Saturday, February 16, 2019

How to Claim Your Gift

[These are some thoughts shared with parents, grandparents, and family members of Upward basketball participants during halftimes of games today. What follows isn't exact because I simply jot down note for myself for these presentations; but this is what I intended to say anyway.]

The theme passage of Scripture the young people in Upward are focusing on right now is Hebrews 11:1, which says:
Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see. (NIRV)
Some of you may have read or heard about the TV personality who claimed, maybe half-jokingly, this past week that he hadn't washed his hands in ten years. He said that he didn't believe in things he couldn't see and he couldn't see germs.

But there are lots of things that we believe in that we can't see. I can't see oxygen. But I believe that exists.

And although God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, we can't see Him right now. Yet many people believe in Him.

I may have mentioned to some of you that for ten years of my life, I considered myself to be an atheist. But I married a Christian and just to get her off my back, I started going to worship with her on Sunday mornings. Something strange started happening to me after I did this: I started to believe that God saves from sin and death those who have faith in Jesus, Who died and rose for people like me...and you. I received faith in Christ.

When I think of faith, I don't think of it as a virtue. The Bible says that faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith in Jesus that saves us from sin and death and gives us life with God isn't something we can earn, work for, manufacture, or achieve in our own effort. And God wants to give faith in Jesus to everyone.

What I've learned is that there are several reliable places where God will meet us and present us with the gift of faith or the gift of deepened faith in Jesus.

First, God will give us faith in Christ through the Church. Some people say the Church is full of hypocrites. They're right...and I'm one of them! A hypocrite is anyone who at any time claims to be one way, but acts, or thinks, or lives in another. We hypocrites need the Church. I always say that the Church is God's hospital for hypocrites and there's always room for one more. The Bible says that the Church is "the body of Christ." In the fellowship of imperfect Christians, we can receive faith.

Second, God will give us faith in Christ through the Bible. When we call the Bible, "the Word of God," we mean that unlike other books we might read--instruction manuals, novels, biographies, whatever, the Bible is filled with the living power of God that will help me do what I can't do on my own: Have faith in the good news of new life for all who turn from sin and have faith in Jesus.

Third, God will give us faith in Christ through Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism isn't something we do; it's something God does. When we're baptized in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, God claims us as His own. We may choose to walk away from God, but in baptism, God commits Himself to never giving up on us. I know that I can turn back to Him for forgiveness, new life, strength, hope, peace, encouragement, and whatever else I need.

Fourth, God will give us faith in Christ through Holy Communion. In Communion, God gives Himself to us and fills us with His life and forgiveness.

Fifth, God will give us faith in Christ through prayer. Jesus tells us to pray to God the Father in Jesus' name. When I feel crummy because I know that I've committed a sin, failing to love God or love other people, God still lets me come to Him. Covered with the goodness and perfection of Jesus, I can ask for forgiveness, seek guidance, gain strength. I can ask for the faith to trust that Jesus is with me always and that, because of Jesus and my faith in Him--however weak my faith may be at the moment, nothing can separate me from God!

My faith isn't always strong. But I'm grateful that God is willing to renew the gift of faith within me as I meet God in the Church, in the Bible, in Holy Baptism, in Holy Communion, and in prayer in Jesus' name.

Let's pray. Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of faith, which helps to trust in You even though, right now, we can't see You. When our faith wanes, when we sin, when we face discouragement or important decisions, helps us to turn to You and receive the gift of renewed faith. In Jesus' name. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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