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First Steps of Faith

The Christian life is often described as ‘walking with God’ and I think a three-legged race is a good illustration of what that can look like. Walking with God can be a thrilling journey when we keep in step with Him – following His lead. But when we get out of sync with God and try to do things our own way, very quickly can we find ourselves flat on our face. 

I think it’s a fairly common experience among Christians – especially new Christians – that in our attempts to daily walk with God, we struggle to stay in sync with Him and often we find ourselves tripped up and discouraged in the fact that we mess up so often.

But the fact is that no one just jumps in and walks perfectly in sync with God for the rest of their lives – it’s a learned process. It takes time to learn to walk with God.

Sometimes we read those incredible stories in the Bible of these heroes of the faith like Paul or Elisha or Daniel and they just seem like they’ve got it all together. But I guarantee you, there was a lot of practice and a lot of failures as they learned to walk with God.

I think Abraham is a great example of someone who had to learn to walk with God. I don’t know how much you know about Abraham, but aside from Jesus, he’s probably the most central figure of the Bible. He was the father of the nation of Israel – the father of Christianity really. It was through Him and his family-line that Jesus our Saviour born. And He wasn’t just a physical ancestor of Christianity – the Bible often points to him as our spiritual ancestor as well –  the first of those who were saved by faith.

But even heroes of the faith (like Abraham) had to learn to walk with God. Abraham had his ups and downs. He stumbled just like we do. But over time, and through a wide variety of experiences, Abraham learned to walk with God – to stay in step with Him. And as a result, Abraham had an incredible journey with God, and his life has left a lasting legacy even for us today several thousand years later. 

That kind of journey and that kind of legacy is possible for us too, as we learn to walk with God. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at Abraham’s life – watching as he learned to walk with God, because I think there is so much that we can learn from him and apply to our own journey with God. I’m calling this new series “Learning to Walk” and I trust that we will do exactly that as we study the life of Abraham – that we will learn to walk in step and in close communion with our God, just like Abraham did. So let’s jump right into it!

Now as I mentioned earlier, Abraham is one of the most significant characters in the entire Bible. In fact his story is the first biography in the Bible. Up to this point, the Bible has been telling us about certain events – events like creation and the flood and building the tower of Babel – but when the Bible introduces Abraham, its not to tell us about a particular event – it’s to introduce us to a particular person and his family.

Table of contents for Learning to Walk

  1. First Steps of Faith
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Preoccupied with the Kingdom

Nearly three months ago we began looking at how life in the kingdom of God is very different from the life in the kingdom of this world. We’ve used the analogy of immigrating to another country – you have to learn a new language, a new culture, a new set of values, there are new laws – you even use new currency – it’s all very different.

In a similar way, Paul tells us that when we chose to follow Christ, we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. Colossians 1:13 says…

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Colossians 1:13-14

As followers of Jesus, we now live in a new kingdom – one that operates very differently from what we’re used to. And making this transition is not easy. In many ways, actual immigration would be much easier. If we could physically immigrate to the kingdom of God, I’m sure it would be a shock at first, but you’d quickly pick up these new values and new ways of doing things because everyone around you would be living that way – you’d be surrounded by this new culture and of course, that would reinforcing those ideas and values and ways of doing things.

But as it is, even though we are now citizens of heaven (as Paul tells us), we still live right here in the midst of the kingdom of the world and so learning to live differently is very challenging for us. More and more our Canadian culture and values do not line up with the values and the culture of the kingdom of God, so it can be a real challenge to live as citizens of heaven while still present in this world. And that’s why we are instructed in Romans 12:2…

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

And so that’s been our main goal for this message series – we want to let God transform us into new people by changing the way we think – the way we think about our time, the way we think about our money, the way we think about our relationships and so on and so forth. So hopefully, over the past couple months as we’ve looked at a variety of issues, you’ve been challenged to change the way you think in some of these areas and you’ve learned a little more about God’s will for you – which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Today we want to conclude our Kingdom Living series. There’s always more that could be said, but I think we’ll end today with a summary of everything we’ve already talked about.

If I were to wrap up everything we’ve talked about and put it into a short, concise statement, I would say that Kingdom Living means living a life centered around God.

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The Sabbath Fulfilled in Jesus

Two weeks ago we started looking at the question of the Sabbath as part of our larger theme, Kingdom Living. We’ve recognized that life in the kingdom of God is very different from life in the kingdom of this world, and the idea of a Sabbath – that is, stopping all work for one full day each week to rest and focus on God – that idea is very different from the go-go-go 24/7 mentality of the world in which we live in today. 

Today we are always on – always connected – always busy doing something. Between work and school and church and all the other activities of life, we are always on the go. Even while we’re on vacation, we tend to fill our vacation days with endless activity! So the idea of a Sabbath – a whole day to completely stop our regular day-to-day activities to focus on God – that’s a very different idea.

But yet, that’s exactly what God commanded the Israelites to do. In fact, observing the Sabbath was a key part of what it meant to be an Israelite. But does the Sabbath have significance for us today? This is a question that Christians have struggled to answer since the time of Christ. Even within evangelical Christian circles, there is a wide variety of how we understand the Sabbath and it’s significance to us.

Probably the main question we wrestle with is this: Is #4 of the ten commandments still a commandment for us today, or was that only for the ancient Jews? Is it, for us, more of a suggestion – a principle to follow, or perhaps, is it completely a non-issue for us? If it is relevant to us today, how? And practically speaking, what would that look like?

And so far, we haven’t really answered those questions. For the past two weeks we’ve been exploring the Old Testament on this topic – looking at it’s origins as a commandment to the Israelites as well as noting it’s significance in the process of Creation when God rested on the Seventh Day and declared it holy.

And as we looked at those things, there seemed to be two main principles that stood out.

#1. God established a pattern of resting from our work for one day in seven. That seventh day was a day of rest intended to bring refreshment and renewal. It was a day to cease from the regular day-to-day activities of life and focus on building and enjoying one’s relationship with God and with others.

And that leads into our second principle, and that is…

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Sabbath Refreshment

Kingdom Living has been the over-arching theme of our messages for these past couple months. We’ve been looking at how different God intends life to be in His kingdom compared to what most people experience in the kingdom of this world.

I think most of us have at least some understanding that when we choose to follow Christ, life is going to be different. But I’m not sure any of us fully realized just how differently God wants us to live and how differently He wants us to think. We’re told in Romans 12:2…

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

And so we’ve been trying to figure out – what is God’s good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does God want to live as citizens & ambassadors in his Kingdom? How does He want us to change our thinking? What values in our life need to be replaced or re-ordered when we begin following Christ? What customs or behaviours need to be stopped or started? What elements of our Canadian culture simply don’t mesh with the culture of the Kingdom of God?

As we’ve been asking all these questions, we’ve been discovering all kinds of ways that God wants us to think and live differently from the world. 

One of those ways that we’ve just started looking at is the practice of the Sabbath – which is certainly a very different custom from what we see in the world. And so understandably, there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what the Sabbath is all about.

We first brought up this topic last week and already I’ve had many conversations filled with questions about the Sabbath. What exactly is the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath something for the ancient Jews or is it relevant for us today? Is #4 of the ten commandments still a commandment for us, or has that law been somehow fulfilled in Jesus? And if it is relevant to us today, what does that look like? Should we practice the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday or does it even matter when? And what sort of things do we do? What do we not do?

There are all kinds of questions and we certainly won’t answer them all today – but hopefully we’ll begin to answer at least a few.

Now we started digging into this last week in what I think is the most obvious place – the ten commandments as found in Exodus 20. In fact, let me re-read that commandment for you just so that it is fresh in our minds. In Exodus 20 – verse 8 we read:

8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. Exodus 20:8-10

So that was our starting point as we began looking at the Sabbath last week. Now the first thing we noted last week was that for these Israelites who had been living in Egypt for the last 400 years and who had just now been freed from their slavery, the idea of not working seven days a week was a very foreign idea. Slaves did not get vacations or weekends or days off. They most certainly did not stop working for a whole day every week. This was very new and very different. 

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Value in Just Being

I want to read a short excerpt from a book called “Less is More” by Jay Walljasper. It goes like this:

The alarm rings and you hop out of bed. Another day is off and running. A quick shower. Wake the kids and rush them through breakfast so they won’t miss the bus. Down a cup of coffee. Shovel a bowl of cornflakes. Hurry out to the car, not forgetting a swift kiss on your partner’s cheek. Hightail it to the freeway, making a mental note to grab some takeout Thai on the way home. (The kids’ soccer practice starts at 6:15 sharp.) Weave back and forth looking for the fastest lane while the radio deejay barks out the minutes — 8:33, 8:41, quarter to. Reaching work, you sprint into the building and leap up the stairs three at a time, arriving at your desk with seconds to spare. You take a couple of deep breaths, then remember that the project you didn’t finish last night must be sent to New York by 10:00. Meanwhile, you’ve got five voice-mail messages and dozens more on e-mail, six of them marked urgent. 

More and more it feels like our lives have turned into a gruelling race toward a finish line we never reach. No matter how fast we go, no matter how many comforts we forgo in order to quicken our pace, there never seems to be enough time.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. As a kid in the 1960s, I remember hearing that one of the biggest challenges of the future would be what to do with all our time. Amazing inventions were going to free up great stretches of our days for what really matters: friends, family, fun. But just the opposite has happened. 

We’ve witnessed a proliferation of dazzling time-saving innovations — jet travel, personal computers, Fed Ex, cellphones, microwaves, drive-through restaurants, home shopping networks, the World Wide Web — yet the pace of life has been cranked to a level that would have been unimaginable three decades ago.

From the book “Less is More” by Jay Walljasper

While not too many of us were kids in the 60s like this author, I think most of us can relate to what this guy is saying. We live in world that moves at a frantic pace. We’re always on the move. Our days are packed with activity. Between work and kids and church and everything else we do, most of us feel overloaded, stretched thin, and running on empty. No matter how much we do, there’s always more to be done. We might work 60 or 80 hours a week and we still don’t get ahead. Even when we vacation, our vacations are packed with activity. If you’re like me, when you come back home after a vacation, you feel like you need another vacation just to recover from that vacation.

And so sadly, most of us just live in that continual state of being weary and worn out. 

And I have to wonder, is that really how God wants us to live? Is that how God wants us to experience life? Wouldn’t it be nice, if once in a while, you could just stop. Wouldn’t it be nice to just hit the pause button – to ignore your cellphone, your email, your facebook notifications – to not have to do anything and just be. Doesn’t that sound refreshing to you? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a pause button in life?

Well, believe it or not, God’s already thought of that. God actually designed life to come with a pause button.

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