Saturday, October 8, 2011

“A Life of Imitation” - Hebrews 6:9-12 - October 9, 2011

Over the past few weeks I have been asking different people in our congregation to share stories with me about people that have encouraged or inspired them. It has been a great exercise. Let me share some of the names that I have heard. -
• Roxanne Jensen told me about a friend of her from Jenks named Christi. She has been an example to Roxanne in the perseverance of faith she has shown despite so many trials. She is an encouragement as we share our faith in spite of shared trials.
• Pam Williams told me that there were many women who encouraged and inspired her growing up in the church, but she highlighted two. She lighted up Fran Wilkinson, who was her GA leader. She says, Fran “had the most infectious laugh of anyone I know and taught me to take myself less seriously. Fran exemplified Gods love no matter who you were, she made you feel important.”
• She also mentioned Joyce Shelby, who served as youth minister. Joyce encouraged the group to lean on the Savior, but also “instilled a sense of family within our youth group and within the church.”
• My son, Aaron, told me about how Don Miner inspired him as a model of what it meant to be a Christian in the way he did his business and in the way he lived out his life as a husband and father.
• Kim Greer offered three names for me. The first is Lane Davis. She says. “Lane Davis inspires me to look at my life of faith differently. He has experienced such trauma and tragedy in his life but remains fully trusting in God. If Lane can do that, then I can too!
• The second is Scott Ferree. Kim says that Scott “inspires me to live a life of authentic faith. He is mostly unrecognized in his behind-the scenes work and help in music and children’s ministry. Yet he shows up week after week with a positive spirit and generous heart to offer himself to all of us.”
• The third is Laurie Ashford. Kim says she “is another one who made a huge difference in our lives and in IAWL last November and December. She worked tirelessly, putting up with some difficult people and maddening circumstances to make sure our set was right and in place. She makes me want to be faithful in ministering even when nobody else knows about it.”

I could talk about the way Neal and Ann Brown’s deep faith in God despite the pain of loss, touches me deeply. I could talk about how Jay Allen’s servant heart inspires me, or about how Larry Fitch’s sense of strength encourages me, or about how Nellie Christian’s heart for others moves me. I could go row by row, person by person, story by story, and seemingly never run out of names of those who inspire and encourage me.

The power of these stories is that let us see where what people believe and how they live their lives come together. They are witnesses of a faith of both word and deed. Earlier in Hebrews 6 we read as the writer challenges those who are spiritual deserts, resistant to the word and way of God. As we transition into our focal passage the tone changes completely. The New Living Translation proclaims the second half of verse 9 with, We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. The words that follow provide a profound word of encouragement and a faith life challenge. The passage beckons the listener to a life and faith worthy of imitation.
First, hear the word of encouragement. Verse 10 sings out; God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Hebrews proclaims that God will not forget the work and love you have shown him as you have helped his people. There is something I want to make sure we do not miss when we look at this verse. God celebrates the work and love we have shown HIM as we help his people – and keep on helping them. The motivation for service others is not because we have a benevolent heart or because we are good people, but is instead is to be a reflection of our love for God.

We are accustom to hearing the words of Jesus in Matthew that proclaim, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This passage reinforces this truth with the picture of God cheering for us and celebrating our help for others because God sees it as the direct reflection of our love for Him! This means every time we help others through Good Shepherd, or the Furniture Bank, or KidsHope, or through home renovations in South Texas, or our work with refugees in Kuala Lumpur or Ottawa, or a host of other missional expressions, we are engaged in living acts of love and worship of God. In the face of the child, or the hungry, or the hurting, or the struggling gives us a glimpse at the face of God. Let me try one more time from a different angle – our motivation for missional engagement is not be out of economic or social guilt, or a sense of religious duty, or out of a benevolence spirit, but instead what should trigger us to get up and pour ourselves into others is that every moment and every act is an act of love for God.

Our passage continues, 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. The expectation was not that they would do “good” as an act of their love for God, but that they would be “diligent,” and keep doing “good” as an ongoing expression of their love. This is enforced in the next verse when he tells them “We do not want you to become lazy.” I am not sure when we hear the word “lazy” we really get the heart of the message. Other translators choose other words like; “dull,” “sluggish,” “apathetic,” and “disinterested.” The writer was not worried about them kicking up their feet, but rather losing their heart in the task of loving and helping people when they faced rejection and mounting persecution. It is reminiscent of what we hear in Galatians 6:9 that proclaims; Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. I know that it might seem that we are always pouring ourselves out in ministry and sometimes it seems like the options and opportunities will never end. Part of the struggle is that too many Christians and too many churches are self-focused leaving a mountain of need untouched. But, our task is not to focus on what others should be doing. Our task is not to grow weary, or lazy, or sluggish, or apathetic, or disinterested, but to keep on helping others as a reflection of our love affair with God who first loved us.

Ultimately this passage in Hebrews tells its hearers the way to get this right is to imitate those who live lives of authentic faithfulness. It is a picture of faith is that is both doing good and living as witnesses of faithfulness, or in other words, proclaiming what we believe and acting like we believe it. We are blessed to have people in our lives to encourage and inspire us. We see in them people who serve others out of their love of God. We see in them people that have persevered because they knew they could rely on God. I celebrate those who encourage and inspire us, but I want you to know is that for others, that person is you. Choose to live a life of faith worthy of imitation. Let the words of your mouth and the actions of your hands sing out of your love for God.

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