Sunday, March 5, 2017

By Faith

It wasn’t their Ivy League education, dazzling good looks, impressive resume, thriving company or big time name dropping that qualified them, but rather it was their heart. It was their complete trust in God that opened the door.
I was blessed to see two big names--Amy Grant and Chris Tomlin--back to back and live, all in the same weekend. They both have shaped the world of Christian music in enormous ways and to be able to see them had me beyond excited!
There is something about the human heart that gravitates toward “the great”. Whether it is a gifted musician, a defender of our country, a talented athlete or a person who touches many lives—we all stop and take notice of what we consider the who’s who. But sometimes I think we forget who truly deserves that kind of adoration. In a world where focus can get off so easily, it is not hard to place worship in the wrong places. And so often we do not look to God's definition of great but our own. As I thought about my exuberance over Amy and Chris, I remembered a section in Hebrews I had recently read listing who's who of great faith. It starts this way:
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1). I have heard those words many times, but somehow neglected to see the importance of what follows that well known opening. This time I marveled over the realization that great people often first have to endure and keep going despite opposition. It doesn't happen overnight, by chance or by accident. These verses prove that faith can come in the most unlikely of situations, in fact that is often the place we find it most. An abandoned manger. A Red Sea. A wooden beam. A stormy night. An unlikly queen. A shepherd boy. Sometimes faith may seem all but  impossible, but that's the moment we must choose to hold onto it the most. And  sometimes that means not giving up in round one of a multiple round fight.  Life comes in seasons and not just main events.  We are ever changing. Ever moving in sync with His timing. And it's those who learn the secret of perseverance that stand victorious.
Verse 2 tells us, “Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.” If you look hard you discover it is not a statement but a sneaky call to action. The writer highlights that faith doesn’t just happen; it is cultivated. It is activated. And it is necessary to get God involved. By faith we move.
Listen to the examples of  the“greats” that Hebrews 11 lists:
“It was by faith that Noah built a large boat and saved his family from the flood” (11:6).
“It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called Him…” (11:8).
“It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and old” (11:11).
“By faith Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice” (11:17).
“By faith Jacob blessed each of Joseph’s sons” (11:21).
“By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months…because they saw he was no ordinary child” (11:24) “By faith Moses left Egypt and persevered” (11:27)
Noah. Abraham. Jacob. Moses. They are names among names. I don’t have to tell you the end of their stories, but I do want to consider the beginnings because there is an extraordinary common denominator in all these people’s lives. It is By faith that they lived… by confidently having assurance built securely in the Lord they were able to be used to do amazing things. Things we are still reading about today. It wasn’t their Ivy League education, dazzling good looks, impressive resume, thriving company or big time name dropping that qualified them, but rather it was their heart. It was their complete trust in God that opened the door.
I love how the author of Hebrews continues to make his point. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon… Samson… about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength....There were others who were tortured…some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning, sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute and persecuted and mistreated—THE WORLD WAS NOT WORTHY OF THEM.” (excerpt from Hebrews 11: 32-38)
I am encouraged as my heart sifts through all those testimonies and story references of men and women who lived by God’s example of faith. Even when things did not end as they would like, they saw it as a “gain to an even better resurrection” (11:36). They were always looking ahead and believing that everything was for God’s great glory. What an incredible statement to read that “the world was not worthy of them.” These men and women weighed their lives and actions and causes by a much different scale then the greatness we seek in today’s culture. The world was not worthy of them because they were not living for the world.
Perhaps the most powerful thing about this chapter can be found in verse 13 which says, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them... they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it”.  They “still” believed throughout their entire life that God would deliver His promises. They didn’t know the impact their lives would have. They couldn’t see the big picture but they saw what God could do with their lives and they welcomed Him. They offered their hearts fully and they stuck with it even when it wasn't easy. I can hear their words now, “Begin with me. I’m all in.”
I pray that our names would reach that list not for our glory, but for God's. I look to these names and these examples hoping we would see that we are not perfect, but that God's plans are more than perfect. That the impossible is possible through Christ. That we can overcome whatever obstacle, pit, flood, stolen blessing, title or place we find ourselves in. I hope that the world is not worthy of us. I pray we persevere and believe in God's absolute faithfulness throughout all of our days. I pray that we will live each day in a way that can only be described as living by faith.
-Only Hope

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