I remember hearing a story about a man who would walk high wires. High wires acts are something I can not even wrap my mind around seeing as how just the thought of hanging christmas lights outside while standing on a 6 foot ladder leaves my knees shaking. This man was performing on a high wire that was hanging over the Niagra Falls. He began by simply walking back and forth on the wire and then riding a unicycle across the wire. The crowd could not help but gather all around. He was putting on a show and the crowd was filled with not only awe but genuine excitement at this amazing feat. Finally the man dismounted the wire and approached the crowd, “How many of you believe I am capable of carrying another human across the wire as they sit in a wheel barrow?”, he asked. The crowd nodded, clapped, and roared with assurances, surely this man could do this great act. Then he asked, “Fantastic, who then will get in the barrow?”. The crowd made no noise.
James 2:14-26 serves as a great reminder for the believer about a faith demonstrated with action. The church building is filled with people who operate with only an “intellectual” faith or “emotional” faith but are absent of a genuinely dynamic faith. An intellectual faith and emotional faith are consistently found “action-less”. We see the brother or sister in need and offer a blessing in word only but do not intend to meet the need even when we have the means to do so. We come across a really moving worship song or sharply worded sermon and are stirred with emotion but, as all emotions do, the emotion flees and there has been no change. The christian story can not be told by those who consistently proclaim what they believe and yet, appear unwilling to live out the faith they proclaim.
No, the faith we are called to have, the faith that saves is the genuine faith. The faith the encompasses not only our intellect and emotion but our will. Our desires are no longer to live for self but instead to live in light of the faith we are growing in. Our worship songs allow us to cry out to God asking Him to move us beyond our comfort, the fill our lives with his presence, and yet, when God says “who is willing to get in the barrow?” we balk. We are no longer interested in allowing that intellectual and emotional faith be fully developed into a genuine, dynamic faith.
The challenge for us is to never be content with inaction in our lives. Instead, may we be intentional about not just proclaiming g a faith in God and His promises but living them out as Abraham did when he laid his promised son on the altar. May we see our lives being transformed by the beautiful gospel of Christ into lives lived for the Glory of God and not for the pursuit of self. The genuine faith is what we are called to and what an unbelieving world wants to see on display.
It almost seems impossible that some teenager could go through today with no actual recollection of what took place on 9/11/01. For anyone who can remember it will surely be a day and moment forever etched into our minds for as long as we are capable of remembering. The emotions that swelled up within everyone were unparalleled to any we had experienced before. Fear gripped us all in some fashion. A loss for words was obvious in a silent but crowded room. The need to clinch ever so tightly to the ones we held dear reigned supreme. The planes hit. The evil of that day laughed. God was still in control.
That is the interesting truth of 9/11 for myself to remember. God was in control that day. Did the lyrics of the children’s song “This is the Day, this is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it” lose their truth? Did God take a break from accomplishing His will? Absolutely not. God was and is in control. My prayers on 9/11 were filled with questions, fear, and even the occasional “Dear Jesus come into my heart” just in case (on that day I fully expected Nicolae Carpathia to walk on a TV screen and the end times would be upon us). Never did my prayer thank God for being in control. Never. Yet, He was. He is.
So on this day where we mourn what took place, reflecting the lives loss due to extreme evil personified, allow us to rejoice. Not only for the sacrifice of men and women who risked their lives for the good of others or the soldiers who fought in wars immediately following this act of terrorism. No, rejoice also in knowing that God was in control that day seated on the throne. God is in control today seated on His throne which means that for today we can sing with confidence “This the Day, this is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it”
I read this past week the comments made by our Duck Dynasty brethren concerning the terrorists in the Middle East. In full disclosure, I read some but not all of what was discussed between Phil Robertson and the interviewer. The comment was made “we should tell them to convert to Christianity or kill them”. It seems simple enough. The message is simple and clearly communicated. The choice is theirs. Convert or Die.
There seems to be one simple and clear issue with not only the sentiments communicated by Mr. Robertson but also the American within me that agreed ever so slightly. There is no grace. I am not referring to empty forgiveness. I am talking about grace. The powerful grace that I and many others have claimed after becoming aware of our sinfulness and need for a savior. The grace that says no matter what you have done or what kind of evil you are capable of doing, you are forgiven. You are redeemed and set free.
I forget about that grace. Not always after all, I need to remind God of it daily but when it comes to offering it to others. To preach a message to ISIL that they must convert or we will kill them is no different than the hateful graceless speech and actions of ISIL themselves to Middle Easter christians. No, our messages should never sound so similar. The Psalmist is seen crying for salvation to come from ZIon to the people of Israel in Psalm 14. My prayer should transition from one of simple “Convert or die” to “Convert and Live” for salvation is here! Our God is bigger than the darkest of evils and if the terrorist Saul of Tarsus can experience the saving Grace of Christ than the men and women filled with hate called ISIL can as well.
Church to pray for our brothers and sisters being persecuted. Pray for deliverance. Pray for salvation to come to the group known as ISIL. Be willing to offer the grace you so freely claim for yourself. Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. Christ is enough.
There may be nothing more hindering to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ than the millions who claim to be changed by it. This is not some attempt at settling long disputes on whether humankind is “needed” for the spread of the gospel or not because “even the rocks cry out”. Instead, I want to take one second and focus on the truth that the gospel changes everything.
This line of thinking and truth, that the gospel changes everything, seems rather obvious and in many ways unnecessary to even articulate. The accounts given throughout scripture of men and women who experienced radical shifts in their perspectives on life after experiencing the gospel offers enough evidence for this truth. Read through Acts 9 and 10 and you encounter Saul being converted to Paul (talk about a change in ones life) and then you can read about Peter realizing the gospel is not just for the Jewish community but for the Gentiles as well. Zacchaeus was so changed by the gospel that he corrected the errors he accumulated through years of stealing and robbing people on their taxes. Stephen laid down his life because of the gospel. Andrew told his brothers to follow Christ with him. The point being, scriptures cover in depth the life change that occurs when one encounters the truth of Jesus’ gospel. It spoke to the power of the gospel. The power of Christ.
How does that powerful gospel look today through the modern church, especially the American church? The gospel has radically changed us to where we no longer have to struggle with consumerism in our culture but in our church community. The gospel has radically changed us so much that we forget we too walked on darkness once and we cut off our ability to reach a lost world with our quick words and actions of condemnations. The gospel has radically changed us so much that we are willing to give as much as 3% of our livelihood to the local church and the furthering of the gospel. The gathering of the church has been reduced to nothing more than a gathering of like minds for the sake of self appeasement. Not encouragement. Not provoking one another to love or good deeds. Just comfort. The powerful gospel has called us to much more than this.
Our lives should be radically different than those without Christ. If our culture is consumed with “selfies” (not an attempt to knock anyone who takes these nor am I stating you can’t be a Christian if you take them. Although, there should be a limit or ceiling as to how many one should be able to post in a week) then shouldn’t the Christian life be consumed not with self but with Christ and making him known? Don’t just nod in agreement but ask if you really believe that. I have to ask myself the same question. If I do then there are major changes needed. Major shifts in self perspective must take place. By any means necessary, Christ’ church should seek to make the gospel known. His church should gather with the genuine belief that the gospel is changing and transforming lives because it has changed us and continues to change us.
When the body of Christ gathers, it will demonstrate how powerful it believes the gospel to be very clearly. Is there a sense of expectation among the body to see lives changed, families restored, prodigal sons returning, blind men and women gaining sight, and souls surrendered? Or are we surprised when someone finds the light and begins to see Jesus? Are we moved not by the power of the gospel but by the atmosphere the music or the pastor creates? My point being Paul, Peter, and others in scripture were consumed with the Holy Spirit so much that the only thing that was of any significance was seeing the power of the gospel transform lives. May we find ourselves consumed with the same passion as well as seeing the same change occur continuously in our lives. His gospel is beautiful, life changing, and satisfying.
This day two years ago I ate tacos. There was nothing unusually special about the tacos that Saturday evening. In fact, there was nothing too unusual about the night as a whole. My wife and I were invited to enjoy a dinner with my parents and sister. My brother had recently graduated from college and moved to Montana to work in musical theatre. I remember “Skyping” with my brother that evening. It was a rather average Saturday evening.
The evening turned into night and the sound of thunder made itself known to all of us in the house. There was a tropical depression coming through NE Florida that weekend. Charity and I decided to head home before any part of the storm began and we found ourselves driving on the roads of Jacksonville during the rain ( any driver in Jacksonville knows that as much as it rains people act like they have never driven in it before). As we were heading out of the house we began the customary farewells of hugs and “see you tomorrow”. My dad replied to my farewell with a ” You never know, you may see us later tonight!” You see, Charity was about 38 weeks pregnant with our first child. Everyone laughed at my dads’ statement because my dad is always willing to crack a joke and we thought it was exactly that, a joke. He said “you never know. The barometric pressures in the atmosphere are changing due to the storm and that might force her to go into labor.” Not only did I laugh at that idea, I thought it was completely made up and something my dad was just saying to sound smart. Turns out, he’s actually smart.
4 a.m. that night/morning and Charity screams “Ryan!” I woke with the numbing fear that we were being robbed. Instead, I realized she was waking me up because her water had broke (we would later find out that the tropical storm and rapid change in barometric pressure played a big role in this taking place). We were loaded in the car and on our way to the hospital. We were having a baby.
8lbs 11oz. Our hearts were stolen yet elated by the presence of an 8 pound baby girl. I remember holding her and all of time stood still. It’s an experience I had only previous experienced when the wedding doors opened and the most beautiful woman was wrapped in the most beautiful of moments and she began walking towards me. Time stood still. It was me and her only. There was my Camille. She wasn’t my friends nor my cousins. There was no handing her back to her parents. She was mine. I was hers.
That was two years ago tomorrow. I’m not sure how it has happened so fast. As much as time stood still when I held her for the first time, it has done everything but stand still since. She’s not a little baby. She’s a strong, independent, smart, funny, stubborn, and beautiful two year old. She’s two. She is mine. I am hers.
It takes little to no effort to gain some type of surface level knowledge on any given subject. I have the ability to discuss professional tennis for about 3-5 minutes and then I find myself reciting the words “Pete Sampras was really hairy”. Perhaps no other invention has allowed us to be content with this surface level knowledge or awareness like that of “Twitter”. 140 characters on issues all over the world. I choose how involved in the story I become. It really is a wonderful thing. I shape my understanding of the world.
I believe it can be said that the church has severely crippled herself due to the surface level knowledge of Jesus Christ she possesses. Paul discusses the knowledge of Christ as the “surpassing value” in comparison with all else that life has to offer. Philippians allows us to see Paul referencing all else as “rubbish”. Yet, Paul is not talking about the knowledge of Christ that was made known to him on the Damascus road. He states that it is his “goal to know Him”. It is present and future not limited to the past.
Yesterday, my pastor was found saying “Never leave Jesus on the cross. Always bring him from the grave.” The cross of Calvary is an obviously huge part in the Christian story but it is not the end. The same should perhaps be said for the Christian today. Our story does not stop at the cross. We should be careful not to leave our knowledge of Christ at the cross for our story does not stop there. It is not in the past. We press on towards what lies ahead. We pick up our cross daily. We desire daily to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Men and women all around us profess a knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ. Yet, the more I wrestle with my faith and seek his face, I find myself more unable to claim that full understanding. As S.M. Lockridge says after 4 minutes of intense description of Jesus, “I wish I could Describe him to you…”. The growing Christian is one who is not content with leaving their knowledge on the surface but instead seeks nothing more from life than to continue growing in the knowledge of Christ. Perhaps this is the remedy for an ailing church. The remedy for an ailing follower. To desire today and everyday, a further knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The past year has presented some new opportunities for myself. I became a father on June 24 to my beautiful daughter Camille. August 19 found me in front of my home church being given the opportunity beyond anything I could have dreamed. The position of college and young adults pastor at Westside.
I start with a quick reflection on those two major events because today is my fathers birthday. What a great example he has been for me in both of the arenas I have just entered. Some quick stories:
Growing up I witnessed the impact my father had on others. He was always available. At times people would take advantage of him or treat him unfairly and when I would want to snap he would talk me off the ledge. He would remind me of his calling and why he did this. He pointed me and others towards Christ.
I was four years old and walked out of my preschool class with my art project in hand. It was a red heart cut out of construction paper. I gave “my heart” to my dad. The guy was my hero. Fast forward 19 years later. The day after my wedding I’m sitting with Charity and my parents over lunch. My dad looks at Charity and says “I have something I’d like to give to you.” He reaches in his wallet (“yes! He’s paying the bill!” my initial thought) and pulls out a worn out folded up piece of paper. He hands it to Charity and says “for 23 years I have been holding onto his heart and now I want to give it to you.”. It was the paper heart.
That’s my dad. He was there to teach me with words and action what a husband, father, and minister of the gospel should look like. I often get told I am a younger version of my father. I take that as a compliment. Happy birthday to the greatest dad the world has ever seen.