Maybe Madonna was onto something.
Not the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The other one. When it came out in 1990, “Vogue” was intended simply as a pop song and as far as I know it still is. I don’t think somewhere in the intervening 27 years since it came out it’s suddenly found deeper meaning, but Madonna rattles off this list of movie stars, all whom she sees as strong, influential, powerful figures. She writes about their style, grace, and attitude and encourages her audience to be like them, to be bold and confident. And while Madonna might have been talking about hitting the dance floor, we know that God calls on us to do the same thing in our faith – be bold! Be confident! “7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).” It’s that spirit of boldness that allows us to follow a God we can’t see. Faith requires confidence.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to have doubts.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app, would you please go to the book of Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about Jesus and the dad who brings his son to Christ for healing (Mark 9:17-23). The father says to Jesus, “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” And Jesus responds, “If you can? …Everything is possible for one who believes.” And the dad responds by saying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” For as many stories there are of people who had the strongest faith, there are stories about people who had doubts, too. But many of those people are considered to have had a heart for God. People like Gideon who told the angel he was just the weakest member of his clan and his clan was the weakest among all the clans. People like Thomas who couldn’t believe that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. And even people like Abraham who pointed out to God that nobody as old as he was ever had a child.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-16)
They were longing for a better country.
Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob were longing for a brighter future, a future God had promised to them. They didn’t know for sure what this would look like, but they trusted in the vision that God had presented to them and did what they knew to be right. And even though they never lived long enough to see it all come to fruition, they trusted that their efforts led them toward a brighter future. The Scripture says to us, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The things God promised to the people of Israel and by extension to all of us was not something they could tangibly touch or experience, but they honored God with their efforts even though they didn’t know how it would all work out and that pleased God. Even if they DOUBTED, they still carried on. And by their efforts, they didn’t achieve their hoped for dreams, but they were considered faithful and made God proud.
God is future-oriented.
It was the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. God promised Abraham that his people would spread throughout the Earth and even though as long as Abraham lived he didn’t see it, that promise came true. Today there are over 2 BILLION Christians in the world and that family grew beyond Abraham’s wildest dreams. He probably thought God literally meant his family by blood, but we are united by a different blood – the blood of Christ. God promised Moses that he would lead his people to the promised land and even though Moses didn’t live to see it, that promise came true. It would be Joshua who would lead God’s people to that place. And Jesus told us he was the Messiah, yet when he died, the disciples fled for their lives. Even when he returned to fulfill the Scriptures, they all doubted until they saw him. Thomas gets a bad rap because he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to them, but when the women came back from the tomb and reported seeing him, they didn’t believe it either. Our vision is often limited, but God is future-oriented.
We need to be future-oriented, too.
We need to approach life with a goal and a vision and live into that reality. You need to be the change you want to be. What do I mean by that? There’s an old saying that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And there’s some real truth to that. Not just because you make an impression on the people you’re hoping to impress, but it gives us a sense of self-confidence by doing so. When you feel confident, you radiate that confidence, and it’s that confidence more than anything that people are inspired by. There was an interesting study done at Northwestern University where they had three groups of people do a task where they had to spot the differences between two pictures. One group was told they were wearing lab coats, one group was told they were wearing painter’s smocks, and one group was simply shown a lab coat. All three groups saw or wore the same exact coats, but as you probably already guessed the group wearing “lab coats” did significantly better. The research concluded that wearing certain clothes could improve your performance. Often the outlook we choose to approach life with can affect our success. Amy Cuddy who is a social psychologist, gave a TED talk about our body language and how that affects our reality and what she found out is that “tiny tweaks can lead to big changes.” Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes. She led these studies about how people hold themselves and found that people who hold themselves in a power pose not just come across as looking more confident, they actually ACT more confident. Biologically, when you hold a power pose for even as little as two minutes your testosterone goes up, your cortisol goes down, and your more willing to take risks. It was kind of mind blowing. They found in these studies that high power pose people were 26% more risk tolerant, had about a 30% increase in testosterone compared to the low power pose group, and had about a 40% difference in their cortisol levels. Meaning people who for just two minutes positioned themselves in a high power stance were more likely to be bold, take risks, feel confident, and less stressed. She summed it up this way, “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.”
So this might be great for you, but what does this have to do with the church?
Well, we are the body of Christ. And if we start acting like a thriving, successful church we might start feeling like a thriving, successful church. And if we start feeling like a thriving, successful church, we might very well BE a thriving, successful church. We need to ACT as if every Sunday we are going to have visitors come in through those doors. I want us to develop the mindset of successful church growth. A church with a mindset of growth prints extra bulletins because they don’t question IF they’re going to have 1st time guests, but HOW MANY. A church with a mindset of growth sits closer to the front because they know 1st time visitors will feel more comfortable sitting in the back until they get the feel of the place. Churches with a mindset of growth are always aware of how someone new might feel, how intimidating that might be, and does whatever it can to make them feel comfortable, welcome, and at ease. We are living into the reality of what we hope to see. I don’t want us to fake it ‘til we make it. I want us to FAITH it ‘til we make it. I want us to live in faith into the reality we hope to see in our church. It may or may not happen as we envision it, but I also have faith that our efforts will please God and will be a blessing. Just perhaps not always in the way we expect. But we will seek to be prepared for it nonetheless.
When John Wesley was struggling with his faith, this was the attitude he adopted.
The Moravians told him to keep soldiering on until the faith he preached was felt in his heart once again. He wasn’t faking it. He was having faith in it. He knew that God was out there, but he was just having a hard time feeling his presence and the Moravians inspired him to have faith that it would one day come back. And it did. My hope for our church is that whether we are 50 or 500, we will always be future-oriented; that we will live with the expectation that God is doing something great in us right now. And that we simply need to be prepared for whatever that is. We can’t afford to live lives of meekness and timidity. We need to live lives of boldness and audacity, because we serve a God we know can do the impossible.
 From the BibleGateway blog: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/08/three-bible-heroes-who-doubted/
 This section was inspired by Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of A Deceased Church, Chapter 3.
 Amy’s research found that when they compared the groups, high powered people (HP) were 86% risk tolerant compared to 60% risk tolerance for low power pose people (LP). With testosterone HP had 20% increase while LP had a 10% decrease. And similarly for cortisol HP had a 25% decrease while LP had a 15% increase