Faith and Works

Posted 9/2/2018

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18, NRSV) In these words, James seems to be saying that it is what we do, not what we believe that matters. Yet James really doesn’t split faith and works in this way. He talks about faith being active along with works. James says, as Christians we can’t live without both faith and works.

That can be an important thing for us to remember these days. There are many among us who say it doesn’t really matter what you believe. And yet, James is clear. He is speaking not just to everyone, but to the Christian community. They are, in very specific ways, separate from and different than, the world about them. And that difference is found first of all in what they believe. However, it is also found in what they do because of what they believe.

The fact is, those who are often called “conservatives” are right — what we believe matters. It matters greatly. To be a Christian is to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yet those who are often called “liberals” are also right — what we do matters. Our call as Christians will influence what we do. We can’t claim to be Christians if our lives and how we relate to those about us aren’t changed by our faith. 

It really isn’t a matter of faith vs works, of beliefs vs actions. It is a matter of living a full Christian life — one in which we believe in Jesus and find our lives radically transformed by the power and presence of the Spirit of Christ working within us. The call is to show both our faith and our works.

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Invite a friend

Posted 8/26/2018

Being a witness to Jesus means more than just sharing our own experiences of Jesus — although it starts there. Being a witness eventually leads us to invite our friend to start their own relationship with Jesus. 

Given what most of us have probably experienced as evangelism, this is likely to be a really scary, difficult thing for us to do. Yet, if we are in an ongoing relationship with the person, it doesn’t have to be all that difficult. We simply share how we ourselves have come into a relationship with Jesus and answer any questions that might arise. Perhaps there will even be an opening in the conversation to specifically invite the other person to start a relationship with Jesus. If so, we shouldn’t ignore it.

The one thing that is true of our witnessing to Jesus, from start to finish, is it is done in the context of a relationship. This is as true of our inviting someone to enter into a relationship with Jesus as it is with all the rest of our witness.

But what about inviting our friend to church? Well, once again this needs to happen in the context of our relationship with the other person. If we are inviting our friend to church only to add another body to the membership or to get some more money in the offering plate, our invitation probably won’t be well received. But if we are inviting them to come experience the help and hope we’ve discovered in worship, through the other church programs and in the friendships there— well, that’s a whole other story!

So make a friend, share Jesus with a friend, invite a friend!

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Sharing Jesus

Posted 8/19/2018

I find it fairly easy to do things that help others out. Giving money to the food pantry or helping the family that lost their home to a fire doesn’t really stress me out. However, like most Presbyterians, the thoughts of talking to someone about Jesus  is another matter! The truth is, even as a pastor I can sometimes find it hard to share the good news of Jesus.

Yet sharing the good news is so important. In fact, it is essential. The fact is, the only thing we Christians have to offer the world that no one else offers is Jesus. There are lots of other organizations that do “good deeds” and help those in need. But it is only those who follow Jesus who can talk about what Jesus has done and why Jesus matters. 

That’s one reason I find it so helpful for church members to get into the habit of sharing their faith with one another. We need to practice not only noticing where Jesus is at work in our lives, but also ways of speaking about our experiences of Jesus. The truth is, God does far more than we can imagine; that alone makes it hard to find words that are adequate to describe our experience. Yet we need to try to find the words. And we need a safe space to engage in the struggle to find the words. We need Christian friends to help us prepare to share about Jesus.

I encourage each of us to share with one another the ways in which we see Jesus at work in our lives. Then, having had the chance to “practice,” let’s go out to share that good news with our neighbors, family and friends who may not know Jesus.

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Posted 8/12/2018

There are days I wish there was a nice neat formula for sharing Jesus with others and inviting them to come to worship. Unfortunately, I know there isn’t any such formula. In fact, a formula is actually the wrong thing.

The truth is, having a real honest friendship with someone is the basis for being able to share the gospel. Talking with a total stranger about Jesus just isn’t likely to have a major impact. In fact, “stranger evangelism” feels a lot like being hit by a “drive-by shooting” — you just happened to be the one in the way.

Evangelism assumes a relationship — a friendship — already exists. And that’s often where the rub comes in. Too many of us tend to not have friends outside our “Christian circle.”

The fact is, especially if you are retired, it is all too easy to limit our friendships to those who agree with us — including those who agree with our Christian faith. That new neighbor down the road who doesn’t go to church; do I really want to go out of my way to get to know him/her? That person who is a member of the auxiliary; do I really want to start a new friendship with her/him? And that young family across the street; what do I really have in common with them?

It is as we become friends and share our lives that we find the openings that allow us to also share about Jesus (and our church). The only way you can “invite a friend” to church is to become a friend!

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Can We Do Evangelism?

Posted 8/5/2018

Talk of evangelism can be scary. After all, we don’t want to be pushy. We want to be sensitive to what others believe and feel. But does that mean we must give up on the idea of evangelism altogether?

I don’t think we do have to give up on evangelism because I believe evangelism is, at its heart, mainly our willingness to share what we know about Jesus. It isn’t a matter of trying to convince someone else of the rightness of our doctrines; it is a matter of telling others what Jesus means to us and how Jesus has helped us in our own life. 

Doing this can be scary. After all, what if the other person does get offended by what we say? What if they reject us? What if they decide to never talk to us again?

Those are legitimate concerns; but they are often more a reflection of our fears than of reality. The truth is we live in a society where most are seeking to deeper, richer spirituality. Most people are open to conversations about God and Jesus. 

Furthermore, if we are passionate about our relationship with Jesus, why wouldn’t we share about it much like we would share our other passions? If Jesus has really made a difference in our lives, why wouldn’t we talk about that?

Thinking, and talking, about evangelism may be scary. But when we realize evangelism is simply “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread” perhaps we can begin to move beyond our fears to sharing the good news about Jesus.

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Foolishness and Wisdom

Posted 7/29/2018

I like the idea that I can do whatever I please. But I know it isn’t the truth. I know that if I say something hurtful, someone will be hurt. I know that if I eat too much, my health will be harmed. I know I live in a world where there are consequences for what I do. That means I really can’t do what I please, at least not without there being consequences.

The Bible knows that too. In fact, it defines foolishness as thinking we can do what we please without any consequences. Yet the Bible doesn’t say these consequences come about “naturally” in the sense that we today use that word. Rather, it insists the consequences come about because God has established an order to the world and going against that order has consequences. The consequences are what Scripture calls God’s “judgment” upon sin.

Living in harmony with that order also has consequences. The consequences are what Scripture calls the “peace” of God. When we live in harmony with God’s intentions for the world, we experience the abundant life God intended.

Unfortunately, our world bears witness to the fact all too often we don’t live in harmony with God’s intentions for the world. That is why we need the good news of Jesus. Jesus did live in harmony with God’s intentions; and through the gift of his Spirit we too can live in harmony with God’s intentions. 

It isn’t easy, but by the power of the Spirit we are able to live wisely and know the peace God alone gives.

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Our Unity

Posted 7/22/2018

One of the things that has pained my heart over the years is the way we Christians sometimes treat each other. In a world that is increasingly uncivil, we Christians are often not far behind the world (if not sometimes worse!) as we throw condemnations at one another. In saying this, I’m not suggesting that differences don’t matter at all. What I am suggesting is that our mutual belonging to Christ should matter more. I was born a Presbyterian — and I intend to die a Presbyterian. There is much about our tradition I value. Yet I also know that Presbyterianism isn’t the only way of being Christian.

I remember a conversation I had years ago with another pastor with whom I had a disagreement. This person was adamant that our disagreement “proved” I couldn’t possibly be Christian. I asked this sister in Christ what she made of the Scripture that says, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). She immediately responded, “it says, ‘confess with your lips and believe in your heart.’ Just saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ isn’t enough!” My problem with her response is how can I ever really know what is in another’s heart.

As I said, I am a born Presbyterian. That means I prefer our Presbyterian urging to “have a good opinion of everyone” to making judgments I really can’t make. And that means I find myself valuing  our mutual belonging to Christ more than I do a person’s theological stance or opinion.

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Going Out

Posted 7/8/2018

For many years we Presbyterians (and a lot of other mainline Christians) have more or less assumed that people would just come to church. If we had an attractive program, people would come. If we had a “contemporary” worship service, people would come. If we had _____, people would come.

But the fact is, we don’t live in a world where people just  come to church. We live in a world that, frankly, doesn’t think much about church, much less about attending church. 

That means we need to go where people are. We need to build friendships with neighbors, especially our neighbors who don’t go to any church. We need to move beyond what some have called “our Christian circle.” We need to intentionally include folk who aren’t Christian (or at least aren’t involved in a Christian community) in our circle of friends.

Why do we need to do this? Because it is the only way we are going to be able to share the good news of Jesus with them. Because Jesus told us to “go into the world.” But even more than that simply because we have been called to love — not just our church family but our neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be.

Going out like this isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable, because it means moving beyond what we’ve always done. But Jesus sends us out into the world. So let’s start thinking and praying about how we can befriend our neighbors — which might eventually enable us to share the good news of Jesus with them.

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Turn to Jesus

Posted 7/1/2018

Let’s face it, sometimes life stinks. Things happen that leave us feeling hopeless and helpless. We feel all alone, with nowhere to turn and no way out of the situation we are facing. The truth is, life is sometimes hard — really, really hard.

What are we to do in such times? When everything and everyone in the world seems against us, when we can’t seem to catch a break no matter what we do, when life is so difficult we are tempted to give up? 

It may be tempting at such times to think that we are all alone — that even God has deserted us. Yet when we look at Jesus we discover the one who has himself experienced all the hardness of life. Jesus knew what it was like to be hated. Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected. Jesus knew what it was like to be betrayed by his friends. Jesus knew what it was like to die — even to die alone. Jesus knew what it was like to feel abandoned by God.

In such times we can turn to Jesus, who knows how we feel. But we turn to Jesus not simply because Jesus knows how we feel, but because the same Jesus lives. The same Jesus reigns in power and prays for us. The same Jesus who cared about the lost, the sick, the lonely, the hurting of his world when he walked on earth continues to care about all the lost, sick, lonely, hurting people of our world. Continues to care about us. 

When life stinks, Jesus cares. At such times we can rely upon Jesus.

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Posted 6/24/2018

I don’t think I know anyone who really likes change. Change disturbs our normal routines, upsets the way we are used to doing things and is, because of those very things, uncomfortable. 

Personally, while I may like the temporary change in routine a vacation brings; I really don’t like having to permanently change my everyday routines and ways of thinking. I’m comfortable the way I am. Besides that, change is scary. There’s no guarantee that any changes I make will be beneficial or “successful.” 

Yet change demands change. The world about us has changed, and that means our old ways no longer work as they once did. New ways of thinking and new behaviors in the world call upon the church to also change our way of thinking and doing.

Now I’m not suggesting we give up the faith that has sustained the church throughout the ages. What I am suggesting is we need to find new ways to speak about our faith — ways that make sense to people today. We need to find new ways to embody our faith, as individuals and churches, that proclaim the good news of God’s redeeming love in a way that matches the needs and challenges people of today face. 

Change invites us to look at what we have — our faith, our Christian qualities, our possessions — and ask how they can show God’s love to our world of today. Change invites us to faith in Jesus Christ, who is able to more than meet the challenges of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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