November 27, 2011

Who’s the Real Owner?

We have been talking for the last couple of weeks about faith.  This morning we are going to wrap up our series by looking at a final snapshot of faith.  Admittedly, this is probably not considered by many to be one of the most important aspects of faith, but I think it’s a question that a number of people wonder about without ever asking.  What I’m talking about is the balance point between faith and sight.  So far we have talked about the beginning point of faith.  Our faith begins when we trust in God’s character.  We have also talked about the basic nature of faith.  We said last week that faith operates on confidence and commands.  We take our confidence in God’s character and His command to act and step out into the unknown.  In the process of these two conversations, though, I have mentioned several times the challenge of balancing faith with sight.  The fact is that in this life, balancing faith and sight is hard.  We are taught and encouraged to walk by sight in this world.  Our culture, this world, they don’t understand faith as we have spent the last couple of weeks defining it.  It doesn’t make any sense to them.  This is because the world doesn’t really understand who God is.  But we do.

Yet still, where does that line fall?  When is it okay to walk by sight?  Is it okay?  I said last week that we should make our plans and live wisely in this world.  But I also said that the things involved in such an approach to life are not necessarily prompted by faith.  They are rooted in sight.  Those kinds of things construct a world of knowns for us so that we may live comfortably within those walls.  And most of us step gladly into the space between those walls because living with unknowns is hard.  Even the most free spirit in this world wants to know where her next meal is coming from.   But again, how can we say that we’re walking by faith when we are working so hard to be able to see what’s in front of us?  Well, I want to do two things this morning.  I want to attempt to answer this question and I want to leave you with a concise definition of faith.  I want to do this by looking at a couple of passages from the book of Luke.  We’re going to start in Luke 21:1-4 if you would like to follow along with me.  As we look at these stories, one of Jesus making observations of the world around Him and one of Jesus offering a warning to those who would profess to be His followers, I think we are going to get some clues as to where the faith-sight balance point lies.

Let me start by simply reading the first passage to you.  From Luke 21:1-4: “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  You all know this story.  This is a story about sacrificial giving.  Jesus was a champion of sacrificial giving.  That aside, God doesn’t call many to give it all as this widow did.  What He wants from us, and what I think this story illustrates for us this morning, is the recognition on our part that everything we have ultimately belongs to Him.  For this widow to give everything she had to God was for her to recognize without hesitation that everything she had came from God and was His to have returned anytime He pleased.  I think the point here is not that we need to necessarily follow suit in emptying our wallets into the collection plate every time it comes around.  Instead, we need to come at life with the same mindset this poor widow had.  Whether God says give, go, or grow, we are prepared to go all in for it.  We are so prepared because we trust in His character and have confidence in the commands He makes.  Yet how does this help us balance faith and sight?

Well, think about Susan’s story from a few minutes ago.  For her to put the last $20 in her wallet in the offering plate that morning was for her to step out into the unknown.  Yes, she still had a job.  Yes, they probably had some savings to help through the hardest times.  Yes, those were aspects of wise planning that paid off.  But, come on, when you are financially shell-shocked and have recently lost what you thought was a guaranteed source of income, $20 seems like a lot of money.  That $20 may as well have been $2,000.  It was precious to her and God asked for it.  Indeed, when things of this world grow to the point of being precious to us—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing—we need to be prepared for God to ask for them back.  In giving it, Susan didn’t necessarily accomplish this fantastic amount of ministry for the sake of the kingdom—I mean, $20 won’t keep the lights on here for the length of the service—but she made an important statement: “What I possess in this world, I don’t really possess.  It all belongs to you.  And I’m going to live like it does.”  And in this case, God demonstrated rather quickly that it is His and rewarded her generosity.

Or think about the story Joy shared with us.  It makes the same point but in a different way.  For any parents to send their kid off to college is a step into the unknown.  We don’t know how things are going to go when they get there.  We train them up the best we are able and strive to plant a Christian worldview deep into their hearts and minds—don’t we?—but in the face of the faith shredding temptation mill that is the average university, we don’t know what’s going to happen.  Sending them away in this manner is a profound statement to God that our kids are His and we trust that He is going to do what’s necessary on His end to see them grow into the men and women He’s created them to be.  There aren’t any guarantees of this and a lot of kids wander from their faith in college, but the faith is shown in the giving.  What happens next is out of our hands.  For Bryan and Joy, God demonstrated His faithfulness through a truly divine appointment.  The difference between this story and Susan’s story is that now we only know the beginning of the story, not the end.  But what we do have is the evidence that God’s call for them to step out into the unknown was really a call to join Him in a place He is already at work.

So what do we do with all of this?  How does this help us understand the balance point between faith and sight?  Well, let’s examine all of this once again.  The rich people in the temple were giving out of sight and received no praise from Jesus.  They were merely doing their duty.  The poor widow acted on faith without any promise of sight.  She received great praise.  Susan acted on faith without sight.  Now, sight had put her and Jim in a better place than this widow, but her gift was sightless.  Joy and Bryan acted in faith without sight.  Actually, let’s broaden our search just a bit.  Any time anyone in Scripture ever acted on faith it was sightless.  God often told people what He was going to do ahead of time if they obeyed His commands, but this didn’t mean they could see the means for His apparently glorious ends.  This is the nature of faith.  As we established last week: faith operates on confidence and commands.  Not sight.  So then, where is the balance point between faith and sight?  There’s not one.

But wait.  Wasn’t this whole sermon about the balance point between faith and sight?  How can I now tell you that there isn’t one?  Because there’s not.  For the follower of Jesus, navigating this life happens by faith, not sight.  We’re not God.  We don’t know all the ins and outs of what He’s doing.   We’re never going to know all of that.  The call of this world is to have knowledge and by knowledge mastery of the world around us.  But by virtue of the nature our relationship with Jesus we’re acknowledging that we don’t, won’t, and can’t have that.  Faith and sight don’t go together.  They never have.  They never will.  Living by sight means we think we can handle the things of this life because in the end we really believe they belong to us.  We’ve worked for them.  We own them.  We can provide them.  Trying to balance the two means we think we can handle the things of this life but we’ll keep God on retainer just in case something comes up that we can’t.  Living by faith means we understand that it all belongs to God.  Faith begins when we understand God’s character; it operates on confidence and commands; and it means living like it belongs to God.  Faith means living like it belongs to God.

What is “it,” though?  Anything.  You name it.  It is…“it.”  God is pretty explicitly clear in Scripture that everything in this world belongs to Him.  All of it.  A Dutch Theologian named Abraham Kuyper once wrote that there is not a single square inch of this world over which Christ does not pronounce it, “Mine.”  Living by faith means living like this is true.  Faith means living like it belongs to God.  For Susan, it was her money.  For Joy and Bryan it was their daughter.  What is it for you?  Money?  A house?  A garden?  A car?  A job?  Your time?  Your family?  Your books?  Your electronics?  Your jewelry?  Your stuff?  Your own life?  Whatever it is, faith means living like it belongs to God.

Now, let me make something clear.  Living like this won’t necessarily mean you do things differently than your unbelieving neighbors.  Let’s use the example of investing and saving for the future.  Both of you watch the markets carefully and make investments that you believe are going to provide the best rates of return.  You carefully save your money so that in the future it will be available as you need it.  There’s no obvious difference here.  The differentiation lies in your attitudes.  Your unbelieving neighbor puts the money away carefully so that it can bail him out if things ever go south with his job or perhaps the economy.  He saves for the future so he can sit back, relax, and do all the things for himself he didn’t have time to do while he was pursuing his career.  You, on the other hand, invest intentionally with companies whose business practices are honoring of God.  You invest knowing that if you lose your job and God chooses to use these funds to help you during the transition period they’ll be available, but even if He doesn’t and they don’t, He will still supply all your needs.  Your real intention with the investment is to be able to use them to expand the kingdom in as many different meaningful ways as you possibly can.  You are saving for the future not for the purpose of enjoying retirement, but so that you are as free as possible to pursue the ministry opportunities God has for you at the point in your life when working for a steady income is no longer necessary.  You are making money in order be as generous as God enables you to be and you probably give away a good bit more than most people think you should.  Do you see the difference?  One lives like it is his.  The other lives like it isn’t.  Faith means living like it belongs to God.

Let me piece things together for you, I’ll share one more passage of Scripture, and then we’re out of here.  We should all be clear by now that our faith begins when we trust God’s character.  Trusting God’s character means we know God’s character.  If we know God’s character then we know things like He is absolutely good, just, and loving.  We know He is sovereign and powerful.  We know He is the creator of everything we see and don’t see.  These things are all part of who He is.  Faith begins when we know them.  It works when act on them.  But faith is living like they are true.  Faith means living like it belongs to God.  If it belongs to God and He is who He says He is, if we use it to honor Him, then He will make sure that it achieves its designed purpose.  He will do this because it is His and He can.  Faith means living like it.

In light of all this, making the decision to follow Christ by faith is a huge commitment.  Such a decision should not be approached lightly.  Faith means living like everything belongs to Him.  If we are not prepared to do that, to live fully by faith in every area of our lives, then we are not ready to be His followers.  With this in mind, I want to read for you some words Jesus spoke to the crowds that followed Him around and professed to be His followers because of what they thought they could gain by it.  They are words that are often taken out of context to indicate Jesus’ support for a sight-based approach to non-salvation issues of life.  Flip back a few pages in Luke to 14:28.  I’ll start reading from there: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Now, is Jesus talking about wise (sight-based) planning as a good strategy for life here?  No.  He’s telling the crowds to count the costs involved in following Him.  He’s telling potential followers to make sure they can follow through because the results of failure are almost worse than not trying in the first place.  Who does this?  Not someone whose first concern is having a lot of followers.  Look, faith means living like it belongs to God.  But, if everything belongs to God, that means nothing belongs to us.  That’s tough to swallow because if it doesn’t belong to us, we have to stop living like it does.  And if we’re honest, most of us like living like it does.  Sight like this gives us the illusory comfort of being in control of our environments.  Walking by faith necessarily gives this up.  This is why Jesus told His potential followers to count the costs.  He essentially told them to not get involved if they don’t want to go all the way.  Because here’s the thing: if you get involved, He’s going to take you all the way.  If God begins a good work in you, He is going to take it all the way to completion on the day of the Lord.  And if you are willing to take up the journey of walking by faith, you will experience the unmitigated, unimaginable, unending blessings of God’s abiding presence.  The creator of the universe will take up residence in your heart.  You will know in a deep and personal way the king whose birth we will celebrate with jubilation starting next Sunday.  But all of this takes walking by faith.  It takes giving up sight.  It takes recognizing that everything around us belongs to God and He will do with it what He pleases.  Faith means living like it belongs to God.  Will you this very morning give up sight?  I ask that to those who aren’t yet walking by faith.  I ask that to those who have been merely playing at faith for many years because they never learned what insisting on sight does to their heart.  Friends, give up sight.  Walk by faith.