01-19-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

How many of you ever brought home a report card from school only to hear your parent say, “You can do better”?

How many of you ever sat in a locker room at half time only to hear a coach say, “You can do better”?

Or for that matter, how many of you have struggled to break a habit or make a change only to stumble in your attempt—and you say to yourself, “I can do better”?

God has a plan for us—a good plan, a life-giving plan, an eternal plan. God wants us to trust him and believe for better things than the ordinary, standard plans people often settle for. How many are content with average or mediocre—when God has something better in mind?

Jer 29:11 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

God gave this promise centuries ago to people who’d been beaten down, conquered by their enemies, and taken away as captives to a foreign land. Yet this promise still rings true for us today—even for those who have been beaten down, facing setbacks and defeat.

We want to believe that God has good plans for us, but before we can have a heart open to believe for God’s best, we need to open our hearts to his work of transformation to take place within us! We can’t be people of faith unless first we are changed!

If we remain sinful, selfish, fearful, bitter, vindictive, suspicious people, we’ll never be able to trust God for better things. So first we need a powerful, supernatural work of transformation, which comes through the cross of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice makes it possible for us to live.

Hebrews is a book in the Bible that talks his sacrifice—but it doesn’t stop there. It also talks about going forward, not backward. It uses OT images—lessons from Jewish history and customs to urge us to keep growing in our faith—to do better.

Heb 6:1, 9-12 (TEV) 1 Let us go forward, then, to mature teaching and leave behind us the first lessons of the Christian message… 9 But even if we speak like this, dear friends, we feel sure about you. We know that you have the better blessings that belong to your salvation. [NIV84: we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation.] 10 God is not unfair. He will not forget the work you did or the love you showed for him in the help you gave and are still giving to other Christians. 11 Our great desire is that each of you keep up your eagerness to the end [NIV: show this same diligence to the very end], so that the things you hope for will come true. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to be like those who believe and are patient, and so receive what God has promised.

Better blessings. Better things…that accompany salvation, things that go together with salvation, better things are in store for you.

In a sense, we’re like the kid with the report card who did “okay”—his grades are adequate. He did a fairly decent job. But he still hasn’t done his best. He still has has room for improvement; he still has better things he can achieve!

God is pleased with the changes in our lives. He rejoices for the progress we’ve made. He’s glad to see us restore relationships and heal damaged emotions. It’s good when addictions and destructive patterns of living are broken. Those things make God happy. There is joy in heaven when sinners repent! (Luke 15:7)

But God has so much more for us. Better things! Things should come with our salvation. It’s good to be saved—but the full impact of that salvation is still being played out. “We are convinced of better things concerning you” (NASB).

So Hebrews gives us a pep talk.

It’s like the coach at half-time urging us to dig down deep, to give it our all and be all that we can be: “Sure, we made a few mistakes out there. Yes, we’re down a few points. I know we’ve had several injuries. But the game isn’t over yet! There’s still more we can do! You haven’t yet played as well as you can. You haven’t lived up to your full potential. I am convinced you’ve got better things in store. God has better blessings for you yet to come.”

And then comes the coach’s advice—things we can do to keep growing in our faith so we can believe for God’s best.

1. Keep eager to the end (v 11). Show the same diligence…effort…earnestness. Extend that same intensity.

Last spring I discovered that the A/C in my car wasn’t working, so I had the dealer recharge the system. But the freon (?) immediately leaked out. Turns out the lines had rusted and in one afternoon I used up my entire carbon footprint allotment for the whole year. It’s true. I contributed to global warming. So you can blame me for the unusually warm winter we’ve had.

If an A/C system can rust and leak, I wonder how many Christians leak? They contain the Spirit and the power of God, but life comes along and rusts out the lines—so they leak. They cannot become all that God wants them to be or do what God wants them! They haven’t kept up the pressure to the end.  They haven’t been diligent all the way. If you don’t trust to the end, you’ll rust in the end.

This verse says “Keep up your eagerness. Show the same diligence to the end.” This is a word to inspire and motivate us so we will maintain our commitment all the way to the finish line.

You can run one lap in record time, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re in a 10-lap race. We need an effort that will stretch for the entire distance, the whole way to the finish line.

The Christian life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Some people come on like gang busters. They’re full of faith, pumped up, zealous, enthusiastic. They come out of the locker room raring to go.

But when life gets tough and they get knocked around and they encounter a few bruises along the way—then they’re not so enthusiastic. Some get discouraged. Others throw in the towel. They didn’t prepare for a marathon, so all they had to give was a sprint. Maybe a couple of hurdles. But it’s a quick dash and they burn out.

Problem is: the race isn’t a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon.

Jesus talked about people who receive the Word with joy and believe for a while, but “in time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13). If we’re going to stand the test, then we need to finish the race. We need to stay strong to the end. We need to keep up our eagerness and show the same diligence all the way.

2. Keep going till your hope comes true (v 11). Full assurance of hope. Make your hope sure. To show how strong and lasting your hope really is. Remain confident. Fully grasping the hope that is within you.

We start with hope, but we also need to end with hope—hanging in there all the way to the end. So we need to guard against things that eat away at hope. Things that undermine or corrode our hope.

Gardner Taylor—a well-known pastor from New York—started out preaching in the rural, poor southern black churches of Louisiana… One night he was preaching in a church that had only one light bulb hanging from the ceiling to light the whole building, when suddenly the electricity went out. He stuttered and stammered a bit, being young and not sure what to do. Then an old man in the back called out, “Preach on, preacher! Preach on! We can still see Jesus in the dark!”

Life sometimes leaves us in the dark. Confused. Struggling. We experience loss. Defeat. Set-back. Our faith takes a hit. Our hope begins to waver. It’s times like that that we need to still see Jesus in the dark.

The warning in Hebrews is to not give up. To hold on until the end. To keep hope strong—because if we do, then good things will come. Hope will eventually come to a “full assurance”—which is to say, it will no longer merely be hope. In the end, it will become reality.

Rom 8:24 (NCV) …If we see what we are waiting for, that is not really hope. People do not hope for something they already have.

3. Be like those who believe (v 12).

Better blessings are linked to faith. Average, mediocre, ordinary blessings don’t need so much faith. But if you want God’s best, then you have to believe! Trust!

How does Hebrews describe believers who live by faith?

(a) They are patient (v 12).

Faith is only proven over time. It is a long process. Patience (perseverance, endurance) requires time.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the “Law of the Harvest”: You can plant a seed, but you have to wait for the harvest. A garden doesn’t grow overnight.

It’s true in so many ways. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes years to grow an oak tree. Babies aren’t delivered by storks. Babies need 9 months to develop in the womb. A cat can have kittens in about 64 days, but cats are small. If you want something more substantial, it will take longer. An African elephant takes 645 days—can you imagine being pregnant for nearly two years?

It’s the same way with faith. Faith takes time. It requires patience.

What’s another thing we can say about those who live by faith?

(b) They receive (v 12). NIV: “…through faith and patience [they] inherit what has been promised.”

If you want to receive God’s promises, you must believe God’s promises. Between receiving and believing, however, is patience. Patience legitimizes faith and links it to receiving the promise.

God has promised better things. God has a good plan for you. He has a future in mind for you. But it will require believing all the way to the end. Patience is what enables believers to become receivers.

God has also promised better things for us as a church. God has a plan and a purpose for this body of believers. What began years ago as a home Bible study in Cloquet with people hungry for more of God—for better things—continues today because God has a plan for even better things.

Of course, we need to keep believing in order to receive. We need patience to turn our believing into receiving.

MSG: Be like those who stay the course with committed faith…

The Book of Hebrews tells about those who did NOT make it to the Promised Land. Moses led them out of Egypt and captivity, but on the way they died in the desert. Their journey was cut short, Hebrews says, because of their unbelief. (Heb 3:16-18)

How many begin with good intentions—with a good plan, with hopes and dreams and faith—but their journey is cut short because they don’t persevere in their faith and their commitment.

How many churches fail to keep up with God’s plan? How many churches don’t stay current or relevant because they forget the reason God put them here in the first place? What a tragedy!

It would be a tragedy if this church didn’t maintain its faith—if we didn’t fulfill our call and purpose. It would be a tragedy if we just camped where we landed years ago. If we were satisfied just with what was done—and we became unwilling to move forward, unwilling to believe for God’s best.

“Starter house”: When a couple first begins married life, a “starter house” is great. But most couples will move to something else—as they improve their situation, as children come, as their salary grows.

When we first started out, we lived in a small apartment on the second floor of an old house on Humboldt Ave N in Minneapolis… slanted ceilings in bathroom, $35 for “set” of LR furniture… But we didn’t stay there. We moved on.

In the same way, a church can’t move forward if it’s content to stay camped where it is. It’d sad if we were satisfied living in the past, never daring to launch out into new areas, never taking new risks, never trying new adventures.

It’d be tragic if we were unwilling to adapt and make necessary changes to reach a totally different group of people than those who were reached 80 years ago (or 60 or 40 years ago).

People change. Styles change. Language changes. Culture changes. And so our methods must change. Our message remains the same—Jesus Christ: the same yesterday, today, and forever. But our methods must keep adapting.

In fact, the church elders are working to create a “Transition Team” to help us gain perspective on the changes that we need to make—

  • How we do things around here.
  • How we can connect better with the community.
  • How we can share the Good News better.
  • We know we want to refresh our image…
    • update our look,
    • change our name,
    • improve our resources,
    • expand our facilities,
    • bring on additional staff. So we’re putting together a “Transitions Team” to help.

Why? Because God still has a work for us to do. Because we have a calling. Because God loves the hurting, lost people in Carlton County.

Because we want to believe God for better things. Because we want to have open hearts to what God is doing and saying so we can step out in faith and believe for God’s best.

Opening our heart to believe for God’s best