“Message:” Enduring Faith

Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Victory Vacation Bible School at Redeemer UMC where I am a pastor.  What an amazing experience.  Some 275 children and youth, plus teachers, leaders and volunteers, filled the facility.  There was so much energy and excitement, it was absolutely amazing.

I served as a story teller, and taught roughly 60 children the stories of Joshua, Gideon, Esther, and Jesus.  There was high energy and high excitement.  Seeing the joy and excitement on the kids’ faces invigorated my faith.  I was truly blessed by the experience.

Each of us knows what it is like to have spiritual high like all those kids had this year at VBS.  Whether it is VBS, Christian Camping, a rally, concert, devotions on the shoreline, a birth, a baptism, any encounter with the most high God, a spiritual high, we know what the experience is like.  That spiritual high, that moment of clarity, when nothing else matters, and we know who we are in Christ.

Faith Ben White
Photo by Ben White

But, we are not ignorant, we know that spiritual highs don’t last forever.  In fact, it is often the fall from our high spirituality to the reality of our lives that causes us to lose faith.  Have you ever wondered why that is?  Why is it that a youth or young adult can lose their faith after a life transforming experience of the divine?  Why is that an adult who encounters the saving grace of the cross, wanders from the path of righteousness within the week?  Why is it that one day we are fired up for Christ, and the next we have lost our way?  Friends, the answer lies in the fact that our spiritual experience is not the same as our spiritual maturity.  Let me explain.

In May, I had the opportunity to attend the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida.  One of the main take homes that I had from the conference was something that Wayne Cordeiro presented.  Wayne Cordeiro is the senior pastor at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii.  While Cordeiro’s presentation was about church leadership, he talked about how there is a difference between our spirituality, our excitement for Christ, and our maturity as disciples.  Here’s how it works.

We experience God in our lives and our world is turned upside down.  We find ourselves on this mountaintop of spiritual experience.  So, our spirituality is extreamly high.  We are full of energy, excited, we are fired up for Christ, nothing can bring us down.  However, while our spiritual excitement is high, our maturity devastatingly low.  We are riding on the wings of our emotional response to our experience of God.  This disconnect between our maturity and our spiritual experience is our danger zone.

The greater the gap between our high spirituality and our low maturity, the quicker the fall of our faith.  We all know that we cannot stay on the high side of our spirituality without a firm foundation of our discipleship. I’m betting that most people know some who’s faith rides their emotional response of their spiritual experience.  They are like an addict, always looking for their next Spiritual high.  In fact, that person may be you.  At times I feel it can be all of us.

Here is how it plays out in our lives.  Whether you are a kid who was at VBS or an adult who has spent their whole life growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Life happens, we get knocked down a bit.  Our spirituality drops some, but at the same time, as we investing in our discipleship practices, our maturity grows. Life happens some more, there is a tragedy at your school, a car accident, you lose the dream job, she’s unfaithful, he’s abusive, the enemy beats us down, and our spirituality continues to decline.

But, if we remain faithful in our intentional discipleship formation throughout all of our life events we continue to grow in maturity.  At some point, our level of spirituality meets up with our level of maturity.  When that happens, something changes.  Instead of an inverse relationship between spirituality and maturity, they begin to grow together proportionally.  Instead of our spirituality being based on our emotional response to God’s working in our live, our spirituality rests on the firm foundation of our maturity as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And it grows.

Here you will find 10 thoughts, or concepts, that will help your faith endure. Whether you encountered God at VBS and are riding that spiritual high, or you are steeped in the realities of your own life and you are trying to find your way back.  No matter where you are in your life of faith, these 10 things should help your faith endure the tests of time.

So, let’s get started.  Number 10 in Tim’s top ten thoughts for an enduring faith.

10:  Recognize the World Around You

In Acts chapter 17, we find Paul preaching to the people in Athens.

So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows. “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines.  And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.  Acts 17:22-23 NLT

The people of Athens valued education and spirituality.  They had idols, shrines, and alters everywhere, and they even had an alter devoted to an Unknown God. They wanted to keep their bases covered.  Spread it out thin, make sure we’re all covered.  They wanted to think big, highly academic, but only marginally spiritual. 

You see, what Paul found in Athens, in the culture, is not so different from us today.  The first way that you grow to living out an enduring faith is to recognize the reality of the world that surrounds you.  We live in a culture where academics and marginal spirituality dominate.  Superficial faith is paired with cheap grace.  We do not live in a time when you can look into the world to see what your faith life should be like.  The world if full of pluralism, therapeutic moral deism, the spiritual but not religious.  But, you cannot be spiritual without being religious, and if you think you are, you are only fooling yourself, for religion is the practice of your spirituality. To say that you are spiritual but not religious is to disconnect your faith from its practice.

If you want your faith to endure the gap between spiritual experience and maturity as a disciple, open your eyes and see the reality of the world around you, then put your trust and faith in Christ, and look to him, not the culture, for what it means to be faithful.

9:  Find Peace in Not Knowing the Answers to all the Details

Once, while teaching Disciple Bible Study, a participant exclaimed in frustration, “I though this study was supposed to help me answer my questions.  Instead, it seems only to give me more questions.”

We are finite beings, meaning our ability to comprehend has limits, intellectual limits, physical limits.  God is infinite, without beginning, without end.

God is infinite, without beginning and without end, no boundaries, no barriers.  But, we are finite beings, we are mortal.  We have definite boundaries.  There is only so much that we can know, or experience.  Even if we fill up 100% of our brains with knowledge, there is still more to know.  While God can invade our finite world, we cannot fully comprehend or experience the infinite reality that God embodies.

There are some things that we will just never know in this life, and that drives some of us mad.  With the reality of our finite brains, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend God.  The more we learn, the greater our understanding of God becomes, the greater is our perception of God, the more details there are to know.

When Jesus stooped to wash the disciple’s feet on Maundy Thursday he said these words…

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7 NLT

There are things that we will never know in this life.  We must each find a way to live into this truth, that we may never fully know or understand.

Arguing over the details doesn’t suit us either.  People have argued faith and religious details to the point where it impeded on others ability to be receptive to the Holy Spirit.

Paul says in Romans 14:12-13 NLT…

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.  So let’s stop condemning each other.  Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

Paul is talking about cultural norms and practices of other believers.  He is speaking about eating meat vs. vegetables. Or how one person honors the Sabbath vs. another.  These arguments over the details caused individuals to stumble and fall in their faith.

If you desire to have a faith that endures throughout life, focus less on the details, and focus more on how you alone live out your calling to be a child of the most High God.

8:  Don’t Confuse Emotions With Devotions

Most people perceive that the deeply spiritual moments of their lives are highly charged emotional events.  Seeing God in the sunset, seeing God in the blooming flowers.  Ask yourself, are you simply captivated by aesthetic beauty, or are you focusing on God.  If your vision of the sunset causes you to look deeply into the colors, as your heart races, this is an emotional response to a visual stimulus.  But, if you look into the sunset, and are reminded of the glory of God, and it causes you to look away and fall to your knees and pray, that is a different story.

We often confuse our emotions with devotion to God because we assume that any feeling of joy must be God.  But, this is not true.  Think about it, some people experience joy and thrill by doing horrible things.

When you stand in the presence of the creator of the universe, nothing else compares.  No sunrise, no flowers, no pretty lake, not even the hour old eyes of a newborn child.  But, the emotions of these events can point us to God.  But the emotions we feel, are not God.

Proverbs 28:26 NLT says…

Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

7:  Expect Suffering

James 1:2-4 NLT says…

Dear brothers and sisters, when trouble comes your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James does not say “if” troubles come, he said “when.”  We live in a broken world.  Sin has a foothold into our lives, our families, our city, our culture, our state, our country, our continent, our hemisphere, and our world.  Because of this reality, we are a broken people.  We make mistakes, and others make mistakes that affect us.

“When trouble comes your way…” be ready for it.  Use the time you have to prepare for it.  Read the Bible, pray, join a small group.  Invest in your spiritual life now so that when the time comes, and troubles find you, you will be able to endure the trials of your life out of your spiritual surplus.

It is like Christmas.  Did you know that Christmas is coming?  If you are wondering it is on December 25th this year.  It is coming whether you want it to or not.  You can either save up for it, so you are ready for the expense it brings.  Or you can ignore it.  And when it comes you go into debt to see yourself through.  Many go into debt so far that they never fully recover from it.

You have the choice.  You know that suffering will come in your life.  You can either save up for it and then cash in your spiritual surplus to endure suffering in your life, or you can ignore it and go into spiritual debt when trials find you.  Prepare for the coming trials.

6:  Expect Joy

Psalm 30:4-5 NLT says

Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!  Praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.  Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Trails will come in this life, but joy is also on the horizon.  Expect joy, as you walk in the presence of God, that experience of God brings with it a joy that is beyond compare. Greater than the sunrise, grander than the sunset.

Weeping may last though the night, but joy comes with the morning.

5:  Possessions and Purpose are not Synonyms

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 NLT says…

Those who love money will never have enough.  How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!  The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it.  So what good is wealth – except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!

I remember when I decided to go to college, to leave the industry world, and start school.  One of the first things I had to decide was what I wanted to study.  I chose pharmaceuticals, I planned to be a pharmacist. In truth, I decided this because they make good money.  When I realized the amount of chemistry required I changed my major.  To what? Nursing.

Nursing was a field where there was need, and a promising income so I could have all that I wanted.  It wasn’t until near the end of my first year of college that I realized my focus was on money, not purpose.  So, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the times in my life when I felt I was fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.  When I thought about it, there was only one repeated experience that I had where I felt I was living out my calling.  That experience was when I helped people understand complex things, through illustration.  So, I changed my major again.  This time to live into my purpose.  I became a school teacher.  But still, that wasn’t where God was calling me.

If you want to build a faith that endures, recognize that God has a purpose for you, a calling, and it has nothing to do with your possessions.

4:  See God in the Ordinary

Psalm 139:7-10 NLT says…

I can never escape from your Spirit!  I can never get away from your presence!  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.  If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.

Did you realize that God was with you this morning on your way to work or church?  When you were stuck in that traffic jam, God was there.  God was with you in the hospital, just as God was with you waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.

God is with you everywhere and always.  His presence can be experienced in the everyday, and the ordinary.  When you begin to realize that God is with you in every moment, in every aspect of your life, from sitting in your house, to driving down the interstate, that God is with you, your life changes.  Instead of just visiting God on the weekends at church, you realize that God goes with you, every moment of every day.

If you want your faith to endure, begin to recognize God in the ordinary, in the everyday.

3:  Use the Time that You Have

Ephesians 5:15-16 NLT says

So be careful how you live.  Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.  Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

I have a favorite saying, “Yesterday was never here, and tomorrow never comes.”  What it means is that you cannot live in yesterday, it is impossible, because it was never here.  Yesterday is a description of a time that we no longer exist in.  Similarly, tomorrow will never be here because it is a description of time that we have not yet existed in.  All that we have, is now.

This is not some cliché carpe diem concept, stand on the desk, oh captain my captain.  What it is, is a calling to remember that now is the time to live out our faith.  If you’re going to do it, it has to be in the now.  Don’t wait until the first of the month to start a Bible reading plan, do it now.  Don’t say I prayed yesterday, so I’m covered, pray now.  When you are on the cusp of spiritual burnout, don’t schedule your Sabbath, pause and live into it now.

An enduring faith is a faith that is lived, daily, in the now, present tense.

2: Pursue the Best

Proverbs 13:20 NLT says…

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.

In Wayne Cordeiro’s book The Divine Mentor, he talks about pursuing the best, meaning sitting at the feet of those who can best teach you from their wisdom. There are some specific people that he recommends we learn from.  There are many others that Cordeiro recommends we learn from their mistakes.  Here are some of their names.

Joseph, Daniel, Abigail, Isaac, Mary, Jacob, Ruth, Joshua, Esther, Josiah… the wisest people in history are waiting for you.  Not in some lecture hall, or on YouTube, or on a podcast, not in a 2-minute Facebook clip.  They are waiting for you in God’s Word.

The greatest teachings that we will ever receive come from those whose stories God has arranged in the Bible for us to learn from.  Let them mentor you.  Don’t be a follower of a person.  Instead, be a pursuer of God.

God speaks to us through his word.  If you want to have a faith that endures, stop reading books that tell you what the Bible says, and start reading the Bible.

1:  Never Forget Who’s You Are

The most important thought that I can give you today, is this, you belong to God.  You were purchased for a price, you were saved for a reason, you do not own yourself, you are God’s prized possession, and the Holy Spirit, which dwells in you, is stronger than the power of evil that threatens you in this life.

1 John 4:4 NLT says…

But you belong to God, my dear children.  You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.

Even amidst your deepest sorrow, the Holy Spirit, which lives within you is stronger than the chains of sin and death.

You are a child of the most high God. You are not God, nor are you the center of the universe.  This may sound silly, but this is a reality that many fail to recognize.

If you can remember whose you are, your faith has the potential to endure the tests of time.  Put Christ first in your life, and live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, which resides within you.

My prayer you is that your faith would not simply survive, but that it would thrive through all the phases and stages of your live.  That you will find our spirituality resting firmly on the foundation of your maturity as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Lord, I pray that you would be my foundation.  As I face the turbulent winds of life, let my faith thrive.  I place my faith in you and trust that you will see me through.  Give me the courage to endure all that this life throws at me.  Let my foundation be found in your Son, Jesus, and not in the emotions of my faith.  It is in his name that I pray.  Amen.

If you want to know more, check out my website at www.timtrommater.com.

For more information about Redeemer Church, check out www.dewittredeemer.org.

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