Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 is the classic Biblical definition of faith. In the rest of that chapter, the writer goes on to more fully explain, define, and describe faith. How does he do that? He expands on his definition of faith by referring back through the history of God’s people to the stories of faithful people. What does it mean to have faith? Well, Hebrews says, here’s what it means: it was by faith Noah built an ark; it was by faith that Abraham, when God tested him, offered up his son Isaac; it was by faith Moses led the people through the Red Sea; it was by faith that the walls of Jericho fell– and on and on it goes. In just that one chapter, there are twenty two sentences that begin with the words “by faith;” and then after all that the writer says, “And I don’t even have time to tell you about Gideon, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets, who BY FAITH conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, endured torture, received back the dead who were raised, were persecuted and pursued, lived in caves and holes in the ground,” and on it goes, until finally, it says “Many were put to death for the world was not worthy of them.” How does the Bible describe and define faith? It does so by telling the stories of faithful people.
And what was Jesus’ own favorite method of teaching the faith? It was by the telling of parables, stories. He told all kinds of stories about interesting people who learned what it means to have faith and obey God. There was a certain man who fell among thieves… there was a man who had two sons… there was this woman who wanted to plead for justice, but the judge refused to hear her case… there was a sower went out to sow some seed… and so on.
And how do we teach children about faith? Primarily by the telling of Bible stories. Sunday School curriculum is based on the telling of stories, and even if the lesson is teaching one of the ten commandments, it will usually start by the telling of a story, either from the Bible, or from a made up story about a grade school girl who learns what it means to obey her parents, or about a junior high boy who learns what happens when you get caught stealing and have to go and ask for forgiveness from the man at the store.
We learn about the Christian faith and how to live it by the telling of stories. With that in mind, I want to tell the story of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. Fuller’s life story, his faith, and the organization he and his wife began, have been an inspiration to many millions of people. It is worth remembering this man, who, by faith, accomplished so many great things.
Millard Fuller did not start out intending to become a man of faith who gave his life in service to others. His first goal in life was to become a millionaire, a goal which he accomplished by the time he was 29 years old; and that was in 1964! In the next three years, he made a few more million. He loved it. He and his wife were buying everything money could buy– a two thousand acre hobby farm, a huge mansion, prize winning horses, speed boats, big cars, his own plane, and whatever else he could get his hands on. This poor little Alabama country boy who started out in business as a kid selling worms to fishermen, had worked hard and made it to the big leagues. He was going to enjoy it, and did for a little while.
But then his life fell apart. His single minded focus on making money left him little time and energy for anything else. His health began to fail, he realized his integrity was something he had abandoned long ago, and, most traumatic of all, his wife left him, taking their two children. After being separated for a while, she called and said wanted a divorce. (continued…)
Young Millard Fuller, on his way to becoming a millionaire
Hebrews 11 (selected verses) — By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family… By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going… By faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise… By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice… By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future… By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons… By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt… By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict… By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin… By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned… By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days... And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They (were)… destitute, persecuted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them.
Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the hearts of the saints, grant unto us the same faith and power of love; that, as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may profit by their examples; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.