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sermon 5/5/13- Just Believe

click here for audio

 

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter,III

at

St. Thomas Church, Chicago, 5/5/13

John 14:23-29; Genesis 22:1-15

 

Just Believe

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."

 

 

It has been said that a man is what he eats. Someone else has said that a man is what he reads. Still another has said that a man is what he thinks. Proverbs says, "As a man think-eth in his heart, so is he." To these axiomatic statements that identify the essence of a person's being I would add another which says that a person is what he or she believes. You are not only what you consume physically or what you conceptualize or internalize mentally, but you are also what you believe in your heart.  If you believe you can, then you can; if you believe you cannot, then you won't be able. Everything we do, from the most simple acts to the most complex tasks, requires that we believe in ourselves and our abilities to perform. Before we can get out of bed or lift a fork or speak a word, before we can memorize a speech or learn a lesson or drive a car, before we can quit smoking or drinking or overeating or any other habit, we must first believe that we can. And if we don't have strength ourselves, then we must have enough faith to believe in God and in the power of Christ to help us do what we believe we cannot do for and by ourselves.

 

We are what we believe. If we believe that we are nobodies, then nobodies are all we will ever be.

William Whatley tell the story of when he was a very young preacher still in seminary and pastoring a church of about twenty members, an older minister asked him how he was doing. Watley told him that he was doing fine for a little preacher. The older minister looked at him and said, "Young man, if you consider yourself to be a little preacher, then a little preacher is all you will ever be."   Watley goes on to say that he had not lived long enough then to know that one's stature does not depend upon physical size or the size of one's office or church but upon what a person is on the inside. A big person in a little spot is still a much bigger person than a little person in a big spot.

 

No one can make you into a failure; you must do that yourself.  No matter how many times you've tried and failed, you are never a failure until you begin to believe yourself to be and consider yourself to be a failure.  As long as you don't give up, you can keep on trying.  You'll hold your head up and bounce back no matter how many times you've been discouraged, frustrated, or disappointed. But once you give up on yourself, on God, on life, on other people, then failure is inevitable.  For no person ever really starts failing until that person begins to fail from the inside out.

 

Malcolm X once said that this society's greatest crime against blacks was teaching us to hate ourselves. Self-hate, self-doubt, a lack of self-esteem and belief in self, a lack of self-respect and pride have been and continue to be some of our greatest obstacles to being a truly free and victorious people.  We've all heard the story of a white man who sold ice in the black community. A certain enterprising young black person observed what the man was doing and decided that he could go into business and do the same thing. He produced a quality product at a lower cost and even gave better service. Soon all of the black folk were buying their ice from this young man— all except one old lady. Try as he might, this young black man could not persuade the old lady to buy his ice. Finally, in exasperation, he asked her why she wouldn't give him her business. She replied, "Son, it has nothing to do with you personally, but I just believe that the white man's ice is just a little bit colder than yours."  As long as we believe that others' ice is colder; as long as we are on the treadmill of self-hate and self-doubt that causes us to disrespect, deprecate, and kill each other; as long as we mug, burglarize, terrorize, and "do in" each other; as long as we fail to believe in each other, then we will never be free. As long as we believe the lies about ourselves that a racist culture has told us and a racist educational system has perpetuated, then we will always be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

 

When we fail to believe in ourselves, we are an affront to the God who made us. You will remember that in the book of Numbers we read of a tragic incident that occurred while the Israelites were on their journey to the Promised Land. When they had reached Kadesh-barnea in the wilderness of Paran, Moses sent out twelve men to spy on and survey the Promised Land and bring back a report. Only Caleb and Joshua saw the land and encouraged the people to go forward. The other ten spies looked at the land of promise but paid more attention to their opposition. They said, "The land is good, and it flows with milk and honey just as we were told. But the cities are high and fenced in, and the people who inhabit them are giants. 'We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.'" It was at this point that God told Moses to keep the children of Israel in the wilderness until that generation died out.  This was not the first time that the Israelites had complained and wanted to go back to Egypt. They had complained and wanted to return when their provisions had run short. They had complained at the banks of the Red Sea. This, God could abide.  God could make a way through the Red Sea and God could give them manna to eat and provide water in a starving land.  However, he could not make them believe in themselves— they had to do that of their own accord. And when those whom God had chosen refused to believe, then God raised up in the wilderness another generation.

 

When we stop believing, when we become cynical, we stymie and shackle the power of Christ in our own lives. When Jesus went home to Nazareth, he did not do any mighty works there— not because the power that had worked elsewhere would not work there, nor because he doubted his own abilities. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus did no mighty works in Nazareth because of the people's unbelief.

 

Abraham was a great man because he had a great faith. The Bible tells us that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Abraham believed God. He did not slay any giants as David did, or write any proverbs as did Solomon. Abraham believed God.

He did not confront any pharaohs or dispense any laws as did Moses. Abraham simply believed God.  He was not a learned scribe like Ezra or a great builder like Nehemiah. He did not have Samson's strength or Mordecai's political acumen. Abraham believed God.  He did not command the sun to stand still as Joshua did or defeat any armies as Gideon did. He did not walk through any flames as did the three Hebrew boys Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or spend any time in a lions' den as Daniel did. Abraham simply believed God.  He did not dream any dreams as did Joseph or see any visions as did Ezekiel. Abraham believed God. He did not proclaim the Messiah's coming as did Isaiah or call forth fire from heaven as Elijah did. Abraham just believed God.

 

When God instructed him to pack up and journey to a land that he knew not but that would be given to his descendants, Abraham, a well-established and settled householder, believed God and went. When Abraham was told that he and his wife Sarah, a childless couple, would bear a child and that their descendants would be as numerous as the sands along the seashore and that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed, Abraham believed God. Abraham saw himself and his wife Sarah grow far beyond childbearing years, but still he believed God.  When Abraham was ninety-nine and Sarah was ninety, their son Isaac was born.

 

Let me just point out that miracles can still happen when you believe long enough and strong enough.  The sick that folk have given up for dead, the sick that folk have pronounced as lifelong invalids can still be healed when we believe. Hezekiah lay upon his deathbed one day, body aching and racked with pain. Doctors and others had given up hope for him and had said it was just a matter of time before death came. But Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and cried out for mercy and healing, and God added fifteen years to his life.

 

Ways can still be made out of no ways when you believe. Those who seem lost forever can still be saved when you believe. Jesus does save to the uttermost. The prodigal son did come to himself in a pig pen one day and find his way back home. The adversary can still be conquered when you believe. All things are still possible if only we would believe.

 

One dreadful day when the Lord spoke to Abraham and told him to take Isaac—the son of his old age, his pride and joy and the crowning glory of his life, upon whom Abraham had placed his hopes for posterity, whose life Abraham cherished more than his own—when God told Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice him, still Abraham believed.  When Abraham left with Isaac and a few servants for Mount Moriah, nobody knew how heavy Abraham's heart was.

 

You need to understand that there's going to come a time in your life when your beliefs and everything you claim to stand for will be tested. There will come a time when your courage and faith will be strained to the breaking point, or so it will seem, and you will cry out, "Lord, how much more and how much longer?" God had made such a request of Abraham, and Abraham felt that he could not share what he was about to do or what he was going through with anybody because he knew they wouldn't understand. Frankly, Abraham himself didn't understand, but still he believed God.

 

You need to understand that you're going to have to walk through some of life's valleys by yourself. Not even your closest companion or friend or loved one can do anything to help you. Sometimes, like the prophet of old, you must tread life's winepresses alone. There is an old hymn which people used to sing:

You've got to stand your test and judgment;

You've got to stand it for yourself.

Nobody else can stand it for you,

You've got to stand it for yourself.

 

It's terrible to feel alone, so alone that even the God whom you have been leaning upon seems like a distant stranger. For, there will be times when you pray that you won't get an answer that satisfies. And out of the depths of your distress you will cry out like Job, "Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat!"  This was the heaviness that must have gripped Abraham's heart that day when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. Surely the Lord knew his heart. Everything that Abraham had been told to do he had done without murmur or complaint.

The Lord had to know how much he loved Isaac; so why would God not only take his son but also require Abraham to kill him with his very own hand? Abraham did not understand, but still he believed God. Abraham believed God so much that when he began to build and prepare the altar and Isaac said, "Father,  behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham believed God enough to reply, "God will provide a lamb for a burnt offering, my son."  Abraham bound his son, but at the moment Abraham raised his arm with knife in hand to slay Isaac, he felt a tug on his wrist and a voice called to him from heaven and told him, "Do your son no harm, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from me." Abraham lifted up his eyes and, behold, he saw a ram behind him caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham sacrificed the ram as a burnt offering instead of his son.

 

God always has a ram in the bush for those who are determined enough, who love him enough, to believe him in spite of everything and through it all.  For God is still able to open doors that no one can shut and shut doors that no one can open. "He's the King of Kings and He's Lord of Lords; no man works like Him."

 

There is the poignant story of a ship that was caught in a storm so terrible that many of the passengers had put on life vests. It seemed as if at any moment the seaworthy vessel would capsize. As one of the passengers was scurrying around, he happened to see a little boy sitting in the middle of the dining room by himself, calmly and cheerfully playing with his toy truck, seemingly oblivious to the storm around him. The concerned passenger ran up to him and said, "Little fellow, you had better put on a life vest and find your parents. Don't you know how serious the storm is?" The little boy looked up at him and said, "Thank you, Mister, but I'm not worried because my daddy is the captain of the ship."

 

There may be some who wonder how you can keep on believing when everything is turning against you. There may be some who wonder how you can keep smiling when you're going through one of the worst storms in your life.  There may be some who wonder how you can hold your head up and appear so strong when your whole world is crashing all around you and the very foundations of your life are being shaken. But if you know, in spite of what people say and do, that your heavenly Father is at the control panel of your life and that he has not lost either a passenger or a ship yet but has landed many a thousand, you can have a peace that passes understanding.   You can say like Job, "Say what you will or may, but I'm going to keep on believing. I may not understand all that's happening, but I'm going to keep on believing. For 'though he slay me yet shall I trust in him!' For this I know: 'I know that my redeemer liveth and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom . . . mine eyes shall behold and not another. . . .' "

 

Therefore, no matter what happens from day to day, keep on believing. Understand that for everything that happens, God has a reason. Somebody said:  I trust in God wherever I may be, Upon the land or on the rolling sea, For, come what may, From day to day, My heavenly Father watches over me. I trust in God,—I know He cares for me On mountain bleak or on the stormy sea; Though billows roll, He keeps my soul, My heavenly Father watches over me.

 

Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

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