Years ago Susan and I we were able to purchase and develop an acreage near Olds, Alberta. And if any of you have ever done anything like this before, you know that there is a multi-stage process to doing something like this. In our project, We first had to acquire the land, then we bought an old farm house that needed to be moved, then we obtained the permits that we needed to move that house, we had to have services (like power, natural gas and telephone installed), we had to have a well drilled, the wooden basement had to be built, the house had to be moved, the addition that we planned had to be built, and so on and so on, and so on.
Now what I am telling you is partially a confession because what happened is, after we were able to move in and we had a roof over our heads, the project stalled. I got busy with other things and I never completed the final stages of the project until just before we moved to Saskatoon so I could go back to school to become a pastor. And this is a pattern with me. Because even in the house that we live in now there are some renovation projects that are not complete.
And the development of a human soul is like the development of a property. Just as you develop a property by building a structure on it, so also a human soul is developed by building in faith in it. There are stages along the way as we grow in faith and all of us tend to stall out at some point. And the stage where we stall out in our faith is the point where we become comfortable. Whatever faith stage we are at, that stage seems to work for us, so we just stay in that stage. Unless something happens, either outside of us or inside of us, we won’t tend to grow in our faith beyond where we need to, and then because our faith doesn’t grow, our soul doesn’t grow, and we fall short in becoming the person we could be.
My goal today, whether you are here for the first time or you have been part of this church for some time, is to encourage you to grow in your faith in Jesus. Because Jesus is God and you were made by God to have a relationship with him. There is a God-sized hole inside each and every human being and only God can truly fill that hole and help us to blossom and grow into the fullness of who we can be. And the key thing to remember is that Jesus is worthy of your trust.
Let’s begin with some basic information about faith. First, we need to define faith. And the definition that I am putting before you is that Faith is trust. When we have faith in someone or something, we trust that they are reliable, that they are truthful, and that they are trustworthy. Second, Faith always has an object. Faith is trusting in someone or something. Our default position is to trust in ourselves, but we also trust in other things, too. We trust that the TV will turn on when we press the power button on the remote control. We trust that water will come out of the faucet when we open the tap. We trust that the sun will come up each morning. Some mornings more than others. So we can say that we have faith in all these things. A third thing about faith is that it is initially based on a promise. When we make an appointment to meet someone at a coffee shop for coffee, there is a promise made and we trust that the other person will keep that promise. A fourth aspect about faith is that it is eventually confirmed by evidence. In the beginning we trust in our friend to show up at that coffee shop at the agreed upon time, but that faith is confirmed by evidence when they actually do show up. And the more times that our faith is someone is confirmed, the stronger our faith grows in them. With this basic information about faith, we can say that everyone has faith, we only differ in the object and the stage of our faith. Even an ardent atheist has faith, but their faith has a different object that that of a Christian. Perhaps they would say they trust in science while a Christian would say that they trust in Jesus.
There is a scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that illustrates what faith is. Indy has to get the Holy Grail to save his father, and to get to the location of the Grail he has to cross a deep chasm.
Indy trusted in the promise given by the diagram in his father’s notebook that showed that it was possible to cross the chasm and his faith grew when it was confirmed by the evidence of the bridge supported him when he stepped out over the chasm. (To see this video clip, click here.)
So let’s consider the stages of faith as we look at the biblical account of Jesus healing a royal official’s son which is found in John 4:43-54.
This royal official served under Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great. We don’t know if the official was Roman or Jewish, but regardless of his religious or ethnic background, he was in trouble. His young son was dying and there was nothing that he could do to help him. Somehow, this official had heard of Jesus and, in desperation, he traveled the 32 km from Capernaum to Cana to see Jesus and begged him, again and again, to come and heal his son.
This royal official had what we might call Crisis faith. We are facing a crisis in our lives and the things that we usually trust in are of no help to us. In desperation, we search for something, anything, that will help us in our dilemma. It is during a crisis that our faith shifts and grows. As I mentioned earlier, we get comfortable in our faith because it works for us It is usually not until our faith quits working for us that we reach out and try a new object of faith or we trust our existing object of faith more.
And it is during Crisis Faith that the object of our faith becomes very important. From the best historical evidence that is available, one can say that only Jesus has died and risen from the dead. So when Jesus tells us that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life, that is a promise that we can trust in the middle of any crisis we face.
For Jesus is not like all the other promise makers. Of all the founders of the great religions of the world, only Jesus’ tomb is empty. His followers were willing to die trusting in Jesus because they knew that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was an actual event. Why would they die for something that they knew was a lie? Why would the Gospel writers record women as the first witnesses of the resurrection, when women were not even allowed to give testimony in a court at that time, unless it really happened that way? Why didn’t the enemies of Jesus simply end the whole charade right at the beginning by going to the tomb where Jesus was laid and parading his dead body through the streets to show that he didn’t really rise from the dead, unless that dead body was alive and walking around appearing to people for a few weeks? Jesus is the only One who can really help people when they are facing a crisis that involves death. This is why God has given this, all Christian churches, the mission of leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus. And because we want to reach people who do not go to church, then we need to be a church that unchurched people love to attend.
We go back to the biblical account and pick things up at verse 49: “Sir,” replied the official, “come with me before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live!” The man believed Jesus’ words and went. (John 4:49-50)
Here we have what we could call Confident Faith. The royal official has stopped begging, he simply accepts what Jesus says and returns home. But why does he do that? It is because there is something about Jesus and his words that are different from when anyone else communicates with us. When Jesus gives us a promise, he somehow also gives us the faith to trust in that promise. That is what happened with this royal official.
We continue with verse 51: On his way home his servants met him with the news, “Your boy is going to live!” He asked them what time it was when his son got better, and they answered, “It was one o’clock yesterday afternoon when the fever left him.” Then the father remembered that it was at that very hour when Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” (John 4:51-53a)
Now the royal official had Confirmed Faith. He had evidence that Jesus keeps his promises because his son, who was dying, is now on the road to wholeness and health. And that Confirmed faith very quickly becomes Contagious Faith as this man shares with his family what Jesus did and said to him and they too believe in Jesus.
So which stage of faith are you in? Maybe you do not believe in Jesus. That’s okay. We hope that you feel like this is a place where you feel welcomed and supported and encouraged. And if you want to have a conversation about faith, give a note to one of the others and I or someone else will contact you. Maybe you are in the midst of Crisis Faith and, if you are, let us know, because there are people here who are willing to walk with you through that crisis. Perhaps you are walking in Confident Faith because somehow, someway, you simply believe the promise that Jesus has given to us. That’s great and we want to encourage you to keep walking in that Confident Faith. Or maybe Jesus has intervened in your life in a way that has given you Confirmed Faith. That’s fantastic because now you have a story that you can share with others when the time is right. Or God has spilled so much joy in your life that you cannot help but have Contagious Faith. If that is the case, that’s great because our church needs people that are willing to invest in leading other people into a closer relationship with Jesus.
But regardless of the object or the stage of your faith, I invite you to think about this question: When things go wrong in your life, what do you say to yourself? What is the key theme of your inner dialogue with yourself? I don’t know about you, but I know that there have been long seasons in my life where I say derogatory, harsh things to myself that I would never speak to another living person. And my life was shaky house of cards as a result. It might have looked good from the outside, but the smallest tremor would have brought the whole thing down around my ears. So why do we condemn ourselves when Jesus doesn’t even do that? John 3:17 tells us, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)
So here is another question for you to consider: What would Jesus say to you? I can tell you. Jesus would say this to you: “I love you, I am always with you and you are forever safe with me.” So here is my challenge to you: Tell yourself what Jesus would say to you. Tell yourself that Jesus loves you, that Jesus is with you and you are forever safe with Jesus. And if you do this, it will change your life. Because Jesus is worthy of your trust. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on January 7, 2018.)