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Faith Walk: Trust and Obey

March 6, 2011
Sermon: Faith Walk: Trust and Obey
Text: Hebrews 11:6

 

Today, on this Sunday before the season of Lent, we begin a new sermon series entitled Faith Walk. This series is important in the life of Morningside, especially at this time.  On Wednesday night, we will meet here in the Sanctuary to discuss the next step forward in what we have called our Extreme Makeover.  The congregation will vote next Sunday morning on whether to take that step.

This series is important in the life of the church, but it is also important in my life.  I have learned during my forty-five years in the ministry that every now and then, I need a spiritual front-end alignment.  I can get out of whack and go off in my own direction, but I find that God continues to bring me back into His way.  Obeying God’s guidance is at least a part of what it means to walk by faith.  We must walk in the way that the Lord directs.  With that in mind, I want to begin this series, treating us as if we were little children learning to walk for the first time.  In my life, I find that I must occasionally have these moments of beginning again.

My intention is to give you several passages from the Bible every Sunday during this series.  Take these Scriptures home and write them in a journal.  My hope is that at the end of the season of Lent when we meet on Easter Sunday morning, you will have a collection of passages that will help you better understand what it means for a Christian to walk by faith.

The first passage I will read for your hearing today is from the Old Testament.  Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”  The second passage comes from what is known as the Great Faith Chapter.  We will look at one short verse, Hebrews 11:6:  “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”

In thinking about what children need in order to become the healthy adults that all of us want them to be, I turn to two scholars who have done some very definitive work in the area of child development.  Eric Erikson, a psychologist, said that the basic task of early childhood is the development of trust.  From the moment of birth, children need to know a basic sense of trust with those who are so important in their world.  They need to trust their parents.  They need to trust that their needs will be met.  They need to believe that food, clothing, and shelter will be provided.  That basic sense of trust is the very foundation of healthy human psychological development.  Now all of us would agree that children, at one time or another, must learn not to trust some people.

The second expert, Lawrence Kohlberg did the definitive work on how people develop a moral conscience.  He said that in order for children to grow into healthy adults with a healthy moral consciousness, they must learn to obey.  Children must learn the perimeters, the limits, placed on their lives.  They must learn that yes means yes, and no means no.  They must learn simple obedience.

Trust and obedience are vital in the development of children as they grow into adulthood.  I think immediately about the hymn with the words, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.”  You can see how important those two concepts are when we talk about learning to walk in faith.  If children are to learn to walk, they certainly have to trust that someone will catch them if they fall and help them to stand.  They must also learn that they cannot venture into some places.  They have limits.

Walking by faith is very much that way.  It is a matter of faith.  It is a matter of trust.  It is a matter of obedience.  Walking by faith means that we learn to believe, even when we cannot see.  Hebrews 11:1 words this concept clearly:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Henry Blackaby, who wrote Experiencing God, says that it is impossible to please God unless we have faith.    Blackaby defines faith:

Faith is visualizing the future in advance.  It is seeing the future in the present.  Every great achievement began when somebody saw it (the future) in advance.  We didn’t put a man on the moon until one day John F. Kennedy stood up and said, “Let’s put a man on the moon.”  When he said that, the technology had not even been invented.  Faith is believing when I don’t see it.  Some things have to believed before they can be seen.  The world says, “Seeing is believing.”  God says, “Believing is seeing.”

I want to please God.  I want my life to be pleasing to God.  We all must believe in order to see.

Walking by faith means obeying even when we do not understand.  Hebrews 11:8 refers to the time when God spoke to Abraham and gave him orders to move.  Abraham had lived a long life.  This old guy was old enough to draw Social Security.  At seventy-five years old, his life was all patterned.

God said to him, “Listen.  I want you to pack up – lot, stock, and barrel – and move.”

Abraham asked, “Where are we going?”

God answered, “I will tell you when we get there.  You are going to a land that you know not of.”

What an uncertain way to launch out, especially when Abraham was seventy-five years old.  What an uncertain way for Abraham to go into the future without having any idea where his journey was going to lead.

Abraham asked, “How will I know when I get there?”

God replied, “I will let you know.”

Persistent, Abraham inquired, “How long will it take?”

Again, God responded with an indefinite answer, “We will see.”

We see so much uncertainty about this journey. The book of Hebrews says that walking by faith means obeying even when we do not see all the answers.  Walking by faith means trusting, even if it is counterintuitive, even if it goes opposite to what we would ordinarily believe.

Let me be quick to say that walking by faith will not make us exempt from the wear-and-tear of life.  This way of faith is filled with all kinds of potholes, all kinds of detours, all kinds of hazards.  Walking by faith does not mean that everything is going to be perfect.  In fact, anybody could walk this path if everything went smoothly all the time.  The truth is that we demonstrate faith when we go through hard times, when we go through the valleys, when we find the situation seemingly impossible and hopeless.

Only through difficulty can people of faith understand that they cannot lean on their own understanding.  We must trust God to direct our paths.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5).  Faith is trusting, even when we do not get it.  We believe God has a better idea.  If He tells us to step out, we dare not disobey Him.  It is what we need to do.  Walking by faith means that we walk, trusting and obeying as we go.  It is a fact that I have had to learn over and over again.

This week, I was privileged to go to Kanuga Conference Center and hear a remarkable woman named Kathleen Norris speak there.  Norris has written some wonderful books about her life and experience in walking by faith.  I was delighted to be able to meet this ordinary woman.  If she walked into this Sanctuary and worshipped with us, you would greet her as a visitor, but you  would probably not realize that she is known across our nation.  Though she has gained much national attention, she is as humble as anyone I have met in a long, long time.  Her whole experience is based on the central idea that it is impossible to please God without faith.

Norris is not a theologian, but many people say that her writings are quite theological.  She says that she gets most of her theology from poetry.  She quoted a number of poets at the conference this week, including Emily Dickenson, who wrote, “‘Consider the lilies’ is the only commandment I have ever obeyed” (Luke 12:27).

Kathleen Norris says that when we talk about the commandments of God, we are often talking about the Ten Commandments.  Norris searched the Gospels and found that we have many, many commandments from the lips of Jesus.  Consider the first commandment of Jesus to his disciples, “Follow me” (Mark 1:7).  What a commandment!  The disciples left their nets and their boats.  Two disciples left their father standing in the boat.  These men had no idea where they were going or what they were going to do.  They hardly knew the person they were following, but they followed in trust and obedience.

At the very end of his earthly ministry, after his resurrection, Jesus took those same disciples to a high mountain.  Before he disappeared from their sight, he gave them another commandment:  “Go into all the world…” (Mark 16:15).  Jesus’ entire ministry with his disciples is bracketed by the two commandments:  “Follow me,” and “Go into all the world.”

Think about the many other commandments Jesus gave to his disciples in the intervening three years.  “Look at the birds” (Matthew 6:26).  “Ask; seek; knock” (Matthew 7:7).  “Let your light shine” (Matthew 5:16).  “Be still” (Mark 4:39).  “Forgive” (Matthew 18:21-22).  “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25).  “Love God” (Luke 10:27).  “Love other people” (John 13:34).  Those of us who are disciples will also receive a long series of commandments from the Lord Jesus.

Two commandments that are especially important for us today are “Remember me,” and “Drink all of it” (Luke 22:19-20).  How are we to respond?  We must respond with trust and with obedience.

Through the years, I have told my children a story.  I have also shared the story with you, but I share it again today.  A boy about twelve years old lived in east Tennessee.  One night his father, who was very sick in bed, called him to his bedside and said, “Son, I need you to go out to the barn and feed the livestock.”

The son said, “Dad, it’s so dark and cold out there.”

“Yes, it is dark, but you know the way.  Take the lantern, and you will be able to see the path.”

The boy took the lantern to the back door.  When he opened it, he saw that it was snowing heavily.  He returned to his father and said, “Dad, I cannot even see the barn.”

“Son, can you see the path?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Hold the lantern high and take one step on the path.  Hold it high again, and you will be able to see the next step, and then the next and the next.  Before long, you will reach the barn.”

Walking by faith is similar.

I was talking with a young man I admire very much yesterday.  He had started his own business.  Unsure about what the future held, he said, “I wish God would lay out the whole plan for me all at once.”

“No, you don’t wish that.”

He agreed, “No, it would probably blow my mind.”

Seeing all that lies ahead of us would certainly scare us to death.  God does not show us the entire plan.  He shines enough light on the path so that we can see the next step.  Our responsibility is to trust and obey as we walk in faith.

We come to this table today and take these elements because Jesus told us to take the bread and cup.  As we follow his commandment by trusting and obeying, we make a commitment to continue to walk a life of faith.

I would remind you that this table does not belong to Morningside.  It is not a Baptist table.  It is the Lord’s table.  Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is invited to take a part in this supper.  Let us take the supper together.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread.  He blessed it and broke it.  He said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.”

Prayer of Blessing for the Bread:  Dear Heavenly Father, we come to Your table today to take this bread, which signifies Your body that was broken on that cross.  How we thank You for Your love and grace, for the sacrifice made for each and every one of us.  Right here and now, Lord, we dedicate our lives to You.  Lord, we love You.  We trust You.  Help us, Lord, to hear Your Word and to be obedient.  It is in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, that we pray.  Amen.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine.
For Thee, all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, given for you.”  Eat this as often as you do it in remembrance of him.  Eat all of it.

Prayer of Blessing for the Cup:  Father, we come as Your children at this time of worship.  In the quietness of this hour, we are grateful.  We thank You, Father, for Your love that was fully expressed in the cross.  We thank You for that living hope that is given as we come to accept You as our Savior.  Thank You for this time to remember.  Guide our steps in all that we do and say.  May they honor You.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me.
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink all of it.

Today’s sermon is a prelude to the season of Lent, which actually begins Wednesday.  Throughout this holy season, we will consider what it means to walk by faith, what it means to have the faith to walk with God.  I hope that you will pray for these worship services and for the special vespers planned on Sunday nights.

Have you taken that first step of faith?  Have you accepted Jesus and asked him to come into your heart?  You can accept Jesus and show him that you are willing to trust and obey his commandments.  I ask you to respond as God leads you.

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2011
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