November 6, 2011

The Adventure of Faith

Passage: Genesis 12:1-4, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-19

It is an honour to be with you today.  I want to thank you for your support of the men and women of our CANADIAN FORCES.  It is a privilege to represent you in the United Church to minister to these brave soldiers, sailors and air force personnel who put it all on the line for us.  I cherish your prayers for our troupes and for myself in my ministry to them.

The CANADIAN FORCES is an adventure... you never know what assignment may come or where you will be sent next... Libya, Afghanistan, or any base across Canada.  I love an adventure! It is one of the reasons that I was drawn to become a chaplain in the CANADIAN FORCES.

If you think about it, the life of every Christian is an adventure… and Adventure of Faith!  You never know where God is going to lead you next!  The word Adventure comes from the same two Latin words that we get Advent from.  It means coming/going and to/toward.  As a Christian we are on a journey – a journey heavenward.  In Christ we have the assurance of a glorious destination in the healing presence of the Father.  This is not in doubt.  It is guaranteed by the Christ’s death and resurrection and we are sealed for that Day by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  But, we are not there yet… And in this life, we must walk the journey, live the adventure.  There are no short cuts.  And YOUR engagement in this adventure is somehow vital to God’s realization of His kingdom in this world – both in you… and through you in the lives of others.  In other words, what you do matters!

Our texts today deal with Abraham and how he responded to the adventure of faith and what God accomplished through his faith and obedience.   God spoke to Abraham – we don’t know in what form – perhaps an angel, perhaps a dream, an unmistakable voice that he heard in his spirit.  But we know that he heard God tell him to leave the comfort and familiarity that he knew and venture out to (quote) “the land that I will show you.”  Abraham had incentive to go.  God made great promises to Him.  “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you; I will make your name renowned; and I will protect you.  Finally, God told him, In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”  Big promises, backed by the character and power of a Big Creator.

But still, Abram had to make the choice.  God couldn’t respond for him, any more than God can respond for you.  We know the rest of the wonderful story of Abraham’s adventure that ensued.  But, think for a minute about this… I want you to do a little thought experiment with me… What if Abraham had NOT responded?  (hypothetically,  of course…)  What else in the story of salvation would not have come about?  Well, …there would be no Isaac, no Israel, no 12 tribes, no Moses, no Exodus, no 10 commandments, no promised land, no nation of Israel, no Temple, no King David, no Jesus, no blessing for all the families of the earth, in short, no Salvation.  All of these essential parts of God’s gracious plan of rescuing humanity and the creation from sin and death, -- that wee now benefit from --could not have unfolded, without Abraham’s faith and obedience.  And what this underlines again is how much your individual engagement in the adventure of faith really matters -- because the little thread of your life touches a million other strands that God is weaving together in His great work of redeeming the world.

Perhaps not many of us have ever heard of Albert McMacon.  But his influence in this world has led to millions of people hearing the gospel and coming to faith in Jesus.  You see, it was Albert McMacon who wouldn’t give up on his friend who resisted his many invitations to an evangelistic revival meeting.  Albert McMacon persisted.  And finally, on the last night of the event, his friend came and gave his life to Christ.  That friend was Billy Graham!  When we obey God, even in something as small as his prompting to invite a friend to church, God works at a supernatural level to fulfill his purposes beyond what we could ever plan or imagine.  Obey His promptings; God takes care of the rest.

For you and me today, it all boils down to this:  What is the next step of the adventure of faith that God is calling you to take?  When we obey God’s leading, we do not know ahead of time what the outcome will be or where he will lead us.  But as Abraham discovered, God is with you every step of the way, to lead, comfort, correct and reassure us.  When God leads us to do something, it might seem crazy or unwise in the eyes of the world.  Abraham was probably laughed out of town when his caravan set off for an unknown land.  (Yah, Right, Abraham, God told you to do what?  A land He would show you?  You’ll be back in a few weeks!...).  We can be tempted to rely on common sense.  But if we only relied on common sense, then we would never take the first step of faith.  Oswald Chambers says (Feb. 29) we must “remember that [God] does not work in common sense ways, but in supernatural ways.”

When we say “yes” to God, in little things, or big things, God works at a supernatural level to produce Kingdom results.  The little boy simply obeyed and gave his two loaves and five fish to Jesus.   Jesus fed 5000 with them!  Don’t underestimate God’s ability to work wonders through your simple obedience in little things.

I recently had a personal experience which brought home this truth to me:  A few months ago I was driving from Ottawa to Uxbridge and I stopped in Kaladar, ON to get a sandwich at the coffee shop.  I had ordered my meal and as I was waiting for it to be ready, I noticed a young woman sitting at a table by the door with an older gentleman.  As I looked at her, her face seemed rather pouty and I thought to myself – boy she seems rather sour.  But then as I watched, I noticed something in her hand.  She began to stand, and out came a white cane.  She was in fact completely blind.  (I was ashamed of myself for jumping to conclusions about how she looked.  That expression on her face was what you sometimes see in blind people whose face muscles are relaxed.  They are not used to looking at themselves in the mirror all the time like the rest of us!)

Any way, she began to make her way toward the counter.  Delicately weaving her way through the chairs and tables, her cane sweeping side to side, going click, click, click.  At one point she got on the wrong side of a chair leg and she bumped into a table of older ladies having lunch.  They looked up with happy expressions.  She apologized, but the ladies were very kind and redirected her toward the counter.  As they interacted a bright, beautiful smile spread across this woman’s face.  Finally, she made it up to the counter; she ordered her coffee and counted out her change.  And then, with her coffee in hand, she carefully retraced her steps back to her table by the door.

As I watched this unfold, my heart went out to this woman.  I was inspired by her incredible courage and tenacity she showed to do something I simply take for granted.  Yet, she didn’t let the man she was with do it for her.  She did it herself.
My meal was ready by this time and I picked it up at the counter.  I was going to walk right past this woman to exit the store.   As I walked toward the door, I had this crazy thought that I should say something to her -- to encourage her.   It was a very strong suggestion, which I believe was from the Holy Spirit.  The closer I got, the more intense the conviction was.  I got to the door... and I just kept going.  I chickened out!  As I walked to my truck, I was so convicted that I decided, “Fine:  I don’t care if I make a fool of myself.  I am going to do it!”

I put my food in the truck, turned right around, made a bee line for the door (before I chickened out again!) and I stopped at her table.  I didn’t even know exactly what I was going to say; I just knew that I had to say some positive word.  I opened my mouth, and words came out.  I said something profound, like, “Excuse me, uhh, may I say something to you?”  She looked toward the sound of my voice, a look of caution on her face.  I said, “I know that it can’t be easy with your visual impairment, but I just want you to know that, the way you handle yourself:   You really inspire me!”  Her face brightened, and she said, “Wow, usually people just make fun of me!”  At this point my heart just broke with compassion for this dear woman.  I said, “Well, I don’t care what other people may say, I think you are amazing!   And think that God is so proud of you and how you handle things.  You inspire me!  That’s all I wanted to say.  God bless you.”  She turned her face fully toward me and simply said, “Thank you...”

As I left, I had the sense that my words were more than just an encouragement for her.  They were life-giving to her, like a corner had been turned in her life from despair to hope...   I had a sense that the kingdom of God was being released in her life.
I am so glad that in the end I listened to the nudge of the Holy Spirit, overcame my fears, and spoke those words.   What an adventure!

I want to give God the glory in all of this; when we obey God’s leadings, God can do amazing things in us and through us for his glory. It’s about His plan for us, not our plan for Him.

So, How do you know when God is calling you to do something?  There is no magic formula, but ultimately it flows out of your relationship with Him.  The more intimate you are with the Lord, the more clearly you can hear his voice and sense his leadings.

God can speak to you in any number of ways, but here are four that come to mind:

1. The Nudge of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes God will give you a nudge – out of the blue – to do something totally unscripted, unexpected.  To speak an affirming word to someone when it’s not expected.  To write a note of encouragement…just because.  To offer to help someone with a task even though you could be doing something else.  To send a care package to a Canadian Soldier. When you take that little step God can do amazing things in other people’s lives.  And your faith grows in the process.

2. A Persistent Longing or desire that keeps resurfacing in your heart.  Maybe it is a desire to help the poor, or launch out in a new venture, or serve others in a particular way or location.  If God has been stirring in your heart maybe it is time to take the risk of taking the next step.  That is all that God asks…  He’ll do the rest.

3. A Clear Directive:  sometimes you just know in your “knower” that God wants you to do something.  You may hear his clear voice in your spirit, you may have a deep conviction or a compassion, that you just know is from the Holy Spirit.  My friends, obey God’s directive.  Seek advice from godly counsel to confirm that this is God’s leading.  But then, do it… no matter how crazy others may think it is.  If God is leading you, he will vindicate it.  Besides, if you please God, what do the opinions of others matter in the long run?!

4. Finally, Practical Opportunities: God speaks to us all the time through practical needs that we become aware of.  An announcement at church, a conversation with a friend, the possibilities are endless.  Jesus said that when you obey him in the little mundane, everyday opportunities, He will know that He can trust you for bigger things that he desires to send your way…

Jesus has calls you to follow him in the great adventure of faith.  All He ever asks you to do is just take the next step -- with Him.  And He will take care of the rest.