Monday, July 27, 2009

Faith and Works?


"I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it." (Philemon 1:5-6)

A common western approach to Christianity is to pit two seemingly contradictory thoughts or ideas against each other and try to decide which one is true.  The problem with this approach is that more often than not, the truth lies in both.  As I mature in faith (I hope), I seem more able to accept some things as true, even if I don't fully understand them in my mind.

For example, Faith or Works?  Paul makes it very clear in his letters that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus.  James makes it clear that true faith shows up in our actions.  So which is it?  Faith or Works?  The answer is "yes" - both.  In a perfect world, our faith in Jesus results in a constant overflow into doing the things He calls us to do; (which is, incidentally, what being a disciple is).  However, there are times when I simply must "obey" or "do the right thing" simply because God has called me to.  Likewise, there are times when I absolutely blow it or "ignore" God and in these moments, I must rely on His grace and forgiveness and know that I'm not saved by what I do.

Avoid the extremes - on one extreme, you have a life insurance policy - say the prayer, get into the kingdom, and then do whatever the heck you want.  On the other extreme, you have Phariseeism; a works based "check-box" type of Christianity. So which is it?

Embrace both - wholeheartedly.  It's not a matter of balance: balance would say %50 of one and %50 of the other.  Instead, picture being sold out %100 to both.
- Embrace the free gift of ever-living and ever-lasting life, soaking in the fact that no matter what you do or how bad you are, you can never wander far enough that God will not pull you back.  Grace.
- Equally, embrace the fact that God saved you in order for you to do good works; good works that He prepared for you to do.  It's not enough to sit on the sidelines and spectate...there is work to be done (see Ephesians 2:10).

When we live sold out like this, then Philemon's prayer is answered; our faith "shows up" in the good things we do and people will see Jesus in us.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

God of second chances

Wednesday morning I sat at an IHOP, there for a very early meeting.  One of our elders shared out of the book of Jonah; a little nugget that I might have glossed over.  It is found in chapter 3, verse 1;

"Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time."  (Jonah 3:1)

You know the story - Jonah is called to go to Ninevah; he doesn't like the idea and thinks God is being too kind so he pouts, argues, and refuses to go.  Unfortunately for him, he couldn't outrun God, who found him on a boat...and from there, big storm, draw straws, overboard, big fish, repentant prayer, vomitted out on the beach, and...beautifully, a second chance.

"The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time."

Those words must have been "life" to Jonah...he got a second chance.

Here's the interesting thing; when I look back on my life, how many times have I been a "Jonah?"  Hearing God's voice, knowing what to do or knowing the "right" thing to do, and yet turning the other way?  And yet, the moment you repent and turn back to God, there He is ready to give you a second chance...and a third chance...and a fourth chance.

Many times I have prayed; "God, forgive me for...for not speaking to that person you told me to speak to, for not giving to that person you told me to give, for acting out of fear and shrinking back when you told me to forth in courage, for saying that unkind thing to my wife when you warned me not to say it, for so many things...forgive me, and please, Lord, give me a second chance."  You know what's funny?  God loves to answer that prayer.  And don't miss an important thing here - the 2nd chance came after Jonah's prayer of repentance.

How about you?  Have you reflected on all of the 2nd chances you've been given?  Thank you Lord.

Let us strive together, however, to listen to God and obey the first time - to live by the power of the Holy Spirit, to heed His voice and to follow.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Glorious...and mysterious

"You make everything glorious, and I am Yours, so what does that make me?"

This rhetorical question, asked by David Crowder in a song he wrote (called "Glorious") is a song rooted both in Scripture and in mystery.

First, let me start by saying that I tend to pull away from people who seem to have all the answers.  More and more, I find myself serving a God of mystery, a God that I can't understand.  Those that have all of their doctrine and theology perfected, where everything is answerable, well, I just don't buy it.  God is too big for my mind, at least, to comprehend...and yet, at the same time, He is knowable, personal, and reachable.  His gospel is mysterious for a lifetime of study, and simple enough for a child to understand.

For example, read these Scriptures and meditate on them for a minutes;

[Jesus praying to God] "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me." (John 17:20-23).

[Paul writing] "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18).

Now stop for a minute and consider - as a believer we are taught from a very young age about God's holiness, His awesome power, His purity; we read in Scripture that He is jealous, and that every time a human encounters God the response is the same - face down, and worship...or as Isaiah said, "woe is me."  We do everything to bring glory to God.  And yet, here we read that Jesus has given us His glory.  And yet we read Paul saying that we are in this constant process of being transformed into His glory.  Could it be true?  What does it mean?  I am so awful, so sinful, so dirty, and yet, I read things like that in the Bible...it is a mystery to me. 

And here's the real kicker - I'm sure I could sit down with someone smarter than me, and there are plenty of options, and they could explain from a theological or hermanuetical perspective exactly what this means...but I'm not sure I want to.  I like mystery...worship, in a sense, starts with mystery...and wonder.

This is why that song has gripped my heart.

"You make everything glorious, and I am Yours, so what does that make me?"

Want to hear/see this song?  Click here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mocha Ministry


"See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."  (Heb 3:12-13)

Encourage one another...daily.  Have you ever stopped to consider the power of encouragement?  All of us, at one time or another, have been on the receiving end of encouragement...maybe a note, a free lunch, an unexpected comment, some form of public recognition, a raise or bonus, or some other form of encouragement.  Regardless of the form, I'm guessing that when you received that encouragement it was a highlight of your day/week...maybe the highlight of your year.  And yet, encouragement is something that we simply forget to do, or have a hard time doing.

Look at that Scripture above, again - do you realize that encouraging one another DAILY, has the effect of keeping sin from hardening us?  And we all know what a hard heart leads to...

In a recent message, Jaime Collins, one of our elders referred to something he called the "ministry of a mocha."  Jaime had been going through a very difficult time with his son, Kyle, in the hospital.  Every day a gentleman would come and bring Jaime a mocha; then he would simply sit, listen, and encourage him.  This had a profound impact on Jaime.

I remember another time when a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer.  At the time, I was working evenings...so I made it a point of visiting him every single day for a few weeks.  I didn't really know what to say, and I didn't stay very long on my visits, I just showed up.  I remember being shocked after his recovery, at how often he spoke of those visits I made and how much it meant to him.  I only wish I took the time more often for this type of ministry...

So how about you and I?  Are we practicing the "mocha ministry?"  When we know someone needs encouragement, do we pause and write the note?  Or take them to lunch?  Or simply buy them a mocha and listen?  I strongly "encourage" you (pun intended) to make a regular part of your life to practice the ministry of the mocha.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  (Heb 10:23-25)

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