Friday, September 15, 2017

The Struggle of Faith (I Tim 6:11-19) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A philosopher, an engineer, and a simple man, none of whom could swim, were trapped in a cove looking upward at sheer cliff faces. They began to shout for help as the tide rushed in.   Rescuers lower a rope. The philosopher said, "Ah, this looks like a rope, but I have to be certain there is no material fallacy in my logic; I need more time to ponder it, it might be an illusion." So he didn't attach himself and drowned.  The engineer said, "Ah, this is an 11 mm polyester rope with a breaking strain of 80 Kilograms. It conforms to the MR 10-81 standard," and continued analyzing the rope's physical properties. But he didn't attach himself either and also drowned.  The simple man said, "A rope, thank God,” grabs hold and is saved.

When it comes to the subject of faith, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate question is always, will you take the leap of faith?  Trusting our lives to God does not come easy nor is maintaining it always easy.  Yes, sometimes our fears, our questions, life’s changing circumstances threaten to overcome our faith.   What is Christian faith?    Sometimes you just have to grab hold of the rope and seek understanding over time.

Faith didn’t come easy to Christians in the early centuries, who were persecuted, arrested and died for standing up for Jesus Christ rather than bowing down to worship Caesar.  It doesn’t come easy today when Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith by radical extremist Muslims in the middle east.  It doesn’t come easy when faith must deal with tragedies in life.  These are times when our faith is tested.    No, believing in God and trying to follow his will, is not always simple or easy.  Faith in God is a spiritual journey, something we grow into and mature in over the years.  Faith is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Christianity points out the biblical paradoxes of faith!  This will give you something to think about.  What are those paradoxes?  To be strong, you must be weak, to save our lives, we have to lose them, to know God, we have to know ourselves, to truly live, we have to die, to receive we have to give.

Faith is God’s divine gift and our response, our decision, perhaps multiple decisions, an act of will, a commitment.  Faith is belief, trust, confidence in God and faith is a task, obedience, action, following the call of God, serving God, being involved in the work of God’s Kingdom in the world.  Faith is emotional.   Sometimes we say: “Praise God, thank you God for helping me!”  and other times we cry out: “God do you hear, I pray but you do not answer, help me.”  Faith is also intellectual – We think deeply about questions of God’s nature, God’s will, Jesus as God and man, the Trinity, the incarnation, sin and forgiveness, morality, evil, the atonement, God’s creation, God’s final revelation, Everlasting life.   Faith is personal, individual, unique.    But faith is also communal, it exists in community, among the family of God, the church, the worshipping body of Christ   Faith says God is transcendent.  Faith says God is immanent.

I Timothy says about faith: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.”   This passage reminds us that God calls us to pursue faith.  Take hold of your faith in God and God’s eternal love for you.  And sometimes you have to take hold of it again and again.

One writer said: “Treat another’s faith gently; it is all he has to believe with.”   Yes our Christian experience and the scripture both say that faith is sometimes a struggle.   Sometimes you have to fight to believe, you have to fight to trust, you have to fight to maintain your confidence in God, you have to fight to hope.   It is an inner battle, yes, a spiritual battle.   Sometimes you have to struggle against yourself, or against the devil, or against someone else.  Have you experienced this in your faith journey?

Today I have found that people ask not only the question - is the Christian faith true, but does it work, does faith really help you in your life, does faith truly make a difference in your life?   They want to know if its pragmatic.  How would you answer that?   How is your faith when things are great or when things don’t turn out the way you had hoped?

In our lesson from I Timothy the apostle Paul is writing to his younger missionary associate Timothy.  They had endured many hardships together on past missionary journeys.   We read: “Fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and for which you made the good confession, in the presence of many witnesses.”

Why? Because if something is worthwhile, isn’t it worth fighting for?  Some things in life are worth struggling for, and faith is one of them.  It’s also true, some things in life aren’t worth fighting for.  We need to let go of them and move on.  This is the dichotomy we face and we must be discerning and distinguish between them.

Timothy is facing hostile enemies and challenges to his ministry and is deeply discouraged.  He feels overwhelmed.   His self-confidence is shaken, the situation seems beyond his ability, have you ever been there?   The apostle Paul charges Timothy to stand fast, to remain steady, to stay the course, and to continue preaching the truth of the gospel.

Listen to Paul’s words:  “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.”   Faith declares that God saved us by grace in order to call us to a holy calling.

Do those words resonate with you?  It’s a good word for today as well, isn’t it?   In what situations or circumstances have you found that your faith is sometimes a struggle?  I think about the people in Texas and Florida facing Hurricane’s Harvey and Erma.   What a strong faith in God that takes.

Sometimes we desire faith but our mind wrestles with skepticism.   Lee Strobel, former journalist and professed atheist, in his book The Case of Faith writes:  “Faith is not always easy, even for people who desperately want it.  Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it.  They wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths.  Objections pester them.  Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down.”   This was his story, until he came to faith in Jesus Christ in 1981, after two years of investigating the truth of faith in light of the intellectual challenges of today.

There are times where we must deal with broken relationships, hurt, disappointment, adversity and grief.  The irony is that sometimes the most profound and intimate spiritual experiences occur in your darkest days, when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great, and you fall on your knees and turn to God alone, because you have no one else to turn to.  And you carry on because your faith just won’t let you quit.

I recall an older woman who was a member of our church in Monument, CO.  She visited people in nursing homes a couple of days a week.  One day she told me she had a terminal lung condition which caused her to cough frequently throughout the day.  The coughing, of course, was very painful.  But I remember her saying: “Pastor, I belong to God. Sick or healthy I am God’s. I feel so blessed that I still have the strength to continue going to nursing homes and helping these people.”   There is a faith worth struggling for.

I like what author William Bennett writes:  “Faith is a source of discipline and power and meaning in the lives of the faithful.  It is a potent force in human experience.  A shared faith binds people together in ways that cannot be duplicated by other means.  Faith contributes to the form and content of the ideals that guide the aspirations we harbor for our own lives, and it affects the way we regard and behave with respect to others.  A human being without faith, without reverence for anything, is a human being morally adrift.”

Faith, according to scripture, declares that ultimately God’s power, God’s grace, God’s strength, God’s mercy, God’s love is greater than our own.  We need the strength of someone greater than ourselves.  God can supply what is impossible for us to supply.  God can meet our needs which we can’t meet ourselves.

An 85-year-old woman, flying for the very first time, heard the following announcement over the plane’s intercom: “This is your captain speaking.  Our number four engine has just been shut off due to mechanical trouble.  However, there is nothing to worry about.  We will continue our flight with three engines and will land in Chicago on schedule.  By the way, I have some reassuring news for you; we have four bishops on board.”  With her hands tightly grasping the arms of her seat, and her face pale, the woman called to the flight attendant: “Miss, if you don’t mind, would you please tell the captain, that I would rather have four engines and three bishops.”

Faith is knowledge of God, the knowledge comparable to the knowledge we have of our loved ones or friends, not the knowledge of the contents of a scientific textbook.  Faith is the assurance, the knowledge that God has forgiven your sins, that God truly loves you, that God has bestowed upon you righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s reconciling purpose in the world.

How is your faith in God?  Is it strong or weak, solid or shaky, static or growing, exciting or boring, new or mature, tested or untested, clear or confusing, lethargic or alive?  Ponder that question for a moment!

No matter what you may be struggling with in terms of your faith, know this as the Bible says: God is for us and not against us.  God will not leave you nor forsake you.   Know that you have my pastoral support.  Know that you have the support and prayers and guidance of the elders and of this congregation.   Yes, faith is sometimes a struggle, but a struggle that’s always worthwhile in the end.  Amen.

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