The letter that Paul wrote to the Roman church is unique in that most epistles (letters) written to churches addressed one or more problems in that church. The letter to the Romans does not. Instead, Romans is a theological treatise and full expression of apostolic doctrine. It is, in one letter, what Christianity is all about. In it, he makes an important observation about Abraham and his relationship with God.
Chapter 4 is a pivotal point which addresses faith verses Law. This is important because some Jews who converted to Christianity were insisting that followers of Jesus also keep certain points of the Law of Moses: among these was circumcision. Jews point to Abraham as being the father of their nation and the origination of the rite of circumcision as a sign of righteousness before God. There is also a modern correlation in present-day churches that put ritual ahead of faith. Continue reading “The Faith of Abraham”
There was a church in a mid-western farming community that had not received rain in a long while. The crops were withering and the farmers feared economic disaster.
The Pastor of this church announced, “Next Sunday we will have a special prayer service where anyone who wants to can offer a prayer for rain. Be sure you come prepared.”
The following Sunday, most of the service was given over to allowing members to lead the congregation in prayers for rain. When all who wanted to had taken a turn, the pastor stood again before them and said, “Those were some mighty fine prayers. Most were heart-felt, a couple were down right eloquent. Now, by show of hands, how many of you brought an umbrella to church today?”
No one raised their hand. Most looked at one another in astonishment over the Pastor’s question.
“That, my friends, is why we don’t have rain. I told you to come prepared. If you believed your prayers would be heard and answered, you’d have brought an umbrella to get you home in the rain.”
His abbreviated sermon was about acting in faith and asking in faith. If we do not believe it will be granted, what’s the point in praying? The Holy Spirit, which is the power of God in this world, does amazing things when we ask with a pure heart and an expectant spirit.
A good portion of the book of James is devoted to the damage (to others and to ourselves) that can be done by an unbridled tongue. Let’s look as these.
But first, what exactly do we mean by “unbridled”? A bridle is a device that is placed over the face of an animal in order to steer the animal while we ride either the animal or a conveyance being pulled by the animal. In general, an unbridled horse, camel, llama, ox, dog, etcetera cannot be steered and will therefore wander about as it pleases. Rarely will that in in the direction we want to go. In like manner, an unbridled tongue is one over which you have little or no conscious control: it (you) will blurt out all manner of hurtful, insulting things with very little thought of the harm it may do to others, or the impact it has on the opinion others hold of you. In all cases this lesson is referring to believers, and especially believers talking about other believers – although some is about our speech in general.
As a young man, shortly after having given my life to Jesus, I was worshiping at a church pastored by a dynamic young man. He was probably in his late 30’s or early 40’s: older than I was but he seemed young to me – for a pastor — because the pastors I’d known before were in their 60’s or 70’s. He was also the first pastor I’d encountered as an adult who was formally educated: he could research and relate the meaning of words and phrases in their original Hebrew or Greek. He knew the context behind the words and the social settings and customs that gave deeper meaning to the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots. These details really got me fired up and thirsting to know more.
I began attending Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening worship, Wednesday evening worship and a Thursday morning Young Men’s Prayer Breakfast. I learned so much that I began looking forward to those times when the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassed the neighborhood: I was eager to discuss the Bible with them. I can’t claim to have converted any, but a one or two did leave questioning their rote presentation. I began the process of enrolling in a nearby Seminary College. I knew I could not be a preacher: I don’t have the personality for that, but thought I might make an effective missionary.
One Sunday morning we assembled for worship. The deacons were in their places, but Pastor Dennis was missing. As the service began, a Deacon took the lectern and announced that Pastor Dennis – the man who had so often stood in that pulpit denouncing sin and encouraging righteous behavior, a married man with children, had been discovered having an affair with the church secretary. Both had been fired and were gone. Continue reading “Lessons Learned the Hard Way”
One of the exciting things about the Christian faith is that it challenges the best that is within us. It will never let us be satisfied with inferior living. It reaches into the depths of our inner being with disturbing implications. There is no way we can look into the face of Jesus and be content with halfhearted devotion. He calls us away from everything that would make us less than what we can be. He nudges us toward everything that focuses on our spiritual potential. He inspires us to consider the high road of what is best for us rather than the low road of what is easiest for us. Like an Olympic athlete training for perfection our Lord equips us to dream His kind of dreams. No one expects as much from us and yet comforts us when we miss the mark.
The tremendous challenge of being a Christian gives life its greatest sense of purpose. Without this struggle toward some degree of excellence we would lose ourselves in the monotony of mediocrity. There is more to us than what we normally accept. We frequently underestimate our capacity for godliness. We fail to stretch our humanity because our expectations are too low. We are created to move onward and upward. To sense some progress on the journey is a great source of fulfillment. We have no better gauge of how we are doing than the gospel of our Lord Jesus. It tells us that “nobody” can be somebody and that anybody can belong to everybody in Christ Jesus. The process toward achievement keeps us believing there is a place for us in God’s scheme of things.
Let us, therefore, never minimize the demands of Christianity. It is harder than any other lifestyle because it brings out the best within us. If we sentimentalize our faith and turn discipleship into a syrupy ceremony we miss the meaning of commitment and sacrifice. We must never try to camouflage the cross lest we lose the strength of its dying love. God gave His best to show us what is best for us. Indeed His greatest challenge to us is to be baptized with His baptism and to drink from His cup of pain. In the difficulty of our task we will find His glory as we faithfully pursue His dream for us.
The word contagious often spreads fear among us as we think of some disease or illness that is easily transmitted from one person to another. We worry every year during the flu season fearing that we will “catch” the ailment from some coughing victim. We take multiple vaccines to immunizes ourselves against any number of contagious ailments. We tend to associate the word “contagious” with that which is bad about us. Mood swings, bad attitudes and personality flaws can create a negative disposition which can be terribly contagious. We spread our emotional germs with critical conversation as we turn our backs on hurting humanity.
On the other hand, however, good things can be “catching” also. Perhaps we ought to focus more upon the fact that there are positive things about us that can be contagious. Is this not the whole idea of Christian fellowship? We come together to expose ourselves to the spiritual energy of the group. We “catch” our faith from one another. Forgiveness and repentance are highly contagious in an atmosphere of grace. Love is easily transmitted to one another when it reaches epidemic stage. Character inspires character. Commitment begets commitment. Positive speech creates wholesome conversation.
Church is a contagious fellowship where we are continually infecting one another for righteousness in the spirit of Jesus. Isn’t it encouraging to know that our best can be infectious? Would it not be sad to discover that the only thing about us that is contagious is our germs?
Sometimes in the midst of our spiritual struggles we tend to be troubled with doubt. We doubt our salvation. We doubt the existence of God. We doubt our place in God’s economy. It is a common occurrence among people who are sensitive to the pain of sin and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is not always as bad as it may seem, however, because doubt can be a means of stimulating our quest for the deeper life in Christ. The fact that we doubt could be an indication that our faith is authentic. Seldom if ever do we see disbelieving sinners worried about the validity of their experience in Christ. Godless people are not burdened with questions concerning their commitment to Christ.
It seems that doubt is the devil’s tool to disturb a believing heart. Only those who are trusting Christ for salvation are vulnerable to the tricky questions of doubt. Only people with a serious nature about the things of God will worry about the caliber of their commitment.
Now please do not misunderstand. Doubt is not necessarily a virtue. It is a hindrance. Doubt is designed to weaken and frustrate as it creates a mood of pessimism and defeat. Carried to its logical conclusion, doubt destroys faith and stifles all spiritual initiative. While it is inspired by the enemy, when it is overcome it creates a closer walk with our Lord. It can be a springboard to challenge our best thinking. In honestly dealing with our doubts we soon discover in whom we have believed. Doubt is always on the diet and training table of healthy Christians who are learning to deny their doubts and affirm their faith. So “Have faith in God, He’s on the throne.”
Regardless of your views on religion, Dr. Metcalf’s comments on motivation and accomplishment are worth reading.
Sometimes we feel as if much of life is a waste of time. There is so much that is lost amid our many preoccupations. It seems impossible to make every moment count. We procrastinate. We daydream and we “while away” the time. So little of our attention is directed toward things that really matter. So often our focus is diverted to that which is peripheral and inconsequential. There is so much to do, and we do not have the time and energy to do it. There is so much to say and not enough words to say it. Where will we find the will to be all we are capable of being? Where is the heart for the difficult task and the perseverance for the weary journey?
It is easy to give up when our vision exceeds our resources. Discouragement sets in when we see so much and accomplish so little. Often it is the cause for doing nothing. Why should we spin our wheels and never make progress toward our destination? If we cannot do everything, why do anything? Failure comes in different packages. Sometimes it is an over-exaggerated ambition. We lose ourselves before we get started. We bite off more than we can chew. We focus on the finishing before we have prepared for the beginning. Too much ambition can be as bad as no ambition. Often the results are the same. Continue reading “FINDING OUR POTENTIAL”