Rev. Dr. John Lolla, Jr.
Text: II Thessalonians 1:11
Old Testament: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:14
New Testament: II Thessalonians 1
Faith is powerful!
Faith inspires people to extraordinary achievements. Faith arouses people to unexpected vitality. Faith elevates people to unimagined heights of hope. Faith calms people with uncommon assurance.
Faith is the limitless energy that animates life.
People who are leaders inspire faith. Leaders command respect by their faith. Leaders don’t’ inspire people by brute strength, or relentless criticism. True leaders don’t impress people by their wealth, or their social status. Who they know and who they influence isn’t impressive.
What’s impressive is a leader’s faith. The world’s greatest leaders possess great faith.
What separates true leaders from pretenders is faith – their personal faith. It’s easy to appear to be a faithful person when everything’s going well. The real test of faith is when things aren’t going well.
When everything’s going wrong, and life seems hopeless, it’s the man or woman of faith who attracts people’s allegiance.
When injustice and tyranny seem to dominate, it’s the man or woman of faith who reassures the downtrodden and broken-hearted to not lose hope. When people feel trapped and there seems to be no escape from an unhappy end, people of faith see a future with goodness that lies ahead.
Their future isn’t bleak. It isn’t dark and dismal. Their future is filled with promise – the promise of new life – a better life – a brighter future.
They make their case with faith.
Not faith in themselves, or faith in some fantasy coming true.
They make their case from knowledge based on truth. They make their case with conviction and confidence that their expectation for a better future will be met. They don’t make an idle promise. They convince their friends to have the same conviction and confidence they have that comes with faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Being assured, being convicted of things we cannot see, is the substance of faith.
We are in the faith business – you and I. We cannot directly see the Kingdom of God. We can only see the results of the Kingdom of God on earth. We can only see the faith in men and women who directly saw the one who revealed the Kingdom of God on earth – Jesus Christ.
We see the evidence others have given us about the risen Jesus Christ. We have the record of the Apostles who were martyred because they saw Jesus after His death. They gave their lives up because they had seen the resurrected Christ.
Jesus’ followers accepted death because they had confidence Jesus would raise them with Him into the Kingdom of God. He promised them this. Their faith wasn’t based on a fantasy. Who accepts dying a martyr’s death because of a fantasy? They accepted martyrdom because they were convicted by Jesus that death was not the end of their lives. Death was the beginning of a new life.
Jesus’ followers also accepted death because they saw Jesus’ faith. They saw their leader trust that God would save Him when there was no evidence that He would. They were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They saw Him before Pontius Pilate’s rump court, without protest.
They watched Jesus mount the Cross without blame, without condemnation. They heard Jesus forgive His executioners. Most of all, they heard Jesus promise two criminals on either side of Him that there was a better world ahead for them.
Jesus gave every evidence that His faith in God was the source of His acceptance of His death. Jesus’ faith in God was the source of His blameless path to the Cross. Jesus’ faith in God was the source of His promise of new life.
Jesus’ faith in His Heavenly Father gave Him faith. His faith gave His Apostles faith.
So, the faith Jesus’ Apostles showed came from Jesus’ faith. Jesus had lead His disciples to have faith. His example, His words convinced His followers to have faith in God, even when they were surrounded by injustice and tyranny.
Jesus’ Apostles didn’t have any real evidence of the Kingdom of God other than Jesus’ Word and actions. They saw Jesus having extraordinary faith in God when there was no sign God would save Him. Then they saw God save Him.
Jesus’ faith was vindicated by the resurrection. He showed His disciples God would vindicate their faith with the resurrection – if they had faith in Him.
Jesus’ faith in God inspired His followers to extraordinary achievements.
What is more extraordinary than a man or a woman of faith giving up his or her life so the rest of us would have faith, two thousand years later?
What’s more invigorating than living each day knowing that God has blessed us with eternal life because of the faith of one man, Jesus Christ, and our faith in Him as God’s Son?
What elevates our vision of life more than the Heavenly view God gives us in Jesus Chris?
Very few of us have directly seen Jesus Christ. Most of us only see the example of those in the past who have seen Jesus Christ. To see Jesus is to see the One who is resurrected. But I would suggest there are some among us who have been permitted the Apostles’ view of Jesus.
We were once skeptics, disbelievers, convinced that our end was eminent.
We doubted the Bible, what the Apostles are said to have done, and what ministers and priests have tried to encourage us to believe. We came to Church out of obligation to our parents; or out of respect for our spouse.
We have faith in ourselves, if we have faith at all. We were losing faith in the people who lead us in civic affairs. Our children had lost faith in the stories of Jesus they learned at Sunday school. Our culture had said our faith was misdirected, misguided. Our religious faith was unnecessary for public influence.
As long as we were safe and protected by our investments, our quiet neighborhood, and we had enough employment to pay the bills, we were satisfied. Technology or scientific knowledge was going to solve our medical problems if we lived long enough.
We had more food than was healthy for us. Our mortgage and loans were paid. We were surrounded by friends and family who cared about us.
We had a certain measure of faith in our national checks and balances to keep us out of war, or rebellion. We had full faith in the strength of our dollar.
That’s all we wanted – all we needed. We weren’t thinking about the future – the eternal future – as long as our immediate needs were satisfied.
We had faith in ourselves to take care of ourselves. And then we saw Jesus – the resurrected Jesus – the same Jesus who the Apostle Paul saw on the Damascus Road and Thomas saw in the Upper Room.
In that moment, our life was changed. Our doubts, our skepticism, our ambivalence about Jesus Christ ended. We learned what real faith means – it’s powerful, and life transforming.
One such person was Paul. Paul worked downtown at the PPG Tower. He was a senior researcher for PPG. He had developed the glass screen over fighter pilot helmets that track eye movements, and can fire missiles from F-16s simply by looking at the enemy aircraft.
Paul was born a Methodist in northern Pennsylvania. He loved his mother but had no real faith in Jesus Christ. He attended church out of obligation to his mother’s memory years after her death. He sang in the church’s choir. But really didn’t have faith in the resurrection.
Paul was a scientist. He had confidence in science, not religion. He was bright. He had studied science his entire life. He thought he had applied the methodology of science to the stories about Jesus.
He didn’t believe in the miracles. He didn’t think the resurrection had happened. He respected Jesus as a teacher of morality.
Paul had served in Germany after the Iron Curtain had fallen across Europe. He had confidence in the U.S. military/industrial complex to keep America safe. Paul believed in democracy and had great faith in the Constitution.
He had served in the U.S. army to defend democracy. But he admitted that his own personal faith was probably closer to the Marxist-Leninists who threatened America.
Paul had faith in knowledge and reason to save him.
When Paul fell dead in his living room from a massive heart attack, on a Friday afternoon in the summer, he had no expectation for what would happen to him. He was suddenly above his lifeless body in his living room.
His wife was crying on the sofa when the EMTs rushed into his living room.
He watched the first try to resuscitate him. Then, the second used the electronic paddles. Nothing helped. He watched them place his lifeless body on the gurney and carry him outside to the ambulance.
He followed and entered the ambulance, watching from a corner all their efforts to bring him back. Then he looked the other way, beyond the ambulance, upwards, where he had been told in Church the Kingdom of God resides.
He saw a white light shining toward him from above, and a figure beckoning him. Paul was lifted upwards towards the light. A glorious figure in white greeted him at the end of the light.
A gentle smile, small beard, open arms, and white robe greeted him. Paul looked beyond the glowing greeter, to the land of beauty extended before him.
Peace came upon him. A quiet, gentle, re-assurance of something he had never thought was possible. It was so unexpected, so unimagined, so impossible!
As Paul was caught in the moment of revelation, he became aware of the figure speaking to him, “It’s not your time. Not yet. It will come. But not now.”
And he was back in the ambulance, at the emergency entrance to Citizens General in New Kensington. Off he went to I.C.U. The PPG scientist with all the faith in the world for science and technology was mystified.
What had happened to him? Was he hallucinating? Was this a dream?
How could he have seen what he saw? How could he prove what he saw was real?
He fell asleep, exhausted.
The next morning, Paul had visitors in I.C.U. The EMTs came to see how their patient was doing. “We thought we had lost you,” they said.
Paul asked them, “How long was I gone?” They answered, “Somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes.”
Paul asked, “Are you sure I was dead?” They smiled, “Unless our equipment isn’t working, there was no heart beat.”
Then Paul whispered, “You came into my living room first. You were second. You tried to give me CPR. You applied the paddles. You had to go back to the ambulance to get the gurney. My wife was crying on the sofa. You were in the front of the gurney and you were in the back. You gave me some injection when we were in the ambulance. You did this . . . You did that . . .”
The EMTs were astonished. “Who told you this? You were dead. All these things happened after we came when you had no pulse. This is impossible!”
“No one told me this. I saw it all.”
And then, Paul had his nurse call me.
I came into the I.C.U. not knowing anything about what had happened the night before. Paul confessed that he didn’t have faith in the resurrection. All these years of singing in the choir, going to church, even when his wife didn’t come with him.
All of the Easters of disbelief, and Christmas Eve’s without real conviction that Jesus had ever been born.
“Jack, I wasn’t much of a Christian. I just thought this life was it. I couldn’t prove the resurrection had happened. Easter didn’t fit into my scientific mind. I guess at best I was an agnostic.
“Not any more. Not now.”
Then Paul talked about the meaning of this mystery he had just experienced. “You know I’ve had heart problems for the last five years. You’ve seen me in the hospital. As far as I was concerned, this was all there is to life.
“I was nervous about the future, but kept it out of my mind by going to work. Not now, not today, not anymore.
“For the first time in my life, I don’t have any fears. I’m perfectly at ease. I’m not worried about the future. I’ve seen what is ahead. I know Jesus is there when I come.”
And so, Paul dedicated the rest of his life to telling other people to have faith in Jesus Christ. He began with his wife and then his children.
Paul died a little more than a year later from another large heart attack. He would say, “Jesus is calling me home!” His wife began coming to church. His children still stayed away.
But he did what he needed to do. He saw there was power in faith. Not faith in himself. Not faith in America. Not faith in science or faith in his doctors.
Paul had faith in Jesus Christ. He had faith in God.
What had upset him before about life’s injustices dissolved. He had used those injustices and terrible tragedies to convince him that there wasn’t anything to Christianity, or to Jesus.
Now he knew. He was just one of many others through the years that I have met who learned from their experience with Jesus Christ to have faith.
They weren’t ready to see Him when He came to them. They weren’t expecting to earn a visit by their goodness or worship attendance. In fact, they were happy with denying that He was good for His promises.
And He came. He came, they saw, He conquered. He led them to have faith. He showed them the benefits of faith and they couldn’t deny Him anymore.
All around us are people friends, who are miracles. They have defied the odds. They have overcome tremendous obstacles. They have faith so as to move mountains. And I don’t mean metaphorically.
Their faith in Jesus Christ has led them to extraordinary heights where they glorify God by who they are, and what they are doing in Jesus’ name. They do this so that you will join them as leaders.
When a congregation is filled with leaders of faith, their faith inspires others to join them. When a congregation is rich with faith in Jesus Christ, they will make a tremendous impact on their community. They don’t dwell on the past. They see Christ’s work in the present, inspiring them to led others by faith.
You don’t need to be well-spoken. You don’t need to have extraordinary gifts. You don’t need to impress people by what you have or who you know.
You simply need to share your faith in Jesus Christ with others. He will empower your efforts to offer new life when you have faith in His power to give new life!
Speak with power, with conviction, with confidence. Live with power conviction, and confidence in Jesus Christ! To Him be the glory! Amen.