The Power of Belief

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Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Joshua 24: 14-15, John 3: 16-17.  Focus on the power of belief and how what we belief shapes who we are and who we will become.  Check out following the sermon Rasaan and the choir as they sing: “Down by the Riverside”.

According to Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (www.mindsetonline.com) and co-founder of a company called Mindset Works, “The way we understand our intelligence and abilities deeply impacts our success.” Nothing controversial there and almost common sense, yet when we see our abilities as fixed, we will avoid the challenge, whatever that challenge may be and give up when things get hard, which always occurs at the beginning of whatever challenge is before us.

Conversely she says that when we understand our abilities as something that can be developed, the more readily we adopt learning –oriented behaviors such as practice and grit that enable us to achieve our goals, even if those goals at the beginning seem preposterous. But belief she says is a “malleable thing, and there are clear actions we can take to establish a growth mindset and enable success for our children, our peers and ourselves.”

I’m not a social scientist and do not have data to back up her assertions but I believe belief matters. What we believe and tell ourselves shapes who we are. I believe that is why John 3: 16 – 17 is so important. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that who so ever should believe in him, i.e. trust in him, should not perish but have eternal life is true.

And I believe that science is just beginning to catch up to what our Biblical ancestors new long ago. In almost every healing story, Jesus says to the person healed – “Your faith has made you well.” You ability to believe that I could help you made you well.

When I worked at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in the children’s ward back in the early 80’s. The children’s ward had all of these Pac Man machines – the original video game, where you controlled a joystick and you chased down these little yellow faces called Pac Men and you gobbled them up or they gobbled you up.

But by gobbling up these little men, the children at Sloane Kettering saw themselves and believed themselves to be eating up their cancer cells. I can’t tell you if it increased healing because I never got to see any of the research data but I know that the doctors and nurses and chaplains all believed that it helped children overcome the fear of an otherwise deadly disease and gave them the discipline and grit to keep on keeping on.

Back to Doctor Dweck’s research on mindset: we can see that if someone has the belief that they are special or superior to others, most likely they have a strong belief that they are inferior or afraid of being loathed, while someone with a growth mindset of “I want to try new things” or “I really want to learn this is, someone who believes that they can learn and grow and thus are open to the prospect of “expansion” to use her word. In short, what you believe determines almost everything.

Now what has this to do with our lives? Well I can tell you from my life and my own struggles with depression and anxiety that discipline and grit are essential to keepin’ on. But even when you don’t have that discipline, even and especially when you are in the pits of despair and feel all alone, and here I think of Job and Jesus crying from the cross – “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me”, we are not left without belief.

In essence, when we go through hard times we find out what we truly believe not only about ourselves but about our God. Now we have been talking to you for several weeks about the road we are on to close the budget deficit and just so you know we’ve picked up 7 new pledgers. And I’m sure we’ll have even more good news over the next few weeks as we reach out to those who couldn’t be with us on Pledge Sunday.

But having to go through something that is tough and not easy is how we grow in our belief and faith. It’s how we learn to overcome our fears and we see that not only can we struggle together we can survive and thrive together.

Or we can give in to fear. Fear that would tell us to shrivel up and die, which is the devil’s greatest tool – and greatest hope. Fear seeks to tear you down, just like cancer seeks to tear you down, but faith does battle with fear and it triumphs ultimately over fear and death.

So I’m here today to tell you that when we baptize little Melani we are saying that we believe that God so loved the world that he not only gave the ultimate to us – his only son – but that he sent that son here to tell us that we are not condemned to fear and death and that life eternally shall prevail.

Folks, this church stands here today because of the belief of our ancestors and because of our belief. And this church will be here because we are the church, no matter what building we call home. We will grow and be all that Christ wants us to be. And we will continue to believe that we are at our best when we support and lift each other up and that we are at our worst when we let fear and unhappiness turn into complaining and negative whisperings.

The choice is always ours. With Joshua we too must decide this day whom we will serve, but as for me and my family, says Joshua, we shall worship and follow the Lord. Amen



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