Every Story Has a Beginning

June 26, 2011

Every Story has a beginning and this is it.  Earlier this year one of my Sunday messages was based in Hebrews 11 and as the scripture was being read I thought to myself, “wow, that was no ordinary family.”  And because I have a one track mind my next thought was “that would make a good sermon series.”  Which is a pretty good leap because although I knew there was a television show on ABC called “No ordinary Family” I had never actually seen it. 
Anyone here fans of the show?  Anyone here ever watched the show?  Which is probably why the show was cancelled the end of May at the end of the first season.  So much for being relevant, but the series had already been planned and the art work and media finished. 
So, the premise of the show is this, the Powells were in fact an ordinary family.  Jim, the dad was an artist for the police department of an unnamed Southern California city while his wife Stephanie was a scientist working on genetic research for a large company called Global Tech.  The Powells had two teen children who dealt with the same types of issues that teens everywhere deal with.  16 year old Daphne was trying to be more popular while her 14 year old brother JJ struggled with a bit of a learning disability. 
Just an ordinary family, up to the point that the family joined Stephanie on a research trip to Brazil where the small plane they were flying on crashed into river during a thunder storm.  You still with me?
The good news is that they survived the crash and returned home with a great story to tell.  And that’s where the story gets interesting and the Powells become “No ordinary family.”  Because of some mysterious element that was in the river in Brazil, presumably combined with the electrical charge in the air from the thunder storm the Powells are given super powers.  That never happens to me, I crash in a river I get wet, I get bit by a spider I end up with a spider bite.  Know what I mean?
So Jim ends up super strong.  Stephanie becomes incredibly fast with a super-fast metabolism .  Daphne gets the ability to read the minds of those around her while JJ becomes ubersmart.  And with those powers come opportunities and challenges.  I love this promo shot for the show, the tagline says  “New Powers!  Instructions not included”
So now that you are familiar with the TV show you are probably wondering “what does that have to do with Hebrews chapter 11?  And how are you going to stretch this thing out for the entire summer.  Glad you asked. 
Every story has a beginning and this is it.  Hebrews 11:1-2 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.   This is the introduction to the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews.  And for the next 39 verses the writer tells us about these people of old and how they earned their good reputation, he tells us about Enok, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Abel and a host of others too numerous to name and when he get’s through regaling us with their stories he ties everything together by saying Hebrews 11:39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith . . .
I think it would be fair to say that the men and women that are written about in Hebrews Chapter 11 were “No Ordinary Family”
So the first thing we need to note is that They Were Family  In the case of our television heroes the premise is that there were indeed family.  Collins English Dictionary defines family a couple of different ways.  1)  A social unit consisting of parents and their children, the children of the same parents.  2) A group of people related by ancestry or marriage 3) All the people living in the same house.   And the Powells were a Mother, father and two children.  In this day of what does or doesn’t constitute a family the Powell’s are almost old fashion.  Two people married to each other and two children who share both parents.  And they have all the struggles of being a family in today’s world.  Too many things to do at times and not enough time to do it, the knowledge that somehow they need to connect but not sure how to make that connection happened.  The tension between work and family, between parents and children and between husband and wife. 
They are just a family, a group of people connected through their DNA. 
Our heroes in Hebrews 11 are also family, but they aren’t connected with DNA, or at least not physical DNA.  They are all part of God’s family, they weren’t just people, these were God’s people. 
But the question remains: How did they become God’s people?  Well the first thought might be that they were Israelites, God’s people chosen through the linage of Abraham.  You remember the promise that was reiterated to the people of Israel as they made their way to the Promised Land.   Deuteronomy 7:6 For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.
But that can’t be the correct answer because several of them lived long before the promise of a nation was given to Abraham as a matter of fact long before there was an Abraham.  And at least one of those named was a gentile woman whose people were at war with the people of Israel.
So how did these “People of Old” get to be a part of the family?  They chose to.  As simple as that.  They chose to follow God; they chose to obey God they chose to be a part of God’s family. 
From Abel who chose to offer a better gift to God to those who offered up their lives rather than betray God, it was all their choice.  If you were able to talk to each one of them I would suspect that they would each be able to pinpoint that time and place where they had to decide if they would follow God’s will or if they would follow their own will and desire.   That choice that is often right in front of each one of us.  I can choose to do what is easy or I can choose to do what is right. 
So where does that leave us?  In exactly the same place as Abel and Enok, as Moses and Rahab, as Abraham and Noah.  At the crossroads of decision.  Will we choose to be a part of God’s family or not.
The New Testament is clear , we are told in John 1:12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
Paul tells the believers in the city of Ephesus Ephesians 2:19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.
And if we missed it the first time it is repeated over and over again in the gospels and in the letters that make up the New Testament the family of God is made up of those who choose to join it.  But like any family it comes with expectations and guidelines.  And like belonging to any family there are responsibilities as well, we are reminded by John in 1 John 3:9 Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.
In each of our families there are rules and boundaries set down for the protection and benefit of the individuals but also for the protection and benefit of the family as a whole.  Christianity is no different.    You can’t claim to be a Christ follower and not follow Christ.
The second thing we need to understand is They Were Special  The Powells are a family but they are no ordinary family.  They are special because they can do things that other people can’t do and because of that there are expectations on the Powells that aren’t there for other families.
Really if everyone was super-strong, super-fast, super-smart or could read the minds of those around them the show would have had to have been called: “Just another ordinary family.”  But the premise is that the Powells are different, they are special not because of who they are but because of what they do. 
The people of old that are mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 are special as well.  They are indeed a part of God’s family, but not everyone in God’s family is like they are.  If everyone who ever chose to follow God exhibited this type of faith, trust and obedience then there wouldn’t have to be a Hebrews chapter 11 because this would be average, and ordinary.   What made them special?  Well that goes back to Hebrews 11:2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.  It wasn’t because of who they were but because of what they did.  There were millions of people who followed God during the time period represented here but these folks got special mention.  So what did they do?  It was because of their faith, but what does that mean, what is faith?  Well according to Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.  
I personally prefer the wording in the NIV which says Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  So if they had faith and this defines faith then we would have to say these people had the confidence that what they hoped for would actually happen, and were certain about the things they couldn’t see.  Or like the little girl said “faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”  So, they believed that God would do what God said he would do.
The difference is that the Powells had to crash in a river during a thunder storm to become special whereas anyone who follows God has the opportunity to believe His promises.
And that is the same today as it was three thousand years ago when most of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 lived. 
Every Christ follower will make a decision, do they want to be an ordinary part of God’s family or an extraordinary part of God’s family.  And that decision will be one that will be made by faith.  Most Christ followers will choice to be average, after all that’s what average is.  But we don’t have to be average and if we understand the truth of John Maxell’s word that “Average is simply the worst of the best and the best of the worst.”  We won’t want to be average.   And we don’t want to be average in any other part of our lives but we are content to be average Christians.  But we don’t have to be.  But again the choice will be ours, will we believe?  Will we believe that God can do the impossible and not only that but can we believe that God can do the impossible with you? 
You can be special, but it won’t happen by accident like in a television show it will happen because you will decide that you want to be special because you want to make a difference
They Were Different  I love the bumper sticker that says “You are unique, just like everybody else.”   In “No Ordinary Family” the Powells are special because they all have special powers, but they don’t all have the same powers. 
Jim’s strong, Stephanie is fast, JJ is smart and Daphne can read other people’s minds, they are all special but they are special in their own unique ways.   They were all in the same airplane, theay all crashed into the same river they all got wet in the same water but it reacted with who they were to make them  what they became. 
Every person mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 is mentioned because of their faith, but in each case their faith was manifested in different ways.   In Abel’s instance it was because he chose to offer the very best of his flock to God.  In Noah’s case it was because he lived a righteous life in a society rife with unrighteousness,  Rahab chooses to do the right thing instead of the easy thing, Abraham chose to be obedient to God even when it didn’t make sense.   And over the next eight weeks we are going to look specifically at what they did, but understand that they were unique in what they did and how they did it.
Every person who chooses to follow Christ is a part of his family, and everyone who chooses to believe that God can do incredible things through them is a special part of that family but that doesn’t mean they are all going to do the same thing the same way. 
God created each one of us unique, why would he be any less diverse in our second birth.  We’ve talked before that there are basics for all believers, prayer, reading God’s word, obeying him.  You know going back to the basic premise of love God, love others. 
But I truly believe that there are things that God has called me to do that he may not have called you to do, and the other way around.  And my concern shouldn’t be convincing people to do what I am supposed to be doing instead it should be to do what I’m supposed to do and support you in what you are supposed to do.
Great example, tonight we are going to have the opportunity to hear from our missionaries to Haiti, Carl and Maya Giles.  God has called and equipped them to minister in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  And in faith they have accepted that challenge.  Does that mean that we all need to pack up and head to Haiti?  Nope, not all all.  But they wouldn’t be able to go unless they had a support team back home.  The people who give so they are able to go, the people who keep them in their prayers, the staff at Global partners who provide all the logitsitical support for them.   The Bible explains the concept by using the analogy of the body.  1 Corinthians 12:14-18 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.
We all do different things well, we all have different abilities and talents to use for the Kingdom.
They Had Problems   You would think that if you had super powers that you’d have it made, but if you watched any of “No Ordinary Family” you realize that wasn’t the case.  There were times that the Powell’s made mistakes and there were times they made bad decisions.  They may have been super human but they were still humans.    And what would a super hero be without super villains and people who were out to get them?  That would make for a pretty bland story line wouldn’t it?
If you read through the Bible you quickly realize that not everyone was always perfect.  Sometimes they made mistakes and sometimes they made bad decisions. 
The story is told that when Oliver Cromwell was having his portrait painted that he told the artist:  “Mr. Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.” 
The bible doesn’t whitewash it’s heroes but shows them to be the people they were, warts and all.  And we do the kingdom a grave disservice when we try to pretend that we will always get it right.  The thing that got all of the folks in Hebrews 11 on the list is that they understood that failure is never final unless you allow it to be.  
I truly believe that God has great things for you to do.  And some of you will take up that challenge and you will stumble and fall down.  And at that point you will have to decide whether you will stay down or whether you will get back up and keep going, and that is what will make the difference.  
Your mother ever give you poems when you were growing up?  My mom was forever giving me poems she had found that she thought might help me at some point. 
And those were the days before the internet and email.  One she gave me is probably familiar to some of you:  Two frogs fell into a can of cream. or so I’ve heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny and steep, The cream was deep and cold.
“O, what’s the use?” croaked No. 1. “Tis fate; no help’s around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye sad world!” And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number 2, of sterner stuff, Dog paddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face,  And dried his creamy eyes.
“I’ll swim awhile at least,” he said – Or so I’ve heard he said;
“It really wouldn’t help the world, If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked and swam. Not once he stopped to mutter.
But kicked and kicked and swam and kicked. Then hopped out via butter.
It was Emerson who said “A Man is a hero not because he is braver then anyone else, but because he is brave ten minutes longer.”  And it is that type of dedication that will make you more than average.
Earlier in the service we took the time to recognize our graduates, and this message is for you  because you are beginning a new chapter in the story of your lives, and with that new chapter comes the opportunities to define your future.  The choices you make will affect your life from this point on. 
But for every one of us today it is a new chapter in the story of our lives, and with that new chapter comes the opportunities to define our future.  If you are a Christ follower than the family you are a part of is “No Ordinary Family”, the only question is what role will you play?