Faith Heroes -“Super to us is faithful to God”
Abel – Gave by Faith!
Stuck in a dead-end job and strapped for money, Kyle MacDonald came up with an improbable plan: starting with one red paperclip, he would trade on the Internet until he exchanged it for a house. First, he traded the red paperclip for a fish-shaped pen. Next, he traded the pen for a doorknob. He traded the doorknob for a Coleman stove. He traded the Coleman stove for an electric generator. He traded the electric generator for a Budweiser sign and a keg of beer, which he then traded for a snowmobile. Exactly one year and 14 trades later, MacDonald finally reached his goal: he exchanged a part in a Hollywood movie for a home in Saskatchewan, Canada.
The true story of Kyle MacDonald is told in his book One Red Paperclip. Now the book is being made into a movie. A book, a movie deal, and a home—it all began with one red paperclip.
Sounds incredible, doesn't it? But the Bible says our faith is allot like that red paperclip.[i] I need you to turn in your Bibles to Matthew 17. Do you need a Bible? (Yellow card & Know Your Bible) Jesus said in Matthew 17:20 that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, which is smaller than a red paperclip, we will be able to move mountains. Now Jesus wasn’t talking literally (“I’m going to kill you”) he was speaking figuratively. Jesus, Peter, James and John just returned from the Mount of Transfiguration. Better known as Mount Hermon. They are standing right in “shadow of Mount Herman.”[ii] Jesus used what was around him to make a point. “Gentlemen, your faith in me can even move a mountain.” And I can see their eyes bulge and their jaws drop! WHAT! THAT’S SO COOL! THIS IS BETTER THAN A GENIE IN A BOTTLE! Again, we are not going to move any real, bulky, heavy, rocky mountains! No pun intended. But we do occasionally face mountain sized problems. At least they seem that BIG! Problems that seem so huge and bulky – they seem impossible to overcome.
The disciples are facing such a problem because they just tried to heal a demon possessed boy but failed. They don’t get it. Let’s pick up the story in Matthew 17:17. (Read 17-21) Did you notice that Jesus used the words little and small? Please don’t see little as little and small as small. See them as weak and strong. You and I have either a weak faith in Jesus or a strong faith in Jesus. But a weak faith can become strong and a strong faith can become stronger still. You can have a faith so small – fragile like a mustard seed, but from that weak seed a strong faith can emerge. So strong it’s even willing to give! Here’s Randall Routt’s license plate. (HBRW 11) I need you to turn to Hebrews 11:4. Today we begin looking at the lives of Bible people best described as faith heroes. Their faith in God led them “take God at his word.” Their faith led them to obey. To do something for God! Now Super Heroes are cool. Superman can fly. Batman can walk up buildings. Flash can run. Aqua man can swim really fast. Spiderman can crawl upside down. The Hulk has brute strength not to mention real anger issues. And Wonder Woman is well – wonderful. But they are fictional – the stuff of comic book legends. Has it become difficult for you/for me to recognize a true hero? Maybe this picture will help? (Valor Image) To be a hero implies courage or sacrifice. Heroes are often ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Heroes can also be ordinary people who do ordinary things in faith. Take Abel as an example. Let’s read Hebrews 11:4. In one verse the Hebrew writer uses the phrase “by faith” three times. Let’s get the whole story. The story of Abel is found in – Genesis 4. Do you know who wrote Genesis? Moses is given credit for writing the first five books of the Old Testament better known as the Torah. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people of God – there are two choices before you. Obey God’s commands and received blessing. Disobey God’s commands and receiving cursing. The choice is yours. Moses tells them the story of how this world began and how God created these first two people we now know as Adam and Eve. The good news is Genesis 1 & 2. The bad news is Genesis 3. In Genesis 3 Adam & Eve are both deceived and think God was only kidding when he said to them – “Don’t touch this one tree!” He wasn’t kidding. The sin of unbelief always has devastating consequences. They are now banished from the secure confines of the garden. They are now living east of Eden. But as the old saying goes – life goes on. Look at Genesis 4:1. (Read 1-4) (Baby pictures) This is what it says again in Hebrews 11:4a. (Read) Now here’s something really interesting. We don’t know why God says that Abel’s offering is better than Cain’s. But that doesn’t stop us from speculating. Some think it’s because Abel gave an animal (blood sacrifice) and Cain gave produce.[iii] That’s not valid though because many grain or produce offerings were very acceptable in God’s eyes. It also appears both offerings were first fruits. Inotherwords, both gave out of their abundance and not just leftovers. Hmmmm, why was Abel’s offering better? A Mom gets a call from her son’s principal stating he is suspended for the next three days. Mom wants to know why, so she asks, Mom: "Why do you get suspended? Her son replies, "I was the only one who could answer a question." Mom: "Oh, really? What was the question?" Son: "Who pulled the fire alarm?"
I have another question for you! Why did Cain and Abel give an offering in the first place? Why does anyone present an offering to God? They sought forgiveness. To present to God a sweet smelling aroma. Offerings today are given to show God the depth of our love for God - our acknowledgement that He is God and we are his creation. That everything belongs to God and we are stewards of what rightfully belongs to Him. An offering is not separate from worship – an offering demonstrates worship!
God saw Abel’s faith. God also saw Cain’s obligation. Abel gave because he wanted to. Cain gave because he had to. Abel gave with a pure heart. Cain’s heart was not in it – he was simply going through the motions! This is what I’m supposed to do! Do you have a certain ring tone on your cell phone? Ring tones can help your recognize a certain caller. Ring tones can also remind you of what’s important. (RENEGADE PASTOR BRACELET) What would be a good ring tone for me? Maybe this. (Bad to the Bone) That seems a little superficial. I have a better song. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Matthew West but he wrote this song. Please follow the lyrics as you listen to this song. (The Motions song) West said he wrote this song because he was "tired of that constant settling for a stale faith. God is a God of passion. His true plan for our lives is anything but boring.”[iv]
But God often becomes just that to us - boring, dull and routine. Worship becomes confined to just a few songs and a scripture verse or two. So many Sundays it’s easy to think – I made it church. I did my duty. I made my obligation. So many Sundays it’s easy to think “C’mon preacher man, Greg. Entertain me. Make me laugh. You are responsible for my worship.
I am not responsible for your growth. Your faith will grow when you take God at his word. It’s so hard to talk about Abel without including brother Cain. Do you still have Genesis 4 handy? God does an amazing thing for Cain. He speaks to him. He warns him. Find verse 6. Years ago a man named Gary Richmond wrote a book called A View from the Zoo. I read most of his stories to my kids at night before they went to bed including this short story about a raccoon named Bandit.
“Bandit was irresistible. No raccoon that ever existed had more natural “cute” than this 90-day-old bundle of mischief. When my neighbor Julie bought him at a pet store, she was sure they would be life long friends. Eighteen months passed and Bandit became a strapping 25lb adolescent raccoon. I mentioned Julie and Bandit to our zoo vet one day and asked why more people didn’t keep raccoons as pets. His answered floored me. “They undergo a glandular change at about 24 months. After that, they become unpredictable, independent and often attack their owners.” Are there exceptions?” “None that I know of”
I felt compelled to mention this coming change to Julie. She sat and listened politely as I explained. I’ll never forget her answer. “It will be different for me. Bandit is different.” Three months later, Julie underwent plastic surgery for facial lacerations suffered when her adult raccoon attacked her for no apparent reason.”[v] Say it with me folks, “It won’t be different for me.” It wasn’t different for Cain and it won’t be different for any of us. God gave Cain a warning. “Sin is crouching at your door. You can overcome this temptation by choosing to do what’s right.” He didn’t and it cost Abel his life and Cain his freedom.
God is also warning us this morning. “Don’t go through the motions. Die to yourself, give me your life, live by faith and you’ll experience freedom.”
I have a paper clip for you this morning. Some of them are red, most are not. The color does not matter. Come get this paperclip and let it be a reminder to you. There’s no telling where God will take you. There’s no telling what God will do through you if you would choose to live by faith! Abel has been dead for roughly 4000 years and yet his faith still speaks. Does your life – your faith? What seemingly mountain sized problem do you need to take to God in faith today?
[ii] Mark E. Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ, 318
[iii] John H. Sailhamer, EBC, Volume 2, Genesis, 61
[v] Gary Richmond, A View from the Zoo, 115-116