One of my passions for the local church is spiritual formation - conversations about how we can grow in our faith journey. It is my belief that we are never done growing closer to God. I enjoy having conversations with people about how it is with their soul. For the next four weeks we are going to join together in a conversation about how it is with our souls and how we can continue to grow deeply in our relationships with God.
There is a Christian Band, Jonah 33, that has a powerful song “Faith Like That”. The chorus goes like this: “I want a faith like that. To see you pass by, or to see the dead rise. Oh I want a faith like that, whatever the cost, I’ll suffer the loss. Oh I, I want a faith like that.”
We talk a lot about faith in the church, but I’m not sure we all have the same starting place when using the word. For some of us faith in a personal belief in Jesus. For others its talking about amazing things that Jesus did long ago. For others its hoping for what will come. But I think these lyrics steer us perhaps in a different direction. Faith is confidence or trust. Its a belief in someone or something, that leads us to be loyal. Faith is that which we sink our roots down into. It defines who we are and effects how we live our lives.
We all put our faith into someone or something - that which we build out lives upon. What are some of the things that people put their trust in? Health. Wealth. Family. While we may have faith in God as the people of God, that isn’t automatically true for the world around us. Many people outside of the church don’t outright attack Christian beliefs, they just don’t think they are for them. Or they think its something you eventually outgrow.
Here’s the thing - some people do live their lives as if God doesn’t exist. But I want you to take a moment to imagine what life would truly be like if God didn't exist. God created everything. From the tiniest particles to the largest planet and everything in between. Until we start to grasp the fact that God created all we have, its hard to have faith in God.
I spend a lot of time reading obituaries. It’s simply part of the job. I read them each morning to see if people who are related to folks in the congregation have passed away so I can reach out to them. Have you ever noticed that obituaries touch on usually a mixture of three things. They always talk about relationships - who was important to this person, lists of names that represent family and friends. They also talk about things of interest to the deceased - organizations they belonged to and what their vocation was. But there are other things that rarely make it into obituaries, but I celebrate when they do - character and deeds. I want to know who this person was at a deep level. One of my favorite things to read was “so and so was a person of deep faith.” It makes my heart sing. I also love it when that sentence is followed by examples of how they lived out their faith in their daily lives- because friends that’s what matters most.
Hebrews 11 is considered the hall of fame of faith. It tells the stories of countless folks from the Hebrew Scriptures who were champions for God, people like Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and so on. Whenever I read chapter 11 in Hebrews I see broken people who lived lives that pleased God. All the people listed weren’t perfect. In fact in many of their cases, scripture includes stories of how they screwed up along the way of serving God. But at the end of the day, they were still considered folks who pleased God because they had faith in God.
At the beginning of this great list of saints we find the words “and without faith it is impossible to please God.” Friends, at the end of all our lives I want us to be people who the first thing family members think to put in our obituaries is that we were people of faith who tried to live a life pleasing to God.
In Hebrews, chapter 12, the author goes on to tell us what a life of faith looks like. First, when we are part of a life of faith, we know that we don’t go through life alone. We are bing cheered on by the cloud of witnesses - the Saints who went on to glory before us - who are cheering us on.
When you think about the Saints who taught you about faith who comes to mind? I think of Alberta - who for the entire time I knew her she was homebound either in a bed or a chair. Yet, every time I saw her she had a story about how God had been good to her and what God was revealing to her through scripture. I think of Cheryl, home on hospice as cancer claimed her life far too soon, who kept telling me that the only thing getting her through this time was her relationship with God who she was going home to be with. I think of Seymour, who fought a hard battle with heart disease, but knew that his heart was clean before his Lord. These are just some of the saints who touched me, brothers and sisters, who do you think about?
Pastor Theodore Wardlaw said, “memory is not just a recollection of the past, it is a way of preparing for the future.” When we think about these Saints from our lives and what they taught us about living a life of faith, we see how they also have encouraged us to carry their legacy into the future by how we live our lives.
Second, in order to live a life of faith, we need to get rid of that which is weighing us down and holding us back. Let’s be honest for a minute folks, there is still a lot of sin with in the church, is there not? Selfishness. Quarreling. Greed. Gossip. Just to name a few. Lord forgive us, for it is weighing us down in our walk with Jesus. When we care more about what the person sitting next to us in the pew thinks then what Jesus thinks, forgive us, we are being held back. When we care more about getting our way, then what honors and glorifies God with who we are and what we have, Jesus forgive us, for we are being weighed down. In our faith life, we need to shed what is unnecessary in order to stay the course.
Third, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, our high priest, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. The one who modeled for us what endurance looks like. How do we cultivate endurance in the faith? Through spiritual practice. Two I would like to suggest today are watching for God and fasting. When we watch for God we take time to notice what God is doing in our lives. Doing so helps us realize that we are not alone in our lives and that God is always with us. A great place to start is looking for those things that you would consider a coincidence at first glance and recognizing if the hand of God is present.
Fasting allows us to intentionally set aside things - food, entertainment, etc. - in our lives in order to focus on God. Sometimes we can get distracted by other people and things in our lives that make us take our eyes off of Jesus and stray in our faith journey. Fasting helps us get our focus and priorities back in the right place as we move forward following God.
Friends, how is your faith walk going? Where are the places where you need to focus more on Jesus? What are the sins you need to shed that are weighing you down? How are the Saints encouraging you and cheering you on? May we all cry together “I want a faith like that. To see you pass by, or to see the dead rise. Oh I want a faith like that, whatever the cost, I’ll suffer the loss. Oh I, I want a faith like that.” Amen.