The call for genuine faith.

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. 94781-1432238986103_640x640

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.

This is the Day…

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”

Convert or Die (thoughts on ISIL and grace)

   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. 

The Reality of the Gospel

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.

 

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“Love” of the Unknown

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.  

Be Still My Friends

Social networks have brought me some of the most entertaining moments and conversations over the last few years. Whether it is banter between myself and my brother-in-law about sports, creating fake accounts from the perspective of bald spots, or spending ten minutes to think of a clever status to see how many “likes” I can get, I enjoy social networks. Yet, today, on November 7, 2012, I do not.

I understand, the man you voted for either achieved victory or he did not. It is typically how these things go. Like in sports, when your team wins you celebrate and when you lose you grow angry and frustrated (I know this all to well. Go Jaguars…). We invest into our politicians. We buy into the ideologies that they align with our viewpoints and naturally, our viewpoints are best for the world. It is how this whole process goes. I am aware of this.

Today’s readings on sites like Facebook or Twitter will leave one confused. I see a lot of people who have apparently placed their faith, vision, and calling in the hands of men. Circumstances have dictated their view of life and their understanding of God’s calling on their life. Followers of Christ are disqualifying themselves today. They are crossing the line from politically active to politically consumed.

We are called to abide in Christ. Abide can be understood like string on a bow that is not being pulled back. Abiding in Christ frees us from the tension. The tension of feeling unsettled with the actions of this world. I am reminded of Psalm 46. The Psalmist offers a word that many followers of Christ need today. Our present circumstances should not change our understanding of God. Verse 10 of Psalm 46 is perhaps the most recognizable, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Oh Christian, be still. Find your peace in Christ. Let go of your circumstances. Let go of your temporary vision  and see today as an opportunity. A chance to reflect Christ and demonstrate that our calling is not dictated by who wins the presidency.

“Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains  tremble at its swelling… Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46

A Story of Influence

There are two ways of recommending true religion and virtue in the world, which God hath made use of: the one is by doctrine and precept; the other by instance and example. – Jonathan Edwards, 1749

It has become increasingly evident to me the influence one holds over those around. Society tells us that celebrities, athletes, musicians, etc. are worthy of being influenced by. More than ever before, our culture clings to the words and actions of anyone who is captured on camera. I have experienced this kind of “superficial”influence. I discussed it a few posts ago when talking about Chipper Jones. However, the influence I hope to have over those around me is one that I still draw from when I was a teenager.

Having always grown up in church I was very exposed to Sunday school teachers and other men and women who played various roles. You begin to pick up on tendencies of everyone. My mind was one that poked holes in situations. I always looked at people and thought of ways I could challenge them. Having a father like I did, I recognized the standard of genuine Christ followers. In my mind, few people met that standard. If I felt like they did not, I would adopt the mindset that they offered me very little in the way of a challenge. Enter Jim Gibbs.

A little background may paint a clearer picture. The church I was attending handed out Metamucil and Geritol in the offering plates (may or may not be true). It was a smaller church. As a 9th grader, I was the oldest of the youth. Our youth pastor decided to bring in a church elder to speak to us every week on Wednesday nights. His name was Jim Gibbs. He did not have a dyed soul patch, affliction shirt, or a tattoo. He did not use amazing visuals, trendy speech, or video sermons. No, Jim Gibbs was unique. He would bring in his cracked and worn out leather Bible, pen marks on the pages, and we would speak. He spoke with a tone of humility yet, conviction. A voice that sounded weak but projected mighty words. Mighty words from a mighty man. It was this man that pushed me. His joy found in Christ was evident. It was genuine. It was influential. I would anticipate our Wednesday night meetings because of his passion. Passion to see others draw closer to Christ. He epitomized leadership.

Jim Gibbs and his wife recently started attending the same church as I do. He still has that look in his eye everytime I hug him. Age has not diminished his passion. Neither has it diminished his influence.

I wanted to take time and recognize this faithful brother because it should serve as a moment of encouragement for all who walk in faith. His influence could perhaps provoke thoughts and memories of those who have influenced you. Share that story. It reminds us as followers of Christ of the standard and that others are watching us. What kind of influence are we being?