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Life Lived By Faith
Scripture: Habakkuk 2:4
Track 19 of 27 in the Transforming Story As God Gave It series
Running time: 36 minutes, 44 seconds.

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Matthew Wilson Speaker: Matthew Wilson
Matt is the Jr. and Sr. High Minister at Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

5/7/06 Life Lived by Faith

Life is full of questions. Thereís all sorts of questions that we ask in life, and maybe youíve pondered some of these deep questions. For instance, why are there interstate highways in Hawaii? What would chairs look like if our knees bent the other way? If you crossed a four leaf clover with poison ivy, would you get a rash of good luck? If you got into a taxi and the driver started driving backwards, would he owe you money? If con is the opposite of pro, is congress the opposite of progress? And if you throw a cat out of a car window, is that kitty litter? And when a cow laughs, does milk come out of its nose? If someone has a midlife crisis while playing hide and seek, does he automatically lose because he canít find himself? Instead of talking to your plants, if you scream at them instead, will they still grow but yet feel troubled and insecure? Just before someone gets nervous, do you think that thereís possibly cocoons in their stomach? And when sign makers go on strike, do their signs say anything? Should vegetarians eat animal crackers? And, finally, when it rains, why donít sheep shrink?

Well, maybe youíve never thought about those questions. But maybe youíve had questions in life, because, Iím guessing, if youíre like me, you have many questions, and life is full of questions. Those questions were just for fun, but there are some big questions in life; there are some hard questions that we sometimes ask about why this is happening in our lives, or why are we going through this? We sometimes are like a little kid whoís always asking why. Why? Iím sure Iím going to experience that very soon. My little girl asking why, daddy; why is that blue? Whyís this, whyís that? And we have questions and we wonder. During 9/11 people flocked to churches because they had questions. In the midst of terror, in the midst of tragedy, many times we have questions, and we turn to God. And we ask God why. Why is this happening? Why does so-and-so, who doesnít seem to care about living for you and totally does whatever they want, why do they get to have all the money and seem like everything goes right for them? And why does so-and-so, who does their best to follow you and has a great heart, why do they have to go through so much pain?
Life is full of big questions like that. I think some of us have been trained that we shouldnít ask God questions. Some of us come from a background that says, you know, God says it, we believe it, and no questions asked. Well, yeah, when God says it, we should believe it. You might have heard the saying, where God puts a period, let no man put a question mark. Well, thatís true with scriptural things; we shouldnít come to them and try to twist them to make them say what we want. Itís not true that we can never question God. In fact, we see many examples in the Bible of people questioning God in a story, asking God, why. Why is this happening this way? And we see that Godís big enough for their questions. Of course heís big enough for our questions.
In Scripture we see many players; we see Abraham, who says, God am I ever gonna have a son? And then when heís older in life, heís like, am I really gonna have a son now - - Iím old! And then when Jeremiah asks, Lord, why was I ever born? Nobody cares about what Iím preaching, nobody cares about what Iím saying about your word. Why was I even born? And the disciples, when theyíre in the boat in the storm, and they asked Jesus, they said, Lord, donít you even care if we drown? These questions that men asked, that people asked in the Bible, were questions they asked of God. And so if we see that, then I think it would be ok for us to ask questions, too.

We come to a story today found in the book of Habakkuk. And, yes, you do get bonus points if you can spell that correctly, pronounce it correctly, and turn in your Bibles there right now in under a minute. If youíre able to find Habakkuk, youíve got it going on. If your pages stick together, you might miss it because Habakkuk is just three chapters, itís just a couple of pages in your Old Testament, right towards the end. Habakkuk is this prophet who asked questions of God. And this morning as we open up Habakkuk, I want us to look at the questions he asks, and I want us to look at Godís response to those questions. And in that response, you and I find this: the just, the righteous, shall live by faith, and those who are wicked will not go unpunished. You see, Habakkukís world was a world that was very full of evil. In fact, the Israelites practiced a lot of evil things, following a lot of foreign gods. But there were also other nations that were evil nations, and Habakkukís whole world seemed to be swarmed and surrounded with evil. And he had that question, Lord, why? Why is there this evil? And God gives him a response. In Habakkukís world, he cries out in the very first chapter of Habakkuk, verse 2, he says, how long, oh, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen. How long must I cry, violence, and you do not save. You can see the helplessness in his voice; heís wanting God to come and answer his call. And heís asking, why is this continuing? The book can be broken down to this: in the very first part you see Habakkuk complaining about evil. And then the Lord gives him a response. And when he gives him this response, Habakkukís not quite sure about the answer. So he complains again to God and asks more questions, and then, finally, the Lord gives another answer thatís satisfactory to Habakkuk. In Habakkuk 3:19, Habakkuk says these words, the sovereign Lord is my strength.

Now how can Habakkuk go from crying out, Lord, why donít you ever save us from evil, to a point where he says, the Lord is my strength? What happens in between? Well, thatís where we go today, to look at the in between. And actually if you wanted to find it, you can find it right there in Chapter 2. Thatís the answer and thatís where weíre gonna focus today, Chapter 2, verses 2-4 and especially verse 4. Habakkuk questions Godís methods. Hereís whatís going on: he canít understand, I mean, he knows that the Israelites are gonna have to pay for their sins, and God promised anyone in Deuteronomy, he said, if my people donít follow my ways, they will have to be punished, they will have to pay the price for that. If you follow in my footsteps, you will my people and I will be your God, and things will be good with us. So Habakkuk understands that the Israelites will be punished for their sins. And, in fact, the nation of Israel is pretty torn up about this time. This is about 605, 609 B.C., somewhere in there. Remember in B.C. the dates go opposite; itís a count down instead of a count up. So this is before the Babylonians would come to ransack and attack Jerusalem, which happens about 586 B.C. And this is the point where God gives the word to Habakkuk, he says this, the Israelites are evil, and because the Israelites are evil, Iím gonna punish you. Iím gonna punish you with this nation called the Babylonians. And when Habakkuk hears that, he canít understand how God would let a people thatís more wicked than the Israelites, thatís more sinful, that really donít even care about Godís ways, how he would let these Babylonians come and attack them. Why, God, would you let that happen? He doesnít get it. And in Habakkuk 2:2-4, we find this going on and we find Habakkuk getting this question from God and getting an answer. Habakkuk 2:2; this is the Lordís reply after Habakkukís second complaint. He says this: write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time. It speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. And then verse 4: See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright. But the righteous will live by his faith.

In chapter 2, the Lord answers this question of Habakkuk; he says youíve got evil people around you. I know that. See, these people are puffed up, their desires are not upright. I see that, and he goes on to talk about just how evil these people are. And he has this little short passage, short few words, that is a sharp contrast to everything else the Lord paints in chapter 2, and those are the words, the righteous shall live by faith.

So these evil people Ė it could be the Babylonians, it could be basically anyone who goes after their own selfish gain, he says theyíre puffed up, theyíre prideful. Itís kinda that picture of a swollen chest, and youíre full of pride. I donít what that feels like at all; no, just kidding, I know what that feels like. Iíve had times in my life when Iíve been prideful. And youíve probably heard that saying that pride comes before a fall. And you probably know Proverbs 16:18 that says pride comes before destruction. Yeah, that happened to me once, or maybe a couple of times. But I remember being about six years old and this happening to me. I always liked to challenge my mother and father, and at six years old that was a pretty early start for me to do this. But my mom told me before I went outside, that I needed to put on warmer clothes or a coat or something. It was wintertime, there was about two inches of snow on, it was about 30 degrees or so. I was like, Mom, Iím good; I donít need any more clothes. Iím just gonna go out, get my chores done, you know, we lived on a farm away from everybody else out there in the country. And she said, well, you need to put a coat on. And I was like, Mom, itís not cold out there. In fact, I can go outside naked; itís not that cold. Of course, I was joking, but then I stripped all my clothes off. I was six, it was the country. And I ran outside just to prove to my mother that I knew what I was talking about. And when I went outside, I was dancing around and laughing; I told you Ė itís not that cold. And then my dog Big Mac, I told you about him a few weeks ago, he comes running up because he thinks itís time to play. So here I am in two inches of snow and my dog jumps on me, and he scrapes me from my shoulder down to my stomach. Yes, and that feels really nice in the winter. And so it was time for me to go inside.

Iíve had times when Iíve been prideful. I thought I knew what I was talking about and I was gonna show everybody, in this case, show my mother, that I knew what I was talking about. And pride came before the fall.

Their desires are not upright; their chests are puffed up; theyíre full of themselves. When youíre just a self-seeking person, when youíre full of pride, all you care about is yourself. Your desires are not going to always be upright. That word upright is very literal: not standing up. And so youíre not going to be caring about following the rules or doing whatís upstanding. Youíre just gonna do whatever you want. Verse 5, he talks about wine betraying them, and how it makes them arrogant. And if you notice, thatís what goes together. Sometimes we get those addictions because weíre prideful; those are the things we want to do, and so we take a drink or we go to that addiction. And itís all about ourselves. It says in verse 15, they take the wineskin to their neighbors and get their neighbors drunk so these evil people could gaze upon their neighborsí nakedness. I mean, this is disgusting stuff; this is a sinful act. These desires are not upright. These Babylonians, these evil people, had an insatiable appetite for evil. It couldnít be quenched, it couldnít be satisfied. They were not only evil people in their ways, but because they became a great, powerful nation, they started gobbling up the nations around them. You probably remember the Assyrians; the Babylonians wiped them out. The Assyrians were the ones that came and captured the northern kingdom. The Babylonians came in and took them over. You probably that pharaoh in Egypt were pretty strong; the Babylonians took them over as well. And these Babylonians ruled the earth; they were the kings of the world at this time. They just gobbled up people and didnít care what they left behind. They were evil.

Have you ever felt like Habakkuk? Have you ever felt that your world was so full of evil that you wondered if Godís really paying attention? That if Godís ever going to step in and come to the rescue and make it stop, that if evil is always going to seem like it prevails, seem like itís everywhere, seem like itís gonna win. Do you ever have questions like that? How people that seem to be so bad just get away with it and seem sometimes to even thrive in it. And how people who seem to be so good can go through so much pain. Job was a faithful man, and God allowed Satan to basically attack and take everything away from Job. Job had questions; he said, are you going to destroy me now? You formed me and put me together and now youíre going to turn me into dust? Have you ever felt like Habakkuk?

Thereís a story about a farmer in a Midwestern state; he had a great disdain for religious things. In fact, when the church-goers would go to church on Sunday mornings, he would shake his fist at them as he was plowing his fields. And when October came he had his finest crop ever, the best. And as they were going on their way to worship, he was feeling really prideful about himself because his harvest was complete. So what he did with the money that he made from this great harvest, he took out a great ad in the local paper. In the ad he said, faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper. The response from the Christians in the community was quiet, it was polite. In the next edition of the town paper a small ad appeared. It read simply, God doesnít always settle his accounts in October.

In our world sometimes it seems like evil prevails and evilís always gonna win. We must remember that God doesnít always settle his accounts right now, right in October, that God eventually does. Now, God doesnít have to answer Habakkuk; he doesnít have to respond. God doesnít have to answer to each of us; weíre men. But God does choose to respond to Habakkuk. And he gives him an answer that is really a great answer. He wants him to not only hear this answer, but he wants him to like post it on billboards so that everybody can see the answer that God gives when he says to Habakkuk, the righteous will live by faith.

I remember as a kid dressing up like Superman. How many of you have tried to imitate your hero or superhero? I used to take a towel and wrap around my neck and take a clothespin and snap it on. And Iíd go flying through the house and say, up, up, and away; and you know what Superman always used to say? He used to fight for truth and justice and the American way. I loved Superman; he was really cool and I wanted to be like Superman because of what he fought for and because he had really cool super powers. And youíre probably thinking, did you climb up on the roof and try to fly off because you were trying to be Superman? Well, no, I never did that. Please raise your hand if youíve ever been injured imitating a superhero. No hands? Ok. Aha, I figured thereíd be at least one. We try to imitate superheroes because we want to be like them, because of what they fight for or for what they accomplish. Superheroes in the comic strips and the cartoon world, good always wins. We like that; we want good to always win. Our movies should always end that way, with good always prevailing. And thatís the answer that God gives to Habakkuk; he says that good will win. Righteousness will prevail and the righteous will live by faith. When you hear that, what do you think? How do you interpret that, the righteous will live by faith? There are hundreds of things that come to mind, but youíre probably thinking, what does faith mean, what does righteous mean? Many times we have kind of a misunderstanding of what faith means. The actual word faith here in the Hebrew, the root of the word actually comes from this meaning of faithfulness or steadfastness or confidence, of being certain. Many times when we hear the word faith, people sometimes think itís just kind of wishful thinking or kind of a hope in something thatís not really real. Or sometimes people equate faith to just be about belief. Faith is partially about belief, but faith is about much more than that; itís about certainty. Thatís why in Hebrews 11:1 it says this, now we are certain of what we hope for, and weíre sure of what we canít see. Thereís that certainty, thereís that faith. Thatís what this faith is talking about here, that steadfastness that you can count on. Itís the image of a parent just cradling a baby, the certainty that this baby is not gonna drop, that itís gonna be held. And youíre practicing this faith right now but itís in a very small way. Youíre confident that the legs on your pews wonít break. And so youíre sitting there, you place faith in the pew just to sit there; youíre confident. Thatís a very tiny bit of faith, but thatís confidence in something. We place faith in things all around us every day. But of course this faith is a faith that says that God is good and that in the end heís always gonna have his way. And that God is in control. And that even when life doesnít make sense, Iím still gonna follow him.

Faith is something you can trust in. The psalmist talks about all these things that he doesnít trust in. Psalm 20:7 says he doesnít trust in horses or chariots. In chapter 44 he boasts about bringing the Lord victory and not trusting in his bow and his arrow. He talks about not trusting in his bank account, not trusting in money and riches like other people would. Psalm 118 he does not trust in political leaders. They were all there; thatís pretty easy. Doesnít trust in princes. Thereís lots of things the psalmist says he doesnít trust in, but he trusts in the name of the Lord.

What do you trust in? What do you place your faith in? Who do you really trust? Youíve probably heard the story of Blondin, and youíve probably heard many variations of that story. Actually, Blondin was a man who lived in the late 1800ís. He came to Niagara Falls and he stretched a tightrope across the falls. For days he put on a show and the crowds would come out to see him. Heíd walk across, heíd walk back. And as many stories tell, all the variations of the things heíd do as he walked out. Heíd go out on a tightrope; heíd lower down a line to a boat down below, pull up a glass of water and drink it. One story has him taking a wheelbarrow and pushing the wheelbarrow out with a stove in it, and actually while out there, firing up the stove and making an omelet and eating it. Thatís pretty crazy, thatís pretty awesome. As the story goes, as many variations are told, there comes a day when he wants to take someone else across the rope with him. And he comes to the edge and he asks the people, do you all believe that I can make it across this tightrope? Do you all believe that I can make it to the other side and back. And theyíre all like yeah, yeah, yeah. We believe you can do it; weíve seen you do it day in and day out. And so he asks, ok, if you believe that I can do it, whoís gonna get on my back and go with me? Of course, as the story goes, no one answers him. Theyíd seen him do it day in and day out, but no one was willing to place their trust in something that they were confident in and that theyíd seen day in and day out. You see, faith requires trust and it also requires action. Thatís why faith is not enough, to just say I believe. James talks about how even the demons believe and they shudder. Faith requires us to go into action, requires us to be so certain that weíd actually follow through.
Faith is quantitative. Jesus talks about ye of little faith. He talks about people who have great faith; he talks about people who have no faith. Faith is potent. Jesus talks about having faith like a mustard seed and you can move trees, move mountains. Faith is a very potent thing. Faith can also grow. Men asked Jesus, increase my faith; I want to trust, I want to believe. Faith can grow.
Those who are righteous, those who live according to the standard, live according to what is right, they live by faith. There are three places where you see this text, the righteous shall live by faith, played out in the New Testament; three places where itís quoted. In each place we learn something new about this phrase. Galatians 3:11 Ė Paulís talking about the law and heís talking about how law alone cannot save us. And he says we have to have a righteousness apart from the law, and that comes through Jesus Christ. And he says the righteous shall live by faith.

Abraham had faith; he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. In Genesis 15 you can read about him trusting in the Lord, going where he said to go, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Our righteousness today has to come from Christ. Heís the only one that can make us right in Godís sight. Heís the only one that can set us so we can have right standing with God. Itís not by the law, itís not by what we can do to follow a set of rules. Itís by placing our faith, our trust, and saying that Jesus is able to cover all of our sins, so we can place faith in Christ and then be righteous.

Romans 1:17 tells us this isnít just a temporal faith, itís not just about having a faith thatís good to last here on earth. But itís about having a faith that saves us, that we have salvation for eternity. Itís an eternal kind of faith. The righteous shall live by faith. Hebrews 10:37 says donít shrink, back to place confidence, to trust in, what we believe. This faith that we profess needs to be strong. It means to say that I trust in Jesus, that he can cover it all, that he can take care of it all, from now and for eternity, and Iím gonna hold on to that faith.

As Tim Bond puts it, this means that you will trust God and be obedient even if life doesnít make sense. When you feel betrayed by someone Ė the righteous shall live by faith. Remember how God tells you to forgive, and so you try to forgive like that. When you see someone get ahead by doing wrong -- the righteous shall live by faith. Instead of compromising, you still keep doing what is right and obey, because you know that God rewards those who are obedient and those who are faithful. When you are controlled by a bad habit Ė the righteous shall live by faith. You trust that God can give you some form of self-control to help you overcome that habit or that sin. The righteous shall live by faith, even when it doesnít make sense. We still trust that God is in control and God will save us in the end.

Romans 8:28, 29 say this Ė itís a pretty familiar passage, verse 28 is anyway Ė we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. Verse 29 we sometimes donít go into because it has big words; it says this, for those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to his likeness, to the likeness of his Son. Now there are big words, but just get past the big words and get this-- through our faith and through Godís power, we can become like Jesus Christ. We are conformed to the likeness of his Son.

Thereís one more person who asked questions of God. Well, thereís many more, but thereís one more I want to point out this morning. That person was Jesus. Yeah, Jesus asked questions of his Father. You see, he was on the cross, he was on the hill, and he was suffering, he was tortured and he was beaten. And he cried out this question, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? That question has so much meaning, I donít even know how I can fully grasp it. But in the midst of that question, Jesus still had faith. And if we see Jesus Christ suffering, dying on a cross, and Romans 8 tells us weíre gonna be conformed to his likeness, to his image, then how can we ever think that weíre not gonna have to suffer, that weíre not gonna have to have pain in our lives? Because Jesus had suffering, Jesus had pain. His path led him to a cross. And we wonder, why am I suffering, why is there pain? If weíre gonna become like him, weíre gonna have to experience the things he experienced, and sometimes thatís the pain and thatís the suffering. But through it all Jesus asked this question in faith, because you know what he said in the end. He said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. He still trusted in the Father even though he asked the question.

The burden can seem heavy for us sometimes. It can seem like the world is so evil and darkness prevails. As I was studying this week, I couldnít help but think of the movie Iím a fan of, The Lord of the Rings. And in the middle movie, I was reminded of this picture of the Orcs, who really sum up these prideful people, these Babylonians. And Iím reminded of the great wizard, Gandalph coming to the hill to the rescue of the people who are stuck and trapped in the fortress. And they overcome the Orcs and make them retreat and the Orcs seem to be finally getting wiped out and evil seems to be finally gotten rid of. But then the story continues, and you know probably little Frodo, whoís carrying this ring that contains such great evil. He has a heavy burden. I want you to watch this clip from the movie, The Two Towers. Just listen to the words of Frodoís friend, Samwise, as he encourages his little friend to continue.

Frodo says he canít do it anymore; evilís just too strong. Itís pulling on him so heavy. But Sam has the words; Sam says that the sun will shine, it will shine all the clearer. He says the tales that are worth telling are the ones that are full of darkness and doom. So the question is for us, is our story worth telling? Are we willing to penetrate the darkness? Are we willing to stand up and fight because in the end we know that good matters, and we must fight for good. Seems like every time I start to preach, I have the Lord take my few weeks and just show me what the passage really means. A few weeks ago, our dryer broke down; had to get a new dryer. Evil was in the dryer. Then we get a bill from the hospital that we thought was paid for our daughter, and so thereís another bill of about $800 to pay. And then, I want to visit my Grandma one last time, because sheís been suffering from Alzheimerís for about four years, and she hadnít had a chance yet to meet our daughter, her great-granddaughter. So we finally get to go Tuesday and on the way, our jeep, after passing the last exit for 30 miles, the check engine light comes on, and starts to sputter and almost fade. Thankfully, we made it and, thankfully, itís still running. But there comes some more expenditures. We finally made it to our destination and I see my Grandma, and two days later, my Grandma dies.

And I hear these words, the righteous will live by faith. I remember visiting my Grandma last summer, and I remember being mad when I left, because, you see, my Grandma was just a shell of who she used to be. I wish I could tell you her story, because itís one worth telling. I wouldnít be here if she wouldnít have influenced my father to do great things for the Lord, I surely wouldnít be doing things for the Lord. And I remember leaving that nursing home, and I remember yelling as I drove away, God, I just want things to be like they were. Like the times when we sat on the back porch in the summertime and drank an RC Cola. I just want it to be like it was. So I said, Lord, just make it like it was or let her go home. Just make it like it was or let her go be with you. Well, it took a while, but God answered. You see, Iíd been praying for her to get to go home because she really wasnít here anymore, and her suffering didnít really need to continue. So God answered, and the righteous will by faith. Now I donít claim to be perfect, but I know that through Christ, I can be righteous, that I can be made right. And I know through my faith I can continue to live in a way that says, God, even when it doesnít seem like youíre here or seem like you care or it seems like life is just full of bad and evil, I can still hang on to you. And I can trust that in the end you will save.

God has an answer for you. He says this, if youíve never placed faith in me, you can trust me. If youíve never put your faith in Jesus Christ, then heís able to hold you in his hands. And Jesusís hands way, way, blow away Allstate. Youíre not in good hands with Allstate; youíre in great hands with Jesus. You can place your life in his hands. If youíve already placed your life in his hands, he can say this to you and he has an answer for you Ė the righteous will live by faith. In the end, good will win; in the end, I will triumph. And you see the words of Habakkuk chapter 3 when Habakkuk comes to this prayer of triumph, and he says in verse 17, though the fig tree doesnít bud and there are no grapes on the vines; though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food; though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior. Even when nothingís there, heís gonna continue to live by faith.

You have a great story, and God is living out that story in your life. Thereís people around you that are watching. And youíre that movie to them; youíre portraying whether youíre gonna keep going or whether youíre gonna give up. Youíre portraying whether youíre gonna live just like everybody else or youíre gonna live differently. The righteous live by faith means that wherever you are, wherever God has placed you in the story, that itís ok to ask questions of him. Heís big enough; he can handle it. And itís ok to be different and to live like someone who is different. I hope this week you have the courage to live by faith. I would venture to guess that many of you have much worse that youíve gone through, much more evil that surrounds you, than me. Iíve got it pretty easy, really. I want you to know this, that you can bring whatever burdens you have to him and he will carry them. So I donít know if you need prayer this morning; I donít know if you have questions about God and if you can really trust in him. But I hope you know thatís it safe, that itís ok; you can talk to me, you can talk to lots of people around this place who want to give you the answers, who want to help you. Sometimes we wonít have the answers, but thatís ok, because we can trust in a God who is certain and a God, in the end, who triumphs. So tell your story this week.

[Transcribed by SM]