Tuesday, October 09, 2012

October 7, 2012 - Spiritual Gifts - The Three R's: Faith

Hebrews 11:1-3

I have a brother-in-law – one of Tanya’s brothers – who is a member of the Air Force.  Mike has been in the Air Force for close to thirty years, and has been a pilot for even longer.  Mike learned to fly as teenager, and quickly moved from one type of license to another.  I vividly remember when he was preparing for his test to earn his instrument license.  To earn an instrument license means you have to be able to fly an airplane – from take-off to landing – solely by the instrument panel.  When he took his test the windows of the plane were covered so he was unable to see anything outside of the cockpit.  That is literally flying blind. 

Could you do that?  I don’t think I could.  It’s hard to go where you cannot see.  But in a sense, isn’t that what faith asks us to do?  To go where we cannot see?  Isn’t one of the difficulties of faith that we are asked to trust God as he leads us where we cannot see?

As we draw near the end of our series on spiritual gifts, this morning we come to the gift of faith.  Perhaps it’s odd to think of faith as a gift, but in our increasingly skeptical, scientific age, I think it is a gift to be able to live on faith.

Is faith still relevant in our modern world?  Has the idea of faith – and God – become obsolete because of advanced scientific knowledge and technological progress?  No.  Well, you didn’t really think I was going to say yes did you?

In spite of the challenges to faith, I cannot imagine living without it.  There have been times when I have struggled with the idea of faith, and there is nothing wrong with that struggle, because I believe that struggle deepens our faith.  We should never fear challenges to faith, because the challenges ultimately strengthen faith.

The difficulty of approaching faith as a topic is trying to narrow it down to the time frame we have today.  Everything we say and do in worship and in church in general, is founded upon faith, so how do we narrow it down to a few minutes of discussion?  This morning, I want to make just a few points about faith, and it is certainly not an exhaustive list of points.

Faith is a way of seeing.
Some years ago I read a story about a man named John Turner.  John Turner grew up very, very poor, and as a young man he developed an interesting practice.  Based on Hebrews 11:1 – faith is…the evidence of things not seen he created what he called an evidence jar.  His evidence jar was a way or reminding himself to see life in a different way.  It was a way of knowing that just because you couldn’t see something didn’t mean it couldn’t become a reality.  Although he saw no possible way to have a better life, into that evidence jar went as much money as he managed to save.  He eventually saved enough money to work toward a new and a better life.  After marrying and starting a family, he continued the idea of seeing what life could be, but in a different way.  Each time he and his wife welcomed a new child into their family he would place two empty frames on the wall – one for their high school diploma and one for their college diploma.  At one point there were 13 blank frames on their wall.  Isn’t that an fascinating way to think about the future?

People sometimes talk about blind faith, but faith is not blind.  Faith is the ability to see life, and the world around us, in a different way.  It is the ability to look at our world and see that we are not here by accident, but by divine design.  It is the ability to think about life and understand that life is not meaningless, but has a purpose.  It is the ability to consider the future and understand that however difficult, uncertain, or even frightening the future might be, that God will bear us into that future.

Some people say that seeing is believing, demanding some kind of evidence-based reality, but faith says that believing is seeing.  What we believe will dictate what we see.  If the lens of my life is skepticism, that will have a profound affect on how I see my own life, the lives of others, the world and the way it should work.  If my lens of seeing the world is one of faith, that dramatically affects how I will interact with other people and even how I treat other people.  So faith gives us the ability to see.

Faith gives us the ability to go where we would not go, and do what we would not do.
When Nick and Tyler were younger we visited the zoo in Louisville on a regular basis, and other zoos as we traveled.  I love going to zoos.  I love to look at the animals – except the snakes, I never really enjoyed the reptile houses – and learning interesting facts about each animal. 

The African impala, a member of the antelope family, is an animal that can teach us a great lesson about faith.  National Geographic says the impala can leap as far as 33 feet in a single forward leap.  Can you picture 33 feet?  From the front of this platform, where I am standing, 33 feet reaches to almost the back row of chairs.  That means that if I had the ability to leap like an impala I could leap out and wake up the back row and leap back up here before you knew what happened.  The impala can also leap upwards, in a single leap, as high as 10 feet.  We all know how far 10 feet is – that’s the height of a basketball goal.  But in many zoos they live in enclosures with walls no higher than three feet tall, because there is another interesting characteristic of an impala – it will not leap where it cannot see.

I am not an adventurous person.  If I were a member of the animal kingdom I would not be an impala.  Not because of any leaping ability – my vertical leap is about two inches – but because I prefer to know where I am going, what is going to happen, and any other detail I can discover.

We might feel led by the Spirit to step out into some kind of ministry to which we are suited, but we can’t see far enough to know all the details and answer all our questions, so we fail to take the leap of faith.  We might see a situation where we might minister to another, but we feel we aren’t qualified, so we fail to take the leap of faith.  We want to mend a relationship but we fear we might not be well received, so we fail to take the leap of faith.  We want to step across the chasm of separation that keeps us from building a relationship with someone who is different, but we feel uncomfortable, so we fail to take the leap of faith.  We have within us the potential to be an impala of faith, but because we cannot always know every detail and see everything that is ahead of us, we stay behind a safe wall rather than taking the leap of faith.

In II Corinthians 5:7 Paul describes faith by writing we walk by faith, not by sight.  The writer of Hebrews, as you continue reading through chapter 11, gives a long list of characters who walked by faith – who went where they would not have gone and did what they would not have done had it not been for faith.  Abraham, who very literally walked by faith, leaving his home for a place God had yet to show him.  Moses, leading the Hebrew people on a journey that was less about sight and a great deal about faith.  As the writer of Hebrews continues we find added to the list those who are nameless to history but continue to serve as great examples of living by faith, going where they would not have gone and doing what they would not have done, except for faith.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, relates a story of an encounter as he traveled the subway in New York City.  People were sitting quietly, reading their newspapers or resting, when a man and his children entered the subway car.  The man sat down next to Covey and closed his eyes.  His children were loud and obnoxious, and the father seemed completely oblivious to the situation.  They were yelling back and forth, throwing things, and even grabbing people’s papers.  As disturbing as it was, the father kept his eyes closed and did nothing.  Covey became irritated, as did the others in the car.  How could this father allow his children to become so loud and engage in such a way?

Finally, Covey could not remain silent.  He turned to the man and said, Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more.  The man raised up as if he had been completely unaware of what was going on and quietly said, Oh, you’re right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either. 
Covey was stunned.  At that moment, everything shifted in how he viewed the situation.  He said, Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently.  My irritation vanished.  My heart was filled with the man’s pain.  Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.  “Your wife just died?  I’m so sorry.  Can you tell me about it?  What can I do to help.”  Everything changed in an instant.
(Living the Questions:  The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, pp 208-209)

How will life make you think differently?  Act differently?  Treat others differently?  Live differently?  Where will it take you that you would not have gone?  What will it lead you to do that you would not have done?

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