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Faith Walk: Faith without Sight

April 3, 2011
Sermon: Faith Walk:  Faith without Sight
Text: II Corinthians 4:18; 5:7; Hebrews 11:1

Today as we continue our series of sermons entitled Faith Walk, I will do my best to help you understand the somewhat difficult concept of walking by faith and not by sight.  I want to read three passages of Scripture as a way to begin the sermon.  I will mention other references along the way.

 

II Corinthians 4:18:  “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
II Corinthians 5:7:  “For we live by faith, not by sight.”  (Some translations say, “For we walk by faith…”
Hebrews 11:1:  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

 

Someone asked the great pioneer Daniel Boone if he had ever been lost.  He replied, “No, I have never been lost, but for about three days one time, I was thoroughly confused.”

His response, in some ways, describes the Christian life.  It is true that at times we are clear about the faith we are to follow.  At other times we are thoroughly confused.  The Scriptures talk about the Christian life as living by faith and not by sight, living by the assurance that God will guide us.  We are not to rely on our own ingenuity or our own wisdom, which is certainly flawed.

We have known people who are blind.  Two of my second cousins, brothers, were blind.  Max and Sam Lawton were born blind.  Some of you who have a little mileage on you may have actually heard one or the other of these very good preachers.  During a sermon it looked as if they never used any notes, but they read Scripture beautifully by moving their hands across a Braille Bible on the pulpit.  Simply by moving their fingertips across bumps on the page, they read the language of their blindness.

We have known others who were blind.  Perhaps the person we know best is Helen Keller.  As a child, Helen Keller had a disease which caused her to lose her hearing, her ability to speak, and her eyesight.  A remarkable woman, she said one time, “I was in a world of darkness until someone took my hand and with her fingers made an attempt to communicate with me.  It opened up a world to me.”  Of course, that “someone” was Anne Sullivan.  Helen Keller often talked about what she could see though blind.  She said, “Life is beautiful, but the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched.  They must be felt with the heart.”

Have you ever imagined that you were blind?  Have you ever tried to understand what it must be like to be blind as you stumbled through the dark when the power went out during the middle of the night?

Back in the early 1960s, before watches that glowed in the dark or cell phones, I took a trip through Carlsbad Caverns.  The ranger guiding our trip said, “We are going to give you an opportunity to experience total darkness.”  As we stood there in the depths of that enormous cave, he extinguished the lights.  Absolute darkness surrounded us.

I have thought about living life in a world of darkness.  The Bible says that it is into exactly that kind of human situation that Jesus came into the world.  “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has never overcome it” (John 1:5).  In a world of darkness, which is the absence of light, we have the light of Christ to guide us, to show us the way.

Sometimes on youth retreats, teenagers are led through various team-building stations in what is called a faith walk.  They assist each other in climbing over walls and doing all kinds of exercises that encourage people to work cooperatively.  One of those exercises, called a fake fall, requires people to stand on a stump and hold their arms across their chest.  They fall backwards, somewhat like the people taking the Nestle iced tea plunge.  They are dependent upon their friends for safety.  They must have faith that their companions will catch them.  Living the life of faith is similar to that team-building experience.

Years ago I attended a youth retreat at Camp Greenville, located near Caesar’s Head.  The person in charge of the evening session said, “We are going on a faith walk together through the woods.  We will have no lights.  There will be no talking, but you can hold the hand of the person in front of you.”  This guide had obviously been on this route many times.

As we made our way through the forest that moonless night, we really could not see the next step ahead of us.  We eventually came to a paved area and entered one of the most beautiful chapels in South Carolina, Pretty Place.  Some of you have seen that little chapel perched on the brink of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.  In the dark of night, we saw the sky above filled with stars and the valleys below filled with lights.  Walking by faith is similar to walking in the darkness along a path.  We cannot see anything, but then suddenly we have a wonderful revelation that makes us realize that God is, indeed, in charge.  He is leading and guiding our lives.

Walking by faith and not by sight impacts our lives in numerous ways.  First, it impacts us at the point of authority.  Where do we get our information?  Whom do we trust?  Do we trust the news media?  Do we trust the The Wall Street Journal?  Do we trust the stock market?  How are we to seek guidance for our lives?

I have spent a lot of time this week with our two-year-old grandson.  In the middle of one night when he was sleeping over, he said, “PK, sing me a song.”  I sang “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford.  That song did not suit him a bit.

He said, “No, PK.  Sing the B-I-B-L-E.”

At 2:30 in the morning, we sang together, “The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the book for me.  I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”  Clare woke up to the songs of this old codger and a little boy coming through the intercom.  She turned off the intercom in our bedroom and went back to sleep.  Our singing was like a nightmare for her.

Think about the words of that children’s song.  Isn’t the source of authority God’s Word?  This theme of walking by faith, as hard as it is to understand and conceptualize, runs throughout the Bible.

Clare and I were riding in the car together near Columbia when we received the call that Erik had died.  As soon as we got off the cell phone, Clare reached over and touched my arm.  She said, “Kirk, I don’t know where this passage is, but this is for us:  ‘The eternal God is your resting place and underneath are the everlasting arms’” (Deuteronomy 33:27).  God carries us when our own strength will not sustain us.

The Bible is the source of authority for amazing promises from God.  It is the one foundation on which we can depend.  God’s Word to Joshua was, “Be strong and of good courage.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be discouraged.  I will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).   A favorite of so many people is Jeremiah 29:11:  “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to do you good and not harm, to give you a future and a hope.’”  These are words spoken to people in exile, but they are words for us, as well.  Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”  Those promises are just as true today as they were on the day they were spoken.  God made these promises to help us walk by faith, not by sight.

This faith walk also impacts our relationship to material possessions.  So often we depend on what we have or own.  We have a lot of anxiety about our belongings, but Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  It is the reason Jesus points us to the birds and flowers in Matthew 6:26.  He sums up his assessment of our relationship to the material world by saying, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).  This passage says, “You have to make God’s kingdom your priority, not obtaining more and more things.  Everything else will fall into place.  Walk by faith, not by sight.”

Jesus told his disciples a parable, one they did not understand.  He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven” (Matthew 19:24).  There in Jerusalem was a small pedestrian gate, colloquially called the Needle’s Eye.  Occasionally, caravans came to that gate, wanting to enter Jerusalem.  Jesus may have been standing near and pointing to that gate while giving this teaching.

Think about what had to happen for a camel, loaded with cargo, to enter through the Needle’s Eye.  First, it had to kneel down on all fours, a feat possible only for camels and elephants because they have four knees.  While the camel knelt, all cargo was unloaded.  Then the camel scooted through that small gate.

The point Jesus was making to his disciples is that in order for a rich man to enter heaven, he has to be willing to unload his cargo.  He must divest himself of all the material possessions that obstruct his path to heaven.  He has to humble himself, symbolized by getting down on his knees and moving through the gate.

The Apostle Paul learned this teaching over the course of his life or maybe even while imprisoned.  In Philippians 4:12-13, he made the remarkable comment, “I have learned the secret of contentment.  I know what it means to have plenty, what it means to live in prosperity.  I know how to be abased.  I know what it is to live in want.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Learning that secret is one way that we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

The third area of impact I would mention is the area of suffering.  Absolutely nothing will bring us to a point of understanding our limitations, our own weaknesses, like suffering.  Paul again experienced that.  He had what he called in II Corinthians 12:7 “a thorn in the flesh,” but he also had many other troubles, as well.  He said, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).  He meant that when he came to the end of his rope, the Father provided more strength.

This idea that suffering leads us to walk by faith is probably best exemplified in the life of Job, a man who suffered terribly.  His friends were really helpful during the seven days they sat in silence.  Once they opened their mouths to offer an explanation for his suffering, they made a royal mess of things.  Job had many questions about his suffering, but God did not answer one single question as far as I can tell from my reading of the book of Job.  Regardless, Job had the assurance that God is sovereign, that God is still in charge.  God is always with us. He is always faithful.

The Bible includes many illustrations of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.  Consider Noah, who began building an ark when no clouds were visible in the sky.  If I read the Scriptures correctly, it had never rained before the time of Noah, yet God told him to build an ark.  Noah obeyed God.  Abraham, at age seventy-five, was told to leave his home and go to a land that he did not know.  God told him, “I want you to take a trip, Abraham, but I’m not revealing the location of your destination.”  Abraham walked by faith, not by sight, on this journey.  Moses, a fugitive from Egypt, stood at the burning bush.  God directed, “Moses, I want you to return to the place where you are a wanted man and declare to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’”  Though full of excuses, Moses did as God directed.  Samuel, just a boy, heard a voice in the night that he thought was Eli.  He learned to pay attention, and God led him.  David, the man after God’s own heart, strayed on many occasions.  The building of a temple was in his mind’s eye, but he never saw its construction.  His son, Solomon, built it.  Consider Daniel’s experience, or consider Peter, who tried walking on water.

Maybe one of the finest examples of what it means to walk by faith is Thomas, the disciple much maligned because of his doubts.  How many times have I heard a sermon stating that if Thomas had only been in church, he would not have missed Jesus the first time?  Give the guy a break.  Give him a little privacy.  He was a twin, after all.  He, like the other disciples, was grieving.  Some people need to grieve privately.  Thomas saw Jesus; he saw the evidence.  Jesus gave to Thomas the last beatitude:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Does this mean that faith is blind faith?  I do not think so.

At Easter time our family sometimes watches in our home a wonderful film by Zeffirelli, Jesus of Nazareth.  One scene shows Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus to old Simeon in the temple.  Zeffirelli portrays Simeon as being blind, yet he spoke these words while holding Jesus in his arms:  “Lord, let us now Thou servant depart in peace.  For my eyes have seen Thy salvation…” (Luke 2:29-30).  I do not know if Simeon was truly blind, but it is possible to see many things that go beyond eyesight.

Stephen Covey says that people who are effective begin with the end in mind.  They have vision.  The Scriptures say, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).  That vision is not walking in our own strength, walking in our own wisdom.  It is having a clear idea about the direction God wants us to go, about our final destination.  As Christian people, we have a sense of vision.  Sometimes our way is much clearer than at other times.  At every step along the way, though, we have the assurance that God is leading the way.  Even Jesus had this kind of vision.  The book of Hebrews says, “It was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).  In other words, Jesus could see beyond the cross.  He could see that the cross itself was a step in his long pilgrimage.

On Friday of this week, I celebrated the anniversary of my ordination, April Fool’s Day, 1970.  I have been ordained for forty-one years.  When I count the total number of years in my ministry, I go back to the year I received my license.  I have actually been in ministry forty-five years.  At that time, Clare and I were members at Crescent Hill Baptist Church.  John Claypool was the outstanding pastor there.  He was also my professor of preaching.  Claypool taught me that preaching must be confessional, that it should come right out of my own bloodstream.  He told me not to preach abstracts, but to preach about my experiences, matters that I know.  He said, “If you preach like that, Kirk, you will resonate with other people.  What is happening in your life and what is happening in their lives is pretty much the same.”  The prophets, as well as Jesus, preached right out of their own circumstances.

Many tragic events occurred in John Claypool’s life.  When his daughter died of leukemia, as happens so often when parents lose a child, John and his wife were divorced.  After that, of course, he was not eligible to serve as Baptist pastor.  After a long period of discernment, he went into the Episcopal priesthood.  He died in September 2005 at the age of seventy-four.

Claypool chaired my ordination council and preached my ordination sermon.  In that sermon, he read a beautiful poem entitled “The Desiderata.”  He included a bookmark containing a copy of that poem in the Bible I was presented at my ordination.  Later, I pasted the poem in the frontispiece of that Bible.

 

The Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

 

I would submit to you that this poem offers a way of walking by faith, not by sight.

This concept, which is difficult to understand, came into clear focus for me Tuesday night.  I participated in book-signing of local authors at the Spartanburg Public Library.

A woman I did not know came by the table where I had displayed my books.  My age, maybe a little older, she was obviously lonely.  She talked and she talked and she talked.

In the course of the conversation, she said, “I don’t have children.  That was disappointing at first, but now I’m glad.  I would not want to bring children into this terrible world.”

I sat quietly, but she pressed me for a response.

When I said, “My wife and I have five children,” she rolled her eyes back in her head.  I added, “And we have seven grandchildren.”

She expressed shock, then asked, “Don’t you worry about them?”

“Life is fragile.  There are certainly dangers, but my hope is that our children and grandchildren will make this world a better place.”  I told her about Erik.  She picked up a copy of When Grief Comes and read the words on the back cover.  Then she put the book down and walked away from me.  That was the end of our conversation.

I have had some time to think about that encounter and pray about it.  This world is a frightening place to live.  I receive e-mail after e-mail after e-mail from people telling me many terrible stories.  Many of these people are Christians living in fear.  I understand.  I read the newspaper.  I listen to the news.

When I got home from the library, I was greeted by an excited two-year-old grandson.  He was so happy to see me, and I was glad to see him.  His mother was in labor at the hospital, and he had come to stay the night with us.  By midnight, he had become a big brother.  By midnight, Clare and I had eight grandchildren.

On Wednesday morning, I went to the hospital with that little two-year-old to see his baby sister.  While there, I got to hold our beautiful granddaughter, who, by the way, has a full head of hair.  She is almost as beautiful as your grandchildren, not quite but almost.  At this point in her life, she has no way of knowing who I am.  As my arms were under her, supporting her, she reached out her little hand and held onto my finger.  In some ways, this is a rudimentary form of faith, simple trust.  “This guy who has me in his arms is going to hold me.”  Simply by reaching out and taking my finger, she expressed – at nine hours old – a simple form of faith.

I left the hospital and drove to Summit Hills to see my dad.  I wanted to tell him about this new great-grandchild.  I walked into his room and sat down by the bed.  Though Dad is not very responsive now, I reached out and took his hand, the hand that first held me on a hot August night in 1944.  I learned to trust that hand that first supported me so many years earlier.

With the ninety-year-old hand of my father in my hand, I tried to rouse him.  I said, “Dad, you have a new great-granddaughter.”  It is his forty-third great-grandchild.

He opened his eyes a bit and said one word, “Wonderful.”  Then he went back to sleep.

You can see with the eyes of Helen Keller, but you must live by faith and not by sight.  Many terrible events happen in this world that cause us to be afraid, but we must believe that God is sovereign, that He is in control, that His everlasting arms are our refuge.  You can see the beauty of the world with your heart if you believe that God will never leave you and never forsake you, if you believe the words “Be strong and of good courage.  Do not be afraid.  I will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).  You can see that the birth of a child is a wonderful event.  As Christian people, we are called to walk by faith and not by sight.  I can think of no better way to put this difficult concept than to put it right in the circle of life.  From the day we are born until the day we die and beyond, this is the way God expects us to live our lives.  I believe that with all my heart.

Do you believe that this is the way we are to live?  When we make a decision to accept Christ as our Savior, to acknowledge him as Lord of our lives, we say, “This is the way we choose.”  Certainly we falter at times.  We waver.  It happens to the best of us.  Could I invite you to live by faith, not by sight?  I invite you to accept Christ as your Savior, acknowledge him as Lord of your life.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© April 2011
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