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Decided to believe

March 18, 2014

2nd Sunday in LentAbraham's calling

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 0 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”.

Hebrews 11:8-10

I’ve always wondered about the name of this church, Pilgrim. I dare to think that this church was named according to the Christian meaning of pilgrim, which is, a person walking through foreign lands with the intention of reaching a holy place. In that sense, every Christian is a pilgrim, even though they are not necessarily walking through foreign lands. Each of us in our own time encounters strange situations and difficult circumstances, where every day is a new challenge, while looking forward to the holy goal.

This Sunday’s topic is God and human beings. Specifically it is the question: How should we get along with God? What should characterize our relationship with God? We can see it clearly in the preaching text. During our life we are on our way while we have a goal to reach. It’s like a pilgrimage. We are moving to a particular place, which is our encounter with Jesus Christ. During this pilgrimage we are in constant conversation with God. We trust in God’s company, even though it sometimes seems that God leads us to the desert instead of the refreshing waters. Whether or not it is the case, it is we who see the desert more than we see the oasis. God always wants to take care of us on our way.

We are here today to share a luncheon. This is typical of our church and many other churches. Why do we do this? Because we want to have a little more fellowship and friendship among us; we want to reconnect and to eat something tasty. Fellowship for Christians is something like the concept of friendship for the world; it is something that gives us strength and encouragement when we share our experiences in the light of our common faith in God. We need to share our joys and sorrows with our brothers and sisters in the faith, but above all things we need to find courage, desire to move forward, faith and trust in one another. That is the meaning of Christian fellowship.
I hope that today we can be strengthened spiritually through this sacrament and worship and also that we may be strengthened in body and emotionally at this time of fellowship.

But it is also necessary that we are strengthened every day with the help of God. To do that we must remain connected in Christian fellowship and come to church regularly. If we have been away from the church, now may be a good opportunity to renew our relationship and our commitment to Jesus and his church. For you will find that true strengthening will not come only through physical rest, recreation or the pleasures of life. Or even through work. There are people who cannot rest even one day a week, and that is not good either.
Coming to church and Christian fellowship is the only way in which our faith can be strengthened because faith is the basis for everything. In the same chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews from which we heard today it says in verses 1-2, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” My question this morning is:
Are we sure that there is a God who is leading us through this journey of our life?
Are we sure that there is a God who is watching us, despite us being foreigners or outsiders or strangers to each new thing that we must endure. Life is sometimes difficult; are we sure that God accompanies us and can even help to improve things? That was one of the testimonies of the ancients such as Abraham, who left his land relying on something that he did not see, only a promise from God that all would be well and even better than Abraham could imagine it.

You know, many times we have had to listen while we were told, and I have unfortunately also had to hear it at church many times, that the Christian life is a hard life, a life of suffering, a life of poverty, a life of shortage and ultimately a boring and unattractive life. At the same time, we have had to hear that coming to church is serious, with no happiness or joy; it is bleak.
Do you believe that God wants all those things for each of us Christians? I am fully convinced that the answer is no. After reading the Bible enough and having read the Gospels, I realized that Jesus Christ wants us to see life through different eyes and with a different perspective. Problems are always at the door and strange and difficult situations will always arise. This, so far as we know, we cannot avoid. That’s our cross, the reality of a world befallen of sin in which Christians are placed. But we also know from the Gospels that Jesus came so that we may have a new perspective on our faith and trust in God.

We will all have to face challenges in this our pilgrimage through life, in the same way that Abraham had to live. But it will not be the size of the problems which will be important, but our perception of these problems. I mean how big or small we make it in our minds. When Abraham had to leave his fatherland because he felt God wanted him to leave his country, sure, he would have had thoughts of defeat such as: ‘How crazy is that to migrate to a strange place, not knowing how I will live instead of staying in a known and comfortable land.’ But no, If God asks me, God is greater than what my fears can be!

Likewise is the case of two different people with the same problem. One can be focused on the size of their fears and lack of self-confidence and the other focused on the size of the promises of God. We magnify all that on which we focus our attention. If we stay focused on our problems, suffering or misfortune or the shortcomings we have or situations where we do not find a way out, all we are doing is making it bigger than it really is. When we magnify something we are not changing the size of the object; all we do is changing our perception of it. So simple is faith. We realize where we place our faith when we realize what things we are giving more ‘credit’.

What are the things that are occupying our minds the most and to which we give the most attention? That is something that must be said: that’s the way faith works! Surely you and I more than once have wondered: what can I do to have more faith? In addition to reading the Bible every day, praying and keeping a life of communion with God, we must make the conscious choice to decide who and what we are going to believe more in. Shall we believe in God’s more supportive caring promises and power or in our fears, feelings of defeat and anxiety based-thoughts? There are very few people who realize, and it’s a big step towards the acquisition of faith, that we must affirm our commitment, obedience and trust in God in the realm of our thoughts too. This is so because faith begins there, regardless of whether or not God has granted you strong faith as a unique and special gift. And it’s no mind control or anything like that, as many judgmental people claim. Faith is simply the power to control our thoughts based on the promises of God’s protection and to not be dominated or controlled by thoughts of death or defeat. It is clear from whom those type of thoughts come from.

Speaking about magnifying or shrinking our faith, I remember a story I heard recently about a little boy. There was a big bully from down the street who was always bothering him. The boy was trying to get his nerve up to stand up to the bully, but he was too afraid. One day his father bought him a new telescope. He was out in the front yard playing with it, but he was looking through the wrong end. He was looking though the big side. His father came out and said, “No, son, you’re doing it backward. Turn it around and it will make everything bigger like it was meant to do.” The little boy said, “I know that, Dad. But right now I’m looking at this bully. And when I look at him this way it makes him so small that I’m not afraid of him anymore.”

Maybe, like the child in our story, we may also need to turn the telescope around. Perhaps we have magnified our problems and personal situations long enough. We may have thought how impossible it is that things will change and that things will work out. But if we turn it around, we will see it from the right perspective. We will realize that these things are nothing for God to fix. All he has to do is breathe in your direction and your circumstances will change.

Last Sunday we talked about temptation and the one who tempts. Satan tempts and he brings lies into mind. He wants to deceive us and to tell us that God is not able, that God does not exist and that the Bible is just an invention. Is that what you believe? No, of course not. But watch out, because that is precisely when we are being tempted by the devil. He wants to twist the truth. That is his job.
We need to shake off those lies that whisper to us every morning: “It is too big, or … I have suffered it too long, or …it’s never going to change.”
This is a new day. The Bible tells us that Abraham “obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” … “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” He had faith. Faith is first and foremost a decision, the decision to change our thinking to holy, trustworthy thoughts of God. No enemy, no injustice and no obstacle can defeat us. We walk by faith and not by sight. At first, the enemy may naturally feel huge. But when you approach the enemy as an obstacle of faith, it will soon be under your feet. In God’s terms, all this will be insignificant. The power of God that is available to us is bigger than any obstacle that can stand before us. Keep the right perspective. Let’s turn the telescope around. Don’t focus on the size of the problems; let’s focus on the size of our God. Problems may have arisen but they will not prosper. The Gospels tell us that Jesus spoke words of strength, healing, determination, new vision, blessing, wisdom, courage, life and resurrection. Begin to exercise a faith like Abrahams; perhaps you have never done it before. Unfortunately, I did not learn it in my church. I had to learn it through the years just by rereading the Bible and now I want to show and share it with you. This may be a new day for you; God wants you to be strong, for you have confidence and for you to know that you are well able to handle what life brings. We will not be overcome. We will be those who overcome. God will not only bring you out; he will bring you out better off than you were before if you only approach Him with love, your commitment and belief in Him. Amen.

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