Recap: BIG Faith
Last week, we began a new series called “Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith.” Right off the bat, I asked you to imagine what your life would be like if you had absolute confidence. I mean absolute, perfect confidence and assurance that 1) there really is a God, 2) that it’s a personal God who knows your name, and 3) that it’s a God that will walk beside you every day through anything that comes your way and has promised to never leave you or forsake you.
It’s the kind of confidence or BIG FAITH that…
When things are great…you have confidence in God;
When things are bad…you have confidence in God;
When things don’t go your way or your prayers aren’t answered…your natural response is, “God you are in control, and I’m going to trust you. I believe that you’re working behind the scenes and somehow, you’re going to bring good from this. I’m just going to rest and have confidence in you.”
Imagine how different your life could be if you had that kind of faith all the time. Imagine the confidence you would have – the personal security you would have. The insecurities would go away. You’re not in denial; you just have absolute confidence and faith in God.
Perhaps you know people with this kind of faith. You tell them bad news and no matter how many horrible details you give them, no matter how rough the situation, it does not rattle their faith. It almost makes you a little irritated, mostly because you wish you had that kind of confidence – that simple kind of child-like faith. However, our lives would be a lot more peaceful if we actually did. Even people who are not Christians are attracted to these kinds of people.
As you open the pages of the Old and the New Testaments, it becomes very evident what God is trying to do in all of us. He wants to re-establish a relationship of trust and confidence. As I mentioned last week, man’s problem with God began not just simply through disobedience; man’s problem with God began when mankind decided not to trust God. And the story of the Old Testament is God re-establishing a trust relationship with a nation as a model for the rest of the world. And in the New Testament, we find God re-establishing a trust relationship with the rest of the world – the Gentiles, which most of us would be considered.
It’s a relationship through His Son, Jesus, who came to this world and did NOT say, If you’ll be good, maybe you’ll get to heaven; here’s a “to do” list and if you do four out of seven God will love you. What He DID say is, God wants you to trust Him, and so He sent me here. And if you will trust me, you will re-establish your relationship with your Heavenly Father. Because just as the relationship fell apart over trust, it can be re-established in the same way; through trust.
What God wants to do is grow BIG Faith in you, because if you have BIG Faith, if you have big confidence in God that seeps into every single aspect of your life, your life will be different. The way you view relationships will be different, the way you view tragedy will be different, the way you view prosperity, money, ethics – everything will be different.
I ended last week by saying that there are Five things that God seems to consistently use to grow BIG Faith. They’re not listed in the Bible. These aren’t five things that you do as a checklist. They are five things that when you know them, you can look back and see how every faith journey has them. And when you are aware of them, you can put yourself in places where God can utilize them.
This is the one we are going to talk about today.
This is when God brings people into our lives that grow our faith BIG.
These are the things we do in private to grow our faith BIG.
These are the moments when you are moved into service to serve other people in Jesus’ name.
These are the highlighted events in our lives that change us; that grab our attention.
If you listen to people tell their faith stories, it seems like these five things show up every time. They are things that God consistently uses to build our confidence and faith in Him. We’re doing this series because no matter where you are on your faith journey, whether you’ve just begun a relationship with God (maybe you’ve sort of got one foot in and one foot out) or you’ve been a Christian your whole life, my hunch is if you were to tell me your story and what’s going on in your life right now, we would see that God is using at least one of these five things and has already used others in the past.
Today I want to talk about the first one – Practical Teaching.
Practical Biblical Teaching
Here’s how it works.
When someone tells their story about God growing their faith, one of the things that always shows up is something like:
I had heard about God. I even grew up going to Sunday school, but then someone invited me to a Bible study…
A guy started a Bible study at work…
Someone invited me to a bible study in their home…
Someone invited me to a church I had never been to before, and I discovered that the bible is actually very practical for my life…
Exposure to practical, Biblical teaching is critical for growing BIG Faith
One of the things that grows our faith and gives us BIG Faith is that first time we are exposed to practical biblical teaching. Somebody teaches the Bible and at the end of the lesson we don’t just know more bible stories, we in fact know what to do with what we’ve just heard. We know how to apply it to our own lives. As we’re going to discover today, our faith gets bigger when we begin to see the Bible as here’s something God wants us to do and not just know. I’m going to explain that dynamic in just a moment.
The problem (and I’m speaking generally) is that in many churches there seems to be a sense of contentment in just “covering the material”. They just make sure people know the stories in the Bible – Here’s some stuff the Bible says. God bless you and keep you. They never really teach what you are supposed to do with the stuff you learn.
Application is Critical
When Jesus opened the Old Testament to teach, it was different. And when Paul, in the book of Acts, began to expound on the teachings of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus, it was different. Jesus, in particular, taught application, not simply just knowledge.
Let me give you an illustration from the book of Matthew. This is one of the most familiar parable kind of stories that Jesus told. To set the scene, Jesus has just finished up what is called the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount, the entire message is about what to do, not simply what to believe. There is some belief parts of course, but the core of the sermon is about what to do. And the reason Jesus taught in a very applicable way was that Jesus knew simply knowing things doesn’t make the difference. It’s how you put that knowledge into practice that makes the difference. Basically, the Sermon on the Mount is about what it would look like if you had BIG Faith. I encourage you to look through Matthew chapters 5-7 and see for yourself. Meanwhile, I’ll sum a bit of it up for you.
The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus saying (paraphrasing here), If you really had big faith in God, here’s what you would do. If you had perfect faith in God, here’s how you would act. So he said things like this:
If somebody asked you to go a mile, you go two miles.
If somebody really, really offends you, you just go ahead and forgive them anyway.
And oh by the way, lust is a sin – not just adultery, lust too. What you do with your eyes and with your mind is a sin. (That was brand new news to that culture.)
When it comes to giving, he said to just give as much as you can. And of course, somebody in the back wanted to say, Could you, like, give us a percentage? And Jesus just skips over that. He says, When you see somebody in need, just give as much as you can.
That is what it looks like to live as if you have absolute, perfect faith that there is a God who knows your name and is going to take care of you.
So almost this whole message is about the application. It’s things to do and not do, ways to handle or not handle situations. It’s not about gaining God’s favor. Truthfully, Jesus was speaking to a group that already had God’s favor. These were Jewish men and women who God had already selected to be his people. This message wasn’t “do something good so God loves you.” The message wasn’t like that at all. This was, you know what, if you want to live out your faith in God, here’s what it looks like. So the whole sermon was very application-oriented.
And then at the end of His sermon, Jesus concludes, and this is where we’ll pick up.
In Matthew 7:24-28 He says:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into…What’s the word? Yes, practice.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
The thing that’s going to blow your faith up is not just hearing it, it’s not just understanding it, it’s doing something with it.
A few weeks ago, we looked at this scripture when we talked about how Scripture is truth, that we can rely on it and should be in it. Now it’s time to talk about putting what we read into practice.
Jesus is saying if you want there to be a difference in your life, if you want to see God show up in your world, then you have to DO these things. You can’t just walk away and say, God loves me because I went and heard Jesus speak. I heard Jesus speak for five weekends in a row. I didn’t miss one single speech that Jesus gave. What do you think about me, God? The reason I say that is because in our American culture, and we are all victims of this, we tend to rate our spirituality or Christianity on, Well, did you go to church this weekend? I don’t miss church. I’m there every week. Maybe life would go better with you if you’d go to church more consistently. Now please don’t get me wrong. Church is important and is a huge part in our journeys, but please allow me to get to my point…
Maybe life would go better for you if you would go to church more consistently. God, how could you let that happen to me? I went to church for three months in a row. God, if I promise to get back in church will you… It’s as if somehow we think attendance and the consistency of attendance is what makes the difference. Jesus says, No, you can come and hear all my speeches, all my sermons, and write them all down, keep them in your organized little notebook, but if you don’t do any of this stuff, it is not going to make any difference in the world. Because the thing that’s going to blow your faith up is not just hearing it, it’s not just understanding it, it’s doing something with it.
This is why when you hear people tell their stories about BIG Faith, they will always include an element of…Then I started going to this church. And this teacher or pastor started teaching, and for the first time I understood what the Bible meant, and I understood what I was supposed to do with it. And then I went out and I did it. I began to actually apply the Scripture to my life. And when I did, I began to see my family, my marriage, my future, my money, and my ethics all differently. When I began to apply this stuff, it’s like suddenly God came alive in my life. Maybe you know just what I’m talking about here. When we start applying these principles and Scriptures to our lives, life is better, and you see God at work in everything.
When your faith intersects with God’s faithfulness, that is when you put feet on your theology and begin to do some of the things that the Bible says to do, and God honors your obedience. Why? Because your obedience is an act of faith. God, I’m going to do what you’ve asked me to do, not because it makes sense, not because I’ve seen anybody else do it, not because I think it will make my life necessarily better than anybody else’s. I’m going to do this simply because you said to do it. That’s an expression of I trust you! That’s an expression of BIG Faith. And when you express BIG Faith and God comes through in big faithfulness kinds of ways, WOW! God is now in your relationships, God is in your mind and in your heart, He’s in your marriage, your finances. Suddenly, it’s as if you’ve sort of taken the shackles off of God to show up in visible, tangible ways in your life.
But that doesn’t happen until somebody helps you understand how to apply the passages of Scripture. I mean come on. It’s one thing to believe in nutrition. It’s another thing to eat healthy. You can believe in nutrition and what good does it do? None. You feel better about having read the book, you feel better about having gone to the seminar, but it doesn’t do you one bit of good until you apply it. The same with exercise. Believing in exercise or reading about exercise, joining a gym, even walking through the gym with your gym bag, meeting the trainer, having a conversation with the trainer, scheduling—does you NO good if you don’t actually follow through and do it. You can fill your bookshelves and your DVD library full of information about exercise. People could walk into your home and look around and go, Wow, you’re like an expert. And you’re over there with your Twinkies going, Yeah, I’m an expert. If you want to know anything about exercise you’ve come to the right person. But it hasn’t done me personally one bit of good because I’ve not done a thing with it. I’ve not applied any of this huge amount of knowledge that I have acquired.
Look, if you want Christianity to explode in the reality of your experience, you have to do things. One of the things that pumps up your faith and grows your faith is when you expose yourself to environments where people teach the Word of God, not just in terms of here’s something else to know, but teach the Word of God within the context of application. Here’s what to do, here’s how to do it, and here’s someone who is going to try to inspire you—not just to have knowledge, and not just working out the theological details of Scripture, which is all fun and interesting, but who inspires you to actually get up and do something.
I picture Jesus saying, Thanks for listening to the sermon, thanks for showing up today, however you might as well have stayed at home or gone fishing if you don’t do something with what I’ve just taught you.
Let’s continue in the scripture:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
Jesus said that the reason this house didn’t fall is not because they knew about the storm, knew about construction, or knew about how to build a house; the reason is because they did the right thing. They actually built on the rock, and that’s what it means to listen and to obey the things Jesus has taught—you listen and you do. Simply stacking up information, simply showing up and listening and attending, there’s no value in that. If you want your life to reflect a person who built their house on a solid foundation, Jesus says you’ve got to do this stuff. You can’t just believe it. You have to be in action. And it’s not about earning your favor with God and your way into heaven—that’s not the subject of this message. But in order for God to show up in real and tangible ways, you have to express faith and trust in His faithfulness. And when those two things intersect, there’s God.
He goes on in Verse 26. You may remember the flip side of it.
26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
He’s saying, you can have 100% attendance and be a fool. You can have 100% attendance and build a house, a relational home, a financial home, a moral home, you can go out and make all kinds of decisions and it be an absolute disaster. And when you get on your knees and say, God, how could you allow this to happen to me? I never miss church. It’s as if God says, I know, but attendance is not the issue. It’s what you do with what you’ve heard. Obedience makes the difference, not attendance, not acquiring knowledge, even teaching it. It’s when you apply what I’ve taught you, that you can establish your home on a firm foundation.
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Their teachers of the law in that first-century taught in terms of here’s some more knowledge. It’s all about belief. And then, Jesus came along and said, Okay, here’s a little bit of belief, but let me tell you what that looks like. It means you just forgive; it means you go the second mile; it means you don’t look in that direction; it means you give generously. Here’s what it looks like in the real world, and if you want there to be a difference then you can’t just listen, you’ve got to do. When you have that kind of faith and it intersects with my faithfulness, I’m going to come alive in whatever arena of your life you’ve expressed that kind of faith.
Somewhere in my early 20’s, God got my attention. I say somewhere because it really was a gradual thing. But somewhere along the line, He tugged on my heart and I got busy. I too was invited to bible study at someone’s home. I too was invited to a different church for a while. I too was encouraged to join a bible study at church. I was even asked to teach a Sunday school class for youth and let me tell you what. When you are the teacher you are also the student…probably more so than anyone else in the class. I read, asked my pastor questions, studied, but the biggest thing that changed me was how I was set up to be an example to put those principles into practice for those young girls to see. Do you know what that did for me? It taught me that this isn’t about knowing stuff; this whole Christianity thing is about doing stuff.
That’s why one of the best things you can do for yourself, your kids, your spouse, who you’re dating, the people you love is to be involved with them in environments where somebody opens the bible in a way that’s practical and applicable. What we should be asking is how does this apply to my life? The reason people like shorter and shorter sermons is because they already know the material and are more or less bored with it. What they are really looking for is the take away – what does this have to do with my life and how can I use it.
One last thought on this, when somebody begins to teach application, it can be disturbing. I know. It may rock your boat a little bit. You may feel uneasy and don’t want to hear it. I’ve heard some say, but we’ve always done it this way (boy, that statement drives me up the wall for more reasons than one). I know I may be urging you out of your comfort zone. You might not like what I’m saying and telling you to do. But let’s be honest, that’s because you know it’s going to take some work and it may not be easy.
Listen, whether I have actually met you or not, I care about you. And therefore, I want you to know the truth. And shame on me if I know the truth and don’t share it. The Bible says I’m, as a teacher, going to be held accountable with high standards, so yes, I’m going to tell you what the bible actually says.
Listen, when Jesus taught there were no peaceful, easy feelings. In Luke 4, Jesus teaches and after the sermon, they take him out to throw Him off a cliff. And it wasn’t just because church was boring.
Luke 4:28-29 (NIV) All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.
They were mad! Why? Because Jesus was being real with them. And He was doing so, not to condemn them, in fact just the opposite. John 3:17 – “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” Now if you get to the end of one of my sermons and you’re mad at something I said, that’s okay. Hopefully, that means we’re being the New Testament church. Just don’t try to throw me off a cliff, please.
It’s okay to be disturbed by God’s Word. That’s when you know it’s working. Hopefully, you’re bothered enough to go home and look up Matthew 5-7 for yourself. In fact, nothing would make me happier for you to get so mad at something I said, and you are so sure I’m wrong that you go home and look it up. If I can bother you into reading your Bible, I just think that’s the greatest thing in the world.
Overall, obedience is what makes the difference, because obedience is an intersection of your faith and God’s faithfulness. And that’s why one of the things that grows BIG Faith is when we are consistently exposed to the teaching of Scripture in a meaningful, practical, applicable way.
Lane Jones, pastor at Brown’s Bridge Church, said, “Unapplied truth is like unapplied paint. It doesn’t do anybody any good. The value of paint is in the application.” You need to be an in environment, your kids, your middle schoolers, your high schoolers need to be in an environment where somebody brings in the can of paint, pops open the top, stirs it up, hands them the can and the brush, and says, Now I’ve made it as easy as I can for you, but you have got to go home and start painting. You have got to go to work and start applying this. You have got to show up at school and apply it. You’ve got to show up and apply it, because if you don’t apply it, it doesn’t do any good.
And if you don’t apply it, you’re like a man or a woman who has built his or her entire life (house) on a foundation that will not survive a storm. It may look perfect for a few days, weeks, months, or years, but eventually something is going to come along and undermine it.
Everyone who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice is like a wise man, a wise woman, a wise teenager, a wise student, wise senior adult, single adult who builds his or her house on a rock, because at the end of the day it’s obedience that makes all the difference.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you for the knowledge you give us through it. But don’t let us stop there. Convict us, lay it on our hearts, and move us into action. Let the way we live our lives reflect your practical biblical teaching. May our lives show the world who you are and how great you love us all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.