Monday, November 10, 2014

Faith Defined

Here's this weekend's Sunday School lesson on faith!

Sunday we continued our study in Hebrews by checking out Hebrews 10:19-11:40, focusing on 11:1-7 in the lesson. The main idea is that it is impossible to please God without faith.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Who are your heroes?

--- Researchers James Patterson and Peter Kim report in "The Day America Told the Truth" that 70 percent of Americans say they have no living heroes.

---You could also ask what makes a hero? R.W. Emerson. wrote that "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer."

--- When columnist Sydney Harris noted that when kids are asked their heroes, almost every one is an entertainer or athlete. You won't see on the list any politicians, authors, artists, doctors or even astronauts. Harris suggested the heroes created by our society are people who have made it big, but not necessarily people who have done big things.

*** Understand the context.

--- Hebrews chapter 11 is called the "The Roll Call of the Faithful," or "Faith's Hall of Fame," a compilation of the best-known heroes of the Old Testament.

--- These Old Testament examples and went out on a limb for their faith even when they could not see the results! And that's why they're heroes.

--- The author of Hebrews was trying to encourage discouraged Christians from wavering in their faith in Jesus. God’s children are saved by His grace through faith; thus they also live by faith.

--- Real faith leads to actions that demonstrate trust in God and His promises.

Faith Described (Heb. 11:1-3)

1Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 2 For our ancestors won God’s approval by it. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.

*** Public faith.

There was an article in The Atlantic online this week that asked, Are Americans Afraid to Talk About Their Faith Online?

According to a new report from Pew Research, the way people talk about their faith online actually is different from how they talk about it in real life. In a nationally representative survey of more than 3,200 Americans, only 20 percent said they had "shared something about their religious faith on social networking websites/apps" in the past week. Twice as many - 40 percent - said they had talked about faith tom someone in person within the same period.

35 percent said they attended a religious service at least once a week.

Although people from different religious backgrounds reported different levels of what one might call faith-sharing, this relationship between on- and offline sharing was roughly the same across Christian denominations and the religiously unaffiliated: Twice as many people talked about their religious beliefs offline vs. online.

Are people afraid of offending people? Or is it just a matter of keeping their religion private?

And in case you're thinking, "Hmm, I feel like I see plenty of my friends share religious views," well, in our circles it's true. White evangelicals are most likely to share faith online and offline.

*** "Have faith!"

--- Sometimes when someone says that to you it is uplifting. Other times you grumble and wish harm on that person. After all, it’s not like you don’t have faith in Jesus, it’s just that you can’t act on it when you don’t trust something will get done. After all, if you are working on a project with five other people, and you don’t trust the other four to get the job done, do you “have faith” that it will get done?

--- Personally, I had faith that the new Star Wars movie would have a cooler title than “The Force Awakens,” but sometimes you put your faith into the wrong things.

--- Have you ever tried to pull yourself up just by thinking Oprah-fied thoughts that you are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it people like you?

--- When have you noticed people putting too much faith in self, or in others, or even in positive thinking? Does it work or ultimately lead to disappointment?

*** Saving faith.

--- Hebrews shifts from trying to keep believers in the fold to showing them why, because of the superiority of faith in Jesus Christ.

--- "The reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen." Faith is confidence that God will do what He says He will do, even when it doesn't happen on our timetable.

--- God promised Abraham he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky even though Abraham and Sarah were old and childless. In Genesis 17:17 it says Abraham falls facedown and laughs to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” But then Abraham goes and acts like what God said was going to happen.

*** Even when we are living in faith, we still need the Lord to strengthened it from time to time.

--- In Luke 17:5 the apostles - those who walked with Jesus and saw Him nearly every hour of every day - say to Jesus, "Increase our faith!"

--- Jesus responds with the analogy that even if you just have the faith of a tiny mustard seed you can move mountains. The point is not the amount of faith but that the object is a great and powerful God.

--- The more we believe, the more confidently we do God's work, the better our Christian walk will be. David Jeremiah writes in the guide that: “For the unbeliever, ‘Seeing is believing.” For the believer, ‘Believing is seeing.’”

*** Do we act like we truly believe that as the Bible says, "With God all things are possible?"

Faith Demonstrated (Heb. 11:4-7)

4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. For prior to his removal he was approved, since he had pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

*** Cain and Abel: A study in faith.

I admit, for a long time I would read about Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4 and think, that doesn’t seem fair that Cain’s offering wasn’t as acceptable as Abel’s. I mean, Cain’s a farmer, so why wouldn’t it be okay for him to offer his crops?

The answer is in Hebrews 11:4, where it says that Abel’s offering was done in faith, implying that Cain’s was not.

Abel worshiped by bringing the first and the best of his flock for a sacrifice; it appears that Cain did not bring either his first or his best crops, so we can deduce that his heart was not in the right place. 1 John 3:12 says Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

Abel’s faith — the faith that trusts in God’s provision — is the kind of faith that will endure even in the midst of adversity. If we do not trust God to provide for us even before He has done so, we will certainly not trust Him under duress.

*** Enoch “walked faithfully with God.”

--- Genesis 5:21-24 - 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

--- Enoch is a descendant of Seth and the father of Methuselah.

--- Twice the Bible says that Enoch "walked faithfully with God," indicating they had an intimate relationship. Enoch so trusted in God and lived in obedience to Him that Enoch didn’t have to experience a physical death. God just took him. Of all recorded Old Testament saints, only Enoch and Elijah did not experience physical death.

--- One thing that I get from reading this chapter of Hebrews is that the heroes in the Old Testament are very much real and lived. The stories are tossed aside by so many as ancient history and fable, but to the writer of Hebrews they are examples of faithful living.

*** Memory verse, Heb. 11:6 - Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

--- Three parts of importance here: 1) You must believe God exists; 2) Without faith you can't please God; 3) God rewards those who want more.

--- These Old Testament examples of faith didn’t even have the New Testament like we do. They didn’t have the gospel message and the knowledge of Jesus. And yet they believed and persevered.

--- Believers trust God’s Word, even though to an unbeliever the gospel message might sound foolish.

--- 1 Corinthians 1:18 - For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

--- What are some difficulties Christians face today that require them to display strong faith in God?

*** Noah was found righteous.

--- Noah found favor with God and was chosen to restart civilization from destruction.

--- Having faith in what God said, Noah built a giant boat nowhere near water.

--- Those without faith rejected Noah's warnings and thus rejected God, leading to condemnation. Remember this when you hear people say that they don't think a loving God would send people to Hell. He has invited them, but they've rejected God and Jesus their savior.

*** Who are some New Testament-age “heroes of faith” (including from modern times) that you would include on a “Hall of Faith” list?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

--- When we follow Bible stories we relate a lot to David and his triumphs and his failures. But when it comes down to it, the reality is that we are more likely to feel like Uriah. We serve someone in a higher authority, we try to stay true to our values, and sometimes we end up with the short end of the stick.

*** A lot of Hollywood insiders called 2014 the “year of the faith-based film.” We say movies such as “Son of God,” “Heaven is for Real,” “Mom’s Night Out” and “God’s Not Dead.”

Of course, while they may be labeled faith-based because they reference Scripture, audiences need to be discerning because for every “Son of God” is a “Left Behind” or “Noah.”

How would you explain to the average man-on-the-street what exactly constitutes a faith-based film?

Can you think of an example in a film you’ve seen where the gospel was clearly presented or where a character unashamedly exemplified a life of faith regardless of what was going on around them?

--- Real faith is trusting God with our life, including our future. Real faith leads to actions that demonstrate truth in God. When we act on our faith in God, it pleases Him.

*** The Faith Hall of Famers weren't extraordinary supernatural believers. They were just like us, and they stepped out on faith to follow God no matter if or when they were rewarded.

*** Think of people you admire for their faith.Why? What actions can you take to grow your faith?

*** Evaluate your faith in God and where your trust level is that He will provide all of your needs.

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