House of faith – 2

I once had a dream in which I was talking with a friend. He casually asked me about a certain room in my house, and I was puzzled. “What room are you talking about?” I asked him.

He took me down a hallway that I only vaguely remembered to a door that I had never noticed before. The door led to a wing of the house that I’d never been in, and in this wing were several large and attractive rooms with comfortable furnishings. I don’t remember any details, only that I was amazed. The rooms were there all along, but I never knew about them!

Alas, when I woke up, I learned why I never knew about those rooms. They never existed. It was all a dream.

Sometimes I think the Christian life is a bit like that dream. There is so much more to it than we realize. It’s there all along, but we never see certain doors, so we never enter certain rooms in the house of faith. And it’s not just a dream. It’s very real.

You all know that one of my favorite Christian pop songs is the Audio Adrenaline song “My Father’s House.” Some people imagine that it’s about heaven, but I think that’s a very limited way of thinking about it. I think it’s about the house of faith.

The house of faith is a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms. You can spend not only this lifetime but all eternity exploring those rooms. Every room is a place of adventure and growth.

Last week I spoke about how John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, uses a house to describe the way a person comes to new life in Christ.

Wesley says repentance is the porch, faith is the door, and inside the house is religion itself. When you enter the house of faith, you stand in the foyer, the welcome area. You move into the living room to get more comfortable and get to know people better. Later you move into the kitchen, the heart of the house, where you form deep and lasting relationships, with God and others.

Today we’re going to explore some other rooms in the house. These are six doors leading to six rooms where you can develop a stronger faith.

You’ve heard about these rooms before and, in fact, may be tired of hearing about them again. But don’t think that these doors are old hat. We need to pass through some of these doors daily to grow in our faith. If we ignore any of them for very long, we may discover that the hinges get rusty over time, and a door that once opened easily for us now requires more effort to open.

The first door is the door of daily prayer.

The Old Testament pattern is morning, noon and night. (Daniel 6.10, Psalm 55.17)

Theoretically, I suppose, you could follow this pattern simply by saying grace over breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is true that thanksgiving is an essential part of prayer, but it’s not the whole thing. You really need to do more than say grace

Prayer is conversation with God. If you want to know God better, you’ve got to talk with God. What do you talk about? Well, what’s on your mind? What’s on your heart? What’s bugging you? What excites you? Pray about these things.

Ann Lamott is one of my favorite writers. She has a winsome way of getting to the essentials of things. She’s written a marvelous book titled Help Thanks Wow. She calls those the three essential prayers.

  • “Help me, God!”
  • “Thanks for everything!”
  • “Wow, you’re so good to me!”

When you’re asking for help, feel free to ask for things small and large involving yourself and others. I’ve been asked to speak more about prayer and how it works – and I’m praying about how to best to respond. Prayer is a fascinating, and intimidating, subject.

The second door is regular worship. Ideally, “regular” means weekly, but increasing numbers of people are finding a weekly commitment hard to maintain. Whatever your situation, you ought to be in worship as often as possible – for your own good as well as the good of others.

In these days of pandemic, we have learned that worship does not have to be in person or in this building we call church. What’s important is that worship centers us on God and expands our awareness of others. Left to our own devices, we would all center everything on ourselves. If we don’t worship the Lord our God, we all worship the same idol, and its name is Me.

The third door of faith development is the door of diligent growth.

You know how to plant a garden. You go out in the back yard and you stir up some dirt and you throw some seeds around. Every once in awhile, you toss some water or fertilizer on the plants, and then you wait for the big harvest – or more likely, a big disappointment.

You have to be intentional about growing a garden, don’t you? Spiritual growth has to be at least as intentional as growing a garden. If it’s not, you shouldn’t wonder about all the weeds you encounter, and how little growth you experience.

We’re already mentioned two of the chief means of spiritual growth – daily prayer and regular worship. Frequent Bible study is another. These are among what we call the “means of grace.” These are ways that God blesses us as we demonstrate our love of God and neighbor. They are acts of devotion to God and acts of service to others. God grows us through them.

Spiritual growth is important. The plain truth is that if you are not committed to it, you are not likely to ever grow beyond the last formal study you did – and for some of us that could be children’s Sunday School.

Surveys show that one-third of people who graduate from high school will never read another book in their life. I love books, so I find that thought very sad. Here’s a thought that’s even sadder. How many Christians never open a Bible after their last Confirmation class?

The fourth door of faith development is the door of generous giving.

We’ve all heard the saying, “God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s biblical. (2 Corinthians 9.7) And it’s true. Cheerfully is the only way to give. Still, it’s a thought that some of us cheerfully ignore.

We wonder, “What’s the bottom line?” “What’s the least I can give without making God mad at me?” Truth is, we can’t buy God’s favor. We give cheerfully to God because God cheerfully gives to us. Giving is an act of gratitude. It’s not a bribe. It goes back to the “thanks” and “wow” parts of Ann Lamott’s three essential prayers.

The New Testament standard is generous giving. That’s giving according to what you have, not according to what you don’t have, as the Apostle Paul puts it. The more you have, the more you give. We talk a lot about the tithe, but if you have been richly blessed, a 10 percent tip is pretty cheap. A general rule of thumb is this: Give until you feel good about it. It sounds corny, but when you do it, you know the truth of it.

The fifth door is selfless service. Service is central to our being. We serve God because we love God, and we serve others because we love them, too. As the Apostle John says, we can’t see God, but we can see other people. We show our love for God, whom we can’t see, by how we serve the people we can see. (1 John 4.20)

There is a growth component here, too. The more you grow, the more you serve. And the more you serve, the more you want to serve, because serving feels good. We are hard-wired for relationship with God and others, so we feel better when we are serving in relationship with them.

That’s the secret of service. The server often receives as much from serving as the one who is served. In fact, the server may get more out of it – because serving changes you for the better. The more you serve, the more you are changed. The more you serve, the more you are formed in the image of Christ.

The sixth door is fruitful witness.

Saint Francis is said to have said: “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.”  Whoever said it, it’s a catchy saying, and it’s highly misleading. Words are almost always necessary. You need to tell people why you are serving them. You need to explain your motivation.

Maybe you can get by with fewer words if you’re wearing a T-shirt that says, “Edgerton United Methodist Church, lovingly serving God and neighbor.” That’s a good catch-line, isn’t it? May it’s time to order some new T-shirts. No T-shirt can tell the whole story, though, so a few words of explanation will help people understand why you do what you do.

Jesus tells us what a disciple of his is like. He says a disciple is someone who “comes to me, hears my words and acts on them.” In other words, a disciple is someone who connects with Jesus, grows closer to him and serves others in his name.

Jesus says his disciples are like those who dig the foundation for their house down to the bedrock, and when a flood comes, the waters burst against that house but cannot shake it.

But those who don’t practice what they hear are like those who lay the walls of their house on bare ground, with no foundation at all, and when the flood comes, the waters burst against that house and wash it away.

The house of faith is built on a good foundation. It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms. We’ve explored some of them today. Next week we’ll learn more about what makes the house so strong, the mortar that holds it all together. In the meantime, keep exploring all the rooms in the house of faith. You may be amazed by what wonders lie beyond doors you have never opened.

Amen.

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