FAITH THAT SURVIVES
Pastor Dave Strem
RUBBER DUCKY AND OUR FAITH!
What is faith all about? How does it operate in the Christian life? It is one of those theological issues that have been debated and written about for centuries. I want to give you an illustration that hopefully will help you remember what God wants your faith to be like, what it is intended to do and how it operates. The illustration may seem silly or simplistic but think with me for a moment. It has to do with a rubber ducky.
I had a rubber ducky when I was a kid. The one thing I remember about a rubber ducky was when you put it under the water it always popped back up. The water can be clean, dirty, soapy, sudsy, whatever, it always popped up. The tub can be half full, full or overflowing, it did not matter. It always popped up because there is something on the inside that is greater than the forces on the outside that cause it to pop to the top. Something on the inside that is greater than all the forces on the outside that causes it to rise to the surface. And that is the picture of the way God wants the Christian faith to operate.
FAITH - DRIFT ALONG IN THE WATER?
Is there something inside of you that when the pressure starts to rise, when situations and stresses come into your life, that causes your heart and your spirit to rise above them? Or do you go to the bottom? If you open that ducky up and you let what is in the outside of the ducky to the inside of that ducky, it is not going to pop up so good anymore. It is going to come to a point of equilibrium and just kind of drift along in the water. And if you let what is on the outside fill up the ducky, it is a dead duck. It just lays on the bottom. It does not pop up any more. Why? Because there is nothing different from what is on the inside than what is on the outside. In your spiritual life, in your heart with God, is there something on the inside that is different than what is on the outside? God has designed us to be filled with His Spirit that should cause us to buoy up when confronted with the pressures and sins the world throws our way.
SUBSTANCE OF FAITH
That is what Hebrews chapter 11 is all about. Hebrews chapter 11 is called the Great Faith Chapter and it starts off by introducing the subject by saying, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." Faith is what you want to happen. It is knowing that there is something more than you are experiencing now.
There is something on the inside that is better than what is on the outside. There is something better inside you than is in the world. There needs to be something inside that is greater than the forces outside or else you are just drifting along with the rest of the world or laying on the bottom like a dead duck.
God said, "I will put a new heart in you." Essentially God is saying, "I will put my spirit in you because there is something more important than the things in this world. That is what you hope for and that is what is not seen and if you trust me I will make it a reality in your life." Hebrews 11 talks about this. Hebrews 11 gives us living examples of what faith looks like in real life.
WHERE IS GOD?
Verses 2-26 talk about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then we get down to Moses. I want to focus on him a little bit. Starting at verse 27. "By faith Moses left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger he persevered because he saw him who was invisible." He knew there was something more, somebody more important than all the things in this world put together. He saw there is more to this world and more to this life than what he could see in Egypt.
I look at the stars and I ask, "Where is God?" I do not see Him but I see His handiwork. I see the results of great intelligence and planning. When I look at a skyscraper or my house I know someone built it. Such design and function does not just happen. The human mind conceived it and human hands put it together. And how much more complex is this universe? And how much more intricate are the needs for advanced life on this planet? And yet here we are!
I do not see Him, but I know He is here. I also see Him working and speaking in the Scriptures. He has revealed Himself in human events to help us understand who He is. By Creation I know by faith that He is. By His work as seen in Scripture and the life of Jesus Christ I know what He is like and what He wants of us. And by faith I accept this despite everything I see in this world that says otherwise. That is what Moses saw. He lived in a land of abundance and dismissed it as unimportant and fleeting. He lived in a land filled with idols and the occult and saw through it to see the God of Creation reaching out for those who will walk with Him.
FAITH KNOWS GOD INTEVENES IN THE HISTORY
Then verse 28: "By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel." Huh? Who would believe that God would intervene in the history like He did in Israel's case during the Passover? That He would come and kill the firstborn of all the Egyptians and then somehow if you sprinkled your doorpost with blood that your firstborn would live. Some might have said, "That does not make sense. That does not sound like a loving, kind God. That does not sound right. That is really hard to believe that God is going to do that but just in case, 'Where is that blood, Martha? I am not going to take a chance.'" And that is what faith is. Faith believes the unbelievable. God said it and so I am going to trust it and I am going to live by it. It believes the unbelievable because it depends upon God's Word.
Verse 29: "By faith the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned." Faith accomplishes the impossible. No one was more surprised that the Red Sea parted than Moses himself. I do not think he was expecting it to happen. Not that he doubted, he just had never seen it before. But he did as God instructed and the waters parted.
Verse 30: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people had marched around them for seven days." Faith grasps a hold of and holds onto the intangible. Can you imagine trying to talk your soldiers and all your people into marching around for seven days singing songs and blowing trumpets? Can you grasp how intangible that is? Imagine being the leader and you are telling them to do this crazy thing. But God said it and His Word is enough and so by faith you do it. And the walls fell down.
EVEN THE POLLUTED BECOMES CLEAN
Look down in verse 31: "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient." Faith changes people. Why, of all the people in that city, was she spared? She aligned herself with what God was doing. According to her past life she did not deserve it. But that is the way repentance and change work. Align yourself with what God is doing and you will become a new person. Another way of saying this is, faith sees what is important even though everything else in your world is screaming otherwise.
CUT THE DUCKY OPEN AND SEE WHAT IS INSIDE IT!
Some of you might have a pen knife. Go ahead and cut that ducky open and see what is inside it. You cannot see anything, but there is something there because it always pops to the top. Faith is designed by God to lift you above your circumstances and to see what He has in mind. God wants to work in your life. God is ready to work in your life. He is knocking at the door. He is disposed to work in your life. But you have to respond to Him in faith. Katie and I prayed before we came here and said, "Lord, we will go anywhere you want us to go-in California." What a sense of humor. God did not listen to us because He had a better plan. And He has a better plan for you. Will you trust Him? Faith lifts you above your circumstances and gives God an opportunity to do something special in your life.
TWO KINDS OF FAITH
There are two kinds of faith. There is justifying faith and there is sanctifying faith. Let me explain the difference. Justifying faith is what gets you to heaven. It is believing that Christ is the Son of God and that He died for your sin. Justifying faith is what gets you to heaven. Sanctifying faith gets heaven into you. It is God reaching down and pouring His spirit into you and causing your life to be in harmony with Him and His ways.
We are afraid of that. Our inner dragon is afraid of that. Our dragon wants to stay in control. "I am afraid I am going to lose myself. My dragon is part of me and I have a right to get angry. I have a right to be mad. I have a right to be jealous. I have a right to be envious. It is who I am. If you take that away from me, what will I be like?" God says, "You will be loving, you will be kind, you will be good, you will be faithful, you will be gentle, you will be self-controlled." Let go of that dragon!
HOW DO WE GET MORE OF GOD? FAITH IS NOT JUST AN IDEA!
How do I get more of Him? What do I do to grow my faith? Like the disciples asked, "Lord, multiply our faith," we do not have enough. We do not really understand. God has a program for that. It is called "life." Life! And you get it by going to the U of A. Not Auburn, not Alabama, the University of Adversity. Huh? That does not sound like a very fun place. Do not give me that scholarship. I do not want to go there. Jesus said, "In this world you will always have problems, but take heart for I have overcome the world." Until you have adversity in your life, faith is just a notion. Faith is just an idea.
You can say, "I withstand that temptation." But until that temptation faces you and you have the opportunity to grasp it, you have not faced that temptation. Your faith has not been put to the test. Your faith has not grown. Faith only grows amidst adversity and the possibility of alternate choices. In the midst of adversity you see the reality that there is a God who is in control, that is sovereign, that has a better idea. He did it throughout Scripture. Without Jericho, Joshua would have just been a tour guide for disgruntled Israelites. Without Goliath, David would have just been a spoiled kid. Without the threat by a guy named Haman, Esther would have just been a beauty queen, eye candy for a king.
PROBLEMS ARE THERE TO NURTURE OUR LIFE AND FAITH
Right now you have some adversity in your life, you have some things you do not like. You have to choose, what are you going to do with them? Are you going to let God lift you up? Are you going to depend upon His promises to get through? We want problems to go away. God wants problems to nurture your life and your faith. When you have problems, you think God has abandoned you. But God says, "When you have problems you need me."
Let us return to the story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. In Exodus chapter 14, we have the problem of too much water. Israelites have just left Egypt and Pharaoh's army is coming to kill them or take them all back into slavery. Moses in Exodus 14:13 tells the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance of the people. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still." What does Moses expect to happen? Moses says, "Stand still and watch what God is going to do." As that army gets closer and closer, Moses gets a little worried. How do I know this? Look what it says in the verse 15. "Then the Lord said to Moses, why are you crying out to me?" Huh? Moses is crying out? And then He says, "Tell the Israelites to move on." "Lord, I just told them to stand still." "You told them wrong. You thought I was going to do one thing, but I am doing to do something else. You have never seen anything like I am going to do. This is going to be a different from what you have seen before. Turn around and use your staff and the people will walk through dry ground." God does not always act according to our expectations. The things He does are not meant to only solve a problem but He also wants to induce faith and trust from His people.
FAITH AND GOD'S DELIVERANCE
How did the Israelites react to God's deliverance at the Red Sea? Read Exodus 15. Verses 1-18 record a song of thanksgiving for God's deliverance. They thank Him for what He did. I am not sure they really praised the Lord because the song they are singing is not a song of faith, it is a song of thanksgiving. They did not believe God until He did it. We often do not want to praise God until the problem is over. But God wants the praise and God deserves the praise while you are in the midst of the problem because that is the praise of faith. Faith believes God before He acts. Trust is a settled faith that calms the heart in the midst of trouble. The Israelites did not have this faith. Within three days of such a marvelous work by God, their singing turned to sulking. Their music turned to murmuring. Their worshipping turned to worrying. Their celebration turned to complaining.
Exodus 15:22: "Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. Then they came to Marah and they could not drink the water because it was bitter."
People were complaining. "What kind of leader leads two million people to where there is bitter water? That is not the kind of leader I want to follow. He must not be very organized. He has not planned well. What kind of a God leads His people to where there is bitter water?" They are faithless but God wants to teach them. He says, "Watch this. Watch what happens." "So the people grumbled against Moses saying, what are we to drink? Then Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a piece of wood."
Other verses say, a tree. "And he threw it into the water and the water became sweet." Did you catch that? What did God do? We expected God to lead them to Elam where they go next, where there are twelve wells. Twelve wells for twelve tribes. What a perfect provision of God. But first he leads them to a place where there is bitter water. Why? Because He wants the people to know wherever they are He will take care of them. He will provide for them. He has the power and will use the power for their protection and their provision. He is teaching them to trust Him. He is teaching them to follow Him even when they do not understand what is going on.
You know, there is not a record of a single person that died of hunger or thirst in those forty years in the wilderness. But they were fearing it all the time. God gave them water. But did you see how God gave them water? They were in a place of bitter water and God showed them a tree. It says, "God showed him a tree."
The word "tree" used in this verse is the same word that Moses used in Deuteronomy where he said, "Cursed is anyone who hangs upon a tree." It is this verse that Paul quoted when he said, "Jesus freed us from the bondage to the law by becoming a curse himself for it is stated, he who hangs upon a tree is cursed."
Wherever there is bitterness, the cross can make a difference. Where there is bitterness, where there is sourness, where there is this huge problem you just do not know what to do, Jesus is there to make a difference. Faith that survives the pressures and temptations and unknowns must be rooted in the cross. Grab hold of the cross and all that went on there. Grab hold of what you learn about God there. Grab hold of the One who hung there for you and me. Persevere through the power of the cross. And as we study the fruit of the spirit, we will find them all at the cross.
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Pastor Dave Strem