Recently, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith of Living Church of God (LCG) gave a sermon titled, "Increasing Faith". Here is a link to the LCG page that lists that sermon. Look for sermon 889 with an air date of August 28, 2015:
In that sermon, Dr. Meredith gave seven points or keys for increasing faith. I thought all seven were excellent points, and I want to review them and share my own experiences and some lessons I have learned to support those seven keys to faith.
Here are the seven points. The wording of these points is from my notes on the sermon and may not be the exact way Dr. Meredith worded them, but I think the basic meaning is the same.
1. Prove to yourself that God exists and the Bible is His word.
I agree with Dr. Meredith that this is vital to building faith. When I was first learning the truth of God, I read the Worldwide booklet or article on, "Does God Exist?". After studying that book, I meditated on what I had read, and I felt motivated to prove the issue to myself one way or another. I was able to prove to myself that God exists. For me the key things at that time to prove the existence of God and since then to remind myself of that proof are: a) the design choices evident in the universe, and b) the consciousness of the human mind.
Science has been a hobby of mind since my childhood, especially the study of physics, the fundamental laws of the physical universe. The laws of the universe show great design, and that design has made physical life possible, including human life. And the physical laws show that certain design choices have been made, and that means that there must be a great Designer who made those choices in the design of the laws of nature.
I can give examples. The physical universe consists of matter and energy in various forms within time and space. Space itself is three dimensional. But why? Mathematicians can imagine and work with space of two dimensions, or four dimensions, or any other number of dimensions. A universe with two dimensional space or four dimensional space can be just as logical as our existing universe. Yet, space is three dimensional, as far as ordinary dimensions are concerned. Someone must have designed space to be three dimensional, someone must have chosen three to be the number of ordinary dimensions of space, and that someone is God.
There are four known forces in the universe. The weakest is gravity, and gravity apparently comes from the bending of space-time, in ways that are hard to explain (and hard for me to understand). Nevertheless, the force of gravity causes all matter to attract all other matter. It is what holds the earth and every planet and every star and sun together. And it attracts only, it does not repel.
The strongest force is the "strong force" (good name), also known as the nuclear force. It holds quarks together to form protons and neutrons, and it holds protons and neutrons together to form the nucleus of an atom. Stronger than gravity but weaker than the strong force is the electromagnetic force. The electromagnetic force can be positive or negative, and like charges repel each other and unlike charges attract each other. So this force can either attract or repel. It is responsible for visible light, for electricity, for magnetism, for radio waves, and for all chemistry that holds atoms together to form molecules.
The electromagnetic and gravitational forces are long range. As you get farther away from the source, the force is weaker according to a certain formula. The strong force however is very short range.
Each force is different from the others and is perfectly tuned to create an environment in which man can live.
Someone had to design those forces. Someone had to make the choices about how strong each force would be, whether it would only attract (like gravity) or also repel (like the electromagnetic force), whether it would be long-range like gravity and electromagnetism or short range like the strong force.
Then there are the particles of matter. Ordinary matter we are familiar with is made up of about a hundred different kinds of atoms, and the atoms combine to form millions of different kinds of molecules. Each atom consists of a nucleus surrounded by electrons (the hydrogen atom has only one electron). The nucleus contains one or more protons, and except for hydrogen always contains neutrons. Neutrons and protons are heavy, the difference being the proton has a positive electric charge and the neutron is "neutral" (again, good name). The electrons are light-weight and have a negative electric charge.
Who designed all this? Who decided how the universe would be, what the laws would be? It became obvious to me that a creator God must have designed and created the universe as it is.
Then there is the matter of human consciousness. This is something science is unable or unwilling to talk about intelligently, and they cannot explain it according to physical law. They are clueless. The best way I can explain what it is is to say it is the subjective "me" that lives inside my brain, the me that experiences happiness or suffering, the wakeful me that seems to shut down when I sleep and start up again when I wake. It is not the same as intelligence. How can it exist? Where did it come from, or to put it another way, where did I come from? Consciousness does not arise solely from the operation of atoms and molecules, for there is nothing about physical matter by itself that produces consciousness. The only explanation I know of that makes any sense at all is that human consciousness is a creation of and a gift from God.
These things were for me proof positive that God exists, and I was able to prove His existence even before I studied the Bible to see if it was inspired by God.
After that I set out to prove if the Bible was God's word or not, if it was merely the writings of men or if God inspired it and it was God speaking.
The Bible certainly claims to be God speaking, as is made evident by many scriptures. But is it?
I cover this in more detail in chapter one of my book, Preaching the Gospel, see links at the end of this post. But to make a long story short, I was able to prove, by fulfilled prophecy, that the Bible is God's word. Prophecies written in the Bible thousands of years ago have been fulfilled in the last two hundred years in a way that cannot be plausibly explained as coincidence to a reasonable mind. God must have inspired the Bible, for no man can know the future thousands of years in advance. Most important among these prophecies was the prophecy in Daniel that says that near the end of this age, knowledge and transportation would increase (Daniel 12:4, 2 Peter 3:8, Revelation 20:4, Exodus 20:8-11) and the prophecies that show the identity of the tribes of Israel. I was also able to prove the New Testament by the seventy week prophecy in Daniel that predicted when the Messiah would come (Daniel 9:24-27).
So I had proved that God exists. And I had proved that the Bible was inspired by God, that it is God speaking and that it was the word of God.
But before I could begin to live by faith, one more step was needed, for me anyway. I will explain what that additional step was when I cover a different point that Dr. Meredith gave.
2. Study the Bible.
Bible study is vitally important. I remember listening to and reading the writings of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. He taught that we become acquainted with someone in conversation, and Bible study is part of our conversation with God. He said that when he prayed he was talking to God and when he studied the Bible God was talking to him. God talks to us through the Bible and it is important that we hear what He tells us.
Even before I came into contact with the Church, I had read the Bible all the way through. I did not understand everything of course, but I kept reading till I finished it. But though I did not understand the doctrinal matters perfectly, like the Sabbath and holy days and the plan of God, I was able to learn and understand something about God's character. I was able to understand that God requires total commitment to Him. I was able to understand that God requires that we trust Him, and He rewards those who trust and rely on His help.
Christ said we are to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:1-4), and this means we must read every word of God and review God's word on a regular basis if we are to live by it. And hearing or reading the word of God strengthens faith, for faith comes by the word of God (Romans 10:17).
3. Meditate on the lessons of the Bible.
One way I found to meditate on the Bible is to combine Bible meditation with Bible study and reading. Meditation is basically thinking about the things of God, the lessons of His word, and the application of God's law and truth to the decisions we have to make. One way I do this is to read the Bible slowly, then pause and think about what I just read and how to apply it to my life. But also, when decisions come up during the day, if I am exercising spiritual alertness, I will try to think of scriptures I have read that will help me in my decision. But this only works because I have read the Bible many times. I cannot remember what I have not read or what I have only read once or twice a long time ago. I need to keep reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis.
The Sabbath helps me learn to meditate on the things of God, because I know I should not be involved in worldly things and I should not have my mind on the things of this world on the Sabbath. So every seventh day I have a whole day to practice meditating on the things of God. I can meditate on God's greatness, on the good works He has done, on His law and how to apply it, and on my own personal faults and sins that I need to overcome. Self-examination is a form of meditation.
And self-examination works well with Bible study, for I can read a passage, then stop reading and ask myself, how can I better apply what I have just read to my life, and meditate on the answer.
4. Pray and seek God fervently and constantly with zeal.
There are basic tools for seeking God, and they include prayer, Bible study, meditation and fasting. But the important point is to stir up zeal for seeking God, to cry out to Him, and to keep Him in mind at all times.
One way I have sought God that seems to help me is to think constantly, as I go about the things I am doing, about what choices God wants me to make, and ask myself frequently, is this what God wants me to be doing right now.
And as Mr. Armstrong taught us, we need to put our hearts in our prayers. Mr. Peter Nathan recently gave a sermon titled, "A Godly Fellowship at Work", that stresses the need to pray with intensity (see LCG sermon 887 with the air date of August 21, 2015).
5. Surround yourself with people of faith, and don't spend a lot of time with people who seem to have negative attitudes towards God, His truth, His doctrines, and His Church. Choose your friends carefully and avoid chronic complainers.
We are influenced by the people around us. Dr. Meredith gave the example of Jesus Christ being able to do no mighty work in His own country among those who knew Him because of the lack of faith of those around Him (Mark 6:1-6). We are specifically told to avoid those who cause division (Romans 16:17). Also, we should not spend much time in company with those given to anger. "Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul" (Proverbs 22:24-25). This point about anger may seem unrelated to faith. But it illustrates a principle, that we are influenced by those around us, and this can apply to faith or any other character attribute. Just as we can "pick up" the wrong character of an angry man by being around him, so we can pick up an attitude of faith or an attitude of skepticism from those around us.
An atmosphere of faith is contagious. Dr. Meredith said that in the early years of Ambassador College, there was an atmosphere of faith, and Mr. Armstrong himself radiated faith. That helps and encourages everyone to have faith and to believe God's word and God's promises.
6. Try to get in the very center of God's work. Be involved and help the Church all you can.
There are many ways we can help God's work and the Church. We can actively serve the brethren. We can glorify God's name by doing His work, and by so doing we will be loving our neighbors as ourselves as we labor to get the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning out to a world that needs it, with our prayers, our contributions, and our service.
Mr. Armstrong used to tell us that those who grew spiritually were those who had their hearts in God's work.
From time to time someone emails me and asks which fellowship I recommend. I have always recommended Living Church of God as the best place for them to attend and support with their tithes and offerings. Why? Because they seem to be doing God's work most effectively compared with the other fellowships I am aware of. They preach the gospel effectively and they feed the flock in a balanced way. Supporting Living Church of God with prayers, tithes, offerings, and service is one way, in my opinion, to be involved in the center of God's work.
We can support the two-fold commission of preaching the gospel to the world and feeding the flock with our prayers, our tithes and offerings, and when possible, our service.
In Peter Nathan's sermon I mentioned above, he said that Dr. Meredith asked the brethren to pray for three things: more understanding and God's guidance, more ministers, and an increase in income. I for one am praying for these three things for Living Church of God and I encourage anyone who wants to support the preaching of the gospel to do the same.
7. Exercise faith. Walk and live by faith in every area of your life. Exercise faith and your faith will grow as you do that.
I mentioned earlier that there was one more step for me after proving God's existence and that the Bible is God's word before I could begin to live by faith. I had to make a commitment to myself and to God to believe God, to believe whatever He says.
Proving that God exists does not prove that the Bible is true. Proving that God inspired the Bible and that the Bible is God speaking does not prove that God is telling the truth. "...it is impossible for God to lie...", says Hebrews 6:18, but someone telling you they do not lie does not prove they are telling the truth.
Granted that God exists and the Bible is His word, how could I prove and know that God is telling the truth, that He cannot and will not lie, and that I could rely on every word of the Bible to be true?
Could I trust God to always tell me the truth and not lie to me, ever?
I knew of no way I could "prove" the trustworthiness of God the way I had proved His existence and His inspiration of the Bible, with research and logic.
I realized I had to make a choice. I knew God had made me. He made the universe out of nothing. There was no higher power than God.
I mulled it over in my mind for about an hour, and I simply made a choice. I made a choice to trust God all the way, to believe His word for the rest of my life, no matter what.
I knew I might have human feelings of doubt from time to time. I never expected that just making a decision for myself to always believe God and committing myself to God to always trust Him would automatically remove all feelings of doubt in my mind from that time on. But I knew I never had to give in to doubts. I knew I could strive to base my actions and my decisions on my choice to believe God. And though I have never done that perfectly or 100% consistently, faith in God's word the Bible has always set the direction of my life, from that point on. That was my decision, to strive to go by the Bible forever, and I never regretted or had second thoughts about that decision I made over 30 years ago.
In other words, I made a decision to strive to exercise faith, to put faith into action, and I have tried to do that all my life since that time. And every time I based my actions and decisions on belief that God is true and His word is trustworthy, I knew I was exercising the faith I had. And if you exercise faith, if you base your actions and decisions on God's word, your faith becomes stronger.
Faith, like repentance, is a gift from God, but also, like repentance, it is a free choice. God gives us the gifts of faith and repentance, and those gifts make it possible to believe God and possible to repent. Without the gift, we would not be able to believe God and repent. But we still have to do it. God grants us repentance, but He does not force us to repent - we still have to choose to repent. God grants us faith, but He does not force us to believe - we still have to choose to believe God.
But how can we handle doubts and still live by faith?
I have used this example before. Suppose I know God requires me to tithe, but I have doubts about whether God will provide for me if I do. Maybe I cannot feel sure God will help me as far as my feelings and emotions are concerned. Maybe I think I cannot control my feelings of doubt.
But I know I can control the muscles of my body. I can control my hands and my feet. I can write a check to pay God's tithe, put it in an envelope, walk to the mailbox and put it in. And as I put one foot in front of the other towards the mailbox, my faith can grow stronger, because I am putting it into action. Doubts tend to evaporate. And God can help me by giving me more faith by His Holy Spirit because He sees I am committed to living by faith. He sees I am making the effort. He sees I am trying. He sees that by my actions.
Every time I read something in the Bible, when I choose to believe God and strive to do what He says and believe what He says, I am exercising faith, and as I exercise faith, it grows stronger.
When everyone in the Church of God, or the majority of the members, does this, it builds an atmosphere of faith in the Church. And that helps not only ourselves but others. It helps the whole Church.
Dr. Meredith has called for a crusade in the Living Church of God to build an atmosphere of faith. I think his seven keys to building faith are an excellent starting point for building an atmosphere of faith in LCG, and I have made a decision to regularly pray for the success of that crusade as LCG builds faith according to these seven keys.
The whole Church of God needs more faith, and I am glad that Living Church of God, the fellowship I have always felt does the best job of doing God's work and teaching His truth in a balanced way, has embarked on a crusade to build a greater atmosphere of faith in LCG. I also pray that God will guide them with greater wisdom and understanding, will give them more ministers, and will give them the financial increases they have requested of God and hope for.
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Chapter 1 - The United States and Britain in Prophecy