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Monday, November 7, 2016

Increase Their Faith

            1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us, Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are essential and Christians seek to grow these fruits through membership in the local church. New members of United Methodist congregations vow to support the church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Then, the congregation promises, "Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”
            Today, we will begin a new 3-week series on these 3 promises my congregation makes to our new members to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.  Today, we will consider our promise to increase their faith. Next week, we will look at the promise to confirm their hope.  We will finish the third week with a consideration of how we can perfect them in love.

Hebrews 11:1-2
1Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

            Faith is the reality of what we hope for.  The Greek word Hebrews uses for faith means:  conviction, persuasion; faith is that of which you are convinced.  The idea is almost as if our believing in something makes something a reality.
            Psychologist say much the same thing. For instance, if you have a job interview and don't believe in yourself, don't believe you are qualified, don't believe you have as good a chance as any other candidate, then your lack of faith will come through in the way you interview for the job. You will not present a good image of yourself. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will probably not get the job. If you believe in yourself, it will come through to your potential employers.
            Our faith in Christ—real faith—changes our perspective on life. It gives life meaning.  Because of faith, we know life is bigger than us; we know it's not all about us and our happiness.  Because of faith, we have purpose.  A purely scientific worldview tells us we are just animals.  Faith convinces us we are more and thus we can do more than survive and we can even live sacrifically for the sake of others.
            Our faith persuades God is for us and not against us.  So many religions though out history have sought ways to appease the gods, to earn divine help, or to manipulate gods into doing what the people want. People made sacrifices or performed rituals intending to manipulate god(s) into helping people.  What kind of god(s) is that?  A god who can be tricked is not God who can be relied upon.  A god who must be appeased is not a good god, but a bully.  A god who requires us to earn love, doesn't offer real love.  Real love, the kind the human heart craves, is unconditional; it doesn't have to be earned.
            I am so grateful our faith in Jesus tells us God loves us despite all our shortcomings, failures, flaws, and sins. God loved us even when we blatantly reject Him, fight against Him, and try to kill Him. And the extent of God’s love is this: He laid down His life on the cross for our sins to save our souls. And through God’s infinite power, Jesus rose to conquer sin and death! Oh the infinite wisdom, power, and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, our Savior, our God!
            Our faith in Jesus means we have something to live for and even something to hope for when this life is over. 
            Our faith is not a fairy tale. It is more than just positive thinking that makes our lives better. There is a God who loves us. There is meaning and purpose in ours lives. This is reality. Jesus is Lord. Jesus does save us when we trust in him. There is life beyond the grave. God will right all the wrongs of our world. There will be justice and mercy for all according to God’s infinite wisdom. 

Increasing Faith
            We who are members of Pleasant Grove have been both blessed and a blessing. We have been blessed by God, but also by the saints who've gone before us. I can think of many I have met at my church over the past six-and-a-half years.  I think about a gentle lady named Ann Brookshire.  The first time I remember meeting Ann was in the hospital.  Ann needed a kidney transplant and she often struggled with health problems as she waited for one to be available.  However, Ann handled her illness and waiting with patience and grace.  Her example increased my faith and the faith of many.
            I think of Joanne Oxford, one of the first "At-home" members of our church I met when I came to be the pastor here.  Joanne was so sweet and easy to talk to.  I enjoyed our visits and they increased my faith.
            I think also of Dick Mellema.  Dick suffered from the effects of a stroke he'd had years ago that debilitated him.  Dick didn't do anything grand here at Pleasant Grove, but he was here and his very presence gave us a chance to exercise our faith and Christian love.
            There are other saints still living that encourage us by their words, their deeds, and sometimes just their presence. I know you can name a few who have made a difference in your life.  Look around you; you will see saints if you take time to notice. A saint is not someone who is perfect. A saint is just a sinner saved by the grace of God. We are all sinners and saints if we have faith in Jesus Christ
            Just as we have been blessed by the saints around us, we can also be a blessing to others. We can help increase their faith. By our presence, our words, and our deeds, we can help people see the reality of Christ. We can be the evidence of what they hope for. We can demonstrate that life is not in vain, that they matter, that they are loved, that they have a purpose, that even in spite of trials and in the midst of pain and struggle and grief and sickness and even death, there is victory.  And one day, the glory we find in Christ will make every trial we faced here pale in a comparison.  So members of the household of faith, remember your promise to increase one another's faith. Speak, act, and be the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

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