Tag Archive for saved

Doubt: Part 10–Faith Without Deeds

 

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?   Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his 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 what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

 

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  The only thing I know about salvation is that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Saved–Part 3: Comfortable

 

As we covered in Part 2, to a person in the light, light is preferable, and to one in the dark, darkness is preferable. This is simply because that people tend to get comfortable with whatever state of existence they find themselves in. This becomes what you perceive as “normal.”  The longer your “normal” exists, be it darkness or light, the more you can’t imagine life being any other way.

A person sitting in the dark is not necessarily happy about it, but they are comfortable with their surroundings. So they justify their darkness, rather than turning on the light, which would involve getting out of the chair and flipping the switch.  A very simple action, but it does involve SOME effort.

Likewise, a person outside the church may not feel as though they are missing anything that Christianity can provide. A person walking in the light of Christ knows what the others are missing. However, what we as Christians need to remember is that sharing the gospel with somebody against their will is like flipping on a 100-watt bulb in a dark room. The light of Truth can burn your brain just like a sudden flip of a light switch can burn your eyes.

That is why so many people reject the gospel when they first hear it. It really has nothing to do with “logic and reason;” it is simply too much of a shock to the system for them to absorb.

We forget that for someone in the dark, there is actual pain involved with coming into the light for the first time. The pain goes away, and is replaced by a clearer understanding, but you don’t instinctively know that when you’re experiencing the pain.

 

 

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that those in the light actually have the same problem with being comfortable. Christians can get so used to the light, that we forget what it was like in the darkness, where we all began.

We can also get comfortable where we are and forget that we were called into the light for a purpose.  Our primary job is to flip on the light switch for other people sitting in the dark. This also involves effort and change—a change of attitude toward the people in the dark.

I think Paul said it best in his letter to Titus:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-5a)

That sounds like my life in a nutshell. No one saved me by arguing me into heaven. I did not save myself by simply deciding to “be good.” Jesus Christ chose to save me, because that is who He is, and that is what He does.

If I were to walk into a dark room now, I might stub my toe, but I could sit with an inhabitant of the darkness and talk to them about my own previously dark room. I could share that the only way I was able to light up my room was by first acknowledging that it was dark.

And who knows? By God’s mercy and grace, they might ask me to help them find the light switch. At the very least, they will know there’s a switch that needs flipping.

Saved–Part 2: Light and Darkness

I hate to break it to you babe, but I’m not drowning

There’s no one here to save.

(Sara Bareilles  “King of Anything” 2010)

A Christian would hear this song and perhaps be reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:18, which reads, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

However, it is far too easy for us as Christians to look down on “those who are perishing” as though they are lost children groping about in the darkness. Being “in the light,” we know that’s a spiritual reality.  We forget, though, that people who have spent their entire life in darkness are accustomed to the dark.

But if someone then turns on the light, you are just as blinded by the light as someone coming in from outside would be blinded by the darkness. Either way, you are probably going to whack your shin on the coffee table.

People who have spent time in the dark room don’t have a problem walking through it. They are accustomed to the darkness, and it suits them. However, a person in the dark room is missing out on so many things that could be seen in the light.

After all, once you get past the initial shock of the light coming on and the brief pain of the rhodopsin breaking down in your eyeballs, then you can see just fine. Much better in fact, than you could even when accustomed to the dark.

This is why we have light switches in our house.  We have always instinctively known that light is better than darkness, so we have developed technology that allows us to have light at the flip of a switch.

This raises a troubling question, however.

If it is so instinctive that we would prefer physical light over physical darkness, then why are we so resistant to come out of spiritual darkness into the light?

And even more troubling–why are those who are in the light, or “saved,” so hesitant to go into other dark rooms and flip on the switch?

(To find out, come back for Part 3: Comfortable)

 

Saved–Part 1: Saved From What?

 

About 20 years ago, my family and I were practicing Catholics. I had been raised in the Catholic Church, but had fallen away at an early age. My wife had converted after our marriage. Her conversion, plus the fact that we were now raising two sons in the church, had renewed my interest in the church and in my own spiritual voyage.

Having grown up either being Catholic or trying hard not to be, I was quite ignorant of other denominations. I was aware that they existed, but their histories, beliefs and the differences between them had no more meaning to me than the differences between channels on television. To me, there was simply Catholic and Not Catholic.

One afternoon, our neighbors, who attended an Assembly of God church, invited us next door to a “small group fellowship.” I had no idea what this meant, exactly. I saw a yard full of people I didn’t know and their noisy children. I knew they were people that attended the same church, about which I knew nothing.

These folks looked normal enough, but a key difference soon became apparent when a father yelled at his ornery children to “stop behaving like the Canaanites.”

It occurred to me that I recognized “Canaanite” as a Bible word, probably a geographical term, but I didn’t really know who the Canaanites were or why they were significant. Furthermore, I had no connection whatsoever in my mind regarding how the Canaanites behaved and what parallels there might have been to their behavior and that of this man’s children.

In short, I was aware in that moment that I was woefully ignorant in regard to Bible knowledge, and despite the friendly welcome I received from these folks, I felt intimidated—like they were on some totally different spiritual plane than I was.

About this time, three of the ladies came over to us and asked me if we had a home church, knowing that we were not from theirs. I told them that we were attending the local Catholic church. They looked at each other with what seemed to be delight, and one of them innocuously exclaimed, “Oh, our pastor used to be Catholic too until he got saved!”

It was clear from her tone that she meant no offense whatsoever from this remark. Nevertheless, I remember clearly that the first thought that went through my mind was, “Saved? From what?”

What my Catholic ears heard was that their pastor used to be just like me, but then he was saved from the error, the foolishness, the madness that is Catholicism. Needless to say, I found that offensive.

We stayed for the rest of the meeting, and I tried, and I think succeeded, to be gracious to the group for their hospitality, just as they were gracious about my biblical ignorance.

Even so, I just could not get past that word, “saved.”

 

Saved from…what?

 

Looking back on that afternoon 20 years later, now as a Baptist-lite Protestant, I am much more conscious of how we, as evangelical Christians, can unwittingly come across to others with our churchy words.

It is so easy for us to fall in to the trap of seeing ourselves as “saved” and everyone else as “lost.” This mindset may be Biblically factual and theologically sound, but it fails to acknowledge the reality that “lost” people don’t know they’re lost. Therefore, to hear from someone they do not even know that they need to be “saved” is offensive to them.

 

(To be continued in Part 2: Light and Darkness)

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 7: The PRize

THE PRIZE

 

            So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service.

            We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives by visibly living out or faith. 

            But let’s face it, all that service can be tiring.  If we put too much emphasis on pouring ourselves out for others, it can be all too easy to neglect the refilling process.

            Fortunately, we don’t need to look any farther than the Ten Commandments to find out how to solve this problem:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work . . . (Exodus 20:9-10a NIV)

God gave us the Sabbath for a reason.  He knew we would need the rest.  To paraphrase Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,   you can’t sharpen your saw if you never stop sawing.

            Now I don’t want to get into the legalistic argument of what constitutes “work.”  Keeping the Sabbath is not about following the letter of the law.  That’s religion.  Jesus came to set us free from that.

            The point is that we were created to love God, love one another and serve the world.  We can only do that effectively if we take time to chill out and recharge.  With the concept of the Sabbath, God gave us a simple template to follow to make sure that we stayed refueled in order to carry out His ministry effectively.

            Paul knew that he would need this refueling when he wrote:

…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.  (Philippians 3:13b-14 AMP)

If life were all about pressing on, with no time for resting, we would burn out.  Thus, we would not complete our mission and win the PRize.

                So what is this PRize of which Paul speaks?  It can’t be the salvation of our souls.  As we already covered back in Part 5, we are saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor, and not through our own efforts.  In other words, we don’t earn our golden ticket to Heaven by “straining forward” and “pressing on.”

                So what is the PRize then?  Would you believe, more rest?

                I’m not talking about the Sunday-afternoon-nap-on-the-couch-with-the-ball-game-on-after-killing-the-all-you-can-eat-buffet-after-Church kind of a rest though.  This PRize is much bigger:

So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered into [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own.  (Hebrews 4:9-10 AMP)

                The PRize that I am pressing on toward is to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and enter your master’s happiness.  Take the free gift of the water of life and enter into my rest.”

                To that end, I will continue pressing on—toward the PRize, and toward His rest.  I’m glad to have you along for the ride.