3/31/19 – Faithfulness, no matter what?
I need to tell you right from the beginning… this message was not easy for me to write. I’ve had this topic on my mind for some time now and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it with you this morning, but I’ve got to tell you, it’s a tough one. I do feel that when I share a message with you, it shouldn’t just be a message that I think YOU all need to hear; it should be something I need to hear as well, so that’s one of the reasons I’m talking about this today. This issue is something I believe we all struggle with… more than pain or anger, more than money, more than family problems, more than issues at our job, more than friendships, more than sadness or loneliness, more than anything. I believe our biggest struggle, if we’re truly honest, is faithlessness. This is true not only in our individual lives, but also as a church. I’m not saying that we don’t struggle with all of those other things… but I believe our struggles with those other things actually stem from our faithlessness in God. You might say “well, now hold on right there…we believe in God….. we trust God… we’re faithful to God……. But are we, always? Are we really faithful? I know when I take a close look at how I live MY life, when I stop and really think about it, I see all the ways I leave God out of what I think, what I say, and what I do, and when difficult trials come my way, I often fail to lean on the strength of God.
See, I believe that our faithfulness can be measured by our level of trust in God and how committed we are to him, how committed we are to his church, and how committed we are to doing his will. Our level of faithfulness is revealed in how we live our lives. Think about it. Think about how we get out of bed in the morning. Do we bounce out of bed thankful and ready to seize the day? Or do we drag ourselves out slowly…dreading what the day is going to bring…worrying about all that we have to get done or who we’re going to have to interact with? Look at how we act at work. How do we treat that annoying coworker who is always kissing up to the boss and getting all the benefits and rewards that we think WE deserve. Think about how we act at our school. Look at how we treat people. Look at how we act before we’ve had our coffee in the morning! Look at how we act when someone makes us mad. Look at how much we commit ourselves to the church and its activities. Consider how often we give our hard-earned money to the church, and how much of it we give. When times are tight and we feel that nudge to give 10% to the church but then we look at our bills and there’s too much month at the end of the money… How do we deal with that? Look at how we treat our siblings, our parents, our kids… I believe our level of faithfulness is measured by how we handle these things.
Faithfulness is trusting God, being committed to him and his church, and obeying his commands, knowing without a doubt that he’s going to take care of everything. Faithfulness is trusting God that you’re not going to miss out on something while you’re busy following him with your whole heart. Our selfishness often gets in the way of our faithfulness because we spend our time consumed with US instead of with Christ. I know this is true in my own life. I don’t always trust that God has great things for me in the afterlife because of the emphasis I’ve put on this life with regards to material things, trying to do everything on my own, not allowing God to take control of my life and steer it in the direction HE wants it to go. Much of the time, we don’t live like a faithful people! So, that’s what we’re going to talk about today: Faithfulness. And not just faithfulness… faithfulness no matter the consequences. Faithfulness, no matter the situation. Faithfulness, no matter what.
My ultimate question for all of us to consider is this: If we are faithful believers in the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, do our lives truly reflect it? The Bible is full of God’s promises to us… we’re familiar with them, so why do we say we believe them but then live like we don’t? We’re going to look at some different stories from the Bible to see what faithfulness really looks like. My hope is that these stories will inspire us all to live as believers who are truly faithful to, trusting in, and committed to Christ.
The first story we’ll look at is in the book of Daniel, chapter 3. We’re going to read verses 13 through 18, but first let me set up the scene for you. The prophet Daniel and three of his friends had been deported to Babylon by the conquering King Nebuchadnezzar. There, they were being groomed to serve in the king’s court. Things seemed to be going ok for a while. They were able to worship God as they saw fit and at the same time, serve in a way that pleased the king. Their faith, their jobs, and their lifestyles were never really at odds. But then King Nebuchadnezzar decided, for whatever reason, probably vanity, that he wanted to build a statue made of gold. He then decreed that each time the people heard the sound of music, they were to fall down and worship the statue and that anyone who refused to do so would be immediately thrown into a blazing furnace. These three friends of Daniel… Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful followers of the one true God, so they refused to worship this golden statue. Jealous rivals of the three young men snitched on them to the king, and that’s where our scripture begins.
“Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
The story continues to say that the king became so furious that his face became distorted with rage and ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. It was so hot that the men who were ordered to throw the three into the furnace were consumed by the fire as well. The story doesn’t end there, however. To everyone’s surprise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unharmed in the furnace; they didn’t even smell like smoke when they came out. God had indeed delivered them from death. But the part I want to make sure you don’t miss this morning is their response to the king. They said “you can throw us in, but our God is able to save us. But if he chooses not to, so be it.” Consider that. These men were so unswervingly faithful to God, even in the face of death itself, that they would never break his commandment and worship another god. They didn’t know if God was going to rescue them or not. They didn’t know what was going to happen. But you know what? They didn’t care. They said, “Go ahead. Take your best shot. Our God is bigger than you’ll ever be, and we trust him. If saves us, he saves us. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had the courage to trust God to do what’s best. We don’t know God’s plan for our lives, just like they didn’t know God’s plan for their lives. But they trusted him nevertheless, even in the face of death. This story teaches us that during our times of trial, we must be able to affirm “I may not understand this challenge, but I trust that God knows best, and I will honor him regardless of what comes.”
Let’s look at another story from the Old Testament. This time we’ll be looking at the book of Genesis, chapter 22, starting in verse 1. This is the story of Abraham and Isaac. Keep in mind that Abraham and Sarah had Isaac when they were 100 years old and 90 years old. Isaac was a miracle child straight from God and a treasure to Abraham. Once again, everything seemed to be going well enough, but then in verse 1, God decides to shake things up a bit.
“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.”
Notice here it doesn’t say Abraham hesitated. It doesn’t say here that Abraham argued with God. It doesn’t say anything like that. God told him what to do and he was going to do it, period.
“And he cut wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.”
Twice in this section of scripture Abraham reveals his faith in God. First, he tells the young men with him that they’ll return to them. They will. Both of them. Abraham AND Isaac. Now, wait a second, Abraham knows that God told him to go sacrifice his son. So logically that means there would only be one of them returning. But that’s not how Abraham saw it. He trusted that God would make the situation right. He told his son the same thing. When Isaac asked him where the animal was for the burnt offering, Abraham told him that God would provide. He trusted God and put his faith in him that he would spare his son.
“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the alter, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
Abraham had decided in his heart, all the way up to the very last moment, that God would provide a way out of this. He did not hesitate; he did not falter. He laid his only son upon that altar, knife in hand, fully ready to obey God’s command. But God came through didn’t he? I can’t think of anything Abraham would have had a harder time doing than what he did right there. He loved his son. He treasured his son. His son meant the world to him. But Abraham loved God more. He was faithful, no matter what.
The last story we’ll read from scripture today is found in Luke, chapter 22, starting in verse 41. Jesus, God’s only son, was about to be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and crucified. He had seen this day coming. And now, it was finally there. He told his disciples to pray and keep watch with him while he went off by himself.
“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, like Abraham, Jesus stared into the face of death and chose to trust in God. Jesus, being submissive to the Father, trusting in the Father, begged God to spare him of the pain he was about to endure, but look at what he said. “Not my will, but thine be done.” How many of us pray that prayer every day? Not my will, but thine be done. I don’t know about you, but I spend an awful lot of time telling God what I want. Asking him for things. Pleading with him concerning my life. Telling him all the things I need. But how often do I end my chorus of wishes with “not my will, but thine be done?” Jesus was faithful, right up to the end. He had every opportunity to change his fate. He could have spared himself the beatings, the torture, the mocking, the crucifixion. But he didn’t. He faithfully gave his life as a sacrifice for us. And you all know the rest of the story. Jesus died and rose again on the third day. God delivered, and now Jesus sits at his right hand in heaven.
As we wrap up this morning’s service, there’s one more story I’d like to share with you. I was driving a few days ago, just cruising along listening to music, when suddenly a thought just sort of popped into my head. The thought was, “hey, you should turn on 97.9, Moody radio.” Now, I don’t listen to that station a whole lot, just every now and then, mainly because I don’t like listening to people talk. The thought that I should turn it on does NOT come very often. But this time I felt a nudge, so I did it. And when I turned it on, a gentleman named John Jeffrey, who works for the United Bible Society of Africa, was sharing this story.
Once, he was traveling to Africa to test a new translation of the Bible in Kenya. There, he met a bishop and the bishop asked him to join him on a little venture. As he was traveling walking with the bishop, the bishop filled him in on where they were going and what they were going to be doing.
You see, the rains in Kenya had failed, not for one year, not for two years, but for four consecutive years. There was absolute drought. Not only had all of the regular wells dried up, but the deep dry weather wells had dried up as well. There was no water. The tribe who lived in the area they were about to visit were not Christians. They had been described by an early missionary as unreached by the gospel and probably unreachable. They believed the land was precious. It was the place of burial for their ancestors, so they couldn’t leave it. They wouldn’t leave it. Even in a four year drought they couldn’t leave it. The whole tribe had gathered together in the center of their land, and met together to decide how to die. They sat down and were talking about how they were going to, as a people, die. And then one of the elders stood up and said “I met a man who told me he had a friend who could give us anything we asked for.” And the tribe nodded. The old man continued, “I will go find this man, and have him bring his friend here to fetch water.” Well, what had happened was that this man had bumped into an Anglican field evangelist who’d shared with him the good news and told him a little bit about Jesus, and moved on. But this old man, from this unreachable tribe, had heard what that evangelist had said and believed it. So the tribe agreed that he should go, so he got up and walked off into the desert, and he found the evangelist. He went up to the evangelist and said “You told me that you have a friend who can do anything.” And the evangelist, overjoyed, said “Alleluia, brother! Yes, my friend’s name is Jesus.” Well, this didn’t mean a thing to the old man, of course, at that stage, and he said “well, go and fetch this friend Jesus, bring him to our land and we will ask him for water.” GULP. The evangelist panicked. He was a very committed Christian, but it’s one thing to preach the gospel; it’s another thing to actually live it, to live it out. So, in his panic, he took the man with him to his bishop. With the man standing outside, he went in and told the bishop the whole story, and the bishop… panicked. But the bishop said “look, the very least we can do, is go with this man to the village, and we will pray, and we will tell the people there that although they can’t see him, Jesus is indeed with us.” On his way there, he almost fell into despair. He was a bishop, a man of God, a man of great faith, and yet, he felt despair. They went to the village, in order to encourage the people as best they could. He wore his full robes and everything, mitre on his head, crook in his hand, and in front of this tribe of people preparing to die, he prayed for water. He told them, they couldn’t see him, but Jesus was there beside him. The bishop opened one eye and glanced up at the sky hoping and praying there would be a little cloud, but there was no cloud in sight. He finished his prayer, and he felt defeated. But not the old man. The old man, who wasn’t a believer, who had heard the word of the gospel, the old man said “hey, see where the white man has placed his staff…there we will dig.” The bishop said that he wanted to die at that moment. He wanted to get out of there as quick as he could. Bishop he might be; Moses he wasn’t. So they dug. And ten feet down, they found the purest, sweetest water that has ever been found in the northern desert of Kenya. It wasn’t the bishop’s prayer; it was the faith of one old man who had heard one word of scripture, and believed. And that’s how the gospel came to the tribe. That well became known as the Jesus Well, and people began to be baptized in it. This story is a testament to the faith of the bishop, the faith of the evangelist, but most importantly the faith of one old man in the desert with mustard seed-sized faith, who believed and brought life to his people.
For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God saved the day. But, as he often does, he delivered them through the flames, not from the flames. God miraculously delivered them, and yet their faithful words teach us that we should not always expect such immediate miracles. Tragedy does not mean God has vanished. Faith is often refined in the furnaces of life, making God’s presence and grace all the more powerful and precious.
God spared Abraham the pain of losing his son, Isaac, but only after Abraham showed God how strong his faith in him really was. The walk with his son to that alter had to have been the longest, most difficult walk in his life, but he walked it nonetheless. The love for his son could not outweigh the love for God. What about us? What do we love that we hold on so tightly to and refuse to turn over to God?
Jesus Himself hoped to avoid the pain of the cross, but for the joy set before Him He endured and stayed true to Father’s will. James reminds us of the way we should view all hardship: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
The evangelist, the bishop, and the old man from the village had faith in God to provide for them, and he did.
Today, I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to take the leap of faith. I want you to trust that Jesus will provide. I want you to put your faith completely in your Savior who promises you he loves you and wants what’s best for you. He wants to guide your decision making. He wants to help you in your times of trials. He wants you to know that whatever comes at you that he’s in control. Faithfulness, no matter what. That’s the name of the game, friends. Faithfulness, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Faithfulness, like Abraham and Isaac. Faithfulness, like Jesus. Faithfulness, like the old man in the deserts of Kenya. If we stay true to the Lord, he will keep his promises. If you are a Christian, God is your father. He’s your dad. And what parent doesn’t want the best for their children? Will we as individuals, will we as a church, learn to put our trust wholeheartedly in Jesus? Will we lean on him in the good times and the bad, full knowing he will take care of us? That is what I want each of you to decide today. The Lord always keeps his promises. Just read your Bible! He ALWAYS kept his promises in it, and he’ll always keep his promises to you today. Will you trust him? Will you be faithful, no matter what?