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Taking The First Step
August 13, 1995

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

The Scripture lesson this morning is about faith. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the author lists heroes and heroines of the Old Testament who are examples of faith. What is faith? Particularly, what is faith in God? The author of Hebrews defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. How do you define faith? Most of you are faith-ful. You've been faithful for a long time. But, perhaps there are some here this morning who need to hear the basics, Faith 101! Let me give you my definition of faith. Faith means to act in the belief it is true!

Faith means we don't really know for sure. If we know something for sure, it's not a matter of faith; it's a fact. Faith means, in spite of not knowing for sure, in spite of occasional doubts, act in the belief it is true. For example, say you are taking a trip to a place you've never visited before. You have a friend who promises to pick you up at the airport. Now, you can't be sure you are going to be met. Faith puts you on the plane. By faith you take your trip, believing that you will be met; but not knowing for sure until you arrive and there is your friend to meet you.

It is faith that takes the first step on your trip. Farmers know all about faith. They borrow heavily from the bank in the belief there will be a crop. Faith is an act. Faith is really a verb. We have difficulty understanding faith because faith in English is a noun. Faith is a thing. But, faith is a verb. Faith is an action. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is very clear. By faith the heroes and heroines acted. By faith Abraham went out on a journey. By faith Abraham walked. He took the first step and walked into the unknown, solely by faith.

There's something in us that yearns to settle down, to put down roots, to bolt down the furniture. On the fortieth anniversary celebration of the building of this building, Clarence Olive shared how he bolted down the pews. Bolting down pews is necessary; but, some people get the impression that the purpose of the church is to bolt things down, to get settled. But, biblical faith is a journey, an adventure. Faith means to act, to walk in the belief it is true. When David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, King David felt it wasn't right for him to live in a house, while God lived in a tent. The prophet Samuel protested. Samuel felt a tent for God, a tent for worship, was appropriate for a dynamic, living God; rather than a static, inert, immovable building. Abraham was a nomad. Abraham was called to leave the city of Ur, and venture forth in a tent. Abraham was called to be on the move. Perhaps a case can be made that the downfall of Judah and Israel started when Solomon built the temple. Faith means to walk, to take the first step and keep walking in faith, in the belief it is true. Faith is a journey, an adventure.

Where is the faithful person going on his/her journey? Where does God call to you go, where does God call you to walk? We don't know! Hebrews 11:8, By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going! Imagine the faith. Abraham and Sarah left the city, left their familiar surroundings, left their home, and set out into the harsh, dry, foreboding desert, not knowing where they were going. That is faith.

I'm afraid that people who make lists of what they are going to do in a particular day, and then devotedly, slavishly follow the lists, have difficulty with the Christian life. I wonder what people who have their goals in life so clear they know exactly what they are doing, and where they are going, think of Abraham! There is an element of mystery in walking faithfully. The author of Hebrews says that we are strangers and foreigners on this earth. We are seeking a homeland, the author says, a better country, a heavenly one. But, we are not sure where that is, so we walk in faith, not knowing where we are going.

Isn't it exciting to awaken every day wondering what God has in store for you? How boring if you know exactly what you are going to be doing every minute of the day. Walking in faith, living each day in faith means to be alert to the call of God, alert to the opportunities God provides for us to do some good. Each day is filled with adventure when we walk in faith.

Notice what Jesus asked the disciples to do. Jesus said, Follow me. They didn't know where Jesus was taking them. They didn't understand half the time what Jesus was up to. They shook their heads, muttered to each other, and even tried to talk Jesus out of some of his trips, especially the one to Jerusalem. But, Jesus' call was, Follow me.

When Jesus calls you to follow, notice he walks on ahead. Jesus is in front of you, going before you, calling you to follow, calling you to respond to need. Maybe it is scary to give your life to Jesus, not knowing if he will call you to Africa or Planada, south Merced or Bolivia, to work with CASA and be a friend to children, or to visit the nursing homes. One of the banner songs throughout my life has been,

I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.

O'er land or o'er the sea

I'll do what you want me to do, dear Lord,

I'll be what you want me to be.

I'll go where he wants me to go, because I trust the Lord. The Lord is worthy of my trust. We confidently can walk in faith because we trust the one who is calling us to follow. Two scientists were on a field trip in the mountains. They discovered a baby eagle in a nest on a jutting rock, just below the top of a dangerous cliff. The eaglet had been deserted, and they wanted to rescue it. Their guide had brought his young son along on the expedition. The scientists asked the boy if they could lower him on a rope to fetch the little bird. The boy was not at all enthusiastic about their plan, so he declined. They offered him money, then doubled it, but still the boy refused.

Finally, one of the scientists asked in desperation, "Well, then, how do you propose that we save the baby eagle?"

The mountain boy replied, "I'd be glad to go down to rescue the bird for free if you'll let my dad hold the rope."

It makes quite a difference in whom you place your faith. When you place your faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who created and is creating all there is, you can walk in faith confidently. You can even allow yourself to be let down a dangerous cliff to rescue a bird. And, when you trust Jesus with your life, Jesus takes you places. What an adventure! Jesus took me off the Minnesota farm. Jesus took me into two churches where I was the pastor at age 18. Jesus took me to Japan, from the farm to Japan, to be a missionary. I went alone on a freighter. It took two weeks. I was seasick half the time! I knew no one there. I wasn't even sure I would be met. I couldn't speak the language. I went in faith, not knowing where I was going; only believing that Jesus said, "Follow me."

After seminary, Ellie and I went back to Minnesota. But, Jesus called us to California. We set out across country, pulling a travel trailer, with three young boys. The youngest was two-years-old. One morning we left Salt Lake City, drove across the Salt desert, and across the desolate Nevada desert. Coming from green Minnesota with 10,000 lakes, the deserts were awesome! We drove into Winnemucca, saw a casino (which was probably the first casino I had seen) and a Methodist Church across the street. I said to the family, "This church is in the conference. We could be sent here some day!" We almost turned around and went back home! But, Jesus said, Follow me. And, here we are now in Merced. What an adventure! Who knows what's next? Who knows what this day holds?

Jesus takes you places, and you can walk confidently because you can trust Jesus. You can trust Jesus as friend, redeemer, and guide. Biblical scholar, Marcus Borg, has written a new book about how he returned to faith in Jesus after a twenty year journey through adulthood. The book is called, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, which is an intriguing title. He writes,

Until my late thirties, I saw the Christian life as being primarily about believing. Like many of us, as a child I had no problem with belief. But at the end of childhood there began a period, lasting over twenty years in which, like many, I struggled with doubt and disbelief. All through this period I continued to think that believing was what the Christian life was all about...Now I no longer see the Christian life as being primarily about believing...believing in God or believing in the Bible or believing in the Christian tradition. Rather, the Christian life is about entering into a relationship with that to which the Christian tradition points, which may be spoken of as God, the risen living Christ, or the Spirit.

Faith does not mean to believe in tradition or beliefs, or even to believe in God. Faith means to act, to walk in the belief it is true. Faith means to follow, and to enter into relationship with the one who calls you to follow.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris