We’re borrowing the research conducted by Andy Stanley on growing faith this fall and the first way Christians said they grew to a bigger faith was through PRACTICAL TEACHING. Jesus said to his disciples in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28). Practical teaching is the teaching that causes you to act differently.
The Bereans in Acts 17 modeled that growth. They “welcomed the message very eagerly”. They received practical teaching from the Apostle Paul and the other disciples. We need more than a morning sermon from the pastor to experience practical teaching that inspires us to do Jesus’ teachings and have faith come alive. Bible Studies, Sunday School Classes, Christian books, radio, tapes, television, online teaching…they all are used by God to move faith from the head to our lives.
The Bereans also “examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so”. They did personal study, so that practical teaching was not left to the professionals. Baptists believe in the Priesthood of all Believers. Every Christian is in ministry. Practical teaching takes place when we take responsibility to learn ourselves.
What I didn’t say was how pastors try to make their messages practical. Preachers construct sermons hoping to answer the 3 questions:
What does it say?
So what does it matter?
Now what do I do?
On behalf of pastors everywhere, I ask your forgiveness for the impracticality of so many of our sermons. WELL, THAT IS WHAT I SHOULD HAVE SAID.
Would you like to have a bigger faith? That was the question for Sunday’s message. We meet people, read about situations, and may even have experiences with God that lift our faith. In the movie, “As Good As It Gets”, Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt: “You make me want to be a better man.” (Apologies to the women.) Sometimes we may say to God: “I want to be a better Christian.” Andy Stanley has written about 5 ways people seem to grow a bigger faith and we will explore what the scriptures say about those five in the weeks ahead.
But how do you begin? For Peter in the boat with the disciples, it was a step of faith that seemed like a leap of faith. Even a small step of faith can seem like that. It is a step, not into the unknown, but rather into the knowable. We step towards God, in the footsteps of Christ.
Keith Miller wrote in his book, The Becomers, :
“A Christian [according to Paul Tournier], is like a person hanging from a trapeze bar. And that bar is whatever your security is truly invested in…And growth takes place when God swings another trapeze bar in view. The trapeze might be a vocational challenge, a chance to be more honest in my work or to risk financial security in order to do his will. The bar coming towards me might be a sense of calling to lead a more disciplined life with Christ, or help some oppressed people – and risk rejection.”
The challenge comes when you must let go and grab the bar. The leap comes when you take that first step out of the boat. If you are having one of those wishes, take a step – WELL, THAT IS WHAT I MEANT TO SAY ON SUNDAY.
On Sunday, I wanted to talk about worship and I found the image of the verger, the one who gets the sheep out of the sanctuary before the service, to be a helpful one. While talking about getting the distractive sheep out, creating space for God as our guest, and preparing ourselves, I ran across the writing of Eugene Peterson who thinks about life without worship.
He writes: “Worship…is so our lives are centered on God and not lived eccentrically. ..Failure to worship consigns us to a life of spasms and jerks, at the mercy of every advertisement, every seduction, every siren… People who do not worship are swept into a vast restlessness…with no steady direction and no sustaining purpose.”
If worship is just one more activity or responsibility, then it is a waste of time. If it is an encounter with God, a transforming moment with the Savior, then it becomes the moment that makes sense of everything else.
Well, that is what I meant to say.
The last of the Summer Series on Prayers from the Bible came from the disciples: “Increase our faith”!
Maybe you’ve prayed that prayer using different words. Lord, make me a better Christian. I want to know more about you. O God, I don’t think I can make it.
For most of us, the prayer asks for a feeling. I want to feel more faith. I want to feel closer to you, God. Give me a spiritual high, the way I used to feel. Is that the best way to increase faith? …To have a religious feeling? God doesn’t always give us a feeling and feelings can be fabricated.
The disciples prayed for increased faith after Jesus told them they would need to learn to forgive people more than 7 times. They needed a God bigger for that. Increase the size of God in my life. Get bigger in me! Pray that a few time why don’t ya!
I never leave a Sunday service without a list of things I meant to say, but didn’t, so maybe that would be a good theme for the new blog on the new website: Things I Wish I Had Said.
Yesterday, I was trying to make the case that both Jabez and Solomon prayed for very different things, but what makes their prayers similar was that fact that they both prayed for what they wanted. Jabez asked that his borders be enlarged and Solomon prayed for wisdom. That is what they wanted from God. As children we often pray for what we want, but as adults, we figure it won’t make a difference, so we give up asking.
What do you want? Have you asked God for it?
Oh, yes, we don’t always get what we want…thank God. But God needs to hear it. Jesus asked a man who obviously wanted to be healed that very question: “What do you want?” He waited for an answer before doing anything.
There is an interesting sequel to this topic, though. Shortly after Jesus tells us to “Ask…Seek…Knock” in Luke 11, he tells a parable about a woman who goes to a neighbors house in need of something and just keeps knocking on the door until he comes down and sees her. He gives her what she wants not because they are friends, but because of her persistence.
Maybe God needs to hear us ask and mean it. Try that this week.
“After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden…” John 18:1
We’re standing on the Mount of Olives, looking at the City of Jerusalem. The area between us is part of the Kidron Valley, an area Jesus passed through many times on the way to Jerusalem. Below us is a cemetery where once olive trees grew. At the base of the valley you would find a garden. It was a meeting place. Telling someone to “Meet at the Garden” made a lot of sense in Jesus’ day.
Below and to the left is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church that is built on the location of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. A garden area is located on one side of the church. Since the 4th century, Christians have agreed. That is the location. It was a beautiful church, but it didn’t really do anything for me.
On the last day of the trip, we had an unscheduled afternoon. Some of us wanted to see the “other” location, the Garden Tomb. In the 1860’s, a team under the insight of Dr. Edward Robinson searched for a garden tomb outside the old Jerusalem walls and unearthed an area that had a tomb, a well, a cistern, and the side of a hill that looked a lot like a skull, Golgotha. It is a beautiful garden space, just the way we might have imagined it to be. There is a tomb that you can take your turn to enter. It is the location of innumerable Easter Services each year. And it is universally agreed that this is not the actual location as much as it looks like the Easter Bulletin covers I’ve seen over the years.
So where do you find the real location? For me, it was a wonderful reminder that it’s not about the place. You find him when you open your heart, not to a place, but to the person. We serve a Risen Savior. He’s in your world today.
I’ve actually gone over a couple cliffs in my life, once in scouting and once at a training event for seminarian field education supervisors. I always had a harness, a rope, a helmut, and a safety line. And even with all that, it still felt like a life threatening moment as I would make my first steps into the unknown. I often tell people I don’t like going to places I’ve never been before. I learned that from going over a lot of cliffs. I still don’t.
This week, the whole nation is said to be going over a monetary cliff of sorts, certainly into the unknown. At times this week, I remembered those mountain repelling adventures.
And life is filled with cliffs, times when you head out into the unknown. Leaving home for the first time, making that big purchase, saying “I do” or losing a loved one and having to keep going without them. Those are cliffs. Some we choose and sometime we are pushed. A great verse for times like this is from Genesis 12. God calls Abram to go to a land he did not know. There were no directions or instructions. He was not going alone, and neither do we.
The story of Abram started us out on Sunday with a review of the life of Adoniram Judson through the voice of his dear friend and lifeline in mission support, Luther Rice. After traveling around the world on a missionary journey, someone had to return to America to build support. Rice managed to organize the Baptists into missionary societies that eventually became our denomination, the American Baptist Church, USA. You had to be there. Maybe you were.
“Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” – Jesus
It’s been over two years since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. What followed was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Nearly a million people were forced out of their homes and 20,000 died. Within a few hours, churches and relief agencies, many of whom were faith based, responded. What made this unlike any previous disaster was that the relief agencies were faced with assisting one of the richest nations in the world. In a recent article in Christianity Today, the author posed the question that many in the disaster relief community found themselves asking: “What do Christians uniquely bring to a materially wealthy nation struck by massive natural disasters…” in addition to the material aid, faith based agencies recognized that there were 3 neglected area of relief they could offer:
Spirituality – As workers prayed, listened and served, people were interested in their motivations.
Story – Efficiency is the mark of most agencies, but how the aid was delivered (the story) was equally important.
Sustainability – Local Christian churches have tried to maintain and sustain support, long after most agencies have gone.
On Sunday, we examined Psalm 46. There are some great verses to memorize in that psalm. Each of the 3 stanzas describes a world on the outside that is out of control, with a quiet center where peace and stillness reign. Like the church in a land where a nuclearized tsunami is at work, Christians can offer the refuge of God, calling people to be still and know Him. Michael and Sue performed a piano duet. The children’s story was done under the blanket. You had to be there. Maybe you were.
While on visits to England, Haydn heard the impressive oratorios of Handel and was inspired to try his hand at it. He started big! He took on creation using texts from Genesis, Psalm 19 and others. He was a devout Christian and noted at the end of each composition: “Praise to God”. He is quoted as saying: “I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work.” May all the work we do inspire us to say: “Praise God”.
We returned to the sanctuary Sunday morning and heard about Jim Stone’s new chaplain ministry and Joe’s experience with the work of American Baptist Men in the Herkimer area as the community is recovering from the late spring floods. Doug’s music ministry was divine and the text from Psalm 19 took us from the heavens to our world to our souls. Following worship, we caravanned ourselves to Green Lakes State Park for a rainy start that broke out into sunshine. Swimming, walking around the lake and enjoying the great outdoors in great company. Praise God. You had to be there. Maybe you were.