October 14, 2012
October 18, 2009

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 – Keep these words in you heart. Teach them to your children. Write them on your hand, your forehead and on the doorposts of your house.

Psalm 1 – Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on that law they meditate day and night.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone. They shared. This is worship.

Matthew 28:16-20 – The Great Commission. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach.

These texts are chosen for Five Practices series. The Old Testament and Epistle lessons are intentionally about the same as last week.

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

We are on week three of a five-part series called Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. We are participating in daily devotions. This week we are reading chapters 15-21 in Cultivating Fruitfulness. We are taking part in weekly small group gatherings, and weekly worship. We’re going to be doing service projects together in a couple of weeks, and we are tying it all together with a big party on October 25. We hope you’ll join us.

The five practices are:

  1. Radical hospitality
  2. Passionate worship
  3. Intentional faith development
  4. Risk-taking mission and service
  5. Extravagant generosity

Are you growing in hospitality, worship, faith, mission, service, and generosity?

The first week week we talked about radical hospitality as a basic spiritual practice. Last week we discussed worship. Radical hospitality welcomes people into worship. Worship shows us our need for intentional faith development.

Intentional Faith Development

My yard will never, ever win “Yard of Month” in my neighborhood. Weeds growing up here and there. Places clearly missing plants that died in drought or storm. This past year all the lantana in my back yard died. Thank goodness for oleander which seems impervious to even my lack of attention. If it goes in my yard, it has to be indigenous and require no attention whatsoever. I don’t have a green thumb, and I hate gardening unlike my father, who is a master gardener. I suppose if I were to fertilize my plants once in a while they might do much better. I see plants in some neighbors’ yards, the same plants I have in my yard, that look amazing.

The problem is I give my yard no intentional horticultural development. I don’t weed or feed with any kind of intentionality, and I haven’t figured out which plants need water and which ones don’t. It’s a mystery to me. Which means, things die. A lot. Sometimes I feel like a failure as a person and as a neighbor, but then I pick up a good book and it all drifts away.

Your faith is like a garden. Faith, hope, and love are free gifts, but they take cultivating. We need to read, write, study, pray, reflect, act on what we’ve reflected upon, and then reflect on what we’ve acted upon. We need to practice generosity. We need to practice hospitality. If we don’t, this plant we call faith can die. It can.

So what are you willing to do to grow your faith? Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jeremiah 29:13 says, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart…”

What does seeking God look like for you? May I offer some ideas?

  1. Daily Prayer – Make space in your day, every day for prayer. I don’t mean blathering on but silence. Listening.

This month we are encouraging everyone to try out a daily devotional practice, using the book Cultivating Fruitfulness, which you can get in the lobby/online. Are you willing to give that a go?

  1. Weekly or biweekly groups – “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” the Bible says. By meeting together, gathering for prayer, caring conversation, reading Scripture, sharing a meal, sharing one another’s lives, we grow in faith.

This month we have also invited everyone to try out a five-week small group gathering. Jump in. See what you think.

  1. Weekly worship – Worship feeds your faith. We sing, we pray, we read the Bible, we share communion, and we offer our gifts for God’s work in the world. This feeds our faith.
  1. Pilgrimage – Moving out of our routine into another space, a liminal space, a thin space, often allows us to find sacred space. Visit a developing country and encounter those in need. Go on a retreat. Get out of Dodge. People consistently tell me the time they grew the most spiritually was in a camp, retreat, or cultural pilgrimage. We’ll talk more about this next week.
  1. Serve – You don’t have to go far to serve those in need. The times that I have served others in need have been some of the times that I was most in touch with what life was about. God is revealed in the faces of those in need. This too, will be discussed next week when we talk about risk-taking, mission, and service.
  1. Give – The times that I have given sacrificially, to something beyond myself, have been times when I have grown most. This is the topic of our last week: extravagant generosity.

Actually, these Five Practices are all practices that have been shown to grow faith. Small groups, Bible studies, Sunday school, worship, and service are all ways that we grow our faith. They are like watering and feeding the plant that is our faith.

Congregations with a vibrant faith life are those that engage people with Scripture and prayer. If we want to grow as a faith community, it will require a commitment to faith practices like this.

Hear the passage from Acts that we read last week, and again this morning:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple,
they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Today we call that the Bible. They devoted themselves to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. They practiced hospitality and generosity. They met in each other’s homes. And look what happened. Awe came upon them. The needy were served. And day by day the Lord added to their number.

This would be a great time for the preacher to share a time when s/he grew in faith. What was that like? What were the catalysts that set that in motion? What difference did it make in your life? In the lives of others? For me it was a small group I was in, of people who challenged me to be more than I was, to give more than I had, and to do some serious soul searching. I would not be who am I today if it weren’t for these people at this time in my life.

The truth is, sometimes we grow in faith because of suffering. This is not intentional faith development. You might call it unintentional faith development. When we are at the end of our rope, we often turn to our higher power, something larger than ourselves. We reach out to God, who has been there all along. It is at these times that we discover the power and presence of God most profoundly.

The apostle Paul prayed to have a “thorn in the flesh” taken away. We don’t know what this was. It might have been a physical malady, a bad habit, or a sin that he couldn’t beat. God’s answer was, “No.” The answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

We follow a God who promises to be present in times of weakness, a God who is revealed not just in our shining moments, but maybe even more profoundly in our failures and our brokenness.

Where is God active in your life today? I invite you to listen for the movement of the Spirit and to take time for intentional faith development, so you’re ready when the unintentional faith development comes your way.

The Five Practices are:

  1. Radical hospitality
  2. Passionate worship
  3. Intentional faith development
  4. Risk-taking mission and service
  5. Extravagant generosity