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Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Struggle to Believe

“I have faith; help my lack of faith!”
Mark 9:24 (Common English Bible)

     Many who sincerely want to believe in God find believing to be difficult. Faith rarely comes easily. The only way it does come is when we accept where we are on our faith journey and go on from there. Longing to be someplace else along the journey accomplishes nothing, apart from frustration.

     At the beginning of a new year we cannot say I wish I was fifteen pounds less before beginning a New Year’s resolution of a healthier lifestyle. Eating better, exercising more and getting more rest must begin where you are. That is what the unidentified man in this story from Mark’s Gospel teaches us; we must begin where we are, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” He begins from where he is. Within him is a mixture of belief and unbelief. He owns that when he speaks to Jesus.

     Each day we may know a little more of God. We can never know all of God. But instead of being occupied with what we don’t know we can say, “help me with my unbelief.” The man in our story approaches Jesus with both belief and unbelief. Rather than dwelling upon what he doesn’t know - or being troubled by what he doesn’t understand - he seeks Jesus’ help. There is present enough faith to seek more of Jesus. This is a more helpful approach to faith than those who claim they will not believe until they understand fully.

     The Christian faith is not established upon right beliefs, right doctrine, or on how much someone believes. The Christian faith is personal, centered upon the person of Jesus. Here, this man in Mark’s story instructs us that often we approach faith incorrectly. Rather than trying to understand all the mystery that is God, this man seeks out the person of Jesus; he seeks a relationship. To concentrate on what you don’t understand will destroy whatever faith you have. Accepting God’s love in the person of Jesus and making your love for him tangible in each day of life results in a faith that will grow from more to more.

Joy,

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Will Follow You

“I will follow you, Lord, but first…”
Luke 9:61 (Common English Bible)

      There are great powers at work in the world today and each one seeks to lay claim to our hopes, dreams, and desires. One originates in the early pages of the Bible, the power of mistrust sown by Satan into the hearts of Adam and Eve. This is a power that generates fear that we are alone and defenseless. Permitted to claim the hearts of women and men, this power happily stirs selfishness and meanness. People mobilize resources to protect themselves from harm and from thief.  Scarcity of the good things of life is feared crushing generosity.

     Another is seen in those religious leaders who are determined to foist upon anyone and everyone their own particular view of living obediently and righteously. We meet them in the pages of the Bible as the Pharisees and Sadducees. Today they are experienced in the fist and sword of religious extremists around the world. Infidel, meaning unbeliever, is the favored description given to those who refuse to believe as they believe. Its use is more than a descriptor of one who doesn’t believe; often it is used to declare hatred.   

     A third power may be called an invitation; the invitation that comes down from heaven. This power also lays constant claim upon men and women. Yet, unlike the first two mentioned above, this power does not manipulate or coerce. It is embodied in a person, the person of Jesus and moves toward us with empathy, concern and love. It does not impose but always calls to us to a place where our burdens may be shouldered by almighty God. It is a power that seeks not to control but to give release from the struggles of guilt, shame and despair. True, it is a power that demands all we are and have, not for God’s sake but, rather, to set us free from the weight of concern and worry. This power calls us to find our ultimate treasure in living for something greater than us.

     Jesus issues the invitation. It is an invitation to follow him and trust in his care and love. Each day the invitation is fresh and waits our response. If the answer is, “but first…” it may be that we are held captive to another power. Such an answer is to offer only a fraction of our devotion. It is an indication that our life is off-center and there is soul work to be done. Christ never seeks only a part of us – or a delay to give ourselves completely. Christ’s invitation is a call to a passion, an enthusiasm, and a consuming zeal that directs all of our energy and desires to live in such a way the world calls us mad. But it is a call that leads to an experience of such love that our lives are changed and we discover all our fears and worry has been scattered.

Joy,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Paul's Response

Paul responded, “Whether it is a short or a long time, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today will become like me, except for these chains.”
Acts 26:29 (Common English Bible)

     The apostle Paul is in chains. He is a prisoner, arrested for preaching Christ. Now he stands before King Herod Agrippa II, perhaps the most ruthless king since Herod the Great. Paul is on display, really. The Roman governor, Festus is playing host to the King for a state dinner. The two of them are talking and Festus mentions to King Agrippa that he has in custody a rather interesting prisoner. So Agrippa says, “I want to hear the man myself.” Paul, brought from his prison cell, stands before the political leadership of the day, people of considerable power. Some would see this as a frightening moment. Paul sees a congregation, and true to his calling, preaches Jesus Christ.

      This is a most extraordinary moment in the history of the church. Where others would see the majestic robes of governors and kings, the gleaming jewels, and the power of “the Establishment” Paul saw human beings. More, Paul saw potential disciples of Jesus Christ. Rather than an experience of awe or of intimidation, Paul’s eyes observed opportunity. So Paul preaches.

      Careful attention to this story teaches the church several important lessons for our own ministry of sharing the Gospel. First, Paul is a careful observer of his context; he has an eye for his audience. So he didn’t launch into a presentation of the Gospel right away. He didn’t blurt out his testimony without regard for who he was speaking to. Nor did he forget that he was a prisoner, brought to stand before the authorities in his chains. So he begins with the due respect for the governor and King. He offers a complement to the King, “You understand well all the Jewish customs and controversies.” Yet, before the governor and King could brace themselves, Paul launches into the story of his encounter with Jesus and his subsequent faith. 

      The second lesson Paul offers here is that anyone – absolutely anyone without exception - is a potential disciple of Jesus! Does the church believe that today? A close attention to the conversation of many in the church today reveals the prevailing attitude that only a fraction of those living around us can be considered potential members of the Church of Christ. Many are simply “written-off” because they are the wrong demographic or “not our type.” Paul’s witness calls the modern church to end this club mentality and recognize that Christ’s invitation is to all people.

     Hope for a fresh vitality in the church is found in this one chapter from the Book of Acts. That vitality begins with a renewed and personal loyalty to the person of Jesus Christ. By some act of will, each person must say in the depth of their hearts “My Lord and my God.” This confession, deeply felt, results in the compulsion to communicate that confession to others. Such a compulsion does not discriminate. The confession is offered without hesitation. The process of a compelling witness begins, and continues with a personal and positive response to Jesus’ love, power and presence. Vitality will accept nothing less.

Joy,    

Friday, December 5, 2014

On the Road

“Commit your way to the Lord!”
Psalm 37:5 (Common English Bible)

     Perhaps there is no more familiar image in the Bible than the image of the road. We encounter it everywhere. From end to end in the Bible our life is compared to a journey – a journey that is rarely direct or easy. Along any journey circumstances change often requiring a change in how we move toward our destination.

     The people of Israel leave their captivity in Egypt and travel toward their own land. But fearing that difficulties along the journey would result in the people becoming fearful and turning back, God leads the people not by the shorter route but in a roundabout way of the Reed Sea desert (Exodus 13:17, 18).

     After the magi have honored the new born baby, Jesus, they return to their own country “by another route” having been warned in a dream (Matthew 2:12).

     Saul, on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians who are living there encounters Christ and not only experience a conversion to the Christian faith but his name is changed to Paul (Acts 9).

     Means of travel along the road is different today than in biblical days but what remains the same is the unexpected. Illnesses, loss of a spouse or close friend, career change or any number of unplanned circumstances position themselves along the journey each demanding a change of course. Life is filled with complexity and progress becomes slow. We are not surprised that Israel might have become discouraged on the road to God’s Promised Land. Obstacles along the way can do that.

     But pay attention to the “road stories” in the Bible. Though the pace and direction of the journey had to be adjusted according to each unique circumstances God always remained on the road with God’s people. Those who trust in the Lord never travel alone. The ability to adjust to changing circumstances and obstacles is vital to moving forward successfully. It is committing our way to the Lord and trusting in God that holds us steady until we have arrived at our destination.

Joy,