Good morning! Welcome to this Glorify Sunday! Today we continue our focus on facing the challenges before us in 2016. Last Sunday we remembered the foundation God laid for us in Deut 6. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deut 6:4
There is no better New Year’s resolution for us as individuals and as a congregation than to make obeying this commandment our aim in 2016.
So let’s look at how we do this. God’s strategy for the redemption of the world includes us. Jesus paid the price of our redemption on the cross but there is still much work to be done. We are still in a battle – a spiritual battle for the salvation of the world.
The Lord has chosen us, just as he chose the first disciples to play on his team – to fight with Him against the forces of evil that are out to destroy the people of the world. He has gifted us for battle. We have the Holy Spirit. We have his Word. We have a team.
But every warrior, every athlete, knows we also need training and discipline if we are going to be successful. That’s our focus this morning. We call it “Growing Faith”.
Let’s open our Bibles to Hebrews 12. This illustration in chapter 12 leads me to believe the writer of Hebrews was an athlete. He uses the imagery of the sports arena. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb 12:1
The “great cloud of witnesses” are the fans in the stands who are watching us race and cheering us on. Who are they? They are listed in chapter 11. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, and all those others right up to the present who have finished their race and are watching us from heaven. That’s powerful stuff!
Note how he says, “the race marked out for us”. The implication is that each of us have our own race to run! Our job isn’t to compare our race to our teammate’s race, but to do our best in the race we’ve been given.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3
Every successful athlete learns to keep their eye on the goal. They stick to the game plan, they refuse to be distracted or discouraged, they trust their preparation and their coach. They know they are in a battle. They know pain will be involved. They know adversity must be overcome. They make up their mind not to give up when the going gets tough.
He calls Jesus “the author and perfecter of our faith”. The word “perfecter” means the one who brings us to maturity. Mature faith doesn’t just happen. It is formed and hardened only through adversity. Jesus kept his eyes on the goal of winning our salvation even though it meant the way of the cross for him. He refused to back away from the challenge his Father gave him. He believed that the cost was peanuts compared with the joy that would come through his victory over sin, death, and the devil. Growing faith always involves some scars.
Vs 4 “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” I imagine a HS coach talking to a bunch of freshmen players on the first day of practice. “This isn’t the playground anymore. If you want to become a player, you’re going to sweat and shed some blood.” Or the Marine drill sergeant talking to his raw recruits. “Soldiers, if you want to become Marines, you’re gonna sweat and shed some blood. Why? Because that’s the only way you’re going to be ready when the real battle comes.”
It’s called discipline. Vs 5 “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes every one he accepts as a son.” Heb 12:5-6
I remember a story about an Olympic champion. Her coach drove her harder than any of the other athletes he was coaching. One day she asked him why he was so mean. He said, “Because you have the most potential.” If you are a Christian, God is involved in every adversity you face. He uses them to strengthen us for the role he’s called us to play in the redemption of the world. Prosperity never results in growing faith. Faith only grows through the painful process of endurance in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Vs 7 “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as son. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not discipline (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” Heb 12:7
What’s the difference between the average soldier and the elite special forces warrior? It’s the hard discipline necessary to develop a deeper level of strength, courage, endurance. Look at verse 11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Heb 12:11
So “How is God calling you to grow in your faith this year?” Are you willing to have your spiritual muscles strengthened this year so when the time comes, you’ll be ready for battle? “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
In 2016, we will come up against enemies that we have no power within ourselves to overcome. God’s purpose is to train and discipline us so that we’ll be ready when the battle comes. How do good coaches and military leaders build strong warriors? What skills do they seek to teach their players?
The first one is a teachable spirit. You can’t teach anything to somebody who thinks they already know it all. Do you have a teachable spirit? Are you willing to learn what the Lord wants to teach you in 2016?
The second skill is obedience. Let’s start with those things you already know God has asked you to do. Commit your allegiance to him. Until he is LORD of your heart, and you are willing to obey him, you will never be teachable and you’ll never grow in your faith.
The third skill is an accurate self-assessment. The truth is you are a sinner from first to last. Boot camp, training camp is intended to knock the arrogance and self-deception out of the raw recruits so they see themselves as they really are, weak, undisciplined, immature.
The fourth skill on the way to a growing faith is endurance. You are far stronger in the Lord than you know, but that toughness is only brought to the surface through adversity. You don’t become a warrior by being an armchair quarter back, criticizing other players from the sidelines. You must get in the game. You need to fall down, get up and try again and again.
Fifth, Growing faith results in confidence. This confidence is not vanity. It isn’t rooted in my ability or skill. It’s rooted in trusting the coach and how he’s prepared you. It’s trusting your teammates. It’s practicing to the point where your response in a crisis is second nature.
Finally, Growing faith develops courage. Courage flows out of knowing why you are doing what you are doing and in a willingness to give your life to accomplish that goal.
So let me go back to the question, “How is God calling you to grow in your faith this year?” Let me suggest four faith skills you may want to develop in the coming year.
Prayer. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3
You learn to pray by praying, spending time with the Lord together with others and alone. Listening to him, and sharing with him. Praying the Psalms is a good place to start.
Knowledge of God’s Word. The Bible is your sword and your bread. It transforms your heart and mind. It trains you for battle. God speaks primarily through his Word. Don’t neglect it. Get involved in a regular Bible study and your faith will grow.
Fellowship with God’s people. If you want to grow in your faith, you have to bond with God’s people. Developing relationships with our teammates and learning to play as a team is critical to our spiritual growth. It isn’t always easy, but its critical to spiritual maturity.
Stewardship. There’s a reason God commands us to tithe. It has nothing to do with God being short of money. It has to do with how easily we begin to look at money as our source of security. God shares freely with us, and he wants us to share freely with others.
Rather than living with an attitude of fear and scarcity, he wants to teach his children to live with an attitude of joy and generosity. From the tips we leave at the restaurant to the tithe we make to the church, the LORD wants us to grow up spiritually so we bring glory to his name by sharing the time, talent, treasure he gives us in a disciplined way.
As we do, he promises to bless us with joy and freedom and new surprises of abundance. Remember $M gift the LORD gave us? We decided to glorify the Lord by passing on $300,000 of that gift. Then the Lord surprised us with another $500,000. You can never out give the Lord, but you can plug up the pipeline when you trust the gift more than the giver and when you refuse to pass it on.
Why not make an attitude of generosity a goal of growing faith for you this year and see what the Lord will do? One of the many ways we glorify the Lord is through the sharing of our tithes and offerings.
How is the Lord calling you to grow this year? Are you willing? What spiritual discipline does he want to bring into your life in 2016?