September 23, 2020

The Christian Faith Journey-Always a Work in Progress

| WEDNESDAY DEVOTIONAL

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

(MARGARET HARRIS)

 

THE CHRISTIAN FAITH JOURNEY – ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS

 

Good morning and welcome to our Central United Methodist Church Wednesday devotional.  I am Margaret Harris, and it is a pleasure to spend a few minutes with you this morning.  Today’s devotional is entitled THE CHRISTIAN FAITH JOURNEY – ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS.

In August the focus of our Wednesday morning devotionals was baptism.  By the second Sunday in September, our Church Family had joyfully welcomed into membership all of the young people in the Confirmation Class.

When I last spoke with you in August, I noted the following from a list entitled WHAT DO METHODISTS BELIEVE ABOUT BAPTISM?  Baptism represents the beginning of an ongoing process of responding to God’s grace and a lifelong journey of learning and growing in one’s faith! 

From this statement, I developed today’s message.  I invite you to reflect upon the fact that the Faith Journey that Christians are called to embark upon is of its very nature a consistent “work in progress.”  Why is this true?  Think about what the word journey means.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides a simple definition – Journey – travel from one place to another.  A Faith Journey; however, is far from simple.  The first step is taken when we, to paraphrase from the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant, confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and put our whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as our Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races. (Baptismal Covenant – United Methodist Hymnal – pg. 34)  Having taken that covenant vow, we make the first step on a path that will entail both highs and lows.  As we travel that path we are to remain true to our vow to seek God’s will and, in so doing, grow in our faith.   No two people will follow the exact same path. No two people will be presented with the exact same choices.  However, the destination for one and all is our heavenly home, or as Pastor Richard often says, graduation to glory!

When we travel for work, visits to family and friends, vacations, etc., we must first plan for the trip.  While engaged in that trip, we depend upon guidance along the way. (e.g., the vehicle GPS, road signs, maps, directional signs in airports, etc.)  Today we will look at preparation and guidance that support and strengthen the Christian Faith Journey.

The Old and New Testaments provide a plethora of scriptures addressing the nature of faith and living one’s faith.  The Bible serves as both a source of preparation and directional guidance for the Faith Journey.

Genesis chapter 6 describes God’s decision to bring about the Great Flood.  We all know well the story of Noah.  In verses 13 -14 God says to Noah – “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.  So make yourself an ark of cypress wood…” (NIV) God goes on to give Noah detailed instructions pertaining to the construction of the ark and its inhabitants.  Noah, a “righteous man,” built the ark.  While people scoffed and laughed at Noah’s constructing an ark on dry land, he remained faithful to God’s instructions.  Imagine telling your family that with their help, you are going to build a really big boat, put them in the boat, bring in hundreds of animals, and wait for the rain to come!  That is faith in action!

Genesis chapter 12 addresses the call of God to Abram to leave his father’s household.  Note these verses: 1 -2 – The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” In verse 4 we find that with no idea where he was going, Abram packed up and went. The verse begins with –  So Abram left as the Lord had told him… (NIV)  Imagine your being told by your spouse that God has given him or her a message to gather all your belongings, get the children ready, take all of your money out of the bank, and embark upon a very long trip – destination yet to be revealed!  I can’t help but wonder how many marriages would survive that leap of faith!

Before we look at specific New Testament scriptural references to faith, think about these towering figures in the Old Testament – Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  Were they perfect men? No! Did they always make wise choices? No! Did they sometimes feel overwhelmed by what God was asking them to do? Yes! However, each of them had faith in God and a willingness to follow his guidance.

I find Hebrews to be a particularly impactful book in the New Testament.  Neither the author nor the audience is specifically named.  In reading the introduction to this book in my Bible, I found that scholars believe that the recipients were Jesus-believing Jews, most likely in Italy, who were in danger of falling away from the faith.  Thus, the author emphasizes that they must continue living in the light of God’s unseen heavenly realities and stepping out in faith.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 states: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)

Hebrews 11:1 is one of my favorite scriptures in the New Testament, for in its simplicity it offers such encouragement concerning the mystery of faith.  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. (NIV)

These scriptures, along with hundreds of others in the New Testament, remind us that when we accept Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are asked to take the leap of faith.  It is that faith that will keep us strong when the going gets tough as we progress toward the end of an earthly journey and the beginning of an eternity with God.

The Bible is definitely our capital letters GUIDE BOOK as we do our best to walk with Christ each day.  It is not our only guide. As we soldier on though life, other guideposts are readily available to us.  One of those is people who either have been or are our “travel guides.”

A Cup of Comfort for Inspiration is a compilation of uplifting stories.  Its editor is Colleen Sell.  In a story called “Gotta Keep Paddling” written by Norma Harris in 1989, she says, “A ship leaving the safety of the harbor for the open sea is said to be outward bound.  We all create safe harbors for ourselves and only in leaving them are we truly challenged.”  As we traverse the rough seas of our faith voyage, it is the natural human tendency to seek a “safe harbor” and stay there! But we cannot remain in the harbor and grow in our faith.  Take a moment and think about the people in your life who have encouraged you to get back out in the ocean and dare to live your faith!   I think of my parents who were devoted to this church.  As a child I quickly learned that church attendance was not optional in the Marshall and Lois Floyd household.  The only way I could miss Sunday School and the worship service was their hard and fast rule – are you running a fever and/or throwing up – no? – get in the car!  Like all of you, as I grew up, left the “safe harbor” of my home and began to live my adult life, I had untold numbers of people who encouraged me and inspired me to move on from safe harbors and keep on paddling!  Today, I have family and dear friends, many of whom are in the CUMC Family, who keep me going as I see and hear them “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” of their faith.   There is a saying that there is safety in numbers.  For Christians, there is support, strength, and guidance in numbers.  It is such a comfort for me, and I am certain for you as well, to know that when my life is unraveling around the edges and my Faith Journey is shaky, all I have to do is reach out and my Christian family, friends, the church, and our pastor are there to help me continue to face challenges with absolute faith in God.

Another source of guidance as we journey along and hold on to faith can be inspirational reading.  One of most powerful faith Godwinks that we can experience is to pick up a devotional book and read exactly what we needed to bring us encouragement at that particular time.  I would like to share quotes from two of my books.  The first is Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.  Here are a few of his “instructions”:

Be forgiving of yourself and others.
 Never give up on anybody.  Miracles happen every day.
Be kinder than necessary.
Commit yourself to constant self-improvement.
Leave everything a little better than you found it.
Judge your success by the degree that you’re enjoying peace, health, and love.
Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed.
Watch for big problems.  They disguise big opportunities.

The final quote comes from a book that I often use in Wednesday devotionals. It is From Grits to Grace – Devotions from the Farmhouse Porch compiled by The Dayspring Book Team.  “Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to be a disciple and to proclaim our faith. When we are in the friendly surroundings of our local church, it’s easier to talk about Christ’s transforming power and His never-ending love. God wants us to share His Good News with the world, witnessing to friends, to family, to casual acquaintances, and to complete strangers.”

A final source of guidance in the Faith Journey that I will address today is especially meaningful to me – music.  All Christian music, be it beloved old hymns, contemporary, high church, or gospel contains lyrics that speak directly to keeping on keeping on in our faith.  Consider lyrics like the following:

“Faith of our fathers, we will strive to win all nations unto thee; and through the truth that comes from God, we all shall then be truly free” (“Faith of Our Fathers”  – The United Methodist Hymnal – pg. 710)
“My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine! (“My Faith Looks up to Thee” – The Methodist Hymnal – pg. 452)
“In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life eternity.  In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”  (“Hymn of Promise” – The United Methodist Hymnal – pg. 707)

God does not expect perfection from His children as we strive to move forward in our Faith Journey. There are days when we are sailing along on calm seas and under blue skies.  Other days we are navigating wind and waves that threaten to overwhelm us. When the seas are difficult and thus the Faith Journey is exhausting, remember that God will provide many ways for us to continue working and progressing until we have reached our final destination.

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good!

Let us pray:

Heavenly father, help us to understand that we never pursue our Faith Journey alone.  Thank you for your guidance and abundant blessings!  In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY DEVOTIONAL

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

(MARGARET HARRIS)

 

THE CHRISTIAN FAITH JOURNEY – ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS

 

Good morning and welcome to our Central United Methodist Church Wednesday devotional.  I am Margaret Harris, and it is a pleasure to spend a few minutes with you this morning.  Today’s devotional is entitled THE CHRISTIAN FAITH JOURNEY – ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS.

In August the focus of our Wednesday morning devotionals was baptism.  By the second Sunday in September, our Church Family had joyfully welcomed into membership all of the young people in the Confirmation Class.

When I last spoke with you in August, I noted the following from a list entitled WHAT DO METHODISTS BELIEVE ABOUT BAPTISM?  Baptism represents the beginning of an ongoing process of responding to God’s grace and a lifelong journey of learning and growing in one’s faith! 

From this statement, I developed today’s message.  I invite you to reflect upon the fact that the Faith Journey that Christians are called to embark upon is of its very nature a consistent “work in progress.”  Why is this true?  Think about what the word journey means.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides a simple definition - Journey - travel from one place to another.  A Faith Journey; however, is far from simple.  The first step is taken when we, to paraphrase from the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant, confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and put our whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as our Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races. (Baptismal Covenant – United Methodist Hymnal – pg. 34)  Having taken that covenant vow, we make the first step on a path that will entail both highs and lows.  As we travel that path we are to remain true to our vow to seek God’s will and, in so doing, grow in our faith.   No two people will follow the exact same path. No two people will be presented with the exact same choices.  However, the destination for one and all is our heavenly home, or as Pastor Richard often says, graduation to glory!

When we travel for work, visits to family and friends, vacations, etc., we must first plan for the trip.  While engaged in that trip, we depend upon guidance along the way. (e.g., the vehicle GPS, road signs, maps, directional signs in airports, etc.)  Today we will look at preparation and guidance that support and strengthen the Christian Faith Journey.

The Old and New Testaments provide a plethora of scriptures addressing the nature of faith and living one’s faith.  The Bible serves as both a source of preparation and directional guidance for the Faith Journey.

Genesis chapter 6 describes God’s decision to bring about the Great Flood.  We all know well the story of Noah.  In verses 13 -14 God says to Noah – “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.  So make yourself an ark of cypress wood…” (NIV) God goes on to give Noah detailed instructions pertaining to the construction of the ark and its inhabitants.  Noah, a “righteous man,” built the ark.  While people scoffed and laughed at Noah’s constructing an ark on dry land, he remained faithful to God’s instructions.  Imagine telling your family that with their help, you are going to build a really big boat, put them in the boat, bring in hundreds of animals, and wait for the rain to come!  That is faith in action!

Genesis chapter 12 addresses the call of God to Abram to leave his father’s household.  Note these verses: 1 -2 - The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” In verse 4 we find that with no idea where he was going, Abram packed up and went. The verse begins with -  So Abram left as the Lord had told him… (NIV)  Imagine your being told by your spouse that God has given him or her a message to gather all your belongings, get the children ready, take all of your money out of the bank, and embark upon a very long trip – destination yet to be revealed!  I can’t help but wonder how many marriages would survive that leap of faith!

Before we look at specific New Testament scriptural references to faith, think about these towering figures in the Old Testament - Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  Were they perfect men? No! Did they always make wise choices? No! Did they sometimes feel overwhelmed by what God was asking them to do? Yes! However, each of them had faith in God and a willingness to follow his guidance.

I find Hebrews to be a particularly impactful book in the New Testament.  Neither the author nor the audience is specifically named.  In reading the introduction to this book in my Bible, I found that scholars believe that the recipients were Jesus-believing Jews, most likely in Italy, who were in danger of falling away from the faith.  Thus, the author emphasizes that they must continue living in the light of God’s unseen heavenly realities and stepping out in faith.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 states: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)

Hebrews 11:1 is one of my favorite scriptures in the New Testament, for in its simplicity it offers such encouragement concerning the mystery of faith.  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. (NIV)

These scriptures, along with hundreds of others in the New Testament, remind us that when we accept Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are asked to take the leap of faith.  It is that faith that will keep us strong when the going gets tough as we progress toward the end of an earthly journey and the beginning of an eternity with God.

The Bible is definitely our capital letters GUIDE BOOK as we do our best to walk with Christ each day.  It is not our only guide. As we soldier on though life, other guideposts are readily available to us.  One of those is people who either have been or are our “travel guides.”

A Cup of Comfort for Inspiration is a compilation of uplifting stories.  Its editor is Colleen Sell.  In a story called “Gotta Keep Paddling” written by Norma Harris in 1989, she says, “A ship leaving the safety of the harbor for the open sea is said to be outward bound.  We all create safe harbors for ourselves and only in leaving them are we truly challenged.”  As we traverse the rough seas of our faith voyage, it is the natural human tendency to seek a “safe harbor” and stay there! But we cannot remain in the harbor and grow in our faith.  Take a moment and think about the people in your life who have encouraged you to get back out in the ocean and dare to live your faith!   I think of my parents who were devoted to this church.  As a child I quickly learned that church attendance was not optional in the Marshall and Lois Floyd household.  The only way I could miss Sunday School and the worship service was their hard and fast rule – are you running a fever and/or throwing up – no? – get in the car!  Like all of you, as I grew up, left the “safe harbor” of my home and began to live my adult life, I had untold numbers of people who encouraged me and inspired me to move on from safe harbors and keep on paddling!  Today, I have family and dear friends, many of whom are in the CUMC Family, who keep me going as I see and hear them “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” of their faith.   There is a saying that there is safety in numbers.  For Christians, there is support, strength, and guidance in numbers.  It is such a comfort for me, and I am certain for you as well, to know that when my life is unraveling around the edges and my Faith Journey is shaky, all I have to do is reach out and my Christian family, friends, the church, and our pastor are there to help me continue to face challenges with absolute faith in God.

Another source of guidance as we journey along and hold on to faith can be inspirational reading.  One of most powerful faith Godwinks that we can experience is to pick up a devotional book and read exactly what we needed to bring us encouragement at that particular time.  I would like to share quotes from two of my books.  The first is Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.  Here are a few of his “instructions”:

  • Be forgiving of yourself and others.
  •  Never give up on anybody.  Miracles happen every day.
  • Be kinder than necessary.
  • Commit yourself to constant self-improvement.
  • Leave everything a little better than you found it.
  • Judge your success by the degree that you’re enjoying peace, health, and love.
  • Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed.
  • Watch for big problems.  They disguise big opportunities.

The final quote comes from a book that I often use in Wednesday devotionals. It is From Grits to Grace – Devotions from the Farmhouse Porch compiled by The Dayspring Book Team.  “Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to be a disciple and to proclaim our faith. When we are in the friendly surroundings of our local church, it’s easier to talk about Christ’s transforming power and His never-ending love. God wants us to share His Good News with the world, witnessing to friends, to family, to casual acquaintances, and to complete strangers.”

A final source of guidance in the Faith Journey that I will address today is especially meaningful to me – music.  All Christian music, be it beloved old hymns, contemporary, high church, or gospel contains lyrics that speak directly to keeping on keeping on in our faith.  Consider lyrics like the following:

  • “Faith of our fathers, we will strive to win all nations unto thee; and through the truth that comes from God, we all shall then be truly free” (“Faith of Our Fathers”  - The United Methodist Hymnal – pg. 710)
  • “My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine! (“My Faith Looks up to Thee” – The Methodist Hymnal – pg. 452)
  • “In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life eternity.  In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”  (“Hymn of Promise” – The United Methodist Hymnal – pg. 707)

God does not expect perfection from His children as we strive to move forward in our Faith Journey. There are days when we are sailing along on calm seas and under blue skies.  Other days we are navigating wind and waves that threaten to overwhelm us. When the seas are difficult and thus the Faith Journey is exhausting, remember that God will provide many ways for us to continue working and progressing until we have reached our final destination.

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good!

Let us pray:

Heavenly father, help us to understand that we never pursue our Faith Journey alone.  Thank you for your guidance and abundant blessings!  In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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