Sunday, March 17, 2013

God's Hall of Faith

A Sermon by Rev. Keith Kiper
Media Pastor-Boonville Wesleyan Church
from Hebrews Chapter 11 (CEB)
Hebrews chapter eleven is often called the “Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Chapter” of the Bible.  That is because this chapter outlines for us the lives of those who often maintained their faith , sometimes against incredible odds including torture and death. This hall of faith includes those in both the Old and New Testament. Many names had been added throughout the history of the church. This list would include Origin, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Huss, Tyndale,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, plus countless others throughout the world today. Some were persecuted while others died for their faith. Many are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world today.  I’m sure we can think of those in our lifetime, family members from our own church that we can add to this list who maintained their faith.
We have our own hall of faith here at Boonville Wesleyan. Our hall of faith would include those who have battled cancer, ill health, financial difficulties. Their faces come to our minds as we remember them today. Some have gone on to their reward. Others are still with us, encouraging us with their testimony. In spite of hardships they have faced… they refused to give in and maintained their faith as a testimony to God’s amazing grace. They encouraged us. Others have come to know Jesus because of their testimony. All these we mentioned have something in common. They maintained their faith because they trusted God’s Word. They maintained their faith because they had a vision of something better to come. It is almost impossible to separate faith and vision.
  As Barnes Commentary well states, ”There is no part of the New Testament of more value than this chapter in Hebrews; none which deserves to be more patiently studied, or which may be more frequently applied to the circumstances of Christians. These invaluable records are adapted to sustain us in times of trial, temptation, and persecution; to show us what faith has done in days that are past, and what it may do still in similar circumstances. Nothing can better show the value and the power of faith, or of true religion, than the records in this chapter. It has done what nothing else could do. It has enabled men and women to endure what nothing else would enable them to bear.”You may ask: How did they survive and keep their faith? I would like to look at four ways here today.

1. VISION:  In the early 1970’s preparations were being made for the grand opening celebrations of Disney World in Orlando Florida. Many years of planning and design had gone into building the new theme park. The founder, Walt Disney died not very long before Disney World opened. One of its leaders remarked that he sure wished Walt could see Disney World now. Another friend remarked, He did see it, that’s why we are here today.
These members of the Hall of Faith knew what it meant to have a vision,. They possessed something even better. They knew what it meant to have a heavenly vision, a vision which looked past the current trials and tribulations.
They envisioned that place that Peter talks about, a place where they could partake of the divine nature.
          2. CONFIDENCE: That 1980’s philosopher Jack Handy said, ”Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if you don’t know what you rights are, or who the person is you are talking to. Then, on the way out, slam the door.”
            Confidence can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It wasn’t self-confidence or false pride that fueled the early Christians. Their confidence was placed in an all knowing, all powerful God of perfect love.  We can have confidence in God’s written Word, the confidence that the Holy Spirit can guide us, comfort us, and direct our paths no matter what comes our way.
Paul gives us good advice in Ephesians:6:17  “ Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
18 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. 19 As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan[b] of the gospel known. 20 I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.”

3. HUNGER:  Exodus 33:17-20

Common English Bible (CEB)
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.”
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glorious presence.”
20 But,” the Lord said, “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.”
When Moses asked God to show him His glory, the Lord warned him that no man can see Him and live. Even in the New Covenant this is true. Only dead men can see Him. Now I’m not talking about the physically dead, but those who have died to self. When one dies to self, there is a renewed hunger to experience God in His fullness through the Holy Spirit. John Wesley called this the Second Blessing. This is what we call sanctification in our holiness churches. As Christians we draw strength from above when we desire and seek God’s presence. We gain strength in times of depression and tribulation through corporate worship. That why assembling together is so important for the Christian. We not only receive God”s blessing…we are encouraged by sharing prayer requests and needs. God can move among our midst when we open pour hearts together in worship.
            This spiritual  hunger must be more than the physical hunger we sometimes have. Aaron Wilborn wrote some new words for a song from the 1980’s.
“The pastor preached until 1:45,  I could kill for a burger and fry,
don’t worry, be happy!”
.Leonard Ravenhill , an English pastor who has passed on recently remarked:
“I'm sick to death of the so-called Christianity of our day. What's supernatural about it? When do people come out of the sanctuary awed and can't speak for an hour because God has been in glory there? Dear God, as soon as they get out, they're talking football, or sports or something or there's going to be a big sale downtown or somewhere. We are not caught up into eternity.”
Yes, that does sound harsh. But I feel it does describe the Laodician or luke warm attitude present in many of today’s churches.

The Rev. Tommy Tenney, the author of “The God Chasers” had some thoughts about spiritual hunger also. Tenney called hungering after God, ”The secret path to God’s presence.”
 Matthew 6:33 tells us
“Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When people asked John Wesley how he drew such large crowds during the first Great awakening he replied, “I set myself on fire, and the people come to see me burn.”
        That’s the kind of hunger those in God’s hall of faith possessed. That’s the kind of hunger we need today in the church. God used different methods at different times throughout the history of His church. Someone well said that history should be a guiding post, but not a hitching post. While I believe this to be true, I’m not a slave to dispensationalism. What do I mean when I make that statement.  The Bible tells us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Dispensationalism to me is a twenty five dollar word for excuses. Some believe that all miracles ceased with the disciples. I believe that God still heals today, saves today, and can work miracles in our everyday life. Yes God moves, works, and heals at His pleasure and within His will. But we can also limit what he does by our lack of prayer and lack of faith. We must thirst for Him as Psalms tells us the deer thirsts after water. He will then either answer our prayers or give us the supernatural strength from only He can give to endure what comes our way.
        Smith Wigglesworth, often referred to as ‘the Apostle of Faith,’ was one of the pioneers of the (Pentecostal) revival that occurred a century ago. Pastor Wigglesworth mentored Lester Sumrall. Some of you will remember hearing Dr. Sumrall on the radio in the past.

Without human refinement and education he was able to tap into the infinite resources of God to bring divine grace to multitudes.
Thousands came to Christian faith in his meetings, hundreds were healed of serious illnesses and diseases as supernatural signs followed his ministry.
A deep intimacy with his heavenly Father and an unquestioning faith in God’s Word brought spectacular results including three documented cases of individuals being raised from the dead.

Why does God use some this way and not others? Why are some healed and not others? I don’t know the answer. There is something in common …individuals like this did share a spiritual hunger for God’s presence and a resolve to be persistent in prayer.

4. RESOLVE:  The dictionary defines the word resolve as, “To make a firm decision about.” Or to bring to a usually successful conclusion.”  Listen to what paul says in Phillipians 1:27-29
27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. 28 That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God. 29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake.”
 The familiar song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” was written by someone who truly knew what it meant to have resolve in face of persecution.

The lyrics are based on the last words of a man in Assam, north-east India, who along with his family was converted to Christianity in the middle of the 19th century through the efforts of a Welsh missionary. Called to renounce his faith by the village chief, the convert declared, "I have decided to follow Jesus." In response to threats to his family, he continued, "Though no one joins me, still I will follow." His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, "The cross before me, the world behind me." This display of faith is reported to have led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village.[1]
The formation of these words into a hymn is attributed to the Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh.[2] The melody is also Indian, and entitled "Assam" after the region where the text originated.[3] The fierce opposition is possible as various tribes in that area were formerly renowned for head-hunting.[4]
An American hymn editor, William Jensen Reynolds, composed an arrangement which was included in the 1959 Assembly Songbook. His version became a regular feature of Billy Graham's evangelistic meetings in America and elsewhere, spreading its popularity.[5]
            We have taken a look today at members of God’s Hall of Faith.” Many who have gone on before us have made great sacrifices. WE may be called on to do the same in the course of our lives. We may not always know the reason, but God knows. You see, Christianity may not have all the answers. Christianity is the only religion that asks all the right questions. As we close today, let’s turn to page 385 and sing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Maybe you are facing a trial today. Jesus is still the answer.

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