Sunday, August 3, 2014

God's Preferred Future: Growing in Faith (2 Timothy 11:1-13, Hebrews 11:1)

11 This saying is reliable:

“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 faith.


Today, I invite you to respond to God’s call to grow in faith, because in God’s preferred future,  Morehead Church will grow in faith.


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 pray.


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 past!  Amen?


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 thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me employed by thee, or laid aside for three,

Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and Blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

Let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.

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