This weeks Sermon

"Moving Forward in Faith"

Chan Willis – F.P.C.-L.C./Welsh

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:35-40                                                                   

August 11, 2019


            OK, so today I would begin with a question; not so much a ‘theological’ question, but more a ‘meteorological’ one:  When will summer end?!  Some of you might recall a surfing movie back in the ‘60’s entitled “The Endless Summer.” Heck, down here in the ‘Simmering South’ we ‘remake’ that movie every year!  Remember ‘back in the day’ when the start of school… and therefore, the ‘end’ of summer… was considered to be the first week of September, Labor Day?   Yes, both now just a ‘distant memory.’  School starts in early August; and summer… well… maybe October…

            The reason I mention this is that the beginning of the school year… and the end of the summer (months, at least)… also marks the end of summer vacations.  “Vacations.”  Hmmm… yes, I’ve heard of those.  That’s when you take off some extended time from work to get away from your employment responsibilities and enjoy getting away, RIGHT?  At least, that’s what I’ve heard… J  Now, we DID take off a week in June for a family vacation.  And at the end of August will be spending a week in that popular ‘getaway destination’ known as “Baton Rouge.”  That would be more of a ‘stay-cation.’  Though I can tell you that Barrie sure hasn’t been thinking of her recent weeks in B.R. spent overseeing house repairs and sorting and boxing decades of family possessions as a ‘stay-cation’…

            But as I think about the true meaning of that word ‘vacation,’ I think about going on “Family vacations.” You know, like the “Griswolds?”  WELL, maybe not QUITE like that…  But, most of us have good… perhaps even great… memories of going on vacations as a family.  As we know, especially from the parents perspective, there’s a lot of planning involved.  Getting time off. Making reservations.  Or, for the more adventurous types, NOT making reservations.  Of course, if there was some sort of tent/camper/RV, there was a whole OTHER layer of preparation necessary.  But regardless, there had to be some sort of accommodations… as well as planning some sort of itinerary.  Selecting those favorite spots that you had always wanted to go.  And then, to know just how to get there, you’d make sure you had an ‘ATLAS’… a compilation of ‘maps.’  You remember those, right?  GPS, paper edition…

            And then would come the night before the big trip, making sure everything you needed was packed for your journey.  And the ‘kids’… probably either small OR big… were so excited that they could hardly get to sleep.  Knowing that they better, because they were likely having to get up EARLY in the morning.  But no matter how tired one was, you best not let that slow you down.  When your parent came in the room, it was time to get up and start MOVING!  Even if you really didn’t know just where you were going.  You knew that it was going to be a great trip, and that you had complete trust in your parents to get you to your destination.  And the last thing you wanted to do was to get left ‘home alone’…

Compare this family vacation scenario to that journey of Abraham, who was called by God to leave his native country and “go to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)    We take great effort to know just the right, most direct route to our appointed destination.  Abe?  “He set out, not knowing where he was going.”  (Hebrews 11:8)  And he sure couldn’t call ahead for ‘reservations.’  No hotel room, RV, trailer, or even pop-up camper.  He and his fellow travelers were “living in tents.” (Hebrews 11:9)  And I don’t think that his tents had zipper front doors or flow-through screen ventilation like ours do.

            BUT, no matter if he didn’t exactly know where he was going… even if this trip required him to pitch and break tents days in and days out… Abraham went willingly, joyfully-- because he trusted the One who was determining his steps.  He knew that the ultimate destination that His Heavenly Father had in mind was going to be GREAT.

            Abraham’s faith in God was NOT, however, based merely on his earthly journey.  At his age he knew that his time on earth was limited.  No matter where or when his walk with God in the present life ended, Abraham wanted to leave behind a faithful legacy.  Confident of God’s ultimate plan for his life, “he looked forward to the city … whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

            Abraham wanted to get those ‘generations more numerous than the stars’ promised by God to that ‘land that God would show him’ so that one day they too might come to know the truth that He had learned.  To come to the point where they could “confess that they were strangers and foreigners on earth.”  (Heb. 11:13)  Like HIM.  That YES, they were to “desire a better country”… “a HEAVENLY one.” (Heb. 11:16) That homeland… that ‘city on a hill’… “whose architect and builder is God.”

            What is OUR attitude toward this journey of life that we are on?  Can we be HALF as obedient to God’s Will for our life as Abraham was for his?  Can we get HALF as excited for our trip to an eternal ‘destination’ as we can for an earthly one? What can we learn from these words of Hebrews and Luke in order to be ‘recharged’ by a ‘vacation’ from our everyday life… days when we growweary of trying to ‘be like Jesus?’  I would suggest to you that in order to continue “Moving Forward in Faith,” there are 3 ‘Be-attitudes’ that we should have.  No, not the ones in Matthew.  But 3 ways in these passages for us to be practicing our Christian faith:  to Be-lieve… to Be Focused… and to Be Ready.

            First and foremost, we must BELIEVE.  That first verse of Hebrews 11 is most certainly one of our foundational statements in God’s Word… DEFINITELY one to have in your ‘quiver’ of Scriptural ‘arrows.’  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)  Please repeat it with me…  NOW, there would be those who would argue that being ‘convicted of things one cannot see’ is another word for ‘crazy’… or ‘foolish’ … and that’s OK!  Like I said in my last ‘Weak-day’ message, I’ll take being called a ‘fool for Christ’ anyday! 

            I’m sure that Abraham was thought pretty foolish for being ‘convicted’ by this voice he ‘could not see’… and setting out on this cross-country journey “not knowing where he was going.”  But he had faith in God’s assurance that what he hoped for he would receive.  The same faith that would grant him and Sara children even when they had given up.  Even when they were considered too old by human standards, by God’s will they were enabled to be the mother and father of many generations to come.  Because they believed in the power of God to work miracles.  They believed that God would guide them when they didn’t know which way to go. 

            We too must believe.  Believe that God will continue to bring up future generations from this ‘old body’… of Christ.  Perhaps not by ‘physical’ birth… I know you ladies are relieved… but ‘spiritual.’  We must believe in God enough to set out on journeys for Him, even though we may not know just where we’re going.  Or how we’re going to get there.  The most important ‘supply’ we can have for the ‘trip’ that we’re on is faith.  “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  We pray that those future generations that follow us will be able to share in that subsequent verse:  “By faith our ancestors received approval.” (Hebrews 11:2)  Or, in the words of a song by Michael W. Smith, “May all that come behind us find us faithful.”

            The second way that we keep “moving forward in faith” is to ‘BE FOCUSED.’  Now this one may seem a bit obscure, so ‘I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy.’  In v. 13 the author of Hebrews says that “They (Abraham and his descendants) confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland… they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (Heb. 11:13-16)

            Friends, as I’ve said before, while I firmly believe that we are blessed by God to live in the best country on the planet, it is by NO means perfect.  As proud as we might be of our nation… warts and all… we must never let our allegiance to country outweigh our allegiance to CHRIST.  We must be focused on the truth that if we truly desire a ‘better country’ on this earth, we must help others to appreciate the value of the heavenly one.  As followers of God and brothers in Christ, You and I are just visitors, strangers, foreigners in this land; for we are traveling toward the city whose architect and builder is God.  In Paul’s words, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await a Savior from there, Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20)  As we strive to be a people who speak, and act, in this way, we will make it clear to others that we seek a new home… a ‘heavenly one’… a ‘destination wedding,’ if you will:  the wedding feast of the Lamb as the Bride of Christ, His Church.

            And finally, in addition to the need to “believe” and “be focused,” we need to BE READY.  In our Gospel reading, Jesus warned his followers to “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit… you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:35, 40)  To put it another way, ‘Jesus is coming back and no one knows when.’Is this uncertain time of arrival something to be FEARED?  Well, by adhering to those other two priorities, to believe and be focused, NO, we need not fear Christ’s return.  As long as we TRULY ‘believe.’  But what that speaks to me is that we should be concerned about those who are NOT ready to meet their Maker.  How seriously do we take the salvation of others?  Our own family members.  Close friends.  Casual acquaintances.  If Jesus was to appear to you tonight… coming to serve you so that you might in turn go and serve others… would you be “dressed for action and have your lamps lit?”  Or, simply ‘dressed for bed’ and ‘getting lit?’ J

            Now while an appearance of our Lord and Savior may seem a rather remote occurrence, what IS more likely that you would hear from the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who implores you to “be ready.”  And just as you and I were excited in our youth for that ‘unexpected hour’ in which to be awoken by an earthly father for a much anticipated new adventure, HOW MUCH MORE should we be excited to be rousted out of bed by our heavenly Father with a new adventure given to us?

And though it may sound crazy, I have a challenge for you this week:  when you wake up each day this week, ask God, “What assignment do you have for me today, Lord?  How are you going to use me to make a difference for the Kingdom in someone else’s life?  To borrow from one of my Roman Catholic brethren in our morning Bible study, ‘Who is carrying a cross out there that God is calling me to go help them carry?’  You and I have such opportunities EVERY DAY…

            The fact of the matter is, often times it is US that needs help in carrying that cross.  That even as I encourage you each week, in different ways, to believe… to be focused… to be ready… a lot of the time it is really HARD to keep Moving forward in faith.”  Driving home from the Seniors Seminar yesterday, I heard a song on the radio, which I’d hear before and really liked, but it really struck me as appropriate for today’s discussion on how we are to live out our Christian faith.  It’s by a group called “Mercy Me”, entitled “Even If.”  Here’s a few lyrics:

They say it only takes a little faith To move a mountain
Well good thing A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing‘It is well with my soul

I know You're able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
            But even if You don't …My hope is You alone.
            I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
            Would all go away if You'd just say the word
            But even if You don't …My hope is You alone…”

            As you and I heed Christ’ call to be ready… even when we’re not; as we try to be focused on the fact this is NOT our final home… even when our humanity distracts us from that truth; as we strive to believe, even as we grapple with our unbelief… may we never forget this truth:  that the best place to minister to one who is broken… is from our own brokenness.  And perhaps the best witness you and I could give concerning our Christian faith is summed up in lyrics from that song:  “I know your able, and I know you can… but even if you don’t, my hope is You alone.”  It is THAT ‘hope’ that truly helps us to ‘move forward in our faith’…