Monday, February 20, 2017

Faith and Works

Is faith without deeds really faith? And are deeds alone evidence of faith? Faith vs. works has been debated since the 1st century. Last week, in a friendly conversation, I found myself explaining why I don’t “advertise” my Christianity which eventually brought these questions to mind. I don’t have a fish symbol on my car. I don’t wear those “witness” t-shirts with pithy sayings. In fact, I rarely wear jewelry bearing Christian symbols. I’m not ashamed of my faith. I’ve always felt that if I am to be known as a person of faith, I want it to be known by how I live my life and not by the symbols on my car or my clothing.

To the casual reader, the Bible seems to be self-contradictory on the subject.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Romans 3:28

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 28-10

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:14-26

The gift of faith in Jesus given to us by God is the key to our redemption and salvation. When we accept that gift we are changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit into something new. This absolutely cannot happen by any power or action other than God’s. Humanity cannot force it, re-create it, or cause it to happen.

Faith is a living part of us. It is a conduit by which God interacts with his creation—both us and those around us. Giving to the poor, helping someone in need, standing against injustice and loving the unlovable are actions of faith done, not to earn or prove something, but as a matter of interaction with and by God in this fallen world.

I do nothing apart from Christ and I am compelled by overwhelming gratitude to act in response to God’s grace, in the name of Christ, for the sake of those he loves. Faith must act because it lives and it lives because God birthed it in each and every one of his children.

You can have one without the other—but they will be weak and ineffectual to their purpose. Faith and works are not incongruous, but rather two integral intertwining parts of God’s plan to redeem his creation.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love Changes You Revisited

 This week I celebrated my son’s birthday by going through some old photos and enjoying the memories they conjured. He was born at 2:33 AM and I spent so little time with him that before they whisked him away to count fingers and toes, etc, that I needlessly feared I wouldn’t recognize him later that morning when they wheeled him into my room. One photo of my then one-year-old son tickling my feet made me laugh out loud as I heard the echo of infectious laughter. And the photo of him sporting his happy meal tiger nose with a great big smile filled my heart with joy. My son will always be a huge part of my life even though he is no longer with us. Sometimes that will make me happy and sometimes it will bring me to tears. I may have given birth to him, but he gave me life and a unique understanding that I wouldn’t have had otherwise of who God is and who I am to God.

It was in experiencing the world anew through my child's eyes that God opened my eyes to the miracle of life all around me. And it was in caring for Bryan that God taught me selflessness and sacrifice. It was in coming to and knowing Jesus that gave that selflessness and sacrifice true meaning and purpose. Much of what I know and understand about my Heavenly Father, I learned from my relationship with my son. I know the all-encompassing love I had for my child and therefore can to some small degree comprehend the love God has for me. In forgiving Bryan's childhood indiscretions, I learned a little bit about the forgiveness of God–how he never stops loving me in my sinfulness but reaches out to me to embrace me in his grace. And it was in enduring the event of my sweet child's death and in living life now devoid of his presence that I can begin to fathom, at least on a human level, the great pain of separation that God knew when I was lost in my arrogance and rejecting his love for me and denying his rightful place in my life as loving God and Savior.

So many more things I have learned about God and about my relationship with him as his child through the relationship I had with my precious boy and I am so grateful to God for the twelve years Bryan was in my life. My son's presence in my life changed my entire existence. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all–love changes you. And the perfect love of Jesus changes me to the very core of who I am.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)

Part of this blog was originally posted in February 2014.

Monday, February 6, 2017

God Is Faithful

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

As you may know, I started this blog as a faith discipline during a dry time in my faith journey—a way that to ensure that I would deliberately seek God’s presence in my life at least once a week. Over the years, it has been a blessing, a chore, a light, and on occasion, the only time I connected with God in my daily life. No matter what was going on in my life or in the world, my only goal was to seek out and share hope I have in God. Why? Because I lived in the prison of hopelessness too long to ever again take hope for granted. Hope is power—it’s a flicker of light in unending darkness, the assurance of a great emptiness being filled. Hope fills your lungs with the air of a cleansing sigh and makes the heart beat with anticipation.

I’ve learned through trial and error what not to base my hope on:  money, relationships, material possessions, government. I remember those first days of my faith journey when my trust had been broken beyond repair by those things I had foolishly put my hope in. I asked God how I was supposed to trust him to keep his promises, to not abandon or mistreat me. How was I to trust he loved me as he said? His answer may surprise you. He told me that he didn’t expect me to give what I didn’t have. If I gave him all the trust I had, no matter how little and fragmented it was at the time that would be enough. Over the years, he has proven himself to me beyond doubt. And from that unbreakable trust is born hope. Hope for all God has promised. It’s a deep abiding hope that cannot be diminished no matter life’s circumstances or the social and political atrocities we are witnessing on a daily basis. Why? Because this hope is not based on what mankind is or does but on who and what God is and does. God is faithful!

If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

The glory of God’s faithfulness is that no sin of ours has ever made Him unfaithful. (Charles Spurgeon)

Don’t let headlines or personal challenges ever sway you from the foundation of our hope—God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Being Part of God's Solution

I am so disappointed with the new official stance of this country to turn away those who have survived the unimaginable and are in the most desperate need. These people have endured a lengthy process of impossible red-tape hoop-jumping and in the end won the coveted blessing of being invited to our great country to try to start their lives over only to be rejected and turned back at the border simply because their country of origin. And let's make the sad and ironic distinction that it really isn't because of the country they were born in but because of the very people who stole their homes and lives, who tortured and killed their family and friends and whom they narrowly escaped from with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Let's be bolder than that--If this were 1945, it would be like turning away Jewish refugees because they were born or lived in Germany or Austria and that's where Hitler and his Nazis where from. Or like turning away Rwandan refugees in 1994.

However, I am not hopeless. While our government has seemed to have forgotten why and by whom this country was forged, individual citizens have not. Mayors and other local leaders are standing up for what is right by welcoming the strangers among us. Individual are working together to feed and heal the unprecedented amount of poor and misplaced peoples of the world. Individuals are working together and with governments to ensure victory over human trafficking, that women all over the world are safe and respected as equals, that animals are treated humanely, and that the poor and starving have food and water. Medical professionals give of their time and skills to ensure safe health practices are learned and shared and medical assistance given. Last week I learned of an American teenager living in Turkey with her family who has taken it upon herself to help personalize the masses of refugees to the world by listening and relaying individual stories. She is showing these people who have been driven from their homes in terror and marginalized by the world that someone cares and that they matter. What a precious gift we can give to another person. (Check out the Hagar Project onFacebook)

Our government may have chosen an office code of conduct we cannot as God’s people agree with, but we are not impotent or unable to reach out to the lost and hurting wherever we are or across the world in the love and grace of God. I don’t need the permission or approval of the government to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord—love others, help those in need, and offer his grace to the broken.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Pharisee Within January Edition

I've seen so much in the news and on social media this week that makes me sad:  People verbally or physically attacking little children, women, men, liberals, conservatives, fat people, skinny people, religious beliefs, atheist, sports teams, athletes, coaches, sports fans. And most of this was done in the name of tolerance or the perceived lack thereof.

It seems that instead of being more tolerant and understanding, we are becoming a nation and a world of self-righteous, self-important intolerant noise-makers. I'm not saying we shouldn't stand up for what we believe is right. That is our right and our obligation as Americans and fellow human beings. But it's not healthy or in keeping with Jesus' example to tear down some so that others can be lifted up. We can stop this epidemic of self-righteous indignation eating away at our society and our world, but we have to do the one thing we don't want to do. We have to take a good look inside ourselves and reform our own intolerance and outrage--reject our own "righteousness." Only then can we live and act in the true righteousness of God in service, love, grace, and hope.

The Pharisee Within
Why God?
Why are we so quick to condemn
the sinners around us,
all the while
overlooking the sin within?
How can we scour Your Word
to hurl condemnation,
stoning others with our interpretations,
loudly rejecting the very ones
You came to save,
in our self-righteous arrogance,
even as we shout Your Holy Name?
Why do we think this is what You,
who came to serve,
would want us, Your people, to do?
You came not to condemn us
But to save us –
to live and die and live for us.
You came as Healer
And Forgiver
Restorer of life through grace
And then asked us to do the same
through Your Spirit
and in Your Glorious Name!
Forgive us Lord, but especially me
for my self-serving part
in this sanctimonious game.
You didn’t meet me with fire and brimstone
but in kindness and love You reached out Your hand.
Not with condemnation
but with hope and forgiveness
You loved me as the sinner I am.
You brought light to my darkness,
not to judge but to save.
With joy You welcomed me in Your embrace.
You healed all my wounds
and removed my disgrace.
It didn’t happen all at once.
But over time I began to grow and change.
It’s a journey we walk together,
hand in hand,
with You guiding the Way.
Still I find myself in need of Your grace
from beginning to end
day after day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Surrendered Heart

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I decided to offer this poem I first posted in 2011. He was a man of paradox...fighting hatred with love, standing against aggression and violence with passivity and peace, dreaming the inconceivable and being the voice of the unheard masses.

The Paradox of the Surrendered Heart
I’ve fastened these chains upon myself
forged from egoism, failure, depression,
bound forever to imperfection,
evil’s possession.
To break these crippling shackles
I must relinquish freedom’s claim
and embrace the Servant’s name.

Hope for the future teeters on the edge
quivering between today and tomorrow.
Hope for things I want and need,
for the me I want to be,
for a world of peace and harmony.
Yet to gain its promise and security
I must abandon every ounce of hope I hold
to receive God’s assurance within my soul.

Oh, to be wise in a world of confusion – 
a worthy quest and commendable quality.
Knowledge of the ages available to me:
Science, History, Math, Philosophy
Economics, Psychology.
Resources all, in every decision
and yet, to gain the ultimate wisdom,
I must claim the title of fool – 
a student in the Master’s school.

Wealth and security are valid concerns
that compel me to greed and yet
all that I have I must give to gain more.
If I am to be rich, I may have to be poor,
give all that I have,
all that I am,
and live in the promise of blessings ensured.
To claim no possession, I’ll hold a great store.

How beautifully agonizing 
and yet 
agonizingly beautiful is the surrendered heart.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Paradox of Grace

God’s love for us is incomprehensible and even for a talented writer, indescribable. Not one of us is even close to being worthy of such a love which makes his sacrifice and companionship even more unfathomable. He created us to be in relationship with him, and he with us, but we walked out on that relationship in our arrogance and brought upon ourselves the disease of sin that eats away at us like a cancer. And still he fought for us and gave himself up to death in our place, took the cancer from our souls into his on the cross, dying in our place to rise again conquering death forever.

God is perfect and powerful and needs nothing from us. But still he saved us, not because he needed us but because he loves and wants us. He includes us in his work to bring all people to him, not because he needs us, but because he wants to include us—the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive human beings that we are.

Everything I have and I am is from him and because of him. What can I give him as a token of my love and admiration? The only thing he really wants—me. Not in spite of the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive person that I am but just as I am. For sure, I’m not good enough—I’m a $5 piece of shiny costume jewelry and God deserves the most precious diamond. But here’s the amazing news—God doesn’t want the diamond. He wants me just as I am—the best I can be and not more. And when in my sinfulness, I dull my shine a little I can be assured of his love and forgiveness. He has already done the work of grace and lavishes his grace upon me to help me back on my feet and to shine my light of his love and presence brightly again.

Interesting paradox—I never was, am not now, nor ever could be good enough for him and yet he wants me more than anything else I could give him which makes me, by his grace, good enough for him.