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Welcome to Wonderland Part 3 | "Faith"

We all wonder. But what do you do when wondering leads to wandering far from the possibility of a personal faith?

  1. How would you define the word “faith”?
  2. Have you ever viewed or been taught that religion or faith was a way to get God to do things for you? Explain.
  3. Have you ever felt that Christianity requires mind-numbing, experience-denying faith? Explain.
  4. What is your biggest challenge in embracing a life of faith?
  5. What is the faith you’ve lost—or are losing—fixed on or fastened to? How big of a leap would it be to fasten your view of faith on Jesus, not Christians, church, or something else?

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

So what do you wonder? What do you wonder? I wonder why it’s so difficult to do the healthy thing when I’m so concerned about my health? Ever wondered about that? Why is that so difficult? That’s just… Is insane. Those of us who believe in God, we wonder about heaven, don’t we? We wonder what it’s gonna be like, we wonder are we really gonna see the people we love, are they gonna look the same? Are we gonna be able to meet famous people? If you’re a non-theist, you wonder how we can be so naïve as to believe there is a place called heaven and how is it that we continue to hold on to these myths that should have been let go generations ago?

But at the same time if you’re a non-theist, you wonder about life after death, don’t you? You wonder if there’s something else. And when you lose a loved one, you can’t help but wonder, is there more? And we all wonder through a frame of reference, and the frame of reference is inadequate because the frame of reference doesn’t provide us with all the answers and all the information that we need. But there’s another reason we wonder as well, we talked about this last time. We wonder because our frame of reference isn’t clear. Our frame of reference is cluttered with life, our frame of reference is cluttered with our personal life experiences. And we wanna think we’re better than this, don’t we? We wanna think we’re smarter than this, we wanna think that we’ve moved beyond this. We wanna think that the pain in our lives doesn’t impact the way that we see the world, that somehow we’ve moved beyond that, that’s virtually impossible. And the way that you see the world is impacted by your childhood, whether it was a great childhood or a not so great childhood, the truth is that’s a filter through which you view the world, through which you interpret relationships. And then there’s those fears and those insecurities, those things that just don’t ever quite go away and it becomes a part of a filter.

And all of these things create a filter through which we see the world. And so we wonder, but we don’t simply wonder through a frame of reference with limited information. We wonder through a frame of reference that’s full of life experiences.

Now, Christians believe something that’s a little bit odd, that’s why we’re talking about it, Christians believe that God actually became one of us to clarify these things for us. That God actually became one of us so that we could understand, so that we can see more clearly, that He sent someone to our side of the frame to serve as a reference. So in spite of all the things that we can’t know, in spite of all the things that we will never know, that we could know where we stood with Him.

And so for the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at this little phrase, this verse written in the first century by somebody who was writing specifically to Jewish people in the first century in this document that’s called Hebrews, it’s called the Book of Hebrews, but it’s not really a book, it’s really like a long sermon.

And in his attempt to reach out to Jewish people in his community who would put their faith in Jesus but were beginning to wander away, he made this powerful, powerful observation. Here’s what he said, he said, “We’re to fix our eyes on Jesus.” We’re to fix our eyes on Jesus who is the pioneer, the one that started it all off and the perfector of our faith. He said, “There’s gonna be a lot of things that distract you, there are gonna be a lot of things you don’t ever know, there are gonna be a lot of life experiences that don’t add up. But we’re to fix our eyes on the person of Jesus,” not church, not our church experience, not necessarily the things that happened to us or the things that didn’t happen for us in life, but to fix our eyes on Jesus. So, if you’ve wandered away, if you wondered and then you wandered away, or as we said last time, if you’re sort of reaching for the door of faith, isn’t it true the problem really isn’t Jesus?

And so the question we’ve asked, and the question I wanna ask one more time, is this: What was the faith, what was the faith you’ve lost, fixed on or fastened to? Or, what is the faith you are losing? What is the faith that is slowly slipping away, fixed on or fastened to? And as we approach the Christmas season, I wanna encourage you, I wanna plead with you, would you spend some time refastening or fixing your eyes on Jesus, not church, not Christians, not necessarily the way that you were raised, not necessarily what you were taught, but would you fix your eyes on the person of Jesus?

Now, today, as we continue the discussion, I wanna address one obstacle that may stand in the way of you doing that, especially if you’ve stepped outside of faith and you think the whole idea of stepping back in or even considering or reconsidering, that that just seems like it’s just unimaginable to you, perhaps, this is one of the reasons you find that so difficult. Because the assumption is, and these aren’t your words, these are words perhaps I’ve put around one of your thoughts. The assumption is this, that Christianity requires mind-numbing, experience-denying faith. And faith becomes the problem, that to be a Christian, to step back inside this whole idea to consider Jesus or to stay in this box that you feel like has become a box of religion or Christianity, it requires you to have mind-numbing, experience-denying faith. Here’s what I want you to know, that the original version did not. That Jesus’ original followers did not pretend things were better than they were and Jesus’ original followers were never asked by Jesus not to look, to pretend, or just to believe and believe…

And the reason this is so confusing sometimes is because there’s so much misunderstanding about this word “faith”.

So today I wanna talk specifically about this. And the reason it’s so confusing, I’ll own this, is because guys like me, men and women like me, have made faith complicated and they’ve made faith confusing. And by creating confusion around faith, we are responsible for causing some people to wander away from the faith. And I think the church oftentimes is responsible for causing some people to never even consider faith.

So what is faith? And what’s the role, especially as it relates to Christianity?

So a couple things it’s not, first, because perhaps you heard this growing up, faith is not some sort of force and it’s not some sort of power. Faith isn’t some sort of invisible lasso that we get around God’s neck and if we have enough faith, and if enough people have enough faith, we can get God to do things that God wasn’t planning on doing. And perhaps the church that you were raised in taught that. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons you walked away. Because you believed and believed and believed, and you prayed, and you prayed, and you prayed and the pastor came over and prayed for your mom or for your sister or came to the hospital, and everybody prayed, and everybody believed, and everybody had extraordinary faith and they prayed powerful prayers, loud prayers, and God didn’t answer them. And so as God didn’t answer your prayers you began to wonder is there a God that can be trusted? Is there a God at all?


Faith is not a power or a force we tap into. Do you know what that is? That’s called magic. That’s called paganism. That is not Christian or Jewish faith. And faith is not a formula. Faith is not something you have to figure out. There’s not a pin code. There’s not a code that somebody, you get the code and then God starts spitting stuff out. It’s not complicated, it’s not something you figure out, it’s not a formula.


Now, here’s the amazing thing, many of us who grew up in church have actually heard what I’m about to explain, or hear the verses I’m about to teach, taught before. And this is the most amazing and confusing thing to me, I’ve heard pastors teach what I’m about to teach, or teach the verses I’m about to teach, and the goal of the author of Hebrews is to make faith clear and understandable, and by the time they finish talking about what the author of Hebrews wrote, it is less clear and it is more confusing. And they actually use these verses to convince people that faith is something very different than what the author of Hebrews says it is.


And the author of Hebrews says that faith is simple and faith is central. But here’s the big deal, faith is not the reason we follow Jesus. Here’s what he writes, he says this, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for…” Now he’s introduced another word. Now, what is hope? Hope is wanting something to be with no guarantee. That’s what hope is. Wanting something to be but there’s no guarantee. You hope to get a raise. You hope to get a bonus. You hope to get married. Heck, you hope to get a date, right? [laughter] So faith happens, this is important, faith happens or faith is developed, or suddenly there’s faith, faith happens when hope so becomes confidence something will be so. That faith becomes a reality when hope so moves to confidence that something will be so. But that leads us to another question, and that’s this. What makes us confident hope so will be so? In other words, what has to happen for a hope so to be a be so? What has to happen inside us or around us so that something we hope will happen suddenly we have absolute confidence that it absolutely will happen?


So the author of Hebrews then asked the, basically makes the same statement a second way. He says this, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and it’s assurance about what we do not see.” So once again, we’re asking this question, “Okay, I believe what you’re saying, but how do we get from hope so to assurance?” And the answer is so simple. He doesn’t even give us the answer, because everybody knows the answer to this question. Let me help you surface the answer for yourself. How will you know that you got the raise? When your boss walks in the office and says, “I bet you’ve been hoping for a raise. The good news is I’m giving you a raise.” And when your boss promises you a raise, hope goes to faith. The reason that you know you’re gonna get a bonus is because somebody tells you you’re gonna get a bonus. And once they tell you, once they confirm it, then hope becomes faith.


So, let’s go back to the text. So, faith is confidence that God is and will do what He promised to do. This is basically the working definition of faith, that faith is confidence that God is and He’ll do what He promised to do. Now, this is very important for our discussion. We do not believe that God is because of faith, and we do not believe that God keeps God’s promises because of faith. Faith is confidence that God is, and the reason we believe God is, is not because of faith, we believe God is because of evidence, and as we’re gonna see in just a few minutes, we don’t believe God keeps His promises just because of faith, we believe God keeps His promises because God has kept His promises, as we are about to see. So faith is very simple. Faith is simply God, the confidence that God is, and that He will do what he has promised to do.


So, back to our text. Here’s what the author says, “Now, faith is confidence in what we hope for and it’s assurance about what we do not see.” And everybody reading this is like, “That’s exactly right,” and you get the assurance once you get the promise, we know that. “This,” the author continues, “This kind of faith,” and then he gives us a whole bunch of illustrations. “This is what the ancients were commended for.” Now, if you read this text by yourself and it’s a powerful text, at this point, the author goes into a long list of what we’re gonna call “the heroes of Judaism” or he calls ’em “the ancients,” and these were Jewish people reading this, so they knew all of these stories. So instead of teasing out all these stories, he just goes right through this list of people, some we’ve heard of and some we’ve not, and then for all of them, he says, “by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith.” And what does he say?


He says, “Each of these people were given a promise and they lived as if God existed and that God would keep that promise, that’s what it means to live by faith. One of the ones he talks about is somebody we… Most of us have heard of, Abraham, just a quick survey, and if you’re watching from home, I want you to participate. if you’ve heard of Abraham before you came today or before you turned on the television, would you raise your hand if you’ve heard of Abraham before? Yeah. Here we go, I just wanted to make sure. Okay. So, one of the folks he talks about, Abraham, and he says, “Abraham left home.” Why did Abraham leave home? He left home because God said, “I want you to leave home and I’m gonna show you a place that you don’t know of.”


So, Abraham believed God’s promise and he acted on that promise, that’s what faith is.


Then we’ve all… Most of us, probably all of us have heard of Moses. Moses left Egypt as a fugitive. Moses left Egypt with a price on his head, and we all know the story. Moses went back to Egypt. Now, why in the world would someone go back to the place that they barely escaped with their life from? Why would he do that? Because God said to Moses, “I want you to go back. And if you’ll go back, I promise I’m gonna use you to deliver your people from Egyptian bondage.”


So faith is simple. Faith is believing God is based on evidence, not based on faith, and faith is believing that God will keep His promise not based on faith, but based on the fact that we know God keeps God’s promises.


Now, here’s the cool part. Here’s why I’m going on and on about this: All of these heroes of the faith that he list, all of these… The ancients as he talks about them, all of these ancients were commended by responding to God’s promise, but all of them believed in God’s global promise for the world.


Because God spoke to Abraham about 2000 years before Jesus shows up. This is amazing. About 2000 years before Jesus shows up, God speaks to Abraham and God made Abraham a promise, and all of these characters in the Jewish scripture, they knew God’s promise to Abraham and they lived their lives not only in light of God’s personal promise to them, they meant to live their lives in God… In light of God’s global promise to the world. And here’s what God said to Abraham about 2,000 years before the time of Jesus, this is amazing. He said, I will talk in to Abraham. “I will make you into a great nation.” . “And I will bless you.” Well, I’m thinking, if you become a nation, you can consider yourself blessed. What did you do? Well, I became a nation. Ahh, wow, that’s cool.


“I will make your name great.” This is why I asked you to raise your hand a minute ago. “I will make your name great.” 4,000 years ago, God tells a guy out in the desert, “I’m gonna make your name great.” 4,000 years later, halfway around the world, just about everybody in this room and watching knows who Abraham is. I think God made Abraham’s name great. You knew his name before you got here. Wow. Yeah. And that’s just the warm up act. I mean, he hasn’t even got to the big one yet. This is the one that all the ancients lived in light of. “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” What does that mean? And then you’re ready? This is phenomenal. “And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Now, when God made this promise to Abraham, this didn’t make any sense, because people didn’t bless people. Tribes didn’t bless tribes. Nations didn’t bless nations. Not only did nations not bless other nations, nations conquered, pillaged, and enslaved other nations. And God says, “No, something new is gonna happen. And Abraham, I’m gonna turn you into a nation and your nation is not simply gonna bless the surrounding tribes and families, your nation is going to bless the entire earth.” And my friends, that’s the story of Christmas. Jesus being born onto this planet in the little town of Bethlehem was the fulfillment of a promise made 2000 years ago, and all over the world today, all over the world today, people are gathering in the name of Jesus and Jesus’ followers consider themselves blessed. God fulfilled this promise to Abraham.


Now, back to the author of Hebrews. Here’s what he says about this. Because again, this is during the time right after Jesus had been crucified and rose from the dead. Here’s what he said about these ancient Jewish people that were looking forward to this promise, “All these people,” talking about everybody after Abraham, all the way up to the Old Testament, “All of these people were still living by faith,” this is such a cool phrase, “All of these people were still living by faith when they died.”


“All of these people were still living by faith when they died.” What does that mean? That all of these people believed God was going to do something for the world through Abraham, but they didn’t get to see it happen, they died before it happened, but they lived by faith, every day of their lives just about, they made decisions based on the fact that God is, God keeps His promises. God kept His promise to them personally and one day some day in a way we can’t even begin to imagine, God is going to bless the world through our father, Abraham.


Now, switching gears a little bit. Here’s the reason this is so important as we approach Christmas, that both in the Jewish scriptures and in the New Testament scriptures, nobody assumed, nobody assumed they could faith God into or talk God into anything. Nobody used faith as magic. Nobody used faith as leverage. People believed that God was God and that God could not be manipulated, that God was to be worshipped, but God could be trusted. That’s the definition, the was the operating, the working definition of faith that God is, who God says he is, God keeps His promises and the people in the Jewish scripture and the Christian scripture, they just lived their lives in light of that.


In fact, one of my favorite little instances in the life of Jesus, now fast forwarding a little bit from the time of Abraham. Jesus is going along with His guys and the scripture tells us, and we can’t imagine this, that man covered in leprosy approaches Jesus, which was so difficult for him to do. And he falls down at Jesus’ feet and he makes this statement. And I just think this is so precious. This is so powerful. This is an example of perfect faith. You ready? Here’s what he said, “Lord,” which was a title of respect. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Not “Lord, I believe you will, I believe you will, I believe you will, I believe you will, my friends are back home praying, we believe you will, we believe you will,” no, that’s presumption.


“Lord, I have perfect faith,” don’t miss this, “I have perfect faith that if you are willing, you can.” And why would a leper be absolutely confident that Jesus could heal him? And the answer is, because he knew Jesus had healed other people. He did not go to Jesus because of faith, he went to Jesus because of evidence, and because of what he’d seen, because of what he’d heard. He was absolutely confident that Jesus could do for him what he needed done, and I love what Jesus says, I love this. Jesus reached out His hand. Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. This drove religious leaders crazy, “You are not supposed to touch unclean things.” And the amazing thing in the New Testament is this, that when Jesus touched unclean people, Jesus didn’t acquire their disease, the opposite happened. They were healed.


Jesus reached out and touched the man, and I love this, and he said, “I am willing.” In other words, that’s all the faith I’m looking for, not faith that you know I will, simply faith that you know I can. That is Jewish. That is Christian faith.


Now, the problem is, if you were raised a lot of people, you were not taught this definition of faith. You were taught that faith is more like a force, it’s a power, it’s some way you get God to do something, it’s kind of spooky and maybe some crazy things happen in your church. And people resist this simple definition of faith. And I’ll tell you why they resist it, and I’ll tell you why preachers resist it, and I’ll tell you why Christians resist it sometimes. Because it leaves God in control. So I have some good news for you. God is in control, and I’m so glad God did not listen to or answer my 16-year-old prayers. I would’ve had a Porsche. That would’ve been the end of me. [laughter] And aren’t you glad God didn’t listen to some of your prayers? But at the same time, the reason you walked away, is because God didn’t answer some legitimate prayers. Ain’t that right?


When God doesn’t come through, when things don’t work out the way we were told it’ll work out if we had enough faith, if we prayed hard enough, if we were good little girls and boys, we lose faith. But we lose the faith that was founded on and based on something it was never to be based on to begin with. Now here’s why this is such a big deal to me personally and this is why it should be a big deal to parents, and this is why it should be a big deal to those of you who’ve walked away from faith. A generation, an entire generation is abandoning faith because the church and people like me, but because the church has signed God’s name to promises God never made. So no wonder your faith fell apart.


No wonder the whole thing crumbled. No wonder you couldn’t maintain confidence in God. You were holding God accountable, or people taught you to hold God accountable to things God never promised to do. So if you grew up with vending machine God, the vending machine version of God, if you put in enough money and you put in enough time and you put in enough camps, you put in enough prayer and you put in enough bible reading, something good is gonna is come out. Or if you were raised on the “bad things never happen to good people” version of faith. Of course, you lost faith. That’s not even Christian faith. That has nothing to do with the foundation of our faith. God never promised any of those things, but here is the fabulous news. God did not demonstrate His concern for you by promising nothing bad would happen.


He did not demonstrate His love and concern for you by promising that every illness would be healed. And He did not demonstrate his love and concern for you by promising a flawless, perfect book. God’s promise is far more full of wonder than any of those things. God’s promise to you is more wonderful than any of those things. The Apostle Paul, who hated Christians, the Apostle Paul, whose life mission was to stamp out the church in the first century. The Apostle Paul, who eventually became a follower of Jesus, and wrote letters that became part of our New Testament. The Apostle Paul said it this way. It’s perfect. He said, “But God demonstrates, that is, God put on a demonstration, God put on a demonstration to demonstrate His love for you, and it had nothing to do with making sure everything worked out for you, and everything worked out for me. He did something way bigger than that. But God demonstrates His own love for us and this, while we were still sinners.”


And the reason this was present tense for the Apostle Paul is that he was alive when Jesus died. So this is very personal to him. He was saying, “While I was still a sinner, while I was still creating a whole lot of this, while I was still responding negatively and poorly to a whole lot of this, While you were making decisions that you knew were contrary perhaps to God’s will, or perhaps you made decisions and you didn’t know anything about God’s will. While you were still a sinner, the fact that God knew that you would live, and knew that you would sin, God went ahead anyway, and He sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners. Christ died for us. This is the point. The trustworthiness, the wonderfulness, the trustworthiness, the wonderfulness of God was settled at the cross, not at an answered prayer.


He came to our side of the window, so that the one thing we would never have to worry about and wonder about was His love for us.


Now, that’s the message, that’s the Gospel, that’s the point, that’s the invitation. This is the wonder that we should never, ever lose: The wonder demonstrated at the cross, the wonder of His love.


And here’s the reason I just wanna be as emphatic as I possibly can: The ancients, the ancients, they looked forward and believed, we are on the other side of God fulfilling the big one, of God fulfilling the extraordinary one, of God fulfilling His promise to Abraham, “That I’m going to bless the nations through you, Abraham.” And we are on the other side of that. And it is undeniable. It is unmistakably true that the evidence is not just built up and mounted, the evidence is overwhelming. God His promise to the world and he kept His promise to you. So all of us, whether you’re inside, outside all of us, whether you’re on the outside and wishing there was a way to get back in, and whether you’re on the inside and leaning out, all of us have been invited to do the one thing we should always do: To simply fix our eyes on Jesus, because not because of faith, because He has provided us with enough evidence to believe while our minds continue to catch up with the wonder of this world, the wonder of creation.


There will be lot of things we don’t ever know, but where we stand with God is something we never have to wonder about. So here’s a question last time, I’m gonna get to ask you for a while, what do you wonder? What do you wonder? And with all that we don’t know and with all that we will never know, 2,000 years ago, 2,000 years ago, a little light broke through in the little town of Bethlehem, in a world yet to make the connection between germs and disease, God spoke in terms that all of us in every single generation could understand. He showed up on our side of the frame to serve as a reference. He showed up on our side to demonstrate that He was in fact, on our side.


And I love this text and I know I’ve read it to you before but I just love it because of who wrote it John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, he outlived all of his friends, I’ve told you this before, he lived through a chaotic time when he saw the whole city of Jerusalem destroyed, and yet with all that blood shed, with all that terror, with all that experience, John, looking back, not looking back on his religious experience, not looking back on his schooling, not looking back on his sin, looking back at his time with Jesus, concluded this, “In him, in spite of everything going on around, in him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. And the light shines, and oh,” this was so literal for him, “The light shines in the darkness and the world was so dark and the darkness has not overcome or overwhelmed it. It didn’t then and it hasn’t now.”


So if you’ve wondered and then because of some of this, you wandered, here’s the last thing I would ask you to ponder, there will always, there will always, there will always, there will always be things that you wonder about, but God’s love for you should never ever be one of those things, and it won’t be if you’ll take your eyes off the people, the institutions, the hurt, and the broken promises, the things that have caused you over time to lose faith and if you will fix your eyes on Jesus and the wonder of His love for you.