What Happens when People Finally Trust
Pastor Chuck Huckaby
Hebrews 11:6 says - "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." As a pastor I was reflecting the other day on how often I have encouraged people to believe these words and seek God ... people who were in what seemed at the time to be "impossible" situations to resolve.
Often these were people facing the court or other situations completely beyond their control.
I’d like to imagine myself some profound counselor, but the truth is there are many situations pastors are presented with where there’s nothing to be done except trust God. We give people advice about doing what’s in their power to do, but beyond that… there’s often little that we can do.
Into this void of uncertainty, the simple fact is that I have seen people in such situations finally seek God… sometimes in the most rudimentary ways like responding to the story of the Official whose son is healed by Jesus (John 4:46-54) and trusting Jesus to work somehow in their situation and leaving the results to Him.
It defies my neat theological categories for sure. Jesus is more willing to dispense grace than I can understand… and dispense it to the most unlikely characters. Even characters like the ten men with a contagious skin disease who were healed, but only one returned thankful (Luke 17:11-19). Yes I’ve seen Jesus do something like this. And then I wondered why, like the 9, these people went away ungrateful. It was like they had picked up and gone on with life as if Jesus had never intervened!
I suppose I’m too much like that myself. Jesus does far more for me than I may acknowledge on any given day.
And I suppose if someone had heeded my words, and trusted Jesus, seen some miraculous (at least to them) intervention and gone on to live lives of powerful discipleship from then on, I would have assumed the power lay all the time in MY WORDS. That would have been the worst possible outcome for me and for them.
So still I persist when people’s problems are beyond my ability to repair and often beyond my ability to comprehend: I point them to Jesus Christ with the worlds of Hebrews 11:6 and have to trust God with the outcome. And trust that if I am faithful in doing this, God will use it as He pleases to build His kingdom.
Jesus Christ Stands As Witness
Funeral Sermon For Wilma Hoogheem 11 27 2020
Hebrews 12: 1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We gather today to acknowledge that Wilma, through the faithfulness of God, has joined the great cloud of witnesses who challenge us how to live for Christ this day.
From a tiny town in a place that nobody in Washington DC, Chicago or Springfield ever cares about, Wilma served faithfully for many years. Faithful to her own church, I am especially impressed with her global vision. The bureaucrats of the world like to gather in Davos Switzerland or other swank places where they may be coddled while talking about international monetary funds for third world nations while the people in such nations still starve and the dictators still line their pockets. But Wilma with the sense of a Hollander and the compassion of Christ worked to give livestock to the poor and instruments for making money to women who would have no other way to provide. Who will make a greater difference? My odds are on Wilma and her sisters in Christ as the ones who did the most real good.
In Hebrews 11, the great cloud of witnesses looked forward to Christ, the ultimate witness. Wilma in that great cloud points us to Christ as well today.
Though we grieve the loss of Wilma as daughter, wife, mother, friend and leader, Jesus Christ the pioneer and perfecter of faith stands as His own witness to us in this hour.
Death has taken Wilma no place that Jesus Christ himself has not sanctified. Jesus Christ did not let Wilma go anywhere He had not first gone ahead and emerged from triumphant in His resurrection.
As the One whom God’s word calls the “Perfecter of Faith”, Jesus makes sure that death is not the “end of the story” for those who cling to Him. Instead we see a glimpse of the future ahead when Jesus and His inner circle go up what we call the Mount of Transfiguration.
There as Jesus’ eternal glory is revealed Moses and Elijah - long dead - appear as gloriously alive in a display that anticipates their own resurrection and Wilma’s.
Because Jesus is the Perfecter of Faith, we rejoice because not only did our Lord rise again but He is also seated at the Right Hand of God’s throne. His Resurrection was no cosmic fluke, but God’s chosen plan for us to enter into eternal life. As a result we are told to spend our lives as Wilma did with our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, turning from sin and every thing that drags us backward. We are told to forsake sin and pursue Christ so that we may enter into all that Jesus has obtained for us!
In life and in the process of dying we may often suffer. But the One we follow knew an even greater burden of pain. Jesus the Pioneer of our faith suffered not only the physical agony of dying on a Roman cross, he also knew the burden of carrying the sins of the world and experiencing God’s wrath so that we may be forgiven and reunited into the Family of God through Him.
Because He knew such suffering, Jesus cares for us in our suffering and guarantees it is never wasted but, instead, transformed so that we are freed from all attachments to this world and ready to enter into life everlasting as we learn to cast all our cares upon Him because He cares for us.
The one who spread His arms upon the cross for us and our salvation looks down upon the death of his saint even now and says for us to find our comfort where Wilma was called to find it. In Him. She stands in the great cloud of witnesses and says “come” so we may join her and most importantly join Him who loves us, died for us, and rose again for us. The one who spread His arms upon the cross and took them up again in His resurrection promises again to go with us as we travel death’s dark valley.
So let us, with Wilma, entrust ourselves to Him!
Our Life’s Last Word
by Pastor Chuck Huckaby
Note: The characters in this story are completely fictional, though in my pastoral ministry I’ve found many if not most men share the despair - yet not always the hope - described. The human pain depicted is all too real. The recent suicide of a local middle school student reminds us that misery is not just an irrelevant word from a dusty old catechism. Misery is the condition of fallen humanity and we may taste its sting at any age or in any circumstance.
As the bile of disappointment rose in his throat, Ron swallowed hard and tried to put on a happy face.
Another job interview that seemed to go so well had ended with a “we’re not moving forward at this time.”
He was mad as fire. He just about broke his finger punching the big red “disconnect” button on the screen of his iPhone to end the call.
His deep gloom wasn’t just about the “not now” though.
Life had not turned out as he’d hoped. At age 50, the relationships, career, and even the church he’d assumed would make him happy had all failed him it seemed.
Weren’t those all supposed to make him supremely happy and fulfilled?
Not that he wasn’t happily married and probably happier than most … but it wasn’t the “ideal” marriage all his friends seemed to brag about on Facebook with their “flawless kids”, new fishing boats, and new cars. His car was so old by now even the “extended car warranty” companies didn’t even call… now, that’s insulting!
He’d learned the lesson already that his father’s idea of a “good job” no longer existed. His employers kept acting like it was a privilege that his job hadn’t been shipped off to China already. He couldn’t do enough or be smart enough to feed the insatiable hunger of his employers to get something for nothing and still be sane.
Church was disappointing too. Everything about it was just “OK”. Most people were nice. A few were crotchety. There was something tempting about the other churches he’d watched online during the “COVID lockdown”. Maybe it was the music. He didn’t really know. Maybe he just wanted to be lost in a crowd.
Truth be told nothing seemed quite right in any area of his life.
It was like a picture he’d tried to hang in his living room the other day.
No matter what he did, it never seemed to hang quite straight.
Everything he did left the picture slightly off level to one degree or another. Trying to fix it never fixed it.
As he thought about it all, it really wasn’t his marriage, his career, his relationships or his church and yet it was all these things.
Nothing seemed quite right.
They hadn’t talked much lately.
Outwardly he wondered if his life wasn’t becoming like “Death by a Thousand Cuts”... that ancient torture where no single delicate slice was deadly or even dangerous in itself. But combined, the shock to the system - the drops of blood beading up in a hundred places, fresh emergency signals burdening the brain with each incision, the dull agony from old incisions, the heart’s constant pumping to send healing blood to each new gash until the onslaught of it all combined collapsed the system. All these things were nothing in themselves but, together, were overwhelming. They ultimately lead to death.
Except in Ron’s case it seemed to be “Death by a Thousand Indignities.”
In the middle of this latest dark reverie, he heard his wife calling him.
She needed him to move a box of old books so she could find something she’d been looking for.
“Might as well…” he grumbled to himself.
Didn’t she understand what he was going through?
In fact, she knew something was wrong but had learned long ago there was no way she could “fix” Ron or, for that matter, even “make him happy”. Didn’t he know that?
As he picked up the box of books and started lugging it into the garage, the smell of gasoline and a lawnmower smelling of grass clippings greeted him. Perhaps it distracted him.
He tumbled headlong after his foot clipped the doorjamb. He barely caught himself, but he lost grip on the books.
His hand caught his fall on a wooden workbench leaving a bloody scrape. “Just 999 more cuts to go!” he mused.
The books fell everywhere and made a haphazard mosaic pattern on the floor.
Lying there on the top was something he hadn’t seen in a while.
Sure, the pastor had mentioned it from time to time.
Sometimes the congregation read from it as their weekly “Confession of faith” but, otherwise, it had been a long time since he studied it. 8th grade to be precise.
It was his old catechism.
Maybe he should just throw it away.
What do they say? If you haven’t read something in years … you don’t need it right?
He started putting the scattered books back in the box. His eye kept turning to the old catechism.
After putting the other books back in the box, he put the old catechism on his work bench.
He thought he might look at it one more time for nostalgia’s sake before tossing it away.
He’d remembered being happier then.
The old book smell of the little volume assaulted his nose and Ron sneezed.
He couldn’t put the old book down though.
“What is your only comfort in life and death?” Ron read.
He read the answer.
Then his eyes traced the notes he had written in a young boys script and traced the arrows he’d made in his little catechism to the other times words like “comfort”, “trust”, “assure”, “knowledge,” “undoubtedly”, ‘confirm” and even “amen” appeared across all the questions and answers.
He’d written something down a long-forgotten pastor had told his catechism class: “God’s comfort comes from outside of us, from what Christ has accomplished for us. When we look to ourselves and our circumstances without looking to Christ, ultimately we will understand the depths of emptiness, sin and misery.”
When he’d first written those words down, he probably just considered them the ranting of a crazy old preacher - and therefore meaningless.
But now they suddenly came at him with the delicacy of an 18 wheeler rolling over a milk jug.
The catechism finally made sense of his situation and his life.
He lived in a fallen world but had been counting on finding happiness in it everywhere - except in the One who had conquered our sin, misery, and death.
He found himself simultaneously ashamed and hopeful.
Sitting on a stool he wondered what else the old catechism might say.
He lost track of time reading, as it were, his catechism for the very first time.
It was the first afternoon in many a year he had lost himself in thinking of God, Jesus, the Bible and how, ultimately, his life without Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection would be an endless cycle of misery… he’d proven that to himself for sure.
Even though he had memorized the answers in his youth to the catechism’s many questions, it was only now as he’d tried to navigate life in his own wisdom and strength, ruthlessly focused on himself, not Jesus, that he realized he’d been on the verge of losing it all… shutting out his wife and family and children and ready to sing an old country song to his boss about “Taking this job and shoving it.”
And he didn’t even know why.
He had just been filled with endless, well, “misery”.
Jesus had gone from being the Savior Ron loved to becoming just another idle, almost forgotten word, in the dictionary of Ron’s life.
He sat there reading his catechism all afternoon.
He only lifted his head and stood up to go back to the house when his wife became worried and called out urgently for him, fearing he had succumbed to the final despair.
Instead he had a joy he hadn’t known in years.
The dusty little catechism with the notes of an 8th grade boy who miraculously had listened in class had saved him.
He didn’t know how it would all work out, but he wasn’t just trusting himself any more.
He was trusting the Resurrected Jesus today to deliver him from sin and misery and lead him forward… into the comfort of Christ’s new life.
That’s what Jesus, and His servant, that little dusty catechism came to do: To deliver us from ourselves so that we can live in the “comfort”, that is, the grace of God.
Do you have this comfort?
Is Christ the Last Word?
If your catechism has been collecting dust for too long, and it’s time for Christ’s fresh joy, join Pastor Chuck and Renee for a fresh look into the Bible and the Catechism. Life’s too short to live without Christ’s Comfort!