Faith in God
Today is New Years day. It doesn’t happen very often that New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, so it is great that on this first day of 2012 we are gathered here in church to begin our year in the presence of God. New Year’s Day is a day to look forward.
Yet this day I look forward with a view to the past. The very first time I ever preached was on New Year’s Day, back in the day when we had a service on New Year’s Day even if it was during the week. Rev. Henry Voth gave me the chance to preach from this very spot way back in the early 70’s and it was part of what contributed to my career as a pastor. It is interesting, therefore to stand here today on New Year’s Day and once again share the Word of God not only at the beginning of a New Year, but also at the beginning of my being your pastor. We are very glad to be starting and look forward to serving in this church. We look forward to getting to know you and to facing the challenge of being God’s people at PAC.
During Christmas celebrations we played a game called Jenga. The object of the game is to move blocks of wood from the bottom of the pile and place them at the top of the pile without causing the whole pile to collapse. The game is a metaphor for life. We go through life moving blocks and experiencing various things in life and we are often afraid that the whole pile will come crashing down. Even the beginning of this new pastoral relationship is a little like that. You don’t know what it will be like with this new guy as pastor. We don’t know what it will be like to serve in this church. Many things are unknown as we face a new year and we don’t know whether sometime in this year the whole pile may come crashing down. Yet the confidence we have as we enter 2012 is that we enter it with a Father in whom we can put complete confidence.
This morning I would like to tell you a story of our experience over the last few months which has caused me to think deeply about what it means to have faith in God. When we were accepted as pastor couple for this congregation, we knew that it would mean a move into the city. So we quickly began to process that. We put a sign up in front of our house and posters up in town and ads on Kajiji and tried to sell the house. We called a real estate agent and began looking for a house in Winnipeg. Well, it didn’t take long to find the house we wanted and we evaluated the risk of buying before we sold, but believed that this was the house for us and had reason to hope that all would go well and bought the house and we are really glad to be living in it. Yet the sale of the house in Rosenort continued to be a concern for us and many times we were afraid that the whole pile would come crashing down. As we dealt with that fear, we learned some important things about what it means to have faith in God and I hope as I share this story and some Scriptures that teach us about faith in God, that you will be encouraged and directed as you face whatever is coming in this year.
A. In Circumstances
As we began the process of selling our house we were filled with confidence. Our house in Rosenort is a great house in a great location. It is a modest bungalow on a nicely treed 2 acre lot. It has a nice garden on the yard and a river in the back yard. It is within the Rosenort dike so there is no danger from flooding. The house itself has a built out basement and a newly remodeled kitchen. The community of Rosenort is growing because there is a lot of manufacturing in the community. In the past, houses have sold well and people have even built houses on speculation and sold them. All of these circumstances gave us confidence that there would be no problem trying to sell the house. The first few days we had numerous phone calls and we thought that someone would soon come and look at the house and make us an offer. But it didn’t happen. We began to wonder what was wrong? Was the price we were asking wrong? Was there something wrong with the house?
Our world was shaken up, we were disappointed, we lost sleep and we were afraid that we would run into financial problems. As this was happening we began to realize that our faith had been in circumstances. Everything suggested that all would go well and we had hope and faith in that circumstance. But faith in circumstances failed us.
When Israel entered the Promised Land with Joshua leading them they attacked Jericho with great trepidation, but with a strong affirmation from God that He would give them victory. They had a sound victory and after celebrating that victory, they prepared to attack the next city, which was the city of Ai. As they moved forward they believed that they would not have any problem. The text does not indicate why they thought they would have no problem. It might have been because of confidence in God, but as they explained their reasoning, it seems that they were also confident in the circumstances. They sent spies to examine the circumstances and in Joshua 7:3 they reported, "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.” The circumstance they were confident in was, “only a few men are there.” Of course we know that there was more to the story, but at least part of the issue was that they were confident in their circumstances but things didn’t work out the way they expected.
I suspect that all of us have experienced similar things. We may have come up against some challenge in life. Perhaps we were looking for a job and we had done everything we could to secure the job we were looking for. We followed the advice of our parents and studied hard. We followed the advice of our teachers and took the training that would lead to the job. We wrote a brilliant resume and believed that because of all these positive circumstances, we would certainly get the job. Our faith was in the circumstances and we were disappointed and confused when we didn’t get the job we wanted. It is OK to do things that make for good circumstances. I do not regret remodeling the kitchen of the house in Rosenort last year in fall, but if our faith is in circumstances, we may well be disappointed.
B. In a Person
For about a month we tried to sell the house on our own, confident of the circumstances but it didn’t sell. One day I was in the coffee shop and was talking to Ron who told me about a man he knew, who used to work for him and who was now involved in real estate. Ron told me, “he can sell anything.” I was comfortable with this man, I knew him, and although he didn’t live in Rosenort, he had and so I was hopeful that he knew the community, knew the rural market, but had access to MLS and other real estate people. So we contacted him and signed a contract for him to try to sell our house. Once again we had hope and were confident. Now our confidence, while still somewhat in circumstances, was strengthened because we also had hope in a person.
We were confident that it would sell soon. He had contacts, he knew people who were looking and so we waited for the phone call that would let us know that someone was coming to look at the house. Our hope was high. A week went by and two and three. There were a few calls and a few people came to look, but no one made an acceptable offer. Each day we waited for him to call, but at the end of his three month contract, the house had not yet sold. Once again we were discouraged. Once again we lost sleep and wondered why this great real estate agent was not able to sell this great property. Our faith had been in a person and we were disappointed.
King Saul had not been faithful to God and Samuel had told him that the kingdom would be taken from him. Samuel died and Saul was on his own with this difficult reality. One day he was faced with an enemy attack by the Philistines. We read in 1 Samuel 28:4, "The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart." Saul was in a difficult place and he wondered where he could turn and how he would survive this crisis. He reasoned that if only he could talk to the right person, everything would be OK. The only problem was that the right person was not alive anymore. But Saul was desperate and so he went to look for a medium who he hoped would bring Samuel back from the dead to help him. The only problem was that Saul himself had outlawed this practice and so he had to go in disguise. When the medium asked him in 1 Samuel 28:11, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” he said. “Bring up Samuel,” In this situation, Saul was putting his faith in a person. When Samuel was actually brought up and spoke with Saul, he repeated the bad news he had told him previously and later that day when the battle was engaged Saul died in that battle. Obviously there was a lot more to this story, but it is clear that Saul was not trusting God, but rather that he wanted to put his trust in a person.
I suspect that many of us have done the same thing. We notice that something is not right with our body so we go to the doctor. The initial diagnosis proves to be worrisome, but when the doctor says, I think we can do something about that, we are encouraged. We quickly put our faith in the doctor. Although we need to go to a doctor and we need to rely on what they are able to do, if our whole faith is in a person, we may well be disappointed.
C. In Promises
As the house did not sell quickly, we were disappointed, but our world did not fall apart. We realized that the agent was a good worker, but not a miracle worker. Throughout this time, he kept us up to date on what was happening. For a while not much was happening, but in the end of November, he told us that he had several people who were interested in the house. One was coming to look at it on the first Saturday of December and another couple had phoned about the house at least five times and was planning to come the second Saturday of December and there was another couple that was also interested. Throughout this time we were at peace. We still had hope in circumstances and in a person, but we also had hope in the promises that something would happen. It was amazing that whenever there was a promise that someone was interested, we were at peace. Our confidence was in the promises. However, the last message we had from him was a few days after his contract was up. He had shown the house to some of the people who had promised to come, but he reported, “I do not have an offer on your house.” This time it seemed like everything was lost. Circumstances did not guarantee a sale. A good person did not guarantee a sale. Promises did not materialize. This was very disappointing for us.
During the days of Eli the priest, the people of Israel went into battle with the Philistines. We read in 1 Samuel 4:1-2, "Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield." Israel was in trouble. They went to battle and it did not turn out well at all. What were they going to do? As we read on in the text we read in 1 Samuel 4:3, "When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” What were they doing? They were putting their hope in the promises. They believed that the Ark of the Covenant would guarantee them victory. Of course there was more happening here including a prophecy that the sin of Eli’s sons would result in their death and trouble for Israel, but the point is still valid that at this point they were putting their faith in promises. Things did not work out well that day. Eli’s sons were killed and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines. When Eli heard about it he also died. Hope in the promises did not guarantee the result.
We easily run into the same problem. We put our hope in promises. Sometimes we put our hope in the promises that people make. We know that these promises are not certain and we are disappointed when people fail to keep their promises.
What about the promises of God? Surely we can put our hope in the promises that God has made! We believed we had such promises. We believed that God called us to PAC and we believed He led us to buy the house we are living in. Why would he not allow our house sell? In Psalm 91:10 we have a great promise, "then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent." Yet sometimes harm comes to us. I have thought a lot about this promise during this time, always with the realization in the back of my mind that our daughter has severe rheumatoid arthritis? If our faith is in the promises, even those in the Bible and we apply the promises indiscriminately, we may well be disappointed. God’s promises are good and we can put our hope in His promises, but not when we apply them without regard to other factors. Not if our hope is in the promises only. If we rely on the promises to make everything right we may well be disappointed.
II. Faith in God
We were discouraged because our last hope was gone. Our world was shaken but it did not come crashing down. Why not? It was then that we were forced to go where we knew all along we had to go
Our hope had to be in God alone; not in circumstances, not in people, not even in promises but in God alone.
A. Having Faith
Scripture tells us this again and again.
We love Proverbs 3:5, 6 where we read, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Unfortunately, we often read it and place all the emphasis on the last part of the verse. “He will make your paths straight.” If we read it accurately, the emphasis needs to be on the first part of the verse, “Trust in the Lord…acknowledge Him.” He is the one we are to trust! He is the one we are to have faith in!
Such “trust in the Lord” is very clearly defined for us in Hebrews 11:6 where we read, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." This verse tells us first of all that we must have a deep and implicit trust in God. It tells us that without such faith it is impossible to please God. Although God wants our obedience, He also wants our faith, our confidence in Him.
What does it mean to have such faith? It means three things according to this verse. It means that we must believe that He exists. How often I have caught myself saying I believe, but being anxious that he isn’t there? Why is it so much easier to have faith in circumstances or faith in a person whom we can see? The reason may well be that we don’t believe that God exists.
We must also believe that He rewards. This is a belief that He is good. When we see the difficulties which many people around us or we ourselves experience, we sometimes wonder what the source of that difficulty is. It is easy for us to blame God for it. Many people have a hard time understanding that God is good when they read the book of Job. Yet if we have faith, we will understand that God is good.
We will also “earnestly seek Him.” This means that we will not treat Him like a cosmic candy dispenser. We will seek to discern not only His will but Him. We will seek to know God and to develop a relationship with Him. That is what it means to have faith.
One of the Psalms always impresses me because of the faith that David had. He was in the midst of a battle. All around him his enemies were out to get him. Yet, he was able to sleep. How often between 4 and 6 in the morning, when I wasn’t sleeping, have I thought about that verse! Psalm 4:8 says, "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Why are we able to sleep even when things are in turmoil around us? Because we have faith in God who does not sleep! Psalm 121:4 reminds us, "…he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep."
Why are we able to have such faith in God?
1. Because He is the creator of all things
We can have faith because God is the creator who has made all things. I love nature and have often worshipped God when I have been on a hike or canoeing or skiing. Recently I have been reading a book which shows that the wonder of creation extends deeply to the molecular level of creation. The book is about the relationship between science and faith. In it they describe the DNA molecule. I confess that I don’t nearly understand all that they are saying, but one thing has impressed me. At the molecular level, seemingly random forces are held together by some unidentified code. This description of things at the molecular level made me realize once again that at the center of all of creation is the one who made it. God knows about and has created all things.
Since God is the creator of all things, He lacks no power to meet any of our needs. We can have faith because God is able.
2. Because He is Love
I mentioned earlier that faith means believing that God is good. Why can we believe that God is good? Because He has demonstrated His love in the most amazing and powerful way possible by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. Romans 8:32 assures us, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Therefore, because He loves us we can put our trust in Him
3. Because He is the God of resurrection
We can also have faith in God because in Him there is no impossible situation. He is the God of resurrection.
When Lazarus died, all who knew him were devastated. Mary even said to Jesus, “If only you had been here.” What was she saying? She was saying, “I believe that you are a miracle worker and could have healed him.” Jesus challenged her to see Him in a new way. He told her in John 11:25, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…" In other words, Jesus can take impossible situations and redeem them.
We talked earlier about the promises and that we don't always see them fulfilled. That is because some of them are fulfilled only in the resurrection. That is how it was for Jesus. The disciples were devastated when He died but the promises about Jesus required resurrection. Our hope also extends beyond this life and is in God who raises the dead and is therefore not limited by impossible situations.
C. Learning To Live By Faith
That is why we must have faith in God alone. Although it is good to create positive circumstances and to seek people who can help us and to examine and rely on the promises we are given especially the promises God has given, ultimately, we need to put our faith in God.
How can we live in such faith?
I believe that we need to feed ourselves with truth. The more we reflect on and meditate on all the truths about the power and love of God and the deeper our understanding that God is a God of resurrection, the easier it will be to trust in Him. So in this year, make a commitment to reflect on God daily. I have made it a habit to read a Psalm every day. What an encouragement this has so often been to me, giving just the right message when I needed it.
Furthermore, we need to pray and listen to God. He has created us for relationship and it is in listening and asking that we deepen that relationship. It may not make a difference if we don’t spend time with God every day, but there will be a cumulative effect when we engage in such an activity regularly. You know that in human relationships, a Christmas card once a year does not really maintain a relationship. It is regular contact with another person that brings us into a deep relationship with them. The same is true of our relationship with God.
I have often read the story of the man who came to Jesus to ask him to heal his son. Jesus asked the man, “do you believe?” The man replied in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Isn’t that great? Because this is in the Bible, we know that God understands our weakness and our struggle. We have hope that He will listen in spite of our weak faith. It encourages us that faith is not static, but that we can grow in faith.
I still have moments when I become discouraged and wonder how things are going to work out in regards to the house. Beyond that, there are many unknowns about the coming year. On January 1, 2011, I did not know what kind of a year it would be. I had no idea that I would be standing here today. What will this year bring? Of one thing we can be certain. We can put our faith in the God who created all things, who loves us and who is the God of resurrection. We must put our faith in this God.
As we move the blocks which are part of life this coming year, we may well come into situations in which we are afraid that the whole pile will come crashing down. It is easy in those situations to seek hope in circumstances, in people and even in promises. That is OK, but ultimately each of these may well disappoint. The only hope which will never disappoint is hope in God. So my encouragement to each of us is to have faith in God alone. Lately whenever I have wavered, I have reminded myself that “God is my creator who loves me. He is the God of resurrection.” That reminder encourages me and I have faith.
Let us enter this year with faith in God!