Thursday, March 14, 2013

Engage with Christ: Stories of Faith

Hello, friends.

I'm posting the talk I gave at Lenten Services last week for those of you who were not able to attend. 

Isaiah 41:8-10
But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 do not fear, for I am with you,
    do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Galatians 5:22-26  (The Message translation)
22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

In the kids’ message tonight, Pastor ­­­John talked about inviting as an act of discipleship. God can use invitations from others to help us grow in our faith; but only if we accept the call! Making and accepting invitations can lead to amazing and unexpected blessings, but they can also be scary – like when the pastor calls and invites you to give a Lenten sermon!  However, our reading from Isaiah tonight reminds me that I don’t need to be afraid to accept an invitation or to share my story.   God says, “Do not fear, I am with you.  I’ll give you strength, I’ll help you.  I’ll hold you steady.  Don’t panic!”

The other scripture reading I chose for tonight is the fruit of the spirit passage, from Galatians.  We’re much more familiar with a the traditional version of this passage, but I like the way the Message translation describes the good things God brings into our lives, and how it reminds us what living in the spirit is all about…and what it isn’t about. It says, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” 

That’s what my Story of Faith tonight is about.  Learning how to live my faith.
The story starts several years ago, in the fall of 2003, when I accepted an invitation to join a small group at Sharon – a Monday night women’s Bible study. 

I’d been a Christian all my life, a Lutheran since day one, and had been blessed with a family that exemplified the fruit of the spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness , gentleness, self control.  While I had always believed, always known that I was a child of God, my journey had been a bumpy one at times, and things at that time were especially difficult.    My sister Teressa had died, after living with cancer for 6 years, my dad had recently died, I’d just gotten divorced, and my youngest child was turning into a teenager!  I was searching…and in need of God’s peace and grace.  I remember telling my Bible study group that I had stopped talking to God.  For 6 years, I had started every prayer with a request for healing for my sister, Teressa, and now she was gone.  Every time I started praying I thought of Teressa, and then just stopped. I didn’t know how to continue.  One of the ladies suggested that I start my prayers by praying for her family. Another offered words of comfort, reminding me that she was healed  - eternally!  Wow!  What an impact being a part of that group had had on me…and that was just the first night!  I met with some of those same women on Monday evenings for a number of years….and I’m so thankful to them for sharing their faith with me, and thankful to God for the gifts I received through that group.  

During those years I was learning and absorbing everything I could about the Bible, about what it says, what it means, about Jesus, about living in faith.  The more I learned about the Bible, the more I realized how much I didn’t know, and the more I learned about living in faith, the more questions I had about what that really meant, but I was determined to stay on that path of learning how to know God better, live in the spirit, and be who I was created to be.  I even started opening my ears and listening more attentively to sermons…and, sometimes I even took notes!  Later in the week, I would find my little notes around the house, read what I’d jotted down and think, “Yes, this is true and this is important to remember.”

In 2006, I accepted the call to be a small group leader for confirmation.  It was during a confirmation session on Lent that Pastor David invited us to consider the possibility of ADDING something for Lent.  Many people choose to give something up for Lent, but maybe there was something we could add in order to grow in our faith.  I decided to study a book I’d picked up about a year earlier, the Purpose Driven Life, and to have more time to do that, I decided to give up watching American Idol!   I was going to use those 8 or 10 hours a week during the 40 days of Lent to answer the question on the book’s cover, “What on Earth Am I Here For?”   As I started to read the book, I was inspired to also start putting the ideas into practice. They were not new ideas, but I found myself stepping out in faith in new ways.

Looking back at that time, there were two things I really wanted to figure out.
First, how do I share my faith?
Second, how do I know what God wants me to do?

First of all, I started praying more….basically about EVERYTHING.  I began seeing what people sometimes describe as “God moments” - answers to prayer; blessings; things too amazing to be deemed a coincidence!  I learned I could share my faith by sharing my joy over answered prayers. When you ask someone, “Do you want to hear something really amazing?”, with a big smile on your face, they normally say “Yes”!   I had just learned a GREAT way to share my faith!  And it was fun!  A little scary at times, but I knew God was with me, God would help me, and I didn’t need to be afraid.  The more I prayed and trusted in God, the more prayers were answered. The more answered prayers, the more I had to share.

Well, I didn’t get through the book in the 40 days of Lent.  I decided to slow down and spend as much time as needed on each of the chapters to really work out how to apply the ideas to my own life. Sharing some of my experiences with the women in my Monday night Bible study group led me to an invitation to a group at another church that was doing a Purpose Driven study.  I accepted that invitation, which led me to meet Sandy, the leader of the group, which led to an invitation to a trip to Israel, which led to an answer to my second big question “How do I know what God wants me to do?”

In October 2007, I flew to New York City with my friend Sandy to meet up with the group from New Mexico that we’d be joining for our trip to the Holy Land.  I knew the trip would be life-changing for me….just the experience of everything falling into place making it possible for me to go had helped me grow in my faith.  We had an overnight in NYC and had time to do some sightseeing and also get to know the team we were travelling with.  In the morning we walked to Times Square and attended services at Times Square Church.  If you ever have a chance to go, you should do it!  Just remember when you hit the “Y” in the street where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, veer left instead of right.  We veered right, arrived just before services started, and ended up in the overflow section.   I was a little disappointed to not get a seat in the main auditorium, but it was alright.  The service was being broadcast into the large overflow room, with live gospel singers by the huge screens in front of each section of chairs. After about an hour of great gospel music, the preacher began.  He preached on the love of Christ.  I pulled out my little notebook and began jotting down scripture references and other notes on his message.  “Wow, this is great stuff, I want to remember these things!”, I thought. Then the preacher began to tell the story of a man who was somewhat of a recluse and kept to himself most of the time. No one in his apartment building really knew him. He had spent much of his time studying scripture and after he died they found his apartment to be filled with box after box , stacked to the ceiling, all filled with notes on the things he had learned about the Bible.  The preacher looked directly at me (through the jumbo screen) and said, “Well, I’m telling you right now it’s time to put down your pen and stop taking notes!”  I put down my pen. He had my full attention.  He said “It’s not enough to just learn about scripture and the love of Christ…we are called to put what we learn into practice. Look around you and be the hands and feet of Christ….show His love to those who need it the most.” That was powerful.  The Holy Land was amazing, and it changed me and deepened my faith in many ways, but the biggest thing I learned from that trip was to trust that God was teaching me the things I needed to know and leading me to the things I needed to act on.

So, “How do I know what God wants me to do?”  Keep learning.  Then put what I learn into practice. Watch for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ.  Worship, pray, learn, encourage, give. Keep working out my faith in every detail of my daily life.   Don’t worry so much about getting my own way or comparing myself to others.  I’ve got more interesting things to do with my life! Oh, and remember God is with me. Don’t be afraid.

Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I lose focus, get distracted, get tired, feel like giving up, behave badly, forget to be grateful, feel sorry for myself. But God’s grace is bigger than all of that….he forgives me and is faithful to me, and gives me peace. 

And just like that fruit which appears in an orchard, he brings an abundance of good things into my life.  AMEN

God's Peace,
Shari B 

1 comment:

  1. Shari, your presentation was so nice and I found myself thinking of a few things you said while I was working on this week's Bible study lesson. :)