“Lord God Almighty, none is as mighty as you. In all things you are faithful, O Lord.” – Psalm 89.8 TEV
One of my most favorite sports scenes about faithful endurance comes from “Facing the Giants” as a young player finds himself challenged by his coach to become his very best – to not settle for less than his very best. Take time to watch the clip entitled “death crawl.”
This movie reminds me of the powerful stories told at Coach Feedback’s funeral this week. His coaching style was transformational to so many players. Coach was the kind of man that drew out the very best in every one of his players. You see he was a perfectionist and his faith in his students was exceptional. And, because he had faith and believed in his students, they excelled to become state champions and hall of fame players in football, basketball, and track. Every story revolved around the importance of personal discipline that was required to give their very best. Faith is that way. The book of Hebrews could be summed up in this one film clip as Coach demands, “Give me your very best!” The Book of Hebrews is a letter written anonymously to the people of God. This could be any person, maybe someone like Coach Feeback or Coach Grant who calls us out to become our very best.
The believers of Hebrews had grown weary in their faith, discouraged to the point of disengaging from their faithful walk, as they faced the daily grind of suffering and persecution. There are times that we find ourselves beating ourselves up and wringing our hands in frustration as we long for the easier pathway. Our faith grows powerless in the face of our own weakness to persevere when we cannot understand the circumstances we are living within.
Those of us who have faith are called to endure and not shrink back. Endurance always flows from faithfulness. Faith rests in the hope of and vision for a better tomorrow. Faith believes in the unseen future that beholds something promising in light of the battle of wills resulting in contests, struggles, insults, persecution, and gossip. Jesus is our Pioneer, the One we look to in order to define faithfulness. Jesus is the Perfector of faith when our faith fails. Jesus makes a way when our faith has flaws, when we struggle to move forward or when we cannot engage the needed changes in our lives. Jesus in us provides the faith necessary to continue onward. Faith hopes for the unseen tomorrow. D. Stephen Long in his commentary on Hebrews writes, “Faith is the courage to move forward rather than retreat in cowardice” (177). Faith becomes a habit of the mind believing in the eternal future held in God Almighty’s hands. Our intellect nods ascent to the unseen reality just beyond our senses. Faith becomes the unseen reality on which our future is built.
In this letter we hear that some folks are giving up. Throwing in the towel. Their faith in God is fading fast in light of opposition. Hebrews sends out a resounding call to holdfast. The Hebrews began to doubt the validity of their leader, Jesus Christ, and began to slip away from the community of faith. The author aims to correct this misunderstanding, and mobilize the community to help one another to persevere. Faithful responses to new challenges in discipleship were necessary for the community to find their foundation in the truth of the presenting situation.
To understand Hebrews one must understand the work of sanctification. Sanctification is the work of God to make us holy, set apart, and cleansed from sin. Hebrews claims a once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ that uses us into the process of cleansing our conscious. The atoning blood of Jesus Christ wipes out our sins, and cleanses us from what offends both God and neighbor. Jesus has prepared a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31.31), a new arrangement. Instead of having the laws written upon the parchment scrolls to be read aloud in the sanctuary of the Temples and Synagogues, the Word of God is now written upon our hearts that we might hear God speaking to our conscious.
The Old Testament prophets all realized that formal religion couldn’t change the hearts and minds of the people. There is a danger when we have a form of religion without the spiritual reality. Covenant becomes the way forward between religion and heartfelt faith. Jesus becomes the offering for our sins, and the bridge across the great divide. Repentance has always been necessary in our covenant relationship with God. Repentance properly understood contains two parts: the simplicity of admitting the mistake and also the turning around of one’s life. Hebrews insists that without the Blood of Jesus there is no forgiveness of sins. But without the Spirit of Jesus, we will forever struggle to gain a fresh perspective on our life. The Spirit of Jesus touches our hearts, writes the Word there, and our purpose becomes one with His.
Robert Quinn, a business professor at the University of Michigan, wrote two excellent books on personal development – one entitled “Deep Change” and the other “Building the Bridge as you Walk on it.” These two volumes have guided my personal growth in faithfulness to God, my self, and my neighbor as I have navigated change in my life. Each of us has the possibility to “change” the world around us.
When we talk about change, there are really two different types of change – incremental (static) and deep (dynamic). Change means something different for each one of us mostly because “change” often comes with a package of potentially painful memories. Quinn describes “change” as someone “walking naked into the land of uncertainty.” Sometimes that’s how we feel: naked. When we do not see the future and what it holds in store for us, we would like to think we may go back the way we came and find shelter from the storm. Incremental change is like that: you may choose to go back to the way things were. On the other hand, deep change requires much more commitment from us. Faith is that way too.
Faith requires us to dive into the deep end of change, surrendering control of our lives for the promise and the hope of something better. Quinn describes change this way, “Deep change differs from incremental change in that it requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past and generally irreversible. The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control” (Quinn, Deep Change, 3). Our identity is shaped by how we cope with situations with our skill sets and abilities that over time we hope will make us competent. However, there are skill sets and abilities we develop in our youth that are inadequate for personal growth in our later years. What worked for us as a young adult may not be useful as a maturing middle-aged person. Because we have always “done it that way” we may feel that change is unnecessary or unwanted. But faith calls us to the place of trust and hope in God, not ourselves.
Hebrews 11.1-22 contains eight significant people of faith. Each one draws on important faith-filled characteristics that we see in the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain… Reflective Action requires us to engage the part of ourselves we least want to deal with, our own hypocrisy (insincerity, double standards, pretense, duplicity, two-faced). The most difficult part of growing in the Lord is dealing with our pride (self-importance, conceit, smugness, arrogance, overconfidence, superiority), hubris and not giving our selves a way out. When we deeply reflect on our personal actions, we clarify our motives. God is all about rooting our impure or mixed motives.
By faith Enoch pleased God… Authentic Engagement is necessary for you and I to honor one another. What comes out of our mouths cannot be deceitful. If I as your pastor have a confidential issue, you are going to perceive it. It’s going to come out in our relationship, and I will look deceitful. You will feel mistrusting. Can you and I learn to love unconditionally or will we sit in judgement of each other? Truly, we can be self-deceived. What would happen if we lived in the fullness of truth-telling with one another? The result would be a new life, a new outlook, a new behavior, and a new reality. When we make the move to authentically engage with others we essentially close all our exit strategies and force ourselves to deal with the situation at hand – no matter how unpleasant it may be. We are called to live by the principle of doing what’s right even when the world around us is not.
By faith Noah saw the future… Appreciative Inquiry is the means in which good leaders affirm others and draw out the very best in them. When we are externally open, purpose-centered, other-focused, and internally directed in our conversations with others, we can fully realize the God-given vision of our calling. We really have to understand that we are often motivated by incorrect assumptions about the world around us and self-deceived about what motivates us to respond. Author Robert Quinn says it this way, “[True] Real humility comes when we see the world as it really is” (“Building the Bridge,” 131).
By faith Abraham obeyed his calling… Grounded Vision happens when the past, present and future align in the hearts of the people. Vision of the future is credible only when it is conceived from a lived reality that draws from the people their deepest hopes. When the vision is perceived as disconnected from the reality of the people, the people will dissociate from the call of God on their lives. Faithfulness happens when people risk their lives on a vision they cannot grasp. Vision is best when it is grounded in the life stories and hopes of the people. Vision causes us to seek out deep clarification of purpose.
By faith Sarah conceived a child… Adaptive Confidence means we are entering into uncharted territory where we understand we are seeking a higher purpose that requires letting go of control. Faithfulness requires us to live into an adaptive learning style rather than clinging to what we know, which often times is simply problem solving. Faith requires us to think outside the parameters of our usual workday. Faith takes improvisation; it’s creates opportunity for us to create jazz music in our lives. We can be frozen it what was or take the initiative, be open to feedback, and learn as we go along.
By faith Isaac blessed his children… Detached Interdependence calls us to the highest level of maturity. Humility calls us to see things as they really are not as we believe things to be. Faith draws us into relationships with others that requires us to act upon God’s Word not react to our circumstances. We practice accountability by faithful examination of our motives, and the development coping mechanism with others in order that we might become our very best self.
By faith Jacob worshipped God… Responsible Freedom guides us in relinquishing superficial aspects of the environment. What we do with our choices determines our future. Faith aids us in making good choices for our future. When we become aware of the potential problems that are endangering our freedoms, faith demands that we respond to the threat of destruction. We are called to perform disciplined action that lead us to higher levels of transformation. In order for great change and growth to happen, we must stablize other parts of our lives to sustain the transition. Faith aids us in journey between what was and what will become, from victim to victor.
By faith Joseph gave instructions for a distant future… Tough Love comes with a high price for the one who practices it… particularly with misunderstandings. Faith requires us to address the dread of uncertainty. When people are working hard to do the right thing and they make a mistake they become most vulnerable to harsh criticism. Instead of destructive responses the person needs to be encouraged with confidence building techniques that build up faith, not tear it down. No one sets out to create a poor outcome to efforts of hard work. Faith requires us to not shame people but to build up their confidence. As Christians we are called to build each other’s characters in the faith with loving compassionate responses.
There are times in my life when I have felt ashamed of myself because I have “shrunk back” in unfaithfulness in light of opposition. There are times when I know I am confident of following the Lord God’s direction, but because others have challenged that decision I have stepped aside. But God calls us to stand unashamed in light of his leadership. When we find ourselves serving God faithfully, we discover his peace in our hearts and minds. Brother James says it this way, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt… Such a person – the one who doubts – is double minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1.6, 8).
Can you imagine with me for just a moment – a female coach crawling across the football field, passionately walking the sidelines of the basketball court, or running with you like Forrest Gump to inspire you as the player to reach the end zone, make a three pointer, or create a new personal record… but I’m there rooting you on!