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Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pentecost 13 8/18/13

Pentecost 13 8/18/13 Hebrews 12:1-3 and Mark 9:23-24 “I Believe, Help My Unbelief.” This morning I want to talk to you about the first three verses of chapter 12, which are the last three verses of the Epistle reading. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." But before I get started let’s do a quick review of the last Sunday’s Epistle reading for that will help us to understand what God is saying to us today in the first three verses of Hebrews chapter 12. Last Sunday we were given in the Epistle reading a description of faith. Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." It is further described in verse 6 of the same chapter. Faith “must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who desire him." Faith, then believes that God exists even though you cannot see him and knows without a doubt that he will do as he promise and gives good things to those who earnestly have faith in him. The last three verses of his morning’s Epistle reading start with, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” God’s Word gives us example after example of those who had faith in God’s promises even though, for most of them, as we have found for the last couple of weeks, they never, at least in their earthly lives, received what God had promised them They are examples for us when we are beset upon with doubts and times of weak faith. Their example, plus the lives of those we have known who have died in the faith, helps us to keep our eyes of faith on the things of God instead the things of this earth which we all know will end up in decay, but which we still put so much faith in. A life of complete faith in God is the life we are to live, but we all know we don’t. We all, like the man whose son’s life was controlled by an evil spirit when he questioned Jesus’ ability to heal his son, and Jesus had fussed at him for not completely believing, cried out to Jesus, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” “I belief, help me in my unbelief” needs to be the cry of all Christians, as they live their lives of faith quite often, if they are honest with themselves, doubting the promises of God. To a Christian who is in what appears, at least to human eyes, a hopeless situation, Jesus says, It is not, “if” Jesus can help, but as Jesus says, in Mark 9, 23, “All things are possible for one who believes.” Jesus can, if you truly believe and there is the problem. It is not if he can, for he does, but if we can. That is what Jesus was saying to that father that day and to us today. The father had, just as we have in the desperate times of our lives tried everything before coming to Jesus. For him and us desperate times caused him, as it does us, to take desperate measures. He, just as we do so many times, had nothing else to turn to. He, again like us, came to Jesus in faith even while doubting if Jesus would actually heal his son. We believe in all sorts of things, far too many things. We believe in power, we believe in ourselves and in other people. We believe in the power of our nation. We believe in science and people who say that they have been given special insight into the wisdom of God. And certainly last, but not least we believe in new ideas and technology. The list could go on and on, but do we truly believe in the promises of God? I would put forth to you, that if you and I truly and fully believed in the promises and power of God we would not be putting so much faith in the things of this world that we so fully believe in. I say that, because when you truly believe in God’s promises and power you believe in the one who made all things, continues to create all things, sustains all things, and will in the end be the only one who truly delivers on the promises he has made, you simply put the things of the world in their proper place behind God. We know the victories and successes of people; maybe you are one of those people, who have set their mind on accomplishing something and done it. Their faith in their ability and drive gets them to the finish line of accomplishment, fame, and fortune in whatever it is they went after and it is great. We see that and are inspired by their drive, their ability, their single minded focus to accomplish whatever it is they are going after. They are witnesses, as it were, to what can happen if you have enough faith in your ability to accomplish whatever it is that you want and stick to it. (Maybe tell story of the greatest car salesman who set the record for sales for 12 years He sold six cars a day while most salespeople sell 6 a month. I don’t know what it is like today. His name is Joe Girard. His driving force to his success was his dad told him he was worthless and 50 years later he was still driven to prove his dad wrong.) We view, for the most part their successes, their victories as being great and inspiring, but how much greater is the victory for one that has faith, not in some subjective thing of life, but in the living God. The miracles of Jesus, the effect he had on people, were nothing more than an extension of his faith in God and his promises. We need to have that faith, for that faith deals, not just in successes in this life, but success of eternal life with God. Why don’t we have that kind of faith? Let’s see, there could be intellectual difficulties. There could be that a person does not believe that they have a “gift for religion.” For someone else it could be that they have been mistreated or just had bad experiences in life. There are thousands of reasons for believing the abilities of oneself and not believing in the ability of God to do what he has promised. The more I have thought about the problem of our truly believing, that is having faith in God’s promises I have come to the conclusion that our faith is weak, because deep down we would rather trust in our understanding than in God’s promises, the God who made all things, sustains all things, and in the end fulfills all things. Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief. To have faith means that you and I must trust God unconditionally, and deep down we really don’t want to do that because then we have given up control, even if it is to God. We want to set conditions. Just think about prayers. How often do we pray for God to do something the way we want and on our timetable? We simply deep down in our psyche don’t trust God and is that not what faith is, trusting God to do what he has promised? We pray and God does something amazing and what do we do? We say that it probably would have happened anyway, or that there are scientific reasons behind whatever took place. We, so often put our faith in the things of the world rather than God. “I believe, help me in my unbelief”. All we lost? Yes, on our own, but with God nothing is impossible, even changing a life of unbelief. “I belief, help me in my unbelief”. People who finally realize that they have no hope of combatting their sins, their selfishness, their weakness, as long as they rely on their own ability, who realize that before God they are truly poor miserable sinners still deserving of God’s wrath, become a new human being, born of the water and the word of God. In that realization and under the grace of God they become, even as they struggle with life, a new creature, not fully realized yet, but still a new creature, as they put their trust in God. Their faith, even though weak and sometimes riddled with sin cries out to God, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” God wants our lives to be formed by our faith in him, not by our complaining and lamenting, and worrying, and sighing, but by our faith, the faith he has given us, for it is in and through our faith that he works. In faith you are less afraid, less enslaved to sin, for in actuality they are no longer slaves to sin, but totally belong to God. In faith you are more joyful, more outgoing, and more able to enjoy life, even when it is troubled. Having trouble in your faith life? Doubting whether God will do what he has told you he will do, for it does not look like he is going to keep his promises? Want to improve it? Go to Hebrews chapter 11. Read the chapter and the first three verses fo chapter 12. Think about the vast army of witnesses who surround you; people who died never seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lifetime, but knowing that God would give them what he promised. Remember the greatest witness of all, Jesus who died so that you can be saved from the wrath and condemnation of God, and then pray to God, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” There is not a better prayer of faith than that prayer, for God on account of Jesus’ loving act of salvation will strengthen and reward you, as he has promised, for with God nothing is impossible. Amen.