Don’t Worry: Faith

Don’t Worry: Faith
A Message on Hebrews 11:1-3
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 15, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Hebrews 11:1-3 (NRSV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

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There is a story about a man walking along a ridge line on a mountain. He loses his footing and slides off the side of a steep cliff. As he is falling down there is a tree branch sticking out that he grabs onto, hanging in mid-air. As he looks down at the several-hundred-foot-fall he knows he has no chance of surviving. He starts yelling. “Help! Help! Someone help me!”

No answer. He had been hiking alone and hadn’t seen another human being for several hours, so the odds weren’t good that someone would hear him. Still, he yells for help. “Help! Help! Please help me!”

Suddenly he hears a loud voice and knows it is the voice of God. The voice said, “I am here and I will help you. Do you have faith in me?”

The man answers back, “Yes! Yes I have faith in you!”

The voice responds, “Then let go and I will catch you.”

“Say what?” the man says, thinking he had misheard.

“Let go of the tree and I will catch you and keep you from harm.”

The man thinks about it for a while, then yells, “Is there anyone else up there that can help me?”

While humorous, (at least I hope it was humorous…) this story does a good job of illustrating what faith is and how difficult it can be to actually live out one’s faith, to trust God and let go of the things we hold so tightly.

In the scripture we read today from Hebrews, we find the author giving us a definition of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It’s interesting that if you compare translations you’ll find several words that are used where the NRSV uses “assurance” and “conviction,”

Here are some of the other words other translations use instead of those:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV)

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” (NLT)

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.” (The Living Bible)

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (CEB)

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (The Message)

I am always amazed when I read all those different translations because while there is some duplication there isn’t nearly as much as we see in other verses. And yet all of these I think can give us a better understanding of what the author is saying.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and if we look up the word for “faith” we find that the Greek word pistis is used. This word comes from the Greek god of good faith, trust, and reliability. (Those Greeks… they had so many gods!)

We really don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. At first it was attributed to the Apostle Paul but since about the third century this has been disputed. The general agreement now is that it wasn’t Paul but we don’t know who it actually was.

Whoever wrote it was quite the Jewish scholar as much of the book seeks to prove how Jesus is the messiah and how Jesus fulfilled the Jewish prophecies about the messiah.

Here in the 11th chapter we read the beginning of it where the author talks about the importance of faith. But he doesn’t stop there. For the rest of the chapter the author gives examples from the Hebrew scriptures of people who believed in something they couldn’t see, people who exhibited faith. And he points out that these people of faith had righteousness because of their faith.

He starts way back in Genesis with Abel, who offered a more acceptable sacrifice than his brother Cain, who got jealous and killed him because of it.

Then he mentions Enoch, the father of Methuselah. Enoch, if you remember, didn’t die on earth. In Genesis 5:24 we read, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.”

Then he mentions Noah, whose faith that there was going to be a flood was greater than the humiliation of his neighbors who made fun of him for building a big ol’ ship.

He then mentions Abraham, whose faith was so strong that he was willing to sacrifice the son he and Sarah had so longed for, Isaac.

Then he mentions Moses and how Moses had enough faith to go before Pharaoh, putting his own life at risk, and asking Pharaoh to let his people go.

He mentions Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho, who helped the Hebrew spies and in return was saved, both her and her family, when “the walls came a tumblin’ down.”

Then he lists other names of faith heroes: “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” Hebrews 11:32-34

So why did the author of Hebrews go to all this trouble to mention all these people? It’s because all of these people, these great heroes of the Bible, were just normal people but people who experienced faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” They didn’t know the outcome of things before they made decisions, they stepped out on faith and put their belief in God that things would turn out alright.

Today we are living in a time where we have the perfect opportunity to develop and practice our faith. This is a great time to illustrate “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I’m talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. We hope for and pray for an end to the pandemic, but we don’t know when it will end. It’s something we can’t see, something we can’t reliably predict even using all the modern science and technology and super computers. We simply don’t know.

Now we can respond by wringing our hands and worrying about it and giving ourselves ulcers from the stress. We can live paralized by fear and anxiety. We can do that. Or…

Or we can trust in God, have faith, and live our lives with the “confidence of things unseen” that God is in charge. We can be okay with not knowing how or when the pandemic will end because we put our trust in God, in our risen savior Jesus Christ. Through our faith we can claim the promise made in Romans 8 “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

One of my youngest daughter’s heroes is Dolly Parton. She loves her music and can sing every one of Dolly’s songs. Even at the age of 74 years old Dolly is still creating music and has even ventured into the Contemporary Christian Music genre, singing “God Only Knows” with For King and Country and an extremely beautiful duet “There Was Jesus” with Zach Williams. (Both have great videos, too. Check them out!)

I found a transcript from years ago when Dolly was a guest on Larry King Live and he asked her about her faith. This was her response:

“I grew up in a very religious background. But I trust God for everything. I don’t do a thing without praying. I trust God, I love God, and I love the thoughts of it. Even if there was no God, I’d prefer to believe it, because I prefer to believe in something greater than we are. It takes all of the pressure off of you. You don’t have a bunch of ego problems. But I do believe in God, and I really gain strength from that in everything I do.” [Source: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0307/03/lkl.00.html]

Now Dolly would be the first to tell you that she is not perfect and I don’t want to lift her up as if she is, but I do believe her faith keeps her grounded, keeps her humble, and helps her focus on what’s really important, like the fact she’s been married to the same man for 54 years in an industry where that is extremely rare.

So what if we as Christians lived out our faith with boldness, putting our trust in God and depending on him to know the future when we can’t. What if we had “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”?

We could change the world. Seriously. We would change the world. I’ve said many times that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Faith is an integral part of that.

Years ago back in early 2004 I was really struggling with going into the ministry. I had prayed, read the books and met with pastors and even met with a mentor pastor once a week for about eight months. I had done everything the United Methodist Church required and even suggested for a person considering a call to ministry. I knew that I felt a call to go into the ministry, but there was so much that was unknown.

Would we be able to sell our house that we had poured ourselves into and loved? Would we be able to survive financially if I went to seminary? And how would I pay for seminary? At the time it was $636 per semester hour, and a Master of Divinity degree required something like 84 hours. Our daughters would be uprooted from their friends in Kilgore and would be attending different schools in different communities that we wouldn’t even be choosing but that I would be appointed to. We had so many questions and few, if any, answers.

I even sat down and did the ol’ method of listing “pros and cons” on a sheet of paper, and I can tell you the “cons” outnumbered the “pros.” I can remember Pam and I sitting at our dining room table one evening talking about and trying to decide whether we should go into the ministry or not. What was the right thing to do, the thing that God wanted us to do? How could we be sure we were doing the right thing?

As we were talking about it the doorbell rang and it was Garry Mount, a friend of ours from church who had sponsored me on my Walk to Emmaus a couple of years before. Garry is one of the most humble yet faithful servants of Christ I have ever met, even to this day. He said he was looking at some CDs at a store and just really felt compelled to buy this one CD and give it to me. So he stepped out on faith, bought the CD, and was delivering it to me personally.

It was a CD by Casting Crowns, their self titled one that had come out a few months before. I put the CD on and started listening to it. “Voice of Truth” was the third song. Here are the lyrics at the beginning of that song:

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He’s holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”

The Chorus is:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

I decided then, after hearing that song, that I would pursue the ministry. I didn’t know if I had enough faith to do it, but I decided to do it anyway.

Faith is stepping out of the boat when the waves are high and we’re not sure whether we will sink or not. Faith is not worrying but trusting in God. Faith is not knowing the outcome, but trusting that God will provide a way.

It wasn’t easy. I drove from Carthage to Dallas each week to take classes and spent the week in a “commuter” dorm room, a two room dorm room that I shared with three other guys. I saw my roommates more than my family. Pam and I went through our savings and the equity from the sale of our home. My income as a student pastor was so low that our kids qualified for free lunches at their school. I saw and heard things taught at seminary that were so bizarre that they were, in my opinion, not only wrong but bordering on–or even crossing into–heretical.

We did that for four years, plus another year as an internship where I didn’t have to drive back and forth but still had to read books and write tons of papers. (And pay tuition, of course.) But we did it, and I graduated and then a year later was ordained as an elder in the Texas Annual Conference.

I tell you this not to lift myself up but to tell you that if little ol’ me, an ol’ country boy from Delta County, can go through all that to become a United Methodist pastor, you can have the faith to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do. And God is calling you to do something, rest assured. The term “passive Christian” is an oxymoron. God calls each of us to step out in faith and do something for his kingdom.

So my challenge to you this week is to have faith. Whenever you find yourself worrying, turn that worry into a prayer and depend upon faith. Lean upon that faith in trying times such as now. Know that God is in control and that while earthly things may disappoint us and let us down that God is forever faithful and his love never ends.

No matter how steep your mountain looks, God, through faith, will help you climb it. We have to trust God and let go of the tree branch when he tells us to. We have to live boldly as a resurrection people, knowing that no matter what happens in this world, something better is coming, something so great that it is beyond our ability to comprehend. Something so great has been promised to us not because of anything we have or can do, but simply as a gift of grace from the one who loves us. Jesus’ death and resurrection have paid the price for us, and it is by faith that we accept that grace.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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