better have a Plan B.”

The Son of Timaeus didn’t have plan B.  He had faith and hope and knew that all he had to do was present his request to God.

He didn’t care if he embarrassed himself.

He didn’t care if he never got his cloak back.

He was not timid in asking for just what he needed.

He didn’t want a tether back to where he was in case this faith stuff didn’t work out.

Today, we laugh at such boldness.  Why?  How many times have we seen people set out to do bold but crazy things?  How many Emergency Room visits have followed the words, “Here, hold my beer?”

With our modern cynical attitudes, as a spectator to this encounter with Jesus, we might think:

Does he seriously think that Jesus has time for this?
He’s going to need that cloak later.
How’s he going to find his way back to his spot?
He had better think this through.

But the Son of Timaeus had thought this through.  This was the time for action.  He would cry out to his Lord and ask him for mercy.  He would not delay.  He would not be timid.

Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!

His faith was as real as any substance.  Rock, sand, wood, water, salt all have distinctive feels to them and his faith in what he hoped for felt as real and tangible as anything else he had held in his hands.

But Bartimaeus was missing something.  It’s something that we have a lot of these days.  The blind man had no doubt.  He was blind not double minded.  He was governed by faith and not tossed about like a wave in the ocean.  Doubt was not an issue for this man.

Understand the faith of this man we know only by his dad’s name.  It was the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Can you touch your faith?  Can you feel it?  Can you taste it?  When you can do with faith what the Spirit did at creation—put form to formlessness, then then you can touch and feel and taste and know that it is substance.

At that point you will be so ready to do what God has called you to do.  You will also be ready to ask him for what you need.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.