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Showing posts with label Fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fear. Show all posts

Monday, October 7, 2019

How Much Faith is Enough?


Introduction
I'm writing a series of blogs based off your questions.  If you have a question, send me an email to ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com.  I will try to answer your questions over the next several weeks.

My question this week came from my church's Facebook page.  "How much faith is enough?"  That’s a great question and Jesus addressed it with his disciples.

Luke 17:3-6
“3 So watch yourselves!  If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”
The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!

Forgiveness is Hard
My younger sister is only two years younger than me. We argued a lot when we were kids--mainly because she was a pesky little brat and I was perfect. (That's sarcastic humor. It's ok to laugh.)  Sometimes when we fought, my mom would make us apologize and forgive each other. Did your parents ever make you do that?  Well, my sister and I knew we had to obey our mom, even if we didn’t want to.  So, we would scrunch up our faces and say threw gritted teeth, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

The disciples weren’t little kids, but Jesus told them to forgive and they knew it would be hard.  It’s one thing to forgive someone once, but Jesus said forgive them even if they wrong you seven times in one day and ask forgiveness.  (By the way, Jesus was using the number seven as a figure of speech.  He didn’t mean seven was the limit and you didn’t have to forgive a person on the eighth time.  Jesus meant you got to keep on forgiving people for as many times needed.)

The Disciples weren’t sure they had the faith to forgive people like that.  I mean it’s one thing to forgive something petty—like the childish things my sister and I argued about as kids.  However, Jesus didn’t say only forgive people the little things.  We’ve got to forgive them even when the offence is very serious and hurtful.  It takes a lot of faith to forgive like that and the Disciples weren’t sure they had enough faith for forgiveness like that.

Jesus answers their fear by saying it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to make a mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea.  (At another time in Matthew 17:14-21, he was even more dramatic, saying faith the size of a mustard seed could move a whole mountain!)  Which do you think is harder:  moving a mulberry tree, a mountain, or saying “I forgive you?”

It takes faith.

What is Faith?
What is faith?  I really liked what Refroe Watson said in his sermon last Sunday about faith.  He said, “Faith is belief that you’re willing to act upon.  Belief is believing your child can drive.  Faith is being in [the car] while they drive.  That’s what faith is.”

Faith is when your trust exceeds your fear.  One time as a very small child, I climbed up in a tree and when I looked down, I got scared and froze up.  I couldn’t climb down.  Now, I was only three or four years old so I wasn’t really that high up; but for a small, frightened child it seemed way up!  So my Dad came out and grabbed hold of me (I was just barely above his shoulders) and he said, “I’ve got you.”  But I was scared and I was clinging to that tree with a death grip!  When my Dad said, “Let go.  I’ve got you,” I didn't let go.  So he’s trying to pull me off the tree and I’m hanging on with all my might!  It wasn’t until my faith in my Dad’s ability to hold me exceeded my fear of falling out of that tree that I was willing to let go and let him pick me up out of that tree and set my feet safely back on the ground again.

Faith makes you act.  Fear makes you freeze.  When your faith exceeds your fear—even by an amount as tiny as a mustard seed—you can move mountains.  Now unfortunately, some people treat faith as if we’re just supposed to sit back and trust God to do everything for us.  But that’s not what it says.  Faith doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, waiting for God to do all the mountain moving by Himself.  Faith means we trust God can move that mountain—maybe even through us—and so we figure it out and get it done if that’s what God wants.  We raise some money, hire a construction crew, and we get to work moving that mountain because God told us to and we want to obey and we believe Him when He says it's possible.

How Much Faith is Enough?
So the question today is: “How much faith is enough?”  The short answer is, “Just a tiny bit more faith than your fears.”  When your faith outranks your fear even by the tiniest amount, you move.  You trust.  You act on your trust.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid or you don’t hurt; it only means your faith is stronger than your fear.  And even a little bit is enough to overcome.

Now, if your faith it starts to fade, you might give up.  Some battles we fight take a long time and your faith has to sustain you through the long battle.  So faith needs to be nurtured and grown.  You must fortify your spirit with more and more faith every day.  The battles you face today may be tiny compared to the ones that still lie ahead.  So now is the time to build your faith so it will be stronger than your fears tomorrow.  How do you build it?

5 Ways to Grow Your Faith:
  1. Ask God for more faith. God will answer this prayer.
  2. Fast and pray. Jesus told his disciples to do this (in so many words) when they lacked the necessary faith to cast a demon out of a child.  Fasting and prayer can increase your faith power.  Fasting doesn’t have to be some super discipline reserved for monks living in a monetary. Try this: Eat dinner tonight, then skip breakfast and lunch tomorrow while drinking lots of water and a few cups of juice,.  Then break your fast by eating dinner tomorrow evening. You will be hungry, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed with hunger. During your fast, try to focus on praying for more faith. (Note: please don’t attempt this if you are sick or unhealthy or diabetic. Talk to your doctor.) 
  3. Read God’s Word. The Bible is full of faith inducing stories of real people who trusted God and experienced His faithfulness.  Reading their experiences can fortify your own faith.  However, we must read the Bible with faith, not cynicism.  Cynicism is like a leech that sucks our faith away.  Reading the Bible with a seed of faith can make the seed take root and flourish.
  4. Worship. Devoting time to adore God—especially surrounded by other people in the community of faith—is a powerful faith growing experience.  Their is something contagious about being together in a group to honor God and sing His praises.  Your faith builds up mine and my faith builds up yours as we forget our problems for a moment and focus more on the magnificence of God.
  5. And finally, act on the faith you have. As we step out in faith, we prove God’s trustworthiness. We start with small steps. As our faith increases, we can trust more and take bigger steps of faith. Faith starts out as a mustard seed, but then it grows into a very large plant.  The mustard plant that grew in Jesus country he said grew so large birds could make nests in its branches.  That's the way with faith.  When we step out and start with the faith we already have, we find our faith begins to grow and grow until it sustains our whole life.
May God give you enough faith to over come your fear.

Monday, June 3, 2019

When Life is Scary, God is Good


Introduction
As my church prepares for vacation Bible school coming July 8-12, I'm sharing a message series inspired by the themes for each day of VBS.  The overall theme is: Life is Wild, God is Good.  We learn that when life is unfair, or scary, or when it changes, or is sad, or when life is good, God is good.  God is good all the time and all the time, God is good.

Last week, I shared how God is good even when life is unfair.  The Israelites were forced to work as slaves in Egypt.  It wasn't fair, but God was still good to the Israelites and he sent Moses to help deliver them from Egypt.  However, things had to get worse before they could get better.  Today, we learn that when life is scary, God is good.

Psalm 23:4Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Exodus 7:14, 19
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn, and he still refuses to let the people go…  19 Then the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and raise your hand over the waters of Egypt—all its rivers, canals, ponds, and all the reservoirs. Turn all the water to blood. Everywhere in Egypt the water will turn to blood, even the water stored in wooden bowls and stone pots.’”

When Life is Scary, God is Good
Quite often, things have to get worse before they get better.  Thankfully, when life is unfair, God is good.  And today we learn that when life is scary, God is good.  God sent Moses to demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go free, but Pharaoh said no.  So God sent ten plagues to bring Pharaoh and the Egyptians to their knees in submission.  You can read the full description of all the plagues in Exodus 7:14-12:32.  The first plague was turning all the water in Egypt into blood.  The second was a plague of frogs.  These were followed by an infestation of lice (or gnats), flies, the death of Egyptian livestock, boils covering the Egyptian's skin, destructive hail, locusts, and darkness.  In the final plague, God caused the death of every first born make child not residing in a house marked by the blood of a lamb.

God is Lord
One of the great themes of the Exodus story is the Lordship of God.  In fact, the book of Exodus is really when God reveals Himself as “the Lord”.  When God first appeared to Moses in a burning bush in Exodus 3:15 He tells Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh [The Lord], the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.” 

In Egypt, Pharaoh was the lord.  Egyptians considered Pharaoh a god.  He rules with absolute authority.  He could command people to be put to death, even children.  But God showed the Egyptians and the Israelites and whole world that Pharaoh was just a man.  Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Israelites, the God of the Bible, our God is truly the Lord.  The ten plagues in Exodus prove that Yahweh has authority over all creation.  As a polytheistic society, the Egyptians probably believed in gods who ruled over all the various things like frogs and flies and the sun and weather.  However, Yahweh God is the only One who is in charge of frogs and flies, the sun, our health, and the weather.  The Lord made everything we see (and even things we can’t see).  He has the power to control everything.  And Yahweh God is all knowing and He knows that no one else has the right or ability to be Lord in His place because they will always misuse and abuse.  God will not let anyone else claim lordship over all the earth. 

But, sometimes things must get worse before they get better.  And sometimes, things will also get scary before they get better.  Yahweh God, the Great Lord of All, sent 10 plagues to prove to Pharaoh and the Egyptians and the Israelites and everyone in the whole world that only Yahweh is God and Lord of all.  And even thought The Lord was fighting for the Israelites, they had to live through the scary plagues right along side the Egyptians.  They had to learn as we do: when life is scary, God is good.  When things get scary, always remember, God is Lord; God is in control; and God loves you.  Remember that scary things often accompany the work of the Lord, but do not be dismayed because is good.

Use Your Fear
It’s OK to be afraid.  Sometimes, you just can’t help it when so many terrible and scary things are happening all around.  So often our fears make us think and act irrationally.  However, I want to suggest you let your fear lead to positive things.

First of all, let your fear turn your heart to God.  Don't be like Pharaoh who hardened his heart.  Pharaoh could have saved himself and his people great suffering if he'd simply submitted to The Lord.  Instead, Pharaoh was stubborn and arrogantly held onto the lie that he was greater than God.  If only he'd repented and turned to God, God would have blessed him and all the Egyptians.

So when life is scary, we need to soften our hearts and repent of any sin we become aware is in our lives.  If we have been living in opposition to God, we need to ask forgiveness and turn to Him.  God is faithful and just and quick to forgive us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Forget your ego; let go of your pride.  Turn to God.  He is the Lord and you are not.

Second, let your fears lead you to trust God.  Trust that God loves you.  The last plague God brought in Exodus was the worst.  He sent the Angel of Death to wipe out the first born of every living thing--people and animals--in Egypt who didn't have the blood of a lamb on the doorpost of their house.  The Egyptians (and even Pharaoh) could have been spared the death of their firstborn children if only they'd humbled themselves, trusted in God, and put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  The Angel of death "passed over" all who had the blood of a lamb on their doorpost.  

The yearly celebration of Passover became the way for Israelites to always remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  Passover was also a foreshadowing of how God would save all humanity from slavery to sin.  For Jesus Christ is called the Lamb of God.  One day, John the Baptist say Jesus coming towards him and he declared, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)  Jesus let the glory of heaven to die on the cross for our sins.  Though he was perfect in every way, with no sin in him, Jesus shed his blood as our Passover Lamb.  His blood covers our sins.  "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

Yet, we must still trust the Lord.  We must put our faith in Christ and figurative apply the blood of the Lamb to the doorpost of our life.  If we do, The Lord will deliver us from slavery to sin and give us new life, abundant life, eternal life.  The Angel of Death will pass over our life and we will live.  So when life is scary, let it lead you to trust in Christ and be save, because God is good.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, was celebrating the Passover with his disciples when he changed the ceremony.  He took the bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my body, given for you."  Likewise, after the meal he took the cup of wine and asked the Lord to bless it and gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  As often as you drink it, do it in remembrance of me."

So now, put your faith in Jesus.  And receive Holy Communion and remember what Christ has done for you.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away your sin if you will trust him and follow him as your Savior and Lord.  Will you?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Follow the Star, Part 2

Luke 2:8-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Introduction
            Sometimes God gives us signs to show us the way.  If you believe in them and really want to know God’s will for you, you might be able to see and follow the signs to Jesus’ will for you.  Sometimes the sign may just appear—one bright star in a sky filled with twinkling stars.  Are you watching for the star?  Will you notice?
            At other times, God’s sign to you might be big and dramatic.  It might even be frightening—like an army of angels singing to the shepherds on a cold Bethlehem night.  It that case, the challenge may be—not so much noticing the sign, but—deciding what to do with it.  What will you do when God sends a sign so big it stops you in your tracks and shakes you to your very core?
            The shepherds could have run away and hid in fear.  They might have been frozen with fear and done nothing.  But instead, their fear turned into a blessing because they obeyed and went to Bethlehem and found Jesus.

A Cold, Dark Night
            Night time can be an eerie occasion.  It probably was for the shepherds.  I remember a cold, dark and eerie night when God gave me a big (and frightening) sign.  I was only 18-years-old.  I was driving from my mom's home in Macon back to college in Marietta.  Now I don't know about you, but when I have a long drive like that by myself, I like to turn up the radio.  And since I'd driven that route so many times, I wasn't paying much attention to where I was. 

'84 Mercury Marquis
            Then, my '84 Mercury decided to die.  Smoke billowed from beneath the hood.  The car decelerated and I pulled off to the shoulder.  The car shut off and would not start.  I found myself on the side of I-75 at 11:00 PM on a Sunday night somewhere between Macon and Atlanta and I had no idea where.  This was before cell phones so I needed to walk to a gas station to find a payphone.  The problem was, I didn't even know if I needed to walk forwards or backwards!  I chose to go forward.
            As I walked forward in the dead of night, cars speeding by at 65, 75, 85 MPH, it dawned on me--for the first time in my life--this could be my last night on earth.  All it would take was one of those speeding cars to swerve slightly off the road and hit me.  I'd heard of things like that happening before.  Or maybe, some serial killer decided to pull over and abduct me and cut me up into little pieces just for fun.  I'd heard of things like that happening before too.
            I realized that night that I was not ready to die.  "Why not?" I thought.  "I'm a Christian.  I gave my life to Christ.  I will go to heaven when I die.  What's keeping me from being ready?"  Yet I still felt I was not ready to die.  Something was left unfulfilled in my life.  I realized I walked that lonely dark road I was not walking the road God wanted me to walk in life.  And that dark road became a frightening sign to me that I needed to do some things different.  I needed to change the direction of my life so I would be ready when my time came.  God's sign to me helped change the course of my life.

Other Signs
            I have heard of dramatic signs in other people's lives too.  When I was in seminary, I volunteered as a chaplain for The Carpenter’s House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.  I heard several recovering addicts share how their addiction landed them in the hospital or nearly ended their lives.  They realized they had to change or else their addiction would kill them.  God must have saved their life for a reason so they better get busy finding help to overcome their disease.
            I have seen others signs too.  I had a church member once who had a heart attack.  He realized he needed needed to be there for his daughter as she grew into a young adult, found a mate, and got married.  He started walking and exercising and eating healthier.  His heart attack was a sign.
            Perhaps you lost your job.  It was hard--not only because of the money, but--because your job was an important part of your identity.  Maybe God is trying to tell you your job is not your identity; find your identity in Christ.  Maybe God is telling you to trust money less and trust God more.
            Maybe someone you love dies unexpectedly.  That can be a sign from God.  One of my former church members died this past weekend--Jim Ham.  Jim was a father grandfather county commissioner, and he was only 54 years old.  He died in a single car crash.  No one saw it coming.  Unexpected deaths like this can be a tragic sign that reminds us to cherish those you hold dear.  They jar us out of our complacency and teach us to take full advantage of the present moment for we never know how much time we have; nothing is guaranteed.
            What if someone you love looses faith?  When my brother came home one Christmas many years ago saying he no longer believed what he'd learned about Jesus in church, our family was very concerned.  Furthermore, Nelson seemed to know so much more about the Christian religion and what the Bible says than I did.  This was a big sign to me that I needed to make the effort to know what I believed and figure out if I was just taking for granted the things people had told me about Christianity over the years.  Perhaps when someone you care about has doubts about their faith, it is a sign to you to take your beliefs and how you live more seriously.  Maybe it's time to get serious about your own faith and GRO a little.
 
Slide – G.R.O.
            If you want to get serious and grow in your faith, you need to G.R.O.
            Growth can only come when you are committed to growth.  I hope you will commit to personal growth throughout your life. True Christianity doesn’t mean we get saved and then hide in a corner for the rest of life.  We are constantly growing to become more like Christ.  Growth should occur in all areas of our life--spiritually, intellectually, and physically.  These areas are all interrelated and you cannot be truly healthy in one area if you are lacking in the others.
            Respond.  In order to grow, you have to respond to the Holy Spirit.  You are responsible for your growth.  that doesn't mean you make yourself grow.  The Holy Spirit makes you grow.  However, when the Holy Spirit guide you to do something, you are able to respond by doing it.  So you must respond because you are responsible.
            Obey.  You grow when you are obedient.  You can't expect to grow if you disobey the Holy Spirit.  But if you respnd with obedience you will grow.  If the Holy Spirit guides you to study your Bible, you will grow spiritually.  If the Spirit tell you to exercise and you obey, you will improve your health.  But if you disregard or disobey, you will not grow.

Are You Ready to GRO?
            Sometimes God gives us a really big sign to shake us to the core.  If God has done that for you, I hope you will Grow by Responding with Obedience to what the Holy Spirit has said.  Perhaps God's sign to you was more subtle, but if you're paying attention, you can still see the sign like the star shining for the Wisemen.  Let God get your attention and ask Him to reveal what he wants you to do.  Next week we will discuss how you can interpret the meaning of Gods signs.

Holy Communion (AKA The Lord's Supper or the Eucharist) is a tremendous sign of God's love and presence with us.  The bread represents the body of Christ God gave us.  The wine represents the blood Christ shed for us on the cross to forgive our sins.  This simple meal reminds us of Christ's loving sacrifice for us and also his living presence with us today.  When have you last received Holy Communion?  Do you see God's sign to you in this sacrament?