Foster Care Ministry by Janette Cook

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I want to give a brief background so that you may all know me better.  

My name is Janette Cook. I have been married to my husband Bill for almost 20 years. We have three beautiful  children. I have been a part of the Calvary Family for most of my life. Calvary was the sending church for my family as missionaries to Brazil, where I was born. 

I was asked to share my personal experience in the ministry of Foster Care. I am NOT a writer, but here goes…..

Our journey into the world of Foster Care started 19 years ago, when my husband Bill and I suffered a devastating loss. We lost our first child, Shelby due to “miscarriage”. God blessed us with two healthy children. Michael is now almost 17, and Jonathan is almost 14. Although, I would make jokes about being able to have a Family Four Pack, my heart longed for more children.

When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with a blood disorder called Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). The symptoms of this disease are similar to Leukemia. After our second healthy delivery, my Dr. strongly recommended no more pregnancies. So, we felt that we had completed our family and it would just be the four of us.

Fast forward 6 years…

I was completely in love with my family, but my heart still longed for more… I felt guilty in that we had been SO blessed. I looked into adoption in Brazil, where I am a citizen. I sought counsel from an attorney, but it didn’t “feel right”. I had no peace about international adoption. During that time, two families I knew had adopted through Foster Care. I began praying for clarity and peace about that ministry. I came to realize that perhaps I wasn’t meant to love one more child forever, but to love many children for a time.

During the time of prayer, I had a recurring dream. Several times I dreamed about a black haired baby girl, sleeping in a cream colored bassinet. It was SO REAL…. Each time it was exactly the same! I would be sitting in my blue rocker and the bassinet was to my right.

In January of 2009, Bill and I began classes to become licensed through the state to be a foster home. In May, we had our license, a room ready for two children, clothes in multiple sizes were ready. And we waited…. The summer passed, and still we waited. No calls had come for placements, and I began to doubt. I was given a bassinet that was in pretty bad shape, so I took it apart and cleaned it thoroughly. I remember pulling the frame of the bassinet across our living room, and it hit me like a sledge hammer! I had seen this bassinet before. It was the exact one from my recurring dream.

On Friday, August 7, 2009 I answered “THE CALL”. I was told a baby girl was ready to be discharged from the hospital and they wanted to place her with us. Around 3pm, a CPS worker brought our first Foster Child into our home. I didn’t want to act “crazy” so I left the baby asleep in her car seat until after the worker had left. I closed the door behind the worker, and walked over to the infant carrier on our floor. I pulled the canopy back and was shocked! I looked up at the ceiling and said, “God, You better not be messing with me!” There she was….our little girl. The very baby God had revealed to me so many times in my dreams. Our Gracie….

No. This is not normal. This is not the way we expected things to go.  We certainly didn’t expect this child to be “abandoned” with no further contact from her birth family. We didn’t expect to be blessed so soon, with the GIFT of a “forever child”. Yet, there we were… 

The months that followed were full of lots of love, learning, and opportunity. God placed other children in our home, and continued to show us glimpses of Himself in each child we cared for. In the past seven years, God has blessed us with the care of 21 “bonus” children. 

We have had some very difficult things to learn. Lessons I never even imagined would be things I needed to know. We have had children with varying degrees of drug addiction, abuse, neglect, and emotional difficulties. At the end of each time with our Bonus children, I look back and see that God gave grace. He gave strength. He gave understanding. He gave knowledge. He gave compassion. He gave opportunity…… Wow. What opportunity!!!

Since Bill works a full time job outside of the home, I am the one who takes the children to appointments, visitations, therapy, etc. Many times, I am in a position to meet birth parents. There have been some very eye opening lessons in that for me. I have been able to love and minister to some of the parents in ways I never imagined. 

There are many times that I miss those chances to be God’s hands. Out of fear, self-doubt, whatever the case may be. Oh, how I wish I could have those times back again!!! I have spent the past seven years watching God walk through our home. He walks beside me and my husband as we strive to be His hands to these precious little ones. But….. What about the deep, dark places we can’t see? What about the inner workings of these little minds? What about the long term effects that their little bodies will endure? What about the neurological misfires, that are constantly sending false signals to their bodies? What about the emotional scars they carry? What about the physical scars that show the world what they have been through? What about the psychological scars they hide from everyone?

My head spins trying to remember the tiniest clue that I may have missed.

My heart is crushed under the weight of the love I feel.

My soul cries out to My Father for strength.

My eyes burn with the unshed tears as I realize a hard truth… My love is important….But it will never be enough!

There have been many days, when I crawl into my bed and cry. Did I do enough? Did I try enough? Did I love enough? Did I have faith enough? Those are questions that plague every foster Parent. Here is what I have learned through those difficult times…..
I VOLUNTEERED! I offered my heart on an altar of sacrifice to be broken again and again. Why? Why would someone do this? The answer is so simple, my friends. Because, I would much rather MY heart be broken when I say goodbye to a child I love, than for a child to never know what being loved feels like. I followed a call from my Father, and put my family into the path of many people who will have a chance to see God. With each child who comes into our home, I am reminded that God is providing us with a fresh opportunity; a window of time where He allows us to be His hands, His feet, His comfort to these children and their parents.

Like many Christians, I struggle to keep time set apart each day for communion with God. Although, I may not read a daily devotion…let me assure you that God speaks to me each and every day! I hear Him in the prayers of our little ones, I see Him in the smiles on their faces. I feel His peace as I hold one of His babies close to my heart.

During the past several years, we have had a personal family struggle with our son’s health. As many of you know Jonathan was gravely ill for three years and had to have his entire colon removed to save his life. During the dark days of his illness, God never once failed us! He always provided help when we needed it. We did take a short break from foster care for three months to allow Jonathan time to regain some normalcy after his colectomy. As soon as his health allowed, we rejoined the ranks. Our home doesn’t feel complete unless those beds are filled!

In our journey to help other families in their foster/adoption journey, God has opened another door for us. Bill and I have recently started a support group for foster and adoptive families. This has been something that I have prayed about for YEARS. I told our support group the following:

“I am NOT a social worker. I am NOT a medical professional. I am NOT an author or speaker or many of the other things I admire about others in the world of foster care. 

I AM a wife. I AM a mother. I AM an advocate for my children and passionate about our family ministry.”

Each foster parent has a story. Each story is unique. Each calling is different, but I wouldn’t change ONE THING about ours.

What a privilege and honor it is to be His servant!! 

Thank you! Thank you to each one of our prayer partners, who takes the time each day to pray for our family! Thank you for the encouraging words, and the love our friends and church family shows each of these special children! 


If you would like to find out more about how YOU can make a difference in the life of a foster child, contact Janette Cook at cookiemomster.jc[at]gmail.com.

Five Ways to Read the Bible via Joe Carter

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This week I'd like to share an article that lays out some practical ways you can read the Bible for personal application. I'm sure you can relate to experiences I have had in which I have read a passage of Scripture and thought of very little I could apply to my life. Even when I found passages that were applicable, I often struggled as to whether it applied to me, or just to those it was written to.

My hope in sharing this article is that we as a church would desire to grow in our understanding of how the Bible speaks to us. The steps mentioned in this article are not a "cure all" to understanding the Bible, but they are helpful tools in deepening understanding. Let it be our prayer that the Holy Spirit would reveal the truth of the Word of God to us and that we become whole-hearted followers of Jesus Christ!

In Christ,
Brandon H.

5 Ways to Read the Bible for Personal Application by Joe Carter

The Bible is a book about God, not a book about us. And yet as Paul says, everything in the Bible was written for us:The Bible is a book about God, not a book about us. And yet as Paul says, everything in the Bible was written for us:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Roman 15:4, NIV)
How can the Bible be about God and yet be written to teach us? As David Powlison explains,
The Bible was written to others—but speaks to you. The Bible is about God—but draws you in. Your challenge is always to reapply Scripture afresh, because God’s purpose is always to rescript your life.
When we reapply Scripture to our own lives, the Holy Spirit is re-scripting our lives so that we may become more like Jesus.

What Spiritual Formation Is (And Is For)

Every day we are becoming either more like Jesus or less like him. The direction we move is largely up to us, for we don't drift into Christ-likeness. Becoming more like Jesus takes effort and intention; it takes spiritual formation.

Christ-like spiritual formation is the name for that process by which Christians in union with Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, become conformed both internally and externally to the character of Christ for the purpose of communion with God.
Learning how to personally apply the Bible to our own lives is therefore essential to our spiritual formation.
How then do we personally apply the Bible to our own lives? We generally apply the Bible through five ways:

1. Direct commands

The most obvious passages for personal application are those in which God gives direct commands. For example, Jesus’s command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:43) is not an optional requirement. When we find such clear, direct commands in Scripture we know they are intended to directly “re-script” our lives.

2. General truths

Scripture frequently provides general truths that are broadly applicable to a variety of situations, and then leaves it to us to discern how they should be applied. In Matthew 22:21, Jesus says to give back to “Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Rather than giving us a list of what belongs to God and what is due the government, Jesus expects us to use godly wisdom to apply this general rule and work out the details for ourselves.

3. Direct analogy

There are many issues of controversy and concern in the modern age that are not directly mentioned in the Bible. In some circumstances, though, we can personally apply Biblical principles to situations that are similar to those mentioned in the Bible.
In his essay “The Place of Scripture in Christian Ethics,” James Gustafson states the commonly accepted method of scriptural analogy:
Those actions of persons and groups are to be judged morally wrong which are similar to actions that are judged to be wrong or against God's will under similar circumstances in Scripture, or are discordant with actions judged to be right or in accord with God's will in Scripture.
(For an example of how to apply direct analogies, see this article.)

4. Indirect analogy

We apply Scripture through indirect analogy when a passage teaches us by example rather than through a stated rule. This is the old-fashioned “Sunday school morality” in which we look to the Old Testament narratives to learn how we should or should not act. For example, in the story of the attempted seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife, we learn to flee from sexual sin and adultery (Gen 39:7-12).
We must be careful, though, not to think the personal application that can derived from such stories is the primary purpose of the narrative. Although Joseph’s actions were a godly example, they resulted in his being thrown in prison — a situation that God used to carry out his larger purposes. Whenever we apply the Bible indirectly, we need to keep in mind the key truth that the while the Bible is for us it is not about us, but about God.

5. Indirect extension

The vast majority of Scripture is composed of neither direct commands nor generally applicable truths. Take, for instance, the various lists of names and genealogies found in the Old Testament. How do we apply those passages to our own lives? As Powlison says,
In one sense, such passages apply exactly because they are not about you. Understood rightly, such passages give a changed perspective. They locate you on a bigger stage. They teach you to notice God and other people in their own right. They call you to understand yourself within a story—many stories—bigger than your personal history and immediate concerns. They locate you within a community far wider than your immediate network of relationships. And they remind you that you are always in God’s presence, under his eye, and part of his program.
The “endurance” and “encouragement” Paul refers to comes from reading the Old Testament and understanding that we are part of God’s story. We can see the promises God made to his people, see how he was always faithful, and be encouraged to endure knowing that he will likewise always be faithful to us.

Application Is for Spiritual Formation

Whether directly or indirectly, by analogy or by extension, the entire Bible is personally applicable to our lives. How it applies may not always seem obvious, of course. But if we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Father will not only open our eyes so that we may reapply his Word, he will use it to re-script our lives to make us more like his Son.

Editors’ note: This is an except from Joe Carter’s new work, the NIV Lifehacks Bible: Practical Tools for Successful Spiritual Habits (Zondervan, 2016). 

Copyright © 2016 The Gospel Coalition, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Find the original article at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-ways-to-read-the-bible-for-personal-application

Jonah Chapter 2: Repent (Part 2)

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Jonah 2:9 “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
           
There’s a simple truth about repentance written all throughout Scripture that tends to get treated like a secret. I mean, God wrote it in a book and it’s been published throughout the entire world, so it’s really no secret. But it’s often treated like one. Some people don’t like to talk about it because they say it’s too personal, or they’re too embarrassed, or that they don’t completely understand it themselves. But we’re going to unwrap this ‘secret’ to repentance and lay it out on the table for all to see so we can experience a spiritual breakthrough.

Jonah announces while in the fish’s belly that salvation is of the Lord. This is both a confession and an acknowledgement of a lesson learned and it’s really quite astounding. In fact, the entire theme of the Bible can be summed up in that statement, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

See, there are different people in the world and they have different beliefs about salvation. There are the Rebellious People, who defiantly say, “I do not need salvation.” Next are the Religious people, who stubbornly say “Salvation is of me.” Then there are the Repentant people, who humbly say, “Salvation is of the Lord”

Until you come to the realization that salvation belongs to the Lord, you cannot and will not experience spiritual breakthrough. That is true for people just coming into a relationship with Christ today for the first time, but it is also true for people that have already started a relationship with Jesus but desire a deeper spiritual breakthrough. And, by the way, everybody falls into one of these two categories: those in need of salvation today, and those in need of a spiritual breakthrough.

Both types of people cannot come to the realization that salvation belongs to the Lord on their own, however. It first requires God extending an invitation to them. He says, “Come and know me.” That is called grace. We can only respond to the invitation and start a relationship with Him. That is called faith.

So the first type of people accept God’s grace by faith. Let’s call that saving faith. The second type who have already accepted God’s grace continue in their faith. That’s called living faith.

So are you ready for the secret? Here it is in one sentence:
Grace is not just the way you have your first encounter with God, but how you have every encounter with God.

Accepting God’s grace through faith is how you are going to have a spiritual breakthrough. If you depend on your works to make you better, if you depend on your knowledge to get you closer to God, if you depend on your talent to do great things, you won’t make it. We have only one thing to depend on and that’s God’s grace.

But that’s just it. So many of us so many times rely on ourselves for our spirituality. “If I just read my Bible more I would be more spiritual.” But we have to have a change of mind; a change of dependence. And that’s exactly what repentance is. The word ‘repent’ literally means “to change one’s mind.” The question then is, “What do I need to change my mind about?” In this case, to have a spiritual breakthrough, we have to change our mind about who we depend on.

When I was teen, my friend showed me what it means to be dependent on the wrong thing. We had gone to spend the weekend at his grandparents’ cabin with his family. One day we were exploring down by the river, and we found this giant branch sticking out over the water about three stories high. So my friend says, “Hey! Let’s make a rope swing!” So he goes and gets a dog leash, he climbs the branch, ties the leash up, but realizes it’s too thin to hold on to. So he does the logical thing and grabs a log and ties it to the other end. Then he says, “Ok, who’s first!?” And the rest of us are like, “Bro, you made it, you have to do the first swing!”

So he climbs up a little and sits on a lower branch for a while trying to work up the courage. And in one awful moment he jumps off the tree trunk and puts all of his weight on this homemade rope swing, depending on it to hold him. But as it tightens, the log rolled, and he slipped. And fell. I’m pretty sure my heart stopped as I watched him plummet to what I felt strongly was his death. He fell about two stories down into about one foot of water with huge rocks underneath. I’m thinking, “Oh my soul! I just witnessed the death of my best friend!” For about two seconds, that felt like two hours, he’s underneath the water, then he bounces up and says, “Well, that didn’t work!” He was lucky to walk away with a small scratch on his knee. Needless to say, nobody else depended on the dog leash rope swing.

If you and I are going to move to a new level of spiritual breakthrough we must change our mind about who we depend on. Are you depending on your own goodness and effort for a spiritual breakthrough? Or are you ready to depend on God’s grace to give you a breakthrough? You’ll be launched to new heights with barely enough time to hang on when you let go and let God.

But how does Jesus give us His grace? I mean, what in the world is grace anyway? Next month, I’ll answer the question; What is the process by which Jesus gives us His grace?

What is faith?

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That was gorgeous on so many levels.  I feel like the Holy Spirit took those words this morning.  Somebody out there; that was just what you needed.  I want you to to know that God was speaking that to you.

The past number of weeks, God’s had this one thing on my heart night and day, when it comes to my life, when it comes to the life of this church.  It’s this phrase: TAKE A STEP OF FAITH.

I’ve been asking this question, what is it in your life that God is challenging you to trust Him in?  What relationship is it in your life?  Maybe busted like the song was talking about.  Maybe your marriage, kids, a grandchild who’s in trouble and God is telling you, “I want you to trust Me.  I want you to step out.  Stop manipulating.  Stop talking.  Stop fretting.  Come and bring it to me. Trust me.”

There’s a relationship you need to end, but it’s hard.  There’s a lot of emotional attachment there.  God’s called you to take a step of faith and trust Him.  Do that hard thing, believing that the Lord will be with you.  I don’t know what it is.  It could be a habit, an addiction, and God wants it in 2016 to go.  He is calling you up higher.  It is time.  God is saying for you to “come seek Me in My word.  I want you to read the Word. I want you to get hungry like you haven’t been hungry in a long time.  I want you to get humble like you haven’t been in a long time.  It’s time.  I want you to see me.  Want you on  your face in prayer.  Come after Me. Take that step of faith.  Stop being satisfied with being dissatisfied.”

Take a step of faith.  I don’t know what it is for you, but this morning I want to pose a terribly important question.  If faith is this critical thing in the scriptures...
Can I say? It is! From Genesis to Revelation.

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please (God)…

Without these steps of faith, it doesn’t matter what your spiritual resume looks life.  You can’t please Him.

Hebrews 10:38  Now the just shall live by faith…

It’s supposed to be the life blood of your spiritual walk.  Somebody wrote this:

“Faith is all important in the life of the soul.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  Faith will get me anything, take me anywhere in the Kingdom of God, but without faith there can be no approach to God, no forgiveness, no deliverance, no salvation, no communion, no spiritual life at all.”

I can promise you this, every single breathing soul in this auditorium, up in the balcony, back in our children’s wing; God is calling you to take some step of faith.  But that begs a very important question:

WHAT IS FAITH?
I know we call have notions about what faith is, especially if you’ve been in church for a while.

  • Is faith simply a feeling in your gut like anger, or attraction, or indigestion?  I feel like this thing is going to happen, so I must have faith.  Or if you don’t feel something is going to happen, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I guess I just don’t have faith.

  • If you ask the Biblicist “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”  (What does that mean?)

How do I take a step of faith?  What does that look like?  Should I feel nothing?  Should I feel something?  Do I do nothing?  Do I do something?  How do I know where God is calling me to step out in faith and Preacher, what would it look like if I did. 

We are going to look to an appropriate place to find our answer this morning.  We’re going to look to what has been called the “Faith Chapter” in the Bible (Hebrews 11) and go further than that and look at the specific illustration of a man who was referred to as the “Father of the Faithful” to find out exactly what faith is. 

Hebrews 11:8-11  By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:10For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed (to have a baby), and was delivered of a child when she was past (baby havin’) age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

We’re going to take Abraham, the father of the faithful, and we’re going to go back to Genesis and unpack this.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t deal with “vagueries”, with just concept.  I need it simpler, plainer than that.  If faith is this important God, and if You’re calling me to do it, Lord please tell me what it is! We’re going to see precisely what it is this morning in the life of Abraham (Genesis 11).  So turn, click, flip, power up, rainman it, whatever. 

Before we start looking at particular instances let me tell you this; faith is always three things. 
Faith is:
Knowledge – Belief – Subsequent Behavior
(Head – Heart – Hand)

Genesis 11:27-31  Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram (who became Abraham), Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. 28And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees (that’s a city)29And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. 30But Sarai was barren; she had no child.  31And Terah (Abraham’s Daddy) took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

Not overly fascinating at first glance.  It really just looks like Terrah living in a city called Ur of the Chaldees, which is modern-day Iraq.  By the way, they have found all sorts of remnant of this place and it’s a fascinating study if you want to look up Ur and a ruler named Ur-Nammu and the ziggurat he built.  This is an incredibly advanced city; it was like the mecca of modern civilization back in that day.  Had advancements that other cities couldn’t dream of – it was the place to be!  Terrah had his family there, raising them in Ur of the Chaldees.  At some point, the bible says he gets stirred up by something to go to the Canaan.  He only makes it as far as a city called Haran; so he moves his family there and he stays there.  That doesn’t tell us a whole lot about Abraham, it simply tells us Abraham went with his daddy.  He takes his wife Sarah, who the Bible makes a very important parenthetical note to tell us she can’t have children.  So at first glance, maybe Terrah got a better job. Maybe Terrah was like “I’m tired of the fast-paced city life. I want to move a little out of here.”  Get to and maybe “I don’t want to be in Canaan, maybe we’ll stop short.”  What I want to tell you is there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

Do you remember in the first message of this year, I preached a message on Stephen. This man of God and he stands up in front of the Sanhedrin in the book of Acts and he preaches this gorgeous sermon.  The bible says his face was glowing like an angel and he is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Stephen in Acts 7 tells this same story, but gives us details Genesis didn’t give us.  This is what Stephen tells us: 

Acts 7:2-3  2And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran (HARAN) (God appeared to Abraham when he was in Ur of the Chaldees, BEFORE they ever moved),3And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred (your family), and come into the land which I shall shew thee. 

Abraham in Ur, God speaks to him and says, “Abraham, I want you to leave your Daddy. I want you to leave what you know and what you’ve grown up with. I want you to leave the land...” which to the people of that day was everything.  “I want you to leave behind what you know and come out to a place you don’t know.  I want you to take a step of faith and trust Me.” They make it as far as Haran, but they don’t make it all the way to where God called them.  OK?  We’re going to come back to that. 

·         Knowledge
What we are seeing is God calling this, what will one day be the Father of the Faithful.  Calling him to his first steps of faith and it starts with Knowledge.  Here’s what I mean:

Romans 10:17  So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Faith always starts with God telling you “this is what I want you to do.  This is how I want you to live.  This is how I want you to treat your wife or husband.  This is how I want you to raise your kids.  This is how I want you to interact with your schoolmates and the citizens around you.  This is how I want you to worship me and relate to me.  These are the things I want you to avoid and these are the things I want you to do.”  God says to Abraham, “I want you to trust Me and leave it all behind. Take a step of faith, leave your Daddy behind, and come on out.”  It starts with the word of God and knowing what He says.  Here’s the thing friends, this book is filled with instruction on how God wants us to conduct our marriage.  How God wants us to raise our kids.  What our values should be in this pagan land around us.  Where He wants us to invest our time, money, abilities.  There are all these things God calls us to.  All these things that He tells us, “This is My will for you”.  There are also times when God takes a passage, and I’ll tell you He’s done this with me, that wasn’t originally written for you; it may have been written to Abraham or written to Moses, but God illuminates that thing and it shines on your heart and the Lord says, “I want you to do that. I want you to follow Me like that.”  You say, “how will I know if that’s coming from God?”  Because it will be consistent with [the bible].  God will NEVER tell you to do something He told you not to do in the Word.  God will never lead you in a way that He wouldn’t lead you through this book.  It starts with the Word from God.  Let me ask you this, before we go any further, how important is it that we gather together in the House of God to find out what He said?  How important is it that we gather in Sunday School classes to break this book down a little bit?  How important is it that we spend time each day in the Word and say, “God, you invented life.  Tell me how to live it.  You invented this beating heart, breathing lungs, firing neurons. God show me how to live.” Faith starts with KNOWLEDGE of what God said about your life.

You know I like three points, so here’s the first one:

THOUGHT #1:  The Word of God will most often contradict your perception, understanding, and intuition.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2For by it the elders obtained a good report.  3Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.  Here’s what he’s saying, God tells you life, the world, and He work in way that you can’t physically perceive. When He created the universe... you know what evolution is?  It’s man’s lame attempt to try to figure out how we all got here.  There must be some linear “this” must’ve crashed into “this” and this explode... instead of saying “You know what, maybe there’s a God in Heaven who’s so big and vast beyond my comprehension that He just spoke it into existence.”

Faith, most often, is not you go with your gut.  Faith, most often, is not you projecting out in the future; “you know, I wouldn’t mind marrying them.  I think they’d make me happy.  I think that line of work would be the one that I ought to follow, that seems like it would make me money and give me a good life.  I think if someone does this to me, my natural response should be to do this to them.” 

You know what?  Faith is God telling you your natural response will be wrong about 99% of the time.  Faith is God saying “Listen, I am asking you to step out on things that you wouldn’t naturally do.”  We’ve been studying the beatitudes in Sunday Schoool: love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, love those that hate you?  Who comes up with that on their own?  What’s natural is, “if you’re nice to me, I’ll be so sweet to you but the moment you cross me, I will break you.”
“You want to talk about me, if I hear about it, you’re going to know about it.” 
“You want to hurt me, want to hurt my family, I’ll crush you.” 
That’s natural. 

Jesus said, we are so warped by sin that what we think is natural, is unnatural.  We have it so flipped upside down, when Jesus said love you enemies, it seemed upside down to us that He said that. 

What is faith?  It is going with God’s version of how your life should be lived and saying, “Lord, you know what?  I hear you.  I’m going to trust you. “

Here’s Abraham, and he knows God’s called him to do it, but it goes against everything in his gut.  “I’m going to leave behind my kindred, my family?  I’m going to leave this city that has a lot going for it and go out in the boonies with dangerous people and not know what’s going to happen to me?”  And he’s just a human being, not a superhero.  He struggles with that. 

So here’s the next piece of this puzzle.  Faith starts with Knowledge of God’s Word.  In a particular area of your life, no matter how you feel, what you think, what your gut tells you, God says “this is the way I want you to do it.  This is what I want you to believe.  That’s what I want to do.” He knows it but here’s the next step.


·         Belief & Behavior

Faith is Knowledge, Belief, and Behavior.  You know I like three points, but I can’t separate belief and behavior.  They go together – INSEPARABLY.  In other words, if you don’t act on it, you don’t really believe it yet.

James 2:19-20  Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20But wilt thou know, O vain (FOOLISH) man, that faith without works is dead? 

You say, “God I believe Jesus.  I believe you’re the one and only Savior.  I know it and I BELIEVE in Jesus.”  But Jesus says, “listen, if it doesn’t go past there to actually expressing itself through your life, you don’t really believe it.”

That’s not faith if it’s dormant somewhere in the regions of your academic understanding.  You know what Tony Evans said one time and I’ve never forgotten it, he said “if you want to know about your faith, don’t check your feelings, check your feet.  That’s what you really believe.”  Some of us are like “Oh man, I’m in trouble”  Well, I guess so was Abraham.  Now there’s a little conjecture here on my park, OK, but I believe (and I think it’s justifiable to the text) Abraham gets this word from God, “Abraham, I want you to trust me.  I want you to step out. I want you to leave your family.  I want you to come on out of that land and go with me.” And Abraham’s like, Lord, you know I want to follow you, I want to do the right thing, but maybe I can leave some of the family... Some of those cousins I’m not crazy about, a brother in law about there like I’ll leave that dude behind  but I can’t leave my Daddy.  And Lord, you know, Canaan is pretty scary and I don’t know.  I’ll talk Daddy into coming with me to Haran.  It hadn’t made it to his hand or behavior yet.  Listen, this is where a bunch of us are living, 99% obedience.

I’ll give you a little bit God but I’m also going to put a toe in the water, but keep the rest of me out so if you don’t keep your promise I can bail out of this thing.  You know something?  I read in the AA book, which has a lot of good stuff by the way, these alcoholics said we have learned that half measures availed us nothing.  Abraham doesn’t trust God enough yet, he doesn’t have enough faith to do what the Lord said to do.  Look what happens,

Genesis 11:31-32   And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. 32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

Before we go to far here, you can easily read into this, oh Abraham wouldn’t obey God so God killed his Daddy.  I don’t believe that’s the way to frame that at all but I will tell you this:

THOUGHT #2:  God will use your pain to strengthen your faith.

When his Dad died, I think it shook Abraham hard.  It jolted him and now some of the stuff he used to love so much, he didn’t love as much anymore.  Some of the stuff that captivated him and kept him a little bit scared a little bit cautious didn’t seem to matter anymore.  He shook off some stuff .  Some of the stuff that he believed about life when his Daddy died, changed his view.  Changed his beliefs. God let Abraham get shaken hard. 

This may be a sermon later so I don’t go too far, but even that section where Jesus tells Peter the devil (some translations say) has demanded to have you that he may sift you like wheat, but I’ve prayed for you that your faith will not fail.  FAITHFUL.  And when you get turned around again, strengthen your brothers.  Satan has demanded to have you that he may sift you like wheat. 

You know how wheat gets sifted?  They put those wheat kernels in with all the stuff.  You really want the wheat between all the stuff.  They shake it.  Shake it hard and the stuff falls through, but the wheat is left. God says, you know what?  Job-style, the devil thinks, Peter, if you get shaken hard your faith will fall through. He thinks you’ve only been serving me for what you can get.  He thinks you’ve only been following me because I’ll bless you. But, Peter I’ve prayed for you.  I know there’s more than that.  I know there’s faith there.  Peter gets shaken hard in his faith doesn’t fall through, thank God.  Do you know what falls through? His self-confidence, pride, arrogance, and his belief that he can do it.  Some of you are being shaken hard and it’s not because God’s forgotten about you or hates you.  He is going to shake out some stuff.  He’s going to shake off some old beliefs that enable you to trust Him to take this step.  Some of you, I love you, are dwelling in the same old land you’ve been in forever; half-hearted steps, half-hearted commitment.  I’ll be here, I won’t be here.  I’ll follow you, I won’t follow you.  I live in sin, I’ll be back.  I’m telling you, I love you, if you’re His, he’s going to shake you hard.

You know what?  After it, you’re going to trust him.  I gotta move on...
God will use your pain to strengthen your faith.  Here’s Abraham.  God gave him a Word, “Abraham trust me.  Step out.  Leave the land, leave your daddy...” 

“God, I’m not quite ready.  I’ll do this....” Life hits him hard.

Genesis 12:1-7  Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:  2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

That is a promise to Abraham the father of the Jewish people.  That is still a promise to the Jewish people.  Can I say?  When you bless the Jewish people, God blesses you.  When you curse the Jewish people, God will curse you.  Sometimes I pray that our country and our President could re-remember that.

4So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. 5And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. 6And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 7And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

Do you see that? 

THOUGHT #3:  When you take a step of faith – God will show Himself to you.

I have a little boy, Vance, he comes up with the funniest things.  He’s like his Mom; that’s one of the things I love about Jenny, she is razor quick.  Vance has got that same thing.  He got up the other morning, I’m trying to have a little time with the Lord, and he gets up so early.  I’m like, “hey bud, don’t you want to go back to sleep for a little bit?”  He goes, “Dad, once I’m awake, it’s over.”  He told me the other day, I was barbecuing some chicken and he came out there.  We’re having some guy time: daddy, son, BBQ, meat, smoke time and he asked me, if he could flip them and we were talking.  There was a real beautiful red sky, some of you saw that red sky that night.  He said, “you know Dad, sometimes I see that, clouds like that, the red sky, and I think about when Jesus comes back.”  And I was like, “Oh yeah, me too son.  I think the same thing sometimes.” I love his honesty, he said, “I sure hope that when I die and Jesus comes back that I go with him and I get to go to heaven because you know you really can’t know...”  [laughing]  I love his honesty, he’s like “I haven’t been to heaven, I haven’t seen it.”  You know what I told him?  And I don’t know if he got his yet, told him, “Son here’s the thing, Jesus is real and you can’t see Him with your eyes and hear Him with your ears, but when you see Him and you take a step of faith, when you do what He told you to do, He will show himself very real to you.  You will know that you’re his.   You know what he said, “is the chicken ready?  Can I turn the chicken?”  I was like “well I got that one second there Lord, I’ll take it!” 

CONCLUSION:  

Knowledge – Belief – Behavior(Head – Heart – Hand)

What is the step of faith God is calling you to take? If you don’t know, can I promise you, He wants to tell you.  Some of you are here and the truth is, just like Vance, you can say with honesty, “I don’t know.”  Like we were singing and playing about, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done.  Your little efforts of coming to God on your own will only get in the way.  Like somebody drowning, trying to help the lifeguard.  Jesus will save you by His sacrifice and His sacrifice alone.  He can forgive all your sins.  He can give you His righteousness.  You know what, your one part in that thing is?  I believe that I’m a sinner.  I believe Jesus that you have the power to save me.  I believe that the bible says you’re real and you’re true.  Jesus, today I’m asking you to be my Lord and Savior and forgive my sins and come into my heart. My friend, he’ll do it today! Can I get an amen from those who know him?  He’ll do it today!  For the rest of us, somebody in here, you know what’s getting in your way? You’re ashamed of yourself.  You feel like He couldn’t take somebody like you.  I want to tell you something, He can and He will.  Take a step of faith.  Ask Him to increase your faith.  Trust Him in the little things.  You know, the statement for our church is we’re here to help people become wholehearted followers of Jesus Christ.  I’m not sure that’s not too big for people. I think people get freaked out when they hear that.  You know what our mission is, to help people take a step of faith.  That’s it.  Not jump over tall buildings in a single bound.  Take a step of faith today. 

We’re going to have a verse of invitation.  If you need to come talk to God this morning, if He stood you up and maybe your first step needs to be this morning right down to an alter saying “Lord, I’m serious about this.”  There’s no magical power to this part, but sometimes you feel the need to physically step out and do something.  If you need to come and pray, amen.  If you need to come talk to a counselor, take me by the hand and I’ll have Ron or one of our folks talk to you at length on whatever you need to talk about.  Set up something for this week if you need longer.  But all over this place, can we take this truth we just heard personally?  May God just do what only He can do.  I leave it at that.  Let God do whatever He wants to do this morning.  If you need to come right now, we’ve prayed, we’ve talked, I invite you, God invites you.  Whatever it is, whatever you need to bring to him, whatever step of faith you need to take, let’s step out right now all over this place while Brandon leads us.
 

"What Is Faith?" Brian Loveless Sermon on January 24, 2016 at Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas.