A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“If we have
died together, we will also live together. 12 If we
endure, we will also rule together.
If we deny him, he will also
deny us. 13 If we are disloyal, he stays faithful”
because he can’t be anything else than what he is.
Faith is the
reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
In my first few months in ministry, I was talking with
a pastor 20 years my senior.This pastor
shared with me that he entered ministry responding to a call to take part in
transforming hearts and lives with the love of God in Christ, only to find out
that the people in his congregation were perfectly happy and proud of
themselves just as they were.He said,
“I signed up to change the world; turns out I wasn’t allowed to change
anything.”He looked at me with a sad
and knowing smile and said, “I remember when I was young and idealistic.Full of energy and ideas and ready to lead
the revolution.Don’t worry, a few years
in the church will beat that out of you, too.”
This year marks my tenth
in pastoral ministry; I am still getting patted on the head as people say, “Oh,
you still believe you can make a difference.Isn’t that cute, you still have hopes and dreams.”
Friends, can I let you in
something?I have hopes and dreams, but
they’re not min; they’re God’s.And for
those who love God, who are walking with God, who are closely following God,
God’s dreams become our dreams.God’s
hopes become our hopes.God’s vision
becomes our vision.And we call that
Today, I invite you to respond to God’s call to grow in faith, because in
God’s preferred future, Morehead Church will grow
We will grow in faith
because faith is never finished.We
never “arrive” at faith or “graduate” into faith. We’re never “done” - faith is always growing –
calling us, pulling us, stretching us.Every milestone you reach only opens up more road waiting to be traveled
and discovered, and while we celebrate each milestone, we don’t rest there for
very long.I hope that, for as long as
live, I am never done growing in faith; I hope that for each of you, as well.May we
You ever watch Ice Road Truckers?They are driving these fully-loaded tractor
trailers through the frozen wilderness, and at several places, the ice road
goes across frozen lakes.Every time a
driver comes to one of these ice crossings, it’s an act of faith.The outcome is unknown – but the driver has
to trust – have faith – in the ice to uphold the entire weight of the truck.
In the same way, we are called
to lean into God with everything we have.The difference is that God is not thin ice.God is never thin ice.We can place our trust in God because God has
proven faithful and reliable time and time again.As the Scripture we read today told us, it is
God’s very nature to be faithful; we may let God down, but God is never going
to let us down.
Learning to walk by faith
is much the same as learning to walk
as a child.Children start to take their
first steps with a tight grip on their parents’ hands.They are wobbly and wonky, their
center-of-balance is off, they don’t know how to take a proper step, and it if
weren’t for the strong grip and guidance of their parent, they would fall flat
on their face.
Learning to walk by faith
is the same.Spiritually, we are wobbly
and wonky on our own – no center, no balance – we need the strong grip and
guidance of our heavenly parent.But as
we take those first, wobbly steps of faith, we do so with the confidence that
God is with us, and the steps we take are not in our own strength or ability,
but in God’s.
In the family of faith,
it’s not only God who helps us walk in faith – but the rest of the family, as
well.Spiritual aunts and uncles,
cousins, brothers and sisters may offer us a hand, give us some guidance, and
cheer us on.Just as a child learning
to walk captures the attention of the whole room, so, too does a person
learning to walk by faith gain the attention and effort of the whole family of
faith – the steps they make are a victory for us all, and cause for each one of
us to celebrate.
Whatever happens to one of us affects all of us.One grieves, we all grieve.One rejoices, we all rejoice.As a family of faith – I am part of you and
you are part of me and we are all – all of us – interconnected with each
other.The reality is that we never come
to God alone, but as part of a community, a family.I remember feeling a sense of shock when I
realized Grandma was not mine alone; she was also my cousins’ Grandma!I thought she was just mine!In the faith, none of us has the exclusive rights
to a walk with Jesus; as we look around we realize countless others are walking
with Jesus and growing in their faith at the same time, and they are walking
and growing with me, and I with them.
Friends, it’s why we need
the church.Our relationship with God
grows in the context of relationships with other people.No coincidence that Jesus said the greatest
commandment was to “Love God and Love neighbor.”It’s not one or the other – it’s both – you
can’t go at it alone.
Sometimes people tell me,
“You know, I don’t need to attend church because I can commune with God just
fine by myself in nature – you know, I find God in sunsets at the beach and
walks in the woods and by a babbling stream on a fall day and on top of a
mountain,” and they tell me like it’s some spiritual revelation they’re letting
me in on.It’s often all I can do to not
roll my eyes and say, “Oh, you find God in nature?How original!You’re like the first and only person who has EVER found God in nature –
how did you ever stumble upon this incredible secret?”
But finding in God in
nature – folks, that’s step one.That’s
the most basic level of spirituality.You don’t have to be Christian to find God in nature – newsflash:
EVERYONE finds God in nature!
It’s easy to get along
with God when you don’t also have to learn how to get along with other
people.Growing in faith, distinctly Christian faith – means not only
learning how to love God, but how to love other people!Look around the room – some of you are going
to be really difficult to love!But
that’s what Christian people do.That’s
one way we grow in our faith.
You find God in
nature?Whoo hoo!Good for you – anyone can do that.Finding God in the faces of other people?Particularly people who are difficult to
love, people you don’t like, even an enemy – that’s going to be more difficult.
It’s also going to be more
Christlike.And it’s going to require
you to grow in your faith.
Faith has a future
component to it.When we
are growing in faith, we believe that God always has even greater things in our
future than in our past.We may
not know what’s on the other side, but we believe, if it’s of God, it’s going
to be infinitely better than what we already know.
It’s no small thing that
the cross is the central symbol of the Christian faith.The Christian faith is built on death and
resurrection.And so, you have this
awful thing, followed by this better thing.Life taken from one in Christ’s death, life given to all in his
resurrection!Faith IS the assurance of
things hoped for, as Hebrews 11:1 tells us.The risen Christ gives us the assurance that the worst thing is never
the last thing – something better is always coming.
Everyone longs for a
better day when you’re having a bad day; who longs for a better day when you’re
already having a good day?I find it
requires greater faith to press toward a better future when things are already
good, than when things are bad.When
things are good, the urgency for them to be better simply isn’t there.
Put on your fuzzy slippers
for a minute; this might step on some toes.I am concerned our past and current success could hold us back from
moving into an even better future.Because,
we do have it good here!Extremely
good!The congregation has doubled in
size in the last decade, we’ve added onto and remodeled most of the building,
we’ve paid off debt, added staff – things are good!
It would be easy and it is
tempting to look at how far we’ve come, congratulate ourselves for coming this
far, sit back and bask in the success.It’s
tempting to think we’re done, this is it, and trade in an active and growing
faith for the comfort and complacency of thinking we’ve arrived and there’s
nothing more to be done.
Friends, I didn’t come
here to oversee a church that has arrived, or be the caretaker for a ministry
that’s finished.I celebrate all the
things that you and God have done together before I arrived, I am grateful for
them, I honor them, but we’re not here to rest on them – we’re here to keep
building upon them.God isn’t finished
with us, yet!Better things are yet to
come!As good as things are now, and
yes, they are exceedingly good, growing in faith gives us the hope and
confidence that God always has even greater things in our future than in our
Further, when we are growing in faith, we seek to do God’s will above
our own.Every time we pray the
Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s will to be done, not ours.
Human beings are, by our
very nature, a selfish and self-centered bunch.When you live for God and grow in your faith, your priorities will
shift.Your life will be less about
you.C.S. Lewis said, “True humility is
not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
As you grow in faith,
you’ll find that you want to give God more of the things you value most – more
of your time, more of your talent, more of your treasure.Jesus told us, “Where your treasure is, there
your heart will be, also.”If you want
to see what you love, look at the two most valuable commodities you have – your
time and your money, your calendar and your checkbook.
How will you know if
you’re growing in faith and seeking God’s will above your own?Well, who are you living for?Yourself, or for God?Whoever’s got your time and treasure, that’s
who you’re living for.That’s who you
love.If you want to grow in your faith,
give more of both over to God.
Why should you?Because there’s an indescribable freedom that
comes from the shift from self-centered living to Christ-centered living, and I
know for me, there’s been something incredibly peaceful and well, just right,
about not keeping score of what God is doing in my life, and instead giving
myself over to be a participant in God’s life – something that makes my life
fuller and richer than I ever could have imagined.
Finally, when we are growing in faith, we trust God daily to lead and
provide beyond our expectation.J.B. Phillips wrote a great little book entitled, Your God is Too Small, and I find he scratched into something
really important here: sometimes our expectations about who God is and what God
can do just aren’t big enough.Here we
have the God of Infinite Love, the Alpha and Omega, the very Creator, Redeemer,
and Sustainer of life itself, and we’re asking for something so trivial as a
parking space at Target.
Sometimes, God doesn’t do
much because we neither ask nor expect God to do much. So as we grow in faith, let’s grow to the
outer limit of our expectation of what God can do, and then let’s trust God to
provide even beyond our expectation.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t come to church to
do things I can do perfectly well on my own.I could stay at home and do that. But in the community of faith, I’m part of
something bigger than myself, bigger than any of us.Here, we place our sometimes timid but eager
footsteps of faith into God’s strong and guiding hand.
In God’s preferred future,
we will grow in faith.
As an act of faith and
commitment, I invite you to join me in praying the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer,
this is one of those prayers that, if you really mean these words when you pray
them, be careful, because they could totally change your life:
I am no longer my own, but
Put me to what thou wilt,
rank me with whom thou wilt.