Where Each Story Leads…

Over the past weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared a series of messages through the inspiring stories retold in Hebrews 11 called Incredible Faith.

Here’s the capstone message…

We revisit these messages from past weeks and the central theme behind each…

~Incredible Faith is Something I’ve Never Done Before.

~Seeking the Father Heart of God

~Incredible Faith: Noah

~Incredible Faith: Abraham & Sarah

~Incredible Faith: Joseph

~Incredible Faith: Moses

It all points to a powerful truth nestled in Hebrews 12:1-2

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-What joy propels you? 

-What risk is before you?

Incredible Faith – Moses

In the life of Moses, we discover that we are called to live by faith, having the courage to…

  1. Follow the unseen plan of God (Hebrews 11:23).
  2. Identify with the people of God (vv. 24-25).
  3.  Embrace the mission of Christ (vv. 26-27). 
  4. Celebrate deliverance before it comes (v. 28).
  5.  Step out in obedience (v. 29). 
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Incredible Faith – Joseph

If you had to pick one thing that stands out to you from the life of Joseph, what would it be?

In Hebrews 11:22, the Holy Spirit highlights one thing… one defining scene from the life of this hero of the faith. Before you look it up or listen to the message below, what do you think it is?

Hint: it may not be what you expected!

Did your Joseph highlight reel match what Hebrews 11 underscores?

Did “his bones” even make your top ten list?

What will you leave as your legacy for future generations?

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“Go!” said the LORD.

I started this message on the incredible faith of Abraham & Sarah from Hebrews 11:8-19 with a retelling of Genesis 12:1-4 and 15:3-6.

In what ways does the faith journey of Abraham & Sarah encourage you?

Which parts challenge you?

What is your “I will…” (your next step to “go”)?

Who will you share with what you discovered?

“Abraham, Abraham…” said the LORD.

“LORD, is that You?” Abraham asked.

“Yes, My child,” He responded tenderly. “I have something I want to say to you.”

With eagerness, Abraham shot back, Well, speak, LORD! I’m listening. I will do whatever You say and go wherever You ask me to go!”

“I know, Abraham. That’s why I’m calling you today. I have put that faith in your heart, so you will trust Me wherever I send you,” He said.

Bubbling over with excitement: “Thank You, LORD! Praise You, LORD! I do trust You. I love You. Thank You for speaking to me and thank You for calling me and thank You for loving me and…”

“ABRAHAM. Abraham,” His strong voice echoed.  “I am calling you… to leave your home country, the people you know, the land you’re accustomed to, even your father’s family – and go!”

“Go? LORD, go where?” the man of faith wondered.

The firm and loving One replied: “Go… to the land I will show you.”

Shaking but believing, His son said, “Go… Okay, go. And You will show me where to go. What should I do in this new land where You are sending me?”

Abraham, do you trust Me?”

Yes, LORD! I trust You with all of my heart,” Abraham immediately responded.

“Abraham, I’ll show you what you must do in this new land,” the ever-gracious One said.

Again thinking out loud as he wondered: “What about my wife?”

“Bring your wife with you of course,” the compassionate Father said.

Abraham processed aloud, “When we go to this new land that You will show us and we do what you will tell us to do, what will happen to us?”

“Abraham, do you trust Me?”

Abraham said, “Yes, LORD! I trust You with all I am. And then some… I trust You, because You have taught me and You help me to trust You!”

The LORD promised, “Abraham, I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever speaks against you I will curse. And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. I am going to send the Savior through your family.”

“LORD, I trust You,” the man of God confessed.  “I believe what You say is true. At the same time, You have given me no children, and I am already an old man. My body is as good as dead.”

“Abraham, do you trust Me?”

“Yes, LORD! Oh, I trust You,” Abraham said from the deepest part of his being.  “You are God, and You can be fully trusted always. Everything You do is good, and everything You say is true and right.”

With a gentle hand, the LORD lifted his son’s gaze heavenward: “Abraham, look up and count the stars. If you can…” He said with a love-laced chuckle.  “This is how many children your family will have. Every person who believes in My Messiah will join your family of faith. Because you believe, you are right with Me, and we are close friends.”

“LORD, let’s go,” His son Abraham responded, exploding with anticipation.  “I will listen. I will follow You. I will… Wherever You lead, let’s go together.”

“Yes, Abraham, I will be with you every step of the way. I will always keep My promises to you – no matter what happens. I will speak to you, and you will follow Me. And you will speak My words to others. Let’s go,” said the LORD. “For I will be with you.”

(A retelling of Genesis 12:1-4 and 15:3-6)

"Go!" said the LORD.

“Abraham, Abraham…” said the LORD.

“LORD, is that You?” Abraham asked.

“Yes, My child,” He responded tenderly. “I have something I want to say to you.”

With eagerness, Abraham shot back, Well, speak, LORD! I’m listening. I will do whatever You say and go wherever You ask me to go!”

“I know, Abraham. That’s why I’m calling you today. I have put that faith in your heart, so you will trust Me wherever I send you,” He said.

Bubbling over with excitement: “Thank You, LORD! Praise You, LORD! I do trust You. I love You. Thank You for speaking to me and thank You for calling me and thank You for loving me and…”

“ABRAHAM. Abraham,” His strong voice echoed.  “I am calling you… to leave your home country, the people you know, the land you’re accustomed to, even your father’s family – and go!”

“Go? LORD, go where?” the man of faith wondered.

The firm and loving One replied: “Go… to the land I will show you.”

Shaking but believing, His son said, “Go… Okay, go. And You will show me where to go. What should I do in this new land where You are sending me?”

Abraham, do you trust Me?”

Yes, LORD! I trust You with all of my heart,” Abraham immediately responded.

“Abraham, I’ll show you what you must do in this new land,” the ever-gracious One said.

Again thinking out loud as he wondered: “What about my wife?”

“Bring your wife with you of course,” the compassionate Father said.

Abraham processed aloud, “When we go to this new land that You will show us and we do what you will tell us to do, what will happen to us?”

“Abraham, do you trust Me?”

Abraham said, “Yes, LORD! I trust You with all I am. And then some… I trust You, because You have taught me and You help me to trust You!”

The LORD promised, “Abraham, I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever speaks against you I will curse. And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. I am going to send the Savior through your family.”

“LORD, I trust You,” the man of God confessed.  “I believe what You say is true. At the same time, You have given me no children, and I am already an old man. My body is as good as dead.”

“Abraham, do you trust Me?”

“Yes, LORD! Oh, I trust You,” Abraham said from the deepest part of his being.  “You are God, and You can be fully trusted always. Everything You do is good, and everything You say is true and right.”

With a gentle hand, the LORD lifted his son’s gaze heavenward: “Abraham, look up and count the stars. If you can…” He said with a love-laced chuckle.  “This is how many children your family will have. Every person who believes in My Messiah will join your family of faith. Because you believe, you are right with Me, and we are close friends.”

“LORD, let’s go,” His son Abraham responded, exploding with anticipation.  “I will listen. I will follow You. I will… Wherever You lead, let’s go together.”

“Yes, Abraham, I will be with you every step of the way. I will always keep My promises to you – no matter what happens. I will speak to you, and you will follow Me. And you will speak My words to others. Let’s go,” said the LORD. “For I will be with you.”

(A retelling of Genesis 12:1-4 and 15:3-6)

Losing teeth, gaining wisdom

I sit here writing this morning with a dull ache in my mouth. When sharp pain woke me a couple hours before my alarm, I figured it was an early wake up call to write. I had an unexpected surgical procedure two days ago that I’m feeling this morning.
I’d been having tooth pain for a few months. Finally this week, discomfort made it difficult to chew on the left side of my mouth. I visited a dentist who specialized in wisdom teeth consultations and made an appointment this past Tuesday. The doctor recommended I have all four wisdom teeth removed, as my mouth didn’t have space for them. No room in the proverbial inn. He explained his calendar was booked till August.
A hygienist peeked into the room, smiled, and said, “Well, Doctor, you did have one cancellation tomorrow morning at 9.” A way had been made, and I was penciled in to have my four teeth extracted.
My mind was racing, and I asked as many questions as I could, before agreeing to make the appointment. I like to research. I like to understand. I like to ask questions. The dentist and hygienist answered as best they could. How long would recovery take? What would I be able to eat? Because the whole thing happened so quickly, there were several questions I didn’t think to ask until it was too late.  My mouth was quickly propped open with a piece of rubber and gloved hands were sticking metal utensils into it. Of course, new questions arose once I’d been stuffed full of gauze, and I had four less teeth.
The night before the surgery, I was scared. My fear was uncovered by getting my wisdom teeth out, but more broadly it was fear of the future and fear of the unknown. What would the pain be like? What complications could arise? What side effects could the medications cause?
My lack of knowledge was the fuel for my fear. I didn’t know what the procedure would be like. I hadn’t experienced it before. I wasn’t told very much, and I didn’t have time to do substantial research. I even wondered at one point if I might contract an infection that could prove to be fatal. The dentist had a strong Jamaican accent. I wondered what would happen if I couldn’t understand his instructions during the surgery.
Knowledge dispels fear. I had imagined the pain would be much worse than it actually was. The most discomfort of the procedure came from the pricks of the initial Novocaine shots. I squeezed the chair’s armrests firmly, and the worst was soon behind me. During the actual extractions, I didn’t feel much of anything.
Fear is false evidence appearing real. When the truth was brought to bear in my situation, my fear was dispelled and I renewed my trust in Jesus. Beforehand, people shared Scripture with me: “God has not given you a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.” Driving to the dentist, my mom said, “The Lord is your Helper whom shall you fear? What can man do to you?” I thought silently, “He can rip my teeth out!”
When I experienced the truth of the situation and my perspective became realistic, my fear was crippled. People wrestle with fears of rejection, failure, abandonment, and both physical and emotional death. My fear of the future extended beyond my wisdom teeth extractions. It was at heart a fear of rejection.
I thought I would be unable to talk for several days after the extractions. This fear of being unheard was strongest of all. I was intensely unwillingly to give up my voice. I imagined no one would listen to me. Being willing to surrender my tongue was both humbling and healing. I wouldn’t be able to defend myself, and I didn’t need to. The day of the surgery, after two hours of stuffing my mouth with gauze, I was not only talking but also singing praise to my Lord Jesus. Family members went the extra mile to help me.
I just graduated from Moody, and I got two jobs. I’ll be writing with New Life Community Church and working in the kitchen at a restaurant downtown. Again, the devil tries to paralyze me with fear of what people think. I’ve been asked things like: “Oh, you got a B.A. in communication and pastoral ministry to work in the kitchen?”
I don’t know what my future holds. But I do know the One who holds me. Though the details of my future are unknown, and people may outright reject me. I am known, and I am forever accepted by my Father and my Savior, who will never let me go (1 Cor. 13:12; Jn. 10:28-29). God wrapped Himself in human flesh in the Person of Jesus to free us from bondage to the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Knowing His truth, makes one free – free indeed (Jn. 8:32, 36).


Also posted on Thrive80: http://www.thrive80.com/2011/06/losing-teeth-gaining-wisdom/

The end

A few days ago, I went to the bank and added a beneficiary, payable on death, to my accounts.

I sat across the desk from the banker, who was dressed in her business suit and blue collared shirt. In my sweater and jeans, I supplied my information and signed the paperwork. The banker seemed strangely nervous. Suddenly, it struck me: I wonder if she thinks I’m planning to end my life.

 
After all, she knew my address was Moody Bible Institute. Why would a young college student want to add a payable on death to his accounts? I looked into the banker’s eyes and decided to clear things up.
 
“I’m graduating this semester and thinking about endings,” I chuckled. “I’m not planning on dying anytime soon.” Right then, it hit me. Who does? Today could very well be our last day. I saw an opportunity to share about life and death.
 
“But I know I won’t live forever,” I clarified. A slight misstep. “At least, not here on earth. When I die, I’ll live in Heaven because of what Jesus has done.” The banker nodded as she ushered me toward the door. When I asked about her spiritual background, she mumbled about being Baptist and said she’d received a million-dollar gospel tract before. 
 
Encounters like that move me to pray about the end. As I answer questions about future plans and listen to the Holy Spirit for next steps, I’m reminded of Ephesians 5:16-17. Time passes so quickly. You can become either disheartened and immobilized or reminded and energized. Redeem the time. Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil. Consider it a challenge. If you follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s power is available to you.
 
If we’re to live this abundant life that Jesus lived, died, and rose to provide, we must become skilled in a few key areas (Jn. 10:10). We’ve got to realize that our days are numbered and our time on earth is short so that our hearts may overflow with wisdom (Ps. 90:12; 23:5).
 
Get in the habit of listening prayer. Spend time quietly waiting before the Lord Jesus. Keep a pen and paper nearby. As you’re learning to hear the Spirit’s voice, test what you hear according to the Bible (Acts 17:11). Your discernment will grow with practice (Heb. 5:14). We must be filled with the Holy Spirit that we might discern His will (Eph. 5:17-18).
 
Learn to say “no” to things outside His will. Throw off sin and anything that hinders (Heb. 12:1). Over committing will kill you. Refine your schedule and eliminate activities that don’t contribute to expanding Christ’s Kingdom, your spiritual growth, or your rest. What monkeys have you taken on your back that you need to surrender to the LORD?
 
Also, learn to say “yes.” As you grow to know Jesus more intimately, you’ll learn more about yourself. How has He gifted you? What do you love doing? As you discern His will and calling for your life, seek confirmation from mature believers. We learn His will from His Word, His church, and His Spirit. When we ignore the good we ought to do, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Jm. 4:17; Eph. 4:30). Adrian Rogers said, “Procrastination and disobedience are just different shades of the same sin.”
 
The Father may call you to bold new territory. In fact, He will always nudge you out of your comfort zone, so you learn to trust Him. Take holy risks. Love boldly. Make it your practice to step out in faith. I never expected I’d preach the Gospel in the open air. It’s one of my ministries that thrills and stretches me most. Join me! After all, our lives are rapidly coming to an end. The question is: will yours be a glorious one?

 

letters on yellow tiles forming the end text

Lessons from Nonna Maria

Nonna Maria, my maternal grandmother, is 91 years old. She and her husband, Nonno Ignazio, were married 44 years and 4 months. They emigrated from Sicily to Rochester, NY in 1956, over 50 years ago. Nonno passed into eternity in 1994.

 
Nonna worked as a seamstress for 20 years. She gets an $82.42 monthly pension because of her efforts. Most of her coworkers were Italian and her boss spoke Spanish, so they got along communicating without English. After decades in America, Nonna still speaks broken English. We speak Italian with her in our home. She loves to tell stories of her life in Italy.
 
Nonna’s mother, Giuseppina, was a generous woman of faith. When she cooked for her family, before they ate, she and her daughters would bring bowls of pasta and bread to those living on the streets in their village. One day, Nonna Giuseppina arrived home with only her slip on. When questioned about her appearance, she explained she had met a homeless woman. She knew she could buy or make herself a new dress, but that poor woman could not.
 
Nonna told of her mother faithfully attending church every weekend. When the children were young, she and her husband would attend mass at different hours, so one parent was home with the babies. When her husband traveled for business, Great-grandmother brought all her children to church with her. Nonna had nine siblings. At that time, two were still babies.
 
When the children grew noisy and restless. A woman sitting in the pew behind leaned forward to complain. Nonna’s mother told her, “I wanted to come to church. My husband’s on a business trip. If you don’t like the noise, go home.”
 
Nonna tells another story of her mother walking along the cobblestone street in their Sicilian town, warmly greeting everyone she passed. As they walked on, my Nonna, then a young girl, finally asked, “Do you know all these people?” Nonna Giuseppina answered, “No. But, the LORD knows all about them, and He wants me to greet them and give them His blessing.” Everywhere we go, we should be about the Father’s business. Everyplace you go, endeavor to bless it for Jesus. Be His witness, His ambassador, His representative.
 
As a boy, I’d often spend weekends at Nonna’s house. One weekend, I brought an empty notebook and asked Nonna if we could cook. Together we made everything from pasta sauce and chicken cutlets to chocolate cookies. I recorded these treasured recipes as best I could, trying to discern how Nonna’s “pinch” or “dash”  translated into standard measurements.
 
Once after Nonna came to live with us, she and I were watching a TV special about the persecuted church. A young Chinese girl refused to spit and step on an image of Jesus. Following her example, the rest of the children at her school stood firm in their faith. All the children were martyred. As the show was in English, Nonna did not understand. But looking up from her chair at my tears, she began to weep with me for our fallen brothers and sisters who laid down their very lives for the Lord Jesus.
 
Nonna says we are to live “tutto nel Signore,” meaning, “all in the LORD.” Nonna keeps it simple. When I ask her what she believes happens after we die, she says, “If you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven; if not, you go to Hell.” She’s right.
 
I enjoy sharing these stories and lessons from Nonna. The Bible commands us to honor the aged. Proverbs teaches that gray hair is a crown of splendor for the old (16:31; 20:29). It’s good to be old. It means you’ve endured. If you’ve trusted your life to Christ, old age means you’re closer to Heaven.
 
While you’re alive, learn from those who have lived longer than you. Ask questions. Learn to be a wise listener. In those conversations, be bold in sharing the gospel of Jesus. It might be someone’s last day on earth. Redeem the time. The old have wisdom to share. Let’s listen.
 

Nonna has taught me to hold my life in an open hand and to seek the will of Jesus. She’s often said she would love to be at my wedding and to kiss my babies “se Dio vuole”—if God wills. Let’s flesh out our faith, seeking the will of Jesus that we might perform it and honor Him in all things until our last breath.

Nonna Maria, pictured at age 90
(photo by Joshua Harrison, Audio Scripture Ministries)

 

Head & Heart – Soulmates

“Would you quit your whimpering?!? I’m trying to think,” Mind growled with an intellectual indifference.

“I can’t help it. This is just so moving!” His companion, Heart, emotionally retorted, sniffling and wiping away tears.
 
I promise, my head and heart don’t have audible conversations within my soul; however, I’ve learned there must be peaceful balance between them. As a follower of Christ, I’m called to think and feel as the Lord Jesus does.
 
I remember learning in a worship music class in Bible college, about the balance between head and heart. Our music professor taught that the arts diverge into two branches: classic, which is orderly and logical, and romantic, which is free and more emotional. Head and heart have arm-wrestled throughout music history. Isn’t this the balance we seek in worship ministry today too?
 
In a preaching class, our professor taught that ministering the Word is both a science, involving mental discipline, and an art, requiring the Holy Spirit’s influence on the speaker’s heart. Head and heart must cooperate under the unction of the Holy Spirit to deliver an effective message.
 
John 1:12 speaks of both receiving Jesus and believing in His Name. The Lord, through John, explains there’s an experiential and an intellectual component to becoming born again as a child of God through Jesus Christ (Jn. 3). We believe the truth of the Gospel and turn from lawbreaking to follow Christ.
 
I was baptized as an infant and grew up in a church where I learned about the Bible. My head was full of knowledge, but I hadn’t encountered the Risen Christ. My heart hadn’t yet been pricked with a godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). When I heard the Gospel call to repent and be saved, the Holy Spirit brought conviction of sin and my need for Jesus. I received and believed.
 
I heard Apologist Josh McDowell explain on the radio once that it was not just intellectual doubt that kept him from faith. Deep emotional wounds from his earthly father hindered his heart from believing in the Heavenly Father. He was convinced an Almighty Father would only cause him more pain. The Holy Spirit used both the love and the intellectual evidence of those who witnessed to McDowell to draw him to Jesus.
 
Everything done well in this life must involve a redeemed head and heart. When we act only from the head, we cause pain. When we’re simply moved by the heart, we cause trouble.
Everything done well in this life must involve a redeemed head and heart. When we act only from the head, we cause pain. When we’re simply moved by the heart, we cause trouble. The unregenerate “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” and the mind must be renewed (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 12:2).
 
Neither emotion nor reason is inherently evil. They are gifts of God, evidence that people are handcrafted in His Image. There’s an element of reason and emotion required for every wise decision, drawing from Scriptural principles and listening for the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice.
 
This balance between head and heart isn’t something I usually dwell on or am overly introspective about. Instead, we listen to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to convict us of any unconfessed sin. When we act unwisely or uncaringly, He graciously convicts. He wants us to be free (2 Cor. 3:17). When He puts His gentle finger on a specific sin, we turn from the sin toward Jesus and move forward in the freedom of His Spirit.
 
Will Head and Heart ever get along? Through the cleansing Blood of Jesus, they sure can. Let’s eagerly desire both Christ-like thinking and feeling. The head and the heart are, after all, soulmates.

What does this balancing act between intellect and emotion look like in your life and work?

Uncalled for: a call for discernment of God’s will

Junior year at our public high school, English class included a unit on media and society. I was surprised when my teacher, a Christ-follower, showed an episode of a popular cartoon television comedy.


As a young believer, I was appalled. The pseudo-humor denigrated women, depicted soft-core porn, cursed, blasphemed the Lord’s Name, badmouthed family, dishonored parents, and more…

After a conversation with her, I realized my teacher’s wisdom: what a clear way to portray the potentially poisonous effects of media on society. I couldn’t wait for group discussion; now my classmates would certainly understand.

However, to my utter dismay, the majority gushed about how they enjoyed the episode and hoped we’d watch another next class. After all, “it might not be good for children, but it’s perfectly fine for me.” I was troubled by their double standard.

Most of these class members were not believers in Jesus. But many professing Christians similarly lack discernment. It’s concerning and can be quite dangerous.

In Philippians 4:8-9, the Holy Spirit speaks through Paul: if it’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy let it into your head, so you can think about it (vs. 8). Whether we like it or not, what we let in our heads sinks down into our hearts and begins to flow out in what we say and do. When you put Christ-honoring things into your heart and into practice, there’s a promise: God will be with you (vs. 9).

Is this passage written centuries ago to a group of Philippians really intended to serve as a filter for modern-day Jesus-followers? That depends on whether or not we want God to be near to us. It depends on how much we desire to walk closely within His will for our lives.

Christian liberty and grace are not licenses to love the things of the world, pursue youthful lusts, or naively believe everything we hear (Rom. 6:1-4; 2 Tim. 2:22). I’d like to sound the alarm and call for discernment.

Discernment is not only required for entertainment choices. It enables believers to test teaching and counsel. We must hold every truth claim up to the standard of the Bible, as the Bereans did (1 Thes. 5:21). They didn’t even take Paul’s word for it; they tested his teaching according to God’s written Word (Acts 17:11). Let’s be wise and not believe all we hear. Let’s not do everything the world around us does.

If we follow Christ, let’s ensure His message is never compromised. Guarding our hearts yields clear minds to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice (Prov. 4:23). Then we can discern the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). When we discern His will, we ready ourselves to carry it out.  Let’s gear up for the journey!

What has your experience been like with hearing the Spirit’s voice and discerning God’s will?

Do you have any specific media intake boundaries that you’ve set for yourself or decided on together as a family?

We’d love to hear from you…

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