If God has called us, the question is for us today, I believe, “Can you be found faithful?” What do you think? This is a scripture about the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth. He explained that the saints – the church, the Christians – who have experienced three things will be with Him. Now calling is something God does. And choosing is something God does. And I think that we’re chosen because it’s based on how we responded to the calling. But that faithful part is something that’s more on us. Now, I’m not saying that God does not help us to remain faithful, but in the end, we all have a choice to make. So that term faithful, that’s a hard one. We have to remain faithful all of our lives to God, if we’re going to be in that select group. So that’s what God is saying, really. He means all the rest of our lives, no matter what happens.
I think about what I thought I would have do when I first started in Christianity, and it’s turned out nothing like that at all. And the thing that I’ve learned from that is, I have no clue what might happen tomorrow. So I have to adapt. I have to change my plans, my strategies, my beliefs, my practices as new truth comes to light for me. And, no doubt, there’s always going to be that for everybody. It’s okay to be faithful right now, if you’re in that state, but how do you remain faithful until the end – whether it’s the end of time when Christ returns, or the end of your life?
Well, we’re starting a new series today. It’s called Remaining Faithful. And the first one about this is about faith itself. So let’s turn to the Faith Chapter – Hebrews 11:6, where Paul tells us:
Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
So it’s impossible to please God without it. And why is that? Well, notice that his advice to people who want to draw near to God…. Now some people could care less about being close to God. And some give lip service to it, but their actions show that they’re not really serious enough to get it done. And then there are those who really want it. Perhaps this is why God calls them in the first place – because they want it. He sees the desire in them. That’s just a thought. God is the one that does the calling – not me. But, if you were trying to build an organization of people, wouldn’t you want the ones that seemed more likely to be committed?
And Paul gives us an example – right after he says this – about Noah. He says Noah was warned by God of a coming flood and told to build an ark, which Noah did, believing that God would do what He said he was going to do. So He told Noah, “If you build this ark, that’s going to be your salvation.” So Noah did what he was told and this pleased God.
So people who have faith then, do what God tells them to do, and God likes that. Why? Is it because He’s a power-monger and He wants to see us all under his thumb, dutifully, like robots, doing what we’re supposed to do? No, He’s not a power-monger. He already has all the power. He likes it when we obey Him, because that’s how we get close to God and how we move toward the goal that God has for us, which is eternal life. So you can see it in things like keeping the Sabbath, the holy days, and tithing, and praying – all the things the Bible says that we should do.
Notice, too, that even today, you can’t look around at what most other people are doing and learn what to do. You have to go to the Bible itself. I mean, I grew up in a family where we went to church on Sunday once in a while. The people in my family were just kind of nominal. And even there, when you read the Bible to learn what to do, you have to be afraid not to misinterpret it. So, it’s important that we know that. We can’t just follow the crowd. We have to be willing to do what it says in the Book. Even then, we have to be afraid that we don’t misinterpret what it says.
Now, he also said that we have to believe that God exists and rewards us. So David said we can look up at the night sky and know that there is a God. The Bible tells us that God takes care of us. But then there are all those other statements in the Bible – like when Jesus said that time and chance happen to everybody – you know, step off the curb at the wrong time and get hit by a bus, or whatever. And then there are all those examples of terrible things happening to the prophets and Christians – like eleven of the twelve apostles being murdered for their beliefs. So, even though God promises, in the Bible, to take care of us, it sounds pretty random and pretty dangerous – not much like a reward. So those are faith-busting thoughts, aren’t they? If you worry about stuff like that, it’s going to be hard to please God. And yet, it’s right there in the Bible. It says that bad things are going to happen. So how do we deal with that? How can we be faithful to the end, no matter what?
Let’s go to Isaiah 55, and verse 9, and look at something Isaiah wrote. This is actually a quote. It’s not Isaiah talking. It’s God. Isaiah is quoting God. God prophesied this to us through Isaiah.
Isaiah 55:9 – For the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
So God is telling us here that we can’t figure God out when He does things until later, usually. And that’s because He’s infinitely more intelligent, knows infinitely more, and has an infinitely better view of what’s going on, and He has infinitely more resources at His disposal. To us, He seems ultimately unconventional and unpredictable, because, to us, He is. None of us would ever work His plan the way He’s decided to do it, but that’s because He’s God and He knows more than we do.
Continuing on with the thought, God says:
V-10-11 – “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater….” “I don’t just make it rain, and then fall on the earth, and then evaporate, and come back up to Me in heaven.” That’s not what happens. He said, “I bring forth, the seed is given to the sower, and then bread to the one that eats it, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth. It doesn’t matter whether you understand it or not, but I’m telling you, “This is how it is.” “It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” “It doesn’t matter whether you understand it or not, because it’s going to happen. Count on it. Bank on it.” You know, it’s like the father that tells his kid, “Do it, because I said so.” And the reason the parent says that is not because he arrogantly thinks he’s superior to his child, but because he’s telling the kid to do something that a kid can’t yet understand. So God is telling us, in these verses, that even though He has revealed goals to us – which is to be in God’s Kingdom and be in God’s family – we cannot even figure out how He’s going to accomplish those things.
Paul also said that even the angels in heaven look down and watch what’s going on here, because they don’t see how He’s going to get us from where we are now to where He says we’re going to be later. So, it’s too much for everybody but God to figure out. Even the angels can’t grasp it yet.
This also takes us to a place in the Bible that is a part of this picture. It’s Matthew 5:3, where Jesus said, when He sat the disciples down and started to speak to them:
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Now, to be poor in spirit is to acknowledge that we know nothing about the works of God, except that He reveals it to us. So, to be poor in spirit is to realize that we are like blind beggars when it comes to figuring Him out and predicting what He’s going to do. We just stumble around in the dark and don’t understand anything, except in begging Him to explain it to us, He does.
But, in spite of our short-sightedness, if we can trust God that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, then we can have a relationship with God and we can please Him. So that kind of trust – where we don’t know why God is doing what He’s doing, but we follow Him anyway, and we submit ourselves to Him anyway, that kind of trust is called faith. And it’s necessary to be among those who come with Jesus at the end, who are called, chosen and faithful – who trust God all the way to the end through time for the rest of their life, even though they don’t understand how He’s going to do what He’s going to do.
One of the challenges to us in this present world – this present culture – is our environment. I was watching a noted Sunday morning TV evangelist, who has a very large following – I heard this several years ago – and His message is about what has been called The Encouragement Gospel. It’s been opined by another that his positivity is what draws people to him. And I certainly believe he’s right. And I’ve heard people in our own church say, “I just want to be encouraged. No more gloom and doom. No more prophecy.” Why do you suppose that is? I’ve become aware lately that there’s a new trend coming online in society. And it’s been coming for a long time and it’s really starting to bear fruit now. And that is that everybody feels overwhelmed by life. “It’s too hard,” people tell me. I hear this every day in my counseling practice. “I don’t want to hear hard stuff. I can’t do hard stuff. I just need to be encouraged.” And I do a lot of that, for sure. I think people know what they need, to some degree. And I do a lot of encouraging of people. But I also tell people what they need to do to get out of their overwhelmed state.
You know, to do that, is about getting organized, and taking the bull by the horns, and managing the situation – not about sitting back and letting life overwhelm you. It’s about hard work. Some of them, when I get to that part, don’t like to hear it, so they go away. But that’s okay, because people with that attitude can’t be helped. When you have a big problem, and you’re depressed, and anxious, and overwhelmed by what’s going on around you, the only solution to that is to get up and start doing something for yourself. Otherwise, it’s just going to get worse. So, my goal is to help as many people as I can before I die. So those people recognize that they’re not on the same wavelength as me and they go away, and that’s okay, because people that want to get better will come, and I can get to help them. So I get satisfaction and so do they. What about all those other people though? Isn’t it kind of calloused that you just know? Because there isn’t anything I can do to help those people.
Okay, now let’s move on a little bit. Let’s look I Isaiah 30:10 – Isaiah is quoting God again, and he says:
Isaiah 30:10 – who say to the seers – talking about the people of Israel – who say to the seers – the prophets – “Do not see – stop preaching all this gloom and doom stuff to us” – and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right. Speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions – we don’t want to hear the hard stuff. We just want to be encouraged.” Now, if you read the verses just above this one, you will see that God tells these people, who only want to hear easy smooth stuff, that they’re rebellious, that they’re not in line with the plan. They don’t want to hear all about what God has to say. They don’t want to face up to the hard things, like change and repentance. They just want to hear easy stuff.
Think about this. Let’s just use some common sense hear. Think about this with me. Pinch yourself right now. Did you feel anything? Yeah. We’re physical. We’re not spirit yet. We’re just mortal human beings, who are made out of dust, and that’s where we’re going to go back to. Now think about the foolish and hurtful things you’ve done over the course of your lifetime so far. We’re not wise. We don’t know how to function like God functions. We make a lot of mistakes. God says – about us – that humans, at their best state – at the best state – have you ever felt like you’re really on top of stuff? – humans, at their best state, when they feel like they’re really on top of stuff are altogether futility. So moving us from where we are now – totally mortal, and totally self-deceived, and totally futile is no small feat. It takes work. It takes stress. It takes pain. Ask Jesus if He suffered any pain in this process. If we want to go where God is taking us, we have to be ready for the ride. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. In spite of all the blessings that God gives us and promises us, it’s going to be hard.
Let’s look in Hebrews 5:8 for a minute. Here’s another thing Paul said about Jesus.
Hebrews 5:8 – Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
So Jesus was willing to come down here and give His physical life so that we could all drop ours away and become part of His spiritual family. But it says that even He learned something through that experience of suffering. He learned about obedience to God at a whole other level. God is so serious about this monumental project – turning us into Himself – that He has subjected His own Son to death for us. And we learn that, in that sacrifice, Jesus Himself learned about obedience in an entirely new way to Him. So, if God is willing to subject His Son to this kind of suffering for all of us, what do you think He’s willing to do with us so that we can learn obedience? It’s not going to be easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard.
So the next question, “Okay, well when do we get to the good stuff?” Well, you know, God makes all of these promises to us, but you’re telling us life is supposed to be hard. Does God bless us or not?” Well, let’s go back to where we started in Hebrews 11. Paul is going to explain something to us.
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. This is really important. The greatest promises God makes to us are not yet seen. That is out there in the future. Faith is the steady belief that God will – when He’s ready – do what He says He’s going to do.
Let’s read on. Here’s an example Paul gives of this in Hebrews 11:4:
V-4 – By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And what happened to him? …though he died, he still speaks. He’s called righteous Abel, yet he died. And how was that? Well, he was murdered by his own brother. Where was God then? Well, He was right there watching His faithful man die at the hands of a man who hated him, just like He was right there when He allowed the same thing to happen to His Son, Jesus.
You know, this Prosperity Gospel – this Encouragement Gospel that we’ve heard – you know, the smooth stuff – that’s ministers pandering to the lowest part of human nature, and not having the courage to tell it like it really is. I quote D L Moody – I think that was his name – those were his initials. Somebody asked him if he afraid of the things he didn’t yet know about the Bible, and he said, “No, I’m afraid of the things is do know about it.” So he was an honest man. He knew that it wasn’t going to be easy – it’s not supposed to be easy – and that terrible things happen to people sometimes. And that’s all part of God’s plan.
I have atheistic people come in my office all the time and complain about the Christians, and how they say, “Well, you know, it’s all God’s plan.” And they say, “How could God let all this stuff happen to people – you know, all the human trafficking and just child slavery and all that stuff? How could He let that happen?” Well, His ways are higher than ours. He has a better plan than we might think of. And pain is a part of it.
I believe that I can show, out of the Bible – I’m not going to do it today – that the biggest thing we’re down here on earth to learn right now is, that our way doesn’t work. When we give up on ourselves and turn to God, that’s when things can get better.
Let’s keep reading – Hebrews 11:8:
V-8-10 – By faith Abraham – called the father of the faithful, by the way – obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. God told him to get up, pack up his stuff, his family and go. And he did! And he didn’t even know where he was supposed to go. He just knew that God told him to do that and that God would explain it later. He said that what that man was really doing was looking for something beyond this world – to a city whose builder and designer was God. Then he talks about Abraham’s wife:
V-11-13 – By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. I go back to the story we did on Bible Stories for Adults, about how Sarah denied laughing when God said she was going to have a baby. And God looked her right in the eyes, and said, “Yes, you did laugh.” So maybe it was that penetrating look and that concrete statement that gave her the belief that, “Yeah, oh, He’s not kidding here.” Therefore, from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Now listen to this next thing he says. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Notice this: all those people died, seeing the promises as still out in the future – still out ahead – realizing that they were – because of the things that God asked them to do – misfits and aliens and pilgrims on the earth with no place, for the sake of faith in God.
Do you feel that way? Are you a pilgrim? Will any less be expected of any of us that was expected of them? Do you want smooth things? Do you want a steady diet of encouragement only – an unbalanced diet? God wants us to make a decision, because we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have all the good stuff and smooth things.
By the way, verse 16 – I forgot to read that:
V-16 – But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. So even though we’re foolish, and stupid, and mortal, and commit terrible sins, and make really bad choices, because those people desired a better place, God’s not ashamed of them. He’s not ashamed to be called their God. Has your kid done something that embarrassed you? We’re all nodding. God doesn’t feel embarrassed about us – at least, about them – because they were looking ahead to what was coming.
They believed that God was going to give them a city. And do you know what the name of that city is in the New Testament? Yeah, it’s called the New Jerusalem – a city that comes down here out of heaven. So to use a term that’s meaningful in our family in a whole new way lately, “Buck up, buttercup! Run your race! Hang on tight to God – His faith and His truth.” What’s coming is so good, we can’t even imagine it. That’s why every promise God has ever made is going to be fulfilled for all those who are found called, chosen and faithful.
Okay, that’s a wrap for today. Next time we’re going to examine what to do to maintain a commitment over the course of a lifetime to God, when we will live in a world that only commits when things are easy.
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Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, familes and the Church of God.