Pastor's Blog - Norm Byers
A thriving faith

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Are you thriving? When I think of something thriving, my mind wanders to gardening. I enjoy gardening and seeing what I have planted grow. A garden that is thriving is growing in a flourishing type of way and it is producing something pleasing and enjoyable to eat.

Thriving would not be the descriptive word of the Byers’ family garden this year (that by the way, we share with a neighbor). It might be because of the colder than normal spring. Or maybe because of the weeds that are growing due to neglect (this summer has been crazy busy). Whatever the cause, the tomato plants are struggling along and my jalapeño plants have yet to produce one pepper!

We could ask the same question about one’s faith. How about it, is your faith a thriving one? Is it flourishing? Is it growing something pleasing for the “Gardener”? Some might say, “Yes,” some, “No” and some might say, “I don’t know.”

It is a question to give some thought to without making a quick, frivolous answer. But this question might also raise other questions like, “What does thriving faith look like?” and perhaps even, “How do I get to the point of living a faith that is flourishing and producing?”

Jesus Christ, in John 13:34-35, says something about what a “productive faith” looks like, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus, using emphatic repetition, is pointing each of his followers to an important outcome of that faith. Three times in this short passage Jesus says, “Love one another.”

In this context, “love one another” is specifically taught to the first followers of Jesus, the twelve disciples who formed a community of believers. The prototype or the example of this “love one another” is “as I (Jesus) have loved you.” And “if you love one another,” the desired outcome is that “everyone will know that you are my disciples.” What is being said here, it appears, is that those who are outside of faith will be exposed to who Jesus is and his great love as his followers “love one another.”

Here is something crucial— a thriving faith, once again a faith that is flourishing and producing, does not happen in isolation. You cannot grow a thriving faith on your own, in disengagement from other followers. While knowledge and information are important, what we learn here is that productive faith is not just a matter of mental assent. A thriving faith is refined and developed through a love that is lived out in a community of believers.

So how does one get moving in the direction of stimulated growth in their faith? In Romans 12:10, two pursuits are shared, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourself.” These words were written to the ancient Church of Rome to quell disunity in the church and underscore the importance of committed relationships.

First of all, “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” means have the outlook that the community of believers is your family. The word “brotherly” here comes from the Greek word “storge” and means familial love. A beginner step toward a thriving faith is to accept the family perspective of the community of believers.

Think with me of how a parent cherishes his or her child. Or how a big brother stands up for a younger brother or sister. Family relationships are prized and highly valued. We are to bring this mindset into our community of believers.

The second is more of an intermediate/expert level pursuit and it comes from “honor one another above yourself.” Honoring someone means to have high respect for, someone you would esteem greatly— and here is the kicker— that respect and esteem is above yourself.  Here we are being instructed to invest, that is “put something of value” into “one another.”

This is not a natural way of thinking or acting. Our natural tendencies are to think of ourselves and plan how to make things better for ourselves. But the way of Christ is that he invested himself into others with great impact. Therefore, a flourishing faith is developed through seeking and engaging in activities where we show Christ’s love to others.

One of the greatest ways to “invest” into another is to “walk with someone.” This is sort of an informal mentoring relationship where someone takes the initiative to check in with someone from his or her community of faith. For example, offering a listening ear, prayers and maybe even an insight or two.

It is exciting to go to the garden and begin the harvest. I want to encourage you to take a step of faith this week to help your faith thrive.

Fear less, trust more

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Alpengeist” is its name. German for “ghost of the mountain” or “snowy Bigfoot.” A few summers ago, my family and I were on a vacation to history-rich Colonial Williamsburg. My wife and I thought that a trip to Busch Gardens would bring the learning and fun ratio into balance for the kids. What I found out was that the cryptic “snowy Bigfoot” was going to unveil a lesson for me.

When I was younger, I learned immediately that spin rides were not for me. The “spider” ate me up one time and the “tilt-a-whirl” made me woozy. But roller coasters ruled. I loved the thrill and excitement of screaming over a hill and barely staying in the seat.

Over the last few years though, something has felt different when I saddle up for a roller coaster ride. On this occasion, as my three kids and I walked up the line to Alpengeist, an unpleasant emotion began to emerge. I did not draw attention to it, and with a stiff upper lip, I told my anxious kids, “This is going to be fun!” The gate-like entrance opened. It was time to load up. Dread. After getting on the coaster, the steel cushioned harness crashed down (it was an upside down roller coaster), THUNK, as it locked us into place. Vacating was no longer an option. The beast began to move, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. The only thing on my mind was “Why am I so afraid?”

This is the same question Jesus asked his disciples when they were on a boat ride that turned crazy on the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus and his disciples, exhausted from serving the crowd on the shore of Galilee, embarked to get away for a respite. It was not long into the cruise and Jesus is asleep on a cushion in the stern. Suddenly, without warning, a furious storm enveloped them. Wind and waves violently intensified and the boat began to be swamped with water. The disciples saw this as the end. They frantically awoke Jesus saying, “Don’t you care! We are about to die! Please help us!”

Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?”

Why am I full of fear on this roller coaster ride? These bars of steel that Superman could not bend are designed for safety. But they feel like the bars of a prison. It hits me. I can’t get off, and I can’t stop it. This ride is completely out of my control. Alpengeist’s lesson startles me— fear rises when things are out of my control. This presses me to think about the One who is in control.

Jesus got up and rebuked the winds and the waves and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:26b-27 NIV)

Sometimes the storms of life are completely beyond our hands of control.

Furious storms, like a permanent job layoff, a biopsy that is malignant or a pending divorce, devastate us. When these difficult circumstances arise, paralyzing fear does not have to be our default emotional setting. There is another option. The Lord God is capable of calming the storms of life. We do not have to face the storms of life alone. There is someone near that we can put our faith in.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

Do you have faith? Many, I assume, would say, “Yes.” And that is great.  But, I assume that each of the disciples in that boat would have been willing to claim a faith, yet Jesus says, “Have you no faith?”

Sometimes in casual discussions in our society, we talk of faith (or “our faith”) in a very nebulous, hazy way. Perhaps we prefer to keep our personal ideas to ourselves, or perhaps there is nothing of any substance to our faith. The object of our faith is what makes a vibrant faith possible. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Making the Lord God the object of our faith can be a truly soul-satisfying experience as we decide to trust him instead of ourselves. I encourage you to pursue God and you will not be disappointed.

Well, somehow and someway the kids and I survived the roller coaster ride (and another time or two). We all learned much on that trip from Jamestown to Yorktown to Alpengeist!

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