Did you know that a polar bear can smell a dead seal 12 miles away? Or that the average child in Tokyo has 411 toys? Did you know that the common horsefly flies at 4.5 miles per hour? This is about the same speed a horse walks. There has been a study done to find out which part of the chocolate bunny most people eat first. 91% of us eat the ears first. Here's a good one, when men and women sit next to each other on a flight, it's the man who takes the armrest 5 out of 6 times.
Most of these statistics seem pretty useless, but here's one that should matter to us. A Gallup Poll was done, and the question was, "How many people in our country have a Christian faith that is not exclusively a Sunday Morning event, but a faith integrated into their daily lives?" The Gallup study found that only 13% of Americans live that kind of faith. Now, that is a troubling statistic!
The study went on to further research this 13%, and found that on average they displayed more happiness and fulfillment in their lives than others in the study.
Faith is a very important subject. I think we know that, but do we know what faith is? If someone asked you, "What is faith?" Could you explain it to them? Some say that we live by faith every day. You turn on your faucet, fill a glass of water, and drink it -- that's faith. You open a can of food, and you eat it -- that's faith. Or you fly in an airplane -- that's faith. Those things are not faith! That is simply putting into practice what is called the law of mathematical probability. You are saying to yourself, "Well, thousands of people do this everyday and everything is all right, so I'll do the same." I've grown up seeing people drink out of the faucet -- that is not faith.
Biblically defined, FAITH IS: UNDERSTANDING AND ASSENT TO A PROPOSITION. If you were to ask me, "Where is my money?" And I said to you, "The check is in the mail." Now, you are either going to believe me, which is faith, you are trusting in what I said, or you are not.
Romans 4:20-21 (NKJV) He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.
Abraham believed what God told him, that is faith. No matter what the subject, whether it be God or botany, the psychology or linguistics of belief is identical in all cases. Believing that 2+2=4 is arithmetic. Believing that asparagus belongs to the lily family is botany. Botany is not mathematics, but the psychology or linguistics of believing is identical. Christ's promises of salvation are vastly different from the propositions of botany. But believing is always thinking a proposition is true.
The difference between various beliefs lies in the objects or propositions believed, not in the nature of belief. Faith must begin with knowledge, you can't believe what you don't know or understand. I understand the teaching of evolution; but I do not assent to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood.
The Christian life starts with an act of faith. We believe that Christ will save us if we trust in Him alone for our redemption.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
That is a promise; when I believe in Christ I am given everlasting life. When I come to the living God as a guilty sinner, who deserves hell, trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for my redemption, I am engaged in an act of faith. I've never seen God. I've never seen this place called heaven, or this place called hell. I've never seen Jesus Christ. But by faith those things which I cannot see become realities to me. They take on substance for me, and by faith, I gain assurance and conviction about things that my eyes cannot behold. That is what faith is all about. But trusting God for my eternal salvation is only the beginning. It is the start of a journey that cannot be traveled successfully in any other way but by growing in faith. We must distinguish between saving faith and the faith of obedience.
Thousands of believers have trusted Christ for their salvation but are not living in faith, trusting God in each and every area of their lives. Everyday and in every way we should be trusting God in our daily lives. But are we? Do we really trust God? When you are hurting and your life seems to be coming apart do you trust God?
Do you understand that there are degrees of faith? We often think in terms of you either have faith or you don't. But the Bible talks of various degrees of faith. In Acts 6:8, Stephen was said to be "full of faith." The Greek word for "full" is pleres, which means complete or mature. In 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul said he wanted to perfect that which was lacking in their faith. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul said, "Your faith grows exceedingly." James talks about "dead" faith in 2:17 and 20, and he talks about "mature" faith in 2:22.
So the Scriptures speak of: little faith, great faith, weak faith, strong faith, lacking faith, perfect faith, dead faith, full faith, growing faith, and increasing faith. There are degrees of faith. All believers don't have the same amount of faith. Some believers are weak in faith. Some believers have dead faith.
How can we increase our faith? There are two main factors which determine the strength of our faith. First is our knowledge of God. The main explanation of the troubles and difficulties which most Christians experience in their lives is due to a lack of knowledge about God; theology proper. We need to study the revelation that God has given of himself and of his character. That is how to develop strong faith. The more you know God the more you will trust Him.
Romans 10:17 (NKJV) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Grammatically, this is an objective genitive and should be translated: "the word about Christ." You can only have faith in God if you know him, and you can only know him through the Word. We need to study the Word that we may know Him. It's hard to trust someone you don't know.
Psalms 9:10 (NKJV) And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.
"Those who know Your name"--i.e., those who know God's character. To know God's character is to be able to trust Him. Do you know God well enough to trust Him in any situation?
The second element is the application of what we know. A knowledge that never ventures out upon what it knows will never be a strong faith.
Luke 8:22-25 (NKJV) Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side of the lake." And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 But He said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, "Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!"
The disciples in the boat during the storm were failing to apply their faith, and that is why our Lord put His question to them in that particular form. He said, "Where is your faith?" They had faith, but where was it? Why weren't they applying it to the situation that they were in? Their problem was they did not use the faith they had, they didn't think.
They were looking at the waves and the water coming in the boat. They were bailing it out, but still more was coming in and they cried out to Jesus, "We're going to die." He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They had seen Jesus do the miraculous they should have trusted Him.
Luke 7:12-15 (NKJV) And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.
They saw Jesus raise the dead and they were worried about drowning? They weren't applying their faith. In addition to our knowledge of God there is this very important element - we must apply what we know.
Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Judges. I want us to look at the story of Gideon. We're all probably familiar with the story of Gideon, but the thing I want to emphasize this morning is how God took a cowardly, weak man and turned him into a man of great faith.
Let me give you a little background: The Israelites had been delivered from Egypt and had settled into the promised land, and during that time they were ruled by men and women called Judges. And if you read through the book of Judges, you discover that the people of Israel kind of bounce back and forth from being faithful and obedient to God and being disobedient. Israel had failed to drive out the Canaanites with the result that their children had been influenced to worship idols. God was forced to punish them by means of foreign invasions. At this time it was the Midianites.
The Midianites were a nomadic people who would wait until the people of Israel had finished planting their crops, and they would sweep down upon them stealing their crops and herds and destroying what they couldn't take with them. Well this went on for seven years, and it was starting to get a little old, and so the people cried out to God to deliver them, and He called someone to lead His people. And that person was a man named Gideon:
Judges 6:11-12 (NKJV) Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Op-hrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!"
This is actually comical, Gideon is hiding as he attempts to thrash wheat, and the Lord calls him a "Mighty man of valor". Just to make the situation clear, you need to understand that in those days wine presses were generally dug into the ground, so that if you got inside a wine press you'd be out of sight. Gideon is hiding in this wine press so he won't be seen by the Midianites while he's threshing the wheat.
Wheat was normally threshed on a hill, so when you threw the wheat and chaff up into the air the wind would blow away the chaff. Here he is, beating out the wheat in a wine press, because he's scared he might be seen by some marauding Midianites, and the Angel of the Lord addresses him as a mighty warrior! You can imagine what he thought: "Hey, you've got the wrong guy, fella."
Believers, Gideon was afraid, and fear comes as a result of not trusting God:
Psalms 56:4 (NKJV) In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?
It's when we are afraid that we turn to God who is our refuge, and as we trust in Him, the fear goes away.
Psalms 46:1-2 (NKJV) God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
David is saying, "When your world is caving in, look to God! He is our refuge and strength." The Hebrew word "refuge" is machaceh, which means: "a shelter from danger." We are safe in His presence.
Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 6 So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"
These verses reveal that the answer to any kind of fear, including the fear of poverty, is found in the promise of God to ever be with us.
Judges 6:13 (NKJV) Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."
Notice here that it is the presence of trouble, suffering, and pain that causes Gideon to question God's presence with them. Have you ever done that - doubted God's presence in times of trouble or suffering? It seems to be a common trait in our day, but the truth of the matter is that it is through periods of suffering and adversity that we actually grow as believers.
Judges 6:14-16 (NKJV) Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?" 15 So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." 16 And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man."
Notice that God is not saying, "You can do it", He is saying, "You can do it, because I'm with you." Gideon doesn't quite understand this yet, but God's words do encourage him to begin to have faith. God's words do the same for us. And the more time we spend in His Word or reading books that teach us His word, the more we will be encouraged to live by faith.
"I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites." Now this is the foundation of his faith, he has God's word, but it took some convincing before Gideon was ready to obey. Gideon repeatedly asked for confirmatory signs, he was slow to trust God. I can relate to Gideon, can't you?
Judges 6:17-21 (NKJV) Then he said to Him, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. 18 "Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You." And He said, "I will wait until you come back." 19 So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. 20 The Angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth." And he did so. 21 Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
This sign strengthened Gideon's faith, and the Lord gave him a small task:
Judges 6:25-26 (NKJV) Now it came to pass the same night that the LORD said to him, "Take your father's young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; 26 "and build an altar to the LORD your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down."
Gideon stepped out in faith and obeyed, at the risk of his life.
Judges 6:27-31 (NKJV) So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the LORD had said to him. But because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night. 28 And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. 29 So they said to one another, "Who has done this thing?" And when they had inquired and asked, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing." 30 Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it." 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!"
Gideon grew a little stronger through this. But also notice that Gideon's faith has reawakened Joash's faith in the LORD. Believers, when we walk in faith, it is an encouragement to others around us to do the same.
Judges 6:33 (NKJV) Then all the Midianites and Amalekites, the people of the East, gathered together; and they crossed over and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel.
Gideon's action caused the Midianites to move against Israel.
Judges 6:36-40 (NKJV) So Gideon said to God, "If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said; 37 "look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said." 38 And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew." 40 And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.
He gets up the next morning, and sure enough the ground is covered in dew and the fleece is completely dry. And so Gideon begins to think, "God must be serious here." By the way, if you ever hear someone talking about putting out a fleece to validate the will of God, this is what they are referring to. But remember this scripture isn't supporting that concept, or even endorsing it, it is simply reporting what happened.
This is where the story gets really interesting. Gideon is psyched now, God has told him that he, Gideon, son of Joash, would lead the Israelite army to a great victory over the Midianites, and then confirmed it through this entire fleece thing. So Gideon calls for all the men who have come, and he looks out at this army of 32,000 men and thinks "We can do this." And God says, "Not so fast Gideon. You've got too many men." Too many men? Going into battle you can never have too many men. Especially if you are already outnumbered 4 to 1.
God obviously didn't think so. God said "You have too many warriors, and when they win they are going to think they did it all by themselves. So tell them that whoever is afraid can go home" So Gideon gets up, makes the announcement, and 22,000 guys leave - leaving Gideon with 10,000 men. Then God says, "Still too many". God thins out Gideon's army to 300 men. God is taking Gideon's faith to the next level. By reducing Gideon's forces, God compels Gideon and Israel to believe that their deliverance depended totally on Him.
Judges 7:9-15 (NKJV) It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, "Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. 10 "But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, 11 "and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp." Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp. 12 Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. 13 And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, "I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed." 14 Then his companion answered and said, "This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp." 15 And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, "Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand."
This was enough, Gideon was now ready to move out. His courage arises from his trust in God.
Judges 7:16 (NKJV) Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers.
300 men with no weapons against 135,000 armed soldiers. The point should be obvious, they certainly weren't trusting in themselves, it was all up to God. God compels Gideon and Israel to believe that their deliverance depended totally on Him:
Judges 7:19-22 (NKJV) So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. 20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers; they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing; and they cried, "The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!" 21 And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. 22 When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man's sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath.
This is an incredible act of faith. Their trust was totally in God, they knew if He didn't do it, it wouldn't get done. They stood in faith, and God fought for them.
Nice story! What does it say to 21st century American Christians? This is how we are to live the Christian life, by faith in God and not in yourself. God taught Gideon, and hopefully us, that the battle is the Lord's. This is a very important lesson to learn. Paul said:
Romans 8:31 (NKJV) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
We need to learn to trust God, because faith will keep us from living in fear. Life is uncertain. Who knows what tomorrow holds? You might feel good about your financial security, but how secure are you if you're only trusting in your money? The stock market could crash. You could lose your job. You could lose your health. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Tomorrow your wife or husband could leave you. Tomorrow you or a loved one could be diagnosed with cancer. Tomorrow you could be robbed and killed. Tomorrow a hurricane could destroy your house and kill your family. Who has any guarantee of tomorrow?
If we are going to grow in faith, we must grow in our knowledge of God and His promises and apply what we know. Let me remind you of a couple of promises:
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Who is the one making these promises? It is the Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe! And every promise of God is backed up by His perfect character. As we act on what we know, our faith will grow.
Matthew 10:29 (NKJV) "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.
A farthing is equal to about a penny. These birds were cheep. God knows when a bird dies, and some Greek texts even indicate that the word "fall" may mean: "hop". He not only knows when they die, but He knows when they hop. Nothing happens in the most insignificant element of life, even with cheep birds, that God doesn't know about or care about.
Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Do you know that there is an average of 140,000 hairs per head? And it doesn't say that God counts them - He numbers them. He actually identifies every hair on your head. What's the point? The point is this: If God is concerned about little birds, and He's concerned about the hairs of your head, then we shouldn't be afraid, because God cares for us.
Matthew 10:31 (NKJV) "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
We don't ever need to fear! We can never get into a situation where God can't sustain us.
Believers, our faith is a very practical thing, it will carry us through the most difficult experiences that we face in life. Is your faith growing? It will if you spend time in God's Word getting to know Him and then apply what you know.