On the first Sunday of this month, we began to dig into this letter known as Hebrews – the overall theme of which is how to maintain a durable, robust vibrant faith even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

We noted the three kinds of Biblical faith:

  1. The first of which is referred to as saving faith“We have been saved by grace, through faith, not as a result of good works.” This is the initial faith that we exercise when we first come to embrace that Jesus died so that we could live.
  2. Then there is what we would call doctrinal faith. That is the composite of Christian truths that make up our basic beliefs. Such as in I Co. 16:13 where Paul encourages his readers to “stand firm in the faith.”
  3. Thirdly, we come to the faith we are talking about in this series; practical faith. This category refers to the faith principles upon which we must operate in order to rise above the weight of our own personal circumstances or the times in which we live. When practical faith is hitting on all 8 cylinders, we can think of it as a deep, abiding, unswerving confidence in God.

Hebrews 10:39-11:16

In his book, In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado begins: “Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began while Chippie’s owner was vacuuming Chippie’s cage the phone rang, she turned to pick it up, barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” The bird owner put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie — still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him. A few days after the trauma, Chippie’s owner wrote: ‘Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore — he just sits and stares.’ It’s hard not to see why; sucked in, washed up, and blown over; that’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart. Can you relate to Chippie? One minute you’re seated in familiar territory with a song on your lips. Then the pink slip comes, the rejection letter arrives, the doctor calls, the divorce papers are delivered, the check bounces, a policeman knocks. The life that had been so calm is now so stormy. And somewhere in the trauma, you lose your joy.” 1

And I would add, times like that can have an impact on our faith as Heb. 10:39 attests.

That’s why Hebrews was written. The recipients of the letter were experiencing their own version of Chippie’s story. Hebrews 10:32-39 taught us how to remain faithful using mental gymnastics: remembering how God has been faithful in the past, cultivating patience in the present, and placing our hope in the eternity. Now beginning in chapter 11, he encourages us to exercise our faith muscle by doing something.

For Hebrews 11 teaches that those who choose to act on the faith they have will be rewarded with even greater faith.

By faith, Abel offered to God a superior sacrifice; by faith, Noah built an ark; by faith, Abraham traveled to unfamiliar territory. As you make your way through this glorious chapter, the author spits out action verbs in rapid succession as by faith God’s people “administered, became powerful, conquered, escaped, gained, quenched, routed and shut the mouths of lions.” As they did, they were rewarded with more faith as their confidence in an unseen but ever present God increased, thereby better preparing them for whatever lie in their future.

A week ago last Wednesday I was at Parker’s Funeral Home in Lodi attending the calling hours for Valerie Hinderman’s family when Val’s mother asked if I would be willing to lead a brief service at the close of calling hours. Now that kind of thing is a little out of my comfort zone in those situations, like these, I spend a lot of time preparing. But I wasn’t going to tell Lynn that, so I shot up a quick prayer and opened a Bible to Psalm 116. Now it’s true that I have turned to that Psalm on many occasions to form a backdrop for a funeral message. But as I began to read it, stopping here and there to make a few comments, new insights I had never even thought about before came to mind and it created one of those you could hear a pin-drop moments. And when, a few moments later, I got in the car to drive home, “wow . . . thanks God . . . I know that wasn’t Randy.”
And the result was my faith muscle grew.

That’s what Hebrews 11 faith is all about: action based upon faith in God; asking, seeking, praying, serving, witnessing, whatever it takes, knowing that we are backed up by the unseen but all-knowing, everywhere present, more than able God.

And the result is our faith grows. When we, as God’s people, step out in faith and realize that God has our backs, the faith and trust in God we have will be rewarded with more faith and deeper trust.

I believe the writer of Hebrews also knew that putting faith into action also has the reward of minimizing the emotional pain that often accompanies suffering.

Elie Wiesel and Corrie Ten Boom were two people who lived through and responded differently to what many would say is the darkest of all human tragedies …the Holocaust.
In Weisel’s book, aptly titled Night, he writes:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. 2

But Corrie Ten Boom witnessed the same atrocities, and in her book, The Hiding Place, she concludes, “However deep the pit, God’s love is deeper still.” 3

Different responses to the same stimuli . . . why? My guess is, the difference was because Corrie Ten Boom put her faith into action in the midst of the suffering, sharing the love of Jesus wherever and whenever she could.

Psychologists have shown time and again that when people who experiencing pain are distracted in some way from that pain, they experience it less intensely than those who are more focused on their pain. For example, there was an experiment done where intense heat was applied to subject’s bare arms, similar to what one would experience with a cigarette burn. One group simply experienced the heat, while subjects in the other group were distracted by either clanging bells or the reading of an adventure story. In those persons who were distracted, it took 45% more applied heat before they noticed the pain than those who focused solely on the pain.

I am saying that being able to focus our attention on something or someone else when we are in pain will not only diminish the perceived pain but also help us to better respond to that pain with continued trust in God.

How did the Apostle Paul endure the hardships, shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, whippings that he writes about in II Corinthians and still maintain his faithfulness? Because he was always focused on reaching others for Christ’s sake.

I know that’s easy to say. I know that I am not experiencing the pain and suffering that you are suffering. But I am also convinced that the people found in Hebrews 11, who faithfully endured tragedy were better enabled by God’s grace to do so because they focused not on their pain and suffering but on putting their faith in action by ministering to others. They didn’t watch the red-hot cigarette slowly approach and burn into their arm, their attention was elsewhere.

Does that mean that everything in their lives was coming up roses?

No way! This passage indicates that expressing faith can have a variety of outcomes. I notice that faith sometimes has an immediate positive outcome when for example, the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea, and when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. But we also find that faith can be rewarded with a delayed outcome as when Noah had to wait for 120 years for the rains to come. And sometimes, much to our chagrin, we discover from this passage that faith can have a negative outcome too. Even though Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God, he was still murdered by his brother. Later in this chapter, faith’s outcome involves being beaten, destitute, mistreated, mocked, put in prison, sawn in two, stoned, and tortured.

Any true understanding of this passage must come to grips with the fact that sometimes faithful people do not see faith’s reward in this life.

“The Journey Continues” by Pastor Gordon Meier

Behind my desk, hanging on the wall in our home study is a beautifully framed piece of artwork that says, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” The sentiment of that statement has been tested many times over the past four years, and especially this past year.

A couple months ago (May) I had my fourth surgery in four years (thyroidectomy) that was necessary because of the progressive nature of my autoimmune fibrotic disease that is destroying organs in my body–my stomach and esophagus now being affected. The disease is advancing and my chronic daily migraines are so debilitating that 70% of the time I am in bed and my fatigue and dizziness is so overwhelming at that times that I simply cannot function.

While I learned early on in this journey that with this kind of rare disease no one can predict or guarantee anything, and that each person’s case is unique and individual, it can be maddening at times to have the future be a big question mark, never fully knowing what is realistic to hope for or expect. I have found myself surprised again and again at the expectations I realize I have, only as I watch them crash over and over. I am now in my fifth year of being hooked up to IVs for 12 hours every day, but it has taken this long to wrap my mind around the fact that unless God does a miracle (which He could easily do) my old life is no more. I can never go back to preaching three times every weekend, I can no longer travel or go on vacation, and I can no longer plan to do anything in advance.

There is a grieving process that continues and yet one of the mysteries of being a follower of Jesus is that He promises LIFE from death. JOY in the midst of grief and pain. Even though in a weak moment you might find Barb and me wishing for our ‘old lives’ back, if we are truly honest there is something about suffering that draws us to the heart of God in a way that nothing else can. There is something about the ability to bear darkness and carry the mystery of paradox that moves us to a much deeper place of faith in a God who gives more grace when the burdens grow greater.

As we find ourselves embracing the reality of being pilgrims just passing through, and aliens in a strange land, we grow more and more excited about taking up residency in our forever home in heaven.

Taken on its own, neither my suffering nor yours is light. It is awful and terrible and gut-wrenching. But how great it will be to see the glory of God in eternity and in that moment when we see the King revealed, it will make my suffering and yours seem light in comparison. Our hearts literally leap at the anticipation of that day.

Our hope, our trust, and our confidence remain in Christ. 4

Biblical faith is always rewarded.

One resounding point of Hebrews 11 is that God’s people look beyond the immediate to grasp the significance of the eternal.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 NLT)

“God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16 NLT). Boy . . . isn’t that what we all desire for God not to be ashamed that we call Him our God?

How can we make that happen? First, and foremost by accepting Christ. That involves ‘saving faith’ in the work of Jesus on the cross. When we have faith in His death, that is, when we trust Him and what He did for us, then that saving faith guarantees us a place with God in heaven.

A twelve-year-old boy first expressed this saving faith during a revival. The next week at school his friends questioned him about the experience. “Did you see a vision?” asked one friend. “Did you hear God speak?” asked another. The youngster answered no to all these questions. “Well, how did you know you were saved?” they asked. The boy searched for an answer and finally he said: “It’s like when you catch a fish, you can’t see the fish or hear the fish; you just feel him tugging on your line. Well, I just felt God tugging on my heart.”

Some of you may be feeling that tugging on your heart today . . . right now. Maybe you’ve been feeling it for some time. What you feel is the Spirit, attempting to draw you closer to the Father, through saving faith in His Son.

But that’s just the beginning of faith, for today’s lesson invites us to begin living and operating in ‘practical faith’ – in our family life, our work, our social life, our church and countless other contexts in which we, as God’s people, are called upon to reject a posture of doubt, fear, and uncertainty to live our lives in bold confidence in the unseen God, His promises and instructions to us in His word, and His ultimate reward of everlasting life.

1. Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), pg. 11.

2. Elie Wiesel, Night, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pg. xix.

3. Corrie ten Boom, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 25th Anniversary Ed. (Chosen Books, 1997; orig. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1971), 58.