Following the Way

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
New Hope Fellowship
August 11, 2019
Brent Beasley

God calls us to a life. And life is not one thing but a journey.

Even though it seems to us like it has always been this way, it was really somewhere in the last two hundred years or so that we began to talk about becoming a Christian as something we did by asking Jesus into our hearts and accepting him. And there’s truth in that way of thinking about it and some good in that. It’s certainly the way I grew up thinking about what it means to become a Christian.

The good thing about that way of thinking is that it emphasizes that being a Christian is personal. It’s a matter of the heart.

The limitation in that way of thinking, though, is that becoming a Christian begins to be thought of as that thing I did back then, that thing I did when I was in the 4th grade when I accepted Jesus into my heart. And what Jesus intended as a starting line becomes a finish line.

I think if we go back and read the gospels again, we will see that Jesus didn’t ask people to accept him as much as he asked people to follow him.

And becoming a follower of Jesus is not a one-time transaction; it is a long-term journey.

So I can’t say following Jesus is something I did back in 4th grade or whenever. Following Jesus is not a static event in the past that you did in your mind and heart; it is something that involves movement, going, doing, being. It’s dynamic and active. It’s a life.

God is calling us to follow.

Hebrews tells us that: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

Abraham and Sarah set out on a lifelong journey of following God. They set out, not knowing where they were going. Abraham and Sarah are held up as models of people who live by faith. Let me tell you a little about this couple. They had had quite a life.

Years ago they had gotten off to a good start in Mesopotamia. They had a nice house in the suburbs with
a two-car garage and
a nice-looking yard and
a barbecue grill.
They had a room all fixed up for when the babies started coming. They would have used a Noah’s Ark theme, but the memories of the flood were still just a little too fresh. It wasn’t cute.

Sarah
got her clothes at Dillard’s,
did volunteer work at the hospital,
was a member of the garden club.

Abraham was pulling down an excellent salary for a young man, plus a good medical plan and a pension.

And then they got religion. Or religion got them.

And Abraham became convinced that God wanted them to pull up the stakes and head out for Canaan, where God promised that he would make Abraham the father of a great nation, which would then be a blessing to all nations. So that’s what they did.

They
put their house on the market,
gave their grill to the neighbors,
got a good price in a garage sale for the crib and
bassinet because they had never been used and
were as good as new.

Abraham wrote an eloquent letter of resignation to the president of his company and received a gracious letter in reply, assuring him that there would always be a job waiting for him if he ever changed is mind and came back.

His boss thought he was crazy. He thought religion was a good thing like
eating right and
exercising and
brushing after meals,
but he didn’t think it was something to go overboard about like Abraham. But Abraham and Sarah, they had a conviction about this thing— even though nobody else could see it.

So off they went in their SUV with the U-Haul behind.
[Thanks to Frederick Buechner for this description of Abraham and Sarah in The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale]

They set out without a map. They set out without detailed driving instructions. They couldn’t do Google Maps because they didn’t know what to put in the space for “Destination.” They didn’t know where they were going; they just knew they were going. Going by faith.

Frederick Buechner says that faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find out that we are loved by God.

Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.

Faith means striking out with no clear end in sight and perhaps even no clear view of the next step.

Living by faith means
following,
trusting,
holding out a hand to
an invisible guide.

As Thomas Graham put it, faith is reason gone courageous—not the opposite of reason but
something more than reason and
something never satisfied by reason alone.
A step always remains beyond the range of light.

Sometimes, this is an advantage in our journey of faith—not knowing what’s ahead of us on the journey.

Jonathan Raban is an Englishman who in 1980 traveled the length of the Mississippi River alone in a small boat.

He wrote the best-selling book Old Glory about the experience. He wonders what could have gotten into him, thinking he could navigate the mighty Mississippi when all he had done before was to splash about in a rowboat in the Thames.

I think, he says, it’s wise to begin big journeys (like parenthood, for example) in a state of misguided innocence — you’d never do it if you knew beforehand what it really entailed.

That’s the life of faith. Someone has said that faith is walking to edge of all the light you have, and taking one more step. It’s not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway.

It’s risky, in other words. It’s a journey without a map.

Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

We see in the example of Abraham and Sarah that going by faith means starting out without necessarily knowing what your destination is.

We also see in the example of Abraham and Sarah that going by faith might mean that you never actually reach the destination—that you never arrive. That’s hard for us to accept. We want to arrive. We want to finish the task and put our feet up and enjoy. But on the journey of faith, often you never actually reach the destination.

The author of Hebrews says in verses 13-14:
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and aliens on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

In spite of everything, Abraham never stopped having faith that God was going to keep his promise about making him the father of a great nation.

There was that group photograph he had taken not long before he died. It was a bar mitzvah, and they were all there down to the most distant cousin. They weren’t a great nation yet by a long shot. But there Abraham sat—
in a wingback chair,
a velvet yarmulke on his head,
several great-grandchildren on his lap,
the sparkle of faith in his eyes.
[Buechner]

Not exactly a great nation yet. Had he arrived? No. But from a distance, he could see it.

Sometimes when you journey by faith you don’t see the promises fulfilled, but you journey on anyway. And through you God sets things in motion the result of which you may never see up close but from a distance. . . .

Earnest Campbell preached a sermon at Riverside Church in New York. He said:
To be young is to study in schools that you didn’t build.
To be mature is to build schools in which you will not study.

To be young is to swim in pools that you did not dig. To be mature is to dig pools in which you will not swim.

To be young is to sit under trees that you did not plant.
To be mature is to plant trees under which you will not sit.

To be young is to dance to music you did not write. To be mature is to write music to which you will not dance.

To be young is to benefit from a church that you did not make.
To be mature is to make a church from which you might not benefit.

Sometimes when you journey by faith you don’t see the promises fulfilled, but you journey on anyway. And through you God sets things in motion the result of which you may never see up close but from a distance. . . .

I’m the kind of person who needs a map or explicit directions to get anywhere. I was not born with that inner sense of direction that some people seem to have.

I would never take off on a journey without directions or, now, Google Maps. I guess that might be one reason why the book of Hebrews uses Abraham as an example of faith and not me.

Because a person who lives by faith more often than not has to
proceed on incomplete directions, incomplete
evidence,
trusting in advance what will only make sense in
reverse.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

Life is a series of beginnings.

What will you say, what will you do,
when you come upon your next beginning,
when, after moments or years of consideration, the
time comes to get up and move?
What will you say, what will you do, when God says, Go, when Jesus says to you, Follow me?
It’s a little scary, I know.

C. S. Lewis describes responding to Jesus’ call to follow him like this. It is like an unborn chick inside the egg. The chick is comfortable and unchallenged. The egg contains nutrients for its sustenance, but they will soon be depleted. The chick must choose:
stay in the egg and die or
adventure out and live.

The shell must be cracked from the inside. And in so doing, it enters an entirely new world. This world, though new to the chick and a little scary, is the world for which it is made.

Mike Stroope is a former missionary who now teaches at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary.

Mike Stroope told about when he and his then fourteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth went to a missions conference at the old Glorieta Baptist conference center in New Mexico. They had a big service in the auditorium, and they had an invitation. Elizabeth turned to her dad and said, I’m going forward.

Mike said, Go for it. So this fourteen year old girl made her way down to the front of this big auditorium. After the service was over, Mike went down to the front and found his daughter. She was being counseled by a young woman, and when they were through talking, Mike walked over to her and said, Elizabeth, what did you do?

She said, I placed my yes on the table so that whenever God asks the question the matter is settled.

“Placing my yes on the table.”

What God is looking for is your yes.

If God has your yes and comes to you, like Abraham and Sarah, asking you to go, the matter is settled.

If Jesus has your yes and comes speaking to you like Peter and Andrew and James and John in the midst of your daily work, the matter is settled.

If God has your yes and comes speaking to you about your neighbor, the matter is settled.

If God has your yes and comes speaking to you about your life, the matter is settled.

If God has our yes and comes speaking to you about your calling, the matter is settled.

God called Abraham and Sarah, who were minding their own business, to go to a place God had for them and receive an inheritance that God had for them.

A voice came to Samuel in the temple in the middle of the night, calling his name, Samuel, Samuel.

Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee at the beginning of his ministry and called two sets of brothers to follow him.

Jesus approached a tree where a man named Zacchaeus was holding on up in the branches and asked him to come down, that he wanted to go to his house for dinner.

They said yes. They all said yes. And it was only the beginning.

How about you?

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