Growing in Faith

(Significant Scriptures:  Colossians 3:1-14)

(Presented on Grey Cup Sunday)

Over the past few weeks, we have been thinking about mission here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, in other words, we have been reflecting on what it is that God has called us to do as a community of faith.  And the mission statement that the leaders in our congregation have developed is this:

Through the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are committed to seeing people believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour and grow in their faith.

And so we recognize that everything we do here at WGLC is through the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is God who empowers and directs us.  It is God who supplies the people and the resources that we need.  It is God who changes people’s hearts and turns them towards him.  It is God who plants faith in people’s hearts and saves us through that faith in Jesus.  And today we remember that:  We are committed to seeing people…grow in their faith.

And to get us started, I would like to invite you to join with me in a little Thought Experiment:  Imagine that this morning I stand before you as someone who is extremely disappointed.  I am disappointed because there is a big football game happening today and the coach of the Calgary Stampeders has not called and asked me to play quarterback for his team in this game.  I have been to a few games in the past and I have seen how it is done.  I have read about football in newspapers and online.  I have watched some games on TV.  I think that I could quarterback that team as well as anyone in the country.

Now if that really were the case, if I really was disappointed because the Stampeder’s coach didn’t ask me to play quarterback for his team this weekend, most of you would immediately think that I had completely and totally lost it.  First of all, last weekend was when I really should have been playing quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders.  And second, there is no way possible way I could play at that level, even if I was capable, which I am not, because I haven’t been training.  And everyone knows that if you intend to excel at anything, whether it is athletics or music or learning another language, it is important for you to go into training so that you can achieve what you want to achieve, so that you can live the life you want to live.

So what are you in training for, right now?  Because everything that you do in life, your daily habits, your attitude, what you think about, what you read, what you do-all these things are training you towards a particular end goal in life.  So what is it?  When we lived in Saskatchewan, there were many nights when I would come home at night and just zone out in front of the TV.  And I would watch and channel hop until I was too tired or bored to watch anymore, and then I would go to bed.  I was home, but as far as Susan and our kids were concerned, I might as well have been a million miles away.  I didn’t want to engage in conversations or interact about the day’s events.  I just wanted to sit there in a nice comfy chair and watch hours and hours of TV. I think I was in training to become a hermit sloth and I was well on my way to achieving that goal.

But it would have been so tragic if I would have completed my transformation into a hermit sloth, because God had a much better life available for me.  And God has a much better life available for you too!  When Jesus began preaching and teaching, his Good News message was this: the Kingdom of God is near you.  It is available to all, and anyone may enter it.  It is a blessed life, and the blessedness of life in God’s kingdom does not depend on your wealth, or your health, or your power or influence.  Life in God’s kingdom is a wonderful life, because it is life with Jesus, with him ruling in love over every aspect of our lives.  It is a life of joy, not because of your circumstances, but because Jesus is with you every moment of every hour of every day.  It is a life full of meaning and purpose because you have a bigger picture in mind than the day to day life that we all see here in this world.  You can see the kingdom of God at work around you and in you and so each encounter, each conversation is pregnant with possibilities.  A silent prayer spoken here, a random act of kindness done in secret over there, a word of encouragement spoken in between, all these things are God’s kingdom work and one of these things might be the factor that brings someone else into his kingdom.

The kingdom of God is characterized by love.  As the apostle John writes:  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11):  the kingdom of God is all about love.  God’s love for us, and our response of love towards God and towards other people.   As Paul tells us in our second lesson for today, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)  Love is the greatest virtue in the kingdom of God and who wouldn’t want to live in a kingdom like that?  So why do we have so much trouble living as God’s kingdom people?  Why is is so hard for us to become the people God has created us and saved us and called us to be?  There are a lot of answers we could give to this question.  But maybe the most helpful answer is this:  Our lives are not being transformed because we are trying to live the life God calls us to live instead of training to live the life God calls us to live. Let me say that again.  Our lives are not being transformed because we are trying to live the life God calls us to live instead of training to live the life God calls us to live.  We are not playing key roles on God’s team because we fail to train for key roles on God’s team.  It is not a matter of ability or favour.  Jesus has already picked us and placed us on God’s team.  It is a matter of growing in faith and growing in faith requires training.  And the kind of training we are referring to is often called “spiritual practices.”

Many of you are probably already familiar with some spiritual practices like the practice of worship, the practice of prayer, or the practice of reflection on Scripture.  But there are other spiritual practices that we may not know about such as the practice of celebration, the practice of secrecy, or the practice of slowing down.  And we determine which spiritual practices we need the most through a 3 step process described by John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted:

First, we must understand clearly what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
Second, we must learn what particular barriers keep us from living this kind of life.
Third, we must discover what particular practices, experiences or relationships can help us overcome the barriers.   (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted)

So let’s consider the example I gave from my own life earlier.  I was watching way too much TV.  That is a sin of commission and sins of commission are best dealt with through a spiritual practice of abstinence.  On the other hand, sins of omission, like failing to help others, is best dealt with by a spiritual practice of engagement, like volunteering to work in a soup kitchen on a regular basis.  So with my excessive TV watching, what would do you think would be a good spiritual practice to adopt?  What we did is this:  when we moved here, we didn’t hook up to cable TV.  It was really tempting.  Shaw was going to give me an HD Personal Video Recorder if we would go with them.  But we didn’t.  We still have TV, and we get about 5 channels through the rabbit ears.  But I sure don’t watch as much TV as I used to.  And I find that I have more enjoyable relationships with Susan and our children.  We have more conversations about more things than we did before. I am able to do more reading, which I enjoy.  So, altogether, this spiritual practice of fasting from cable TV has been a very positive thing for me.

So what area of your life looks most unlike life in God’s kingdom?  Are you always in a hurry, here, there and everywhere?  Perhaps you should consider the practice of slowing down.  Are you in bondage to your need for approval from others?  Maybe the practice of doing good things for others in secret would be helpful to you.  Do you like being the centre of attention?  The practice of servanthood may be a blessing to you.  Whatever your situation, wherever you are at in your journey of faith, spiritual practices create opportunities for God to change us into the people he wants us to be so that we may live more fully in his presence each and every moment of each and every day.

In the movie Man on Fire, Denzel Washington plays John Creasy, an alcoholic hired by industrialist Samuel Ramos to be the bodyguard of his wife and his daughter Pita.  Because of Pita’s acts of friendship, Creasy makes a decision to train in a different way for a different life.

Jesus loves you.  And he loves you far more than that little girl Pita loved John Creasy.  His love for you is unconditional and unlimited.  It is not a love you or I deserve or earn in any way.   It’s a gift that he gives to you free of charge.  The question is this:  How will you respond?  Will you respond in faith and love? Do you want to grow in your faith and love so much that you are willing to change your personal training program to better align your life with the Kingdom of God?  That’s my prayer for you.  And also, as a community of faith, it’s our commitment… to see people grow in faith.  Amen.

(Preached at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on 23 November 2008 )

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