Just Do It. Faith Requires Action

When asked about my favorite Bible verses, many come to mind. For a long while my favorite passage was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

That passage sums up well how I have faced difficult decisions in my life. I have trusted that God will see me through the decisions and that He has a plan for me and my family. I look back and see myself trusting God, however imperfectly, through every turn.

Over the past several years, however, a new verse has caught my heart: James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Throughout my life I have studied the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Bible. I have a 3-year Master of Divinity degree. The Bible was the main focus of all my higher education. Yet that knowledge is meaningless if I don’t do something with it.

You can have earned degree upon degree, done study after study, gained more Trivial Pursuit knowledge than a Biblical scholar, but James says that if you don’t actually do something with it, you’re deceiving yourself. Without putting your faith in action, without being obedient to Christ, you have tricked yourself into believing that because you have the right knowledge your relationship with God is good. In reality, however, that is not the case.

In chapter 2, James says: “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.”

He doesn’t just say that faith without action is not so great – he actually says that it is “dead.” The Greek word translated dead comes from the word for corpse. There is no mistaking the meaning James has here. If you’re not putting your faith into action – being obedient to all God has called you to – then your faith is dead as a doornail. In other words, what good does a head full of knowledge do if you aren’t living differently because of it?

Do you want to know what God’s will for your life is? Then start doing what you know you’re supposed to be doing! Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs just wondering what his plan is – do something! God has called all of us to do certain things as followers of Christ. We are to love others, take care of the poor, worship, pray, study Scripture, etc. If you’re trying to determine next steps, then do what you already know you’re supposed to be doing, demonstrating your real, life-altering faith. That faith which is lived out, is the only true, saving faith there is. By being obedient to what we already know we are to do, we are proving ourselves to be good and faithful stewards of that which God has entrusted us.

If we truly believe that the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor, then we can’t do that only in our heads. We have to put legs to the gospel. We have to live and act differently. We have to allow God’s Spirit to transform not only our mind, but also our actions and who we are as individuals.

Do not merely listen to the word, do what it says!

Prayer History Begins (My Prayer Journey, Part 2)

The history of prayer and worship begins with Genesis 4:26. “At that time people first began to worship the LORD by name.”

At the beginning of chapter 4, Eve gives birth to Abel and then Cain. As we read through the chapter, we find the familiar story of the brothers and the first murder in history.

Cain and Abel both offer sacrifices to the Lord, but Cain’s is rejected and Abel’s is accepted. Scripture is vague about why the sacrifice of one was accepted and one rejected, and there is much speculation. Suffice it to say, Cain is upset that his worship is rejected and kills his brother Abel.

The Lord punishes Cain by banishing him from his family and territory and he is forced to start a new life. Through Cain’s descendants, the world was introduced to the arts and industry. He was a worldly man and indeed brought great benefit to the world around him. What was missing was worship and respect for the Lord.

On the other hand, Eve was blessed with another son, Seth, who was to take Abel’s place and carry on the family’s heritage as the new firstborn son. It was through this lineage that public worship was formed.

The paths these two brothers were on could not have been further from one another. One valued the world and one valued his relationship with God. There is a stark contrast between the ways of the world and the ways of worship, prayer, and following God. Enosh, the son of Seth, helped form and shape the way in which people expressed their desire to follow God. While Cain went his own way through disobedience, beginning with the rejected sacrifice, Seth (Abel)’s son followed God.

We have to be careful to not allow the world around us distract us from truly worshipping God through prayer and service. The things that the world offers can certainly be good, but they cannot become the sole focus of our lives.

As we seek to pray and grow closer to God, we have a choice to make: Do we follow the world and its priorities, or do we follow the Way of God? A life of worship and prayer stands in stark contrast to the life of worldly priorities.

I wonder, what in my life is keeping me from worshipping and praying? There are so many distractions and things that attempt to pull me away from true worship and prayer. Some of these things are even “good” things. But if I allow myself to be taken from my highest calling, that is, prayer and worship of God, then I have missed the mark, just as Cain missed the mark in his sacrifice. God doesn’t want my seconds – he wants the first and best parts of me.

So what about you? What keeps you from worshipping and praying the way you would like?

Unshakable

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.

Hebrews 12:28

As I’m studying this week about how we are to cope “When Hard Times Fall,” I’m comforted by this verse. In the previous verses, the author of Hebrews is talking about the way that heaven and earth will be shaken once again by God. Don’t worry, though, follower of Christ, because our faith grants us entry into the Kingdom of Heaven – a Kingdom that is unshakable.

When we’re in the midst of hard times, it’s sometimes hard to see anything positive. And like we talked about last week at church, sometimes our prayers don’t get answered the way we would have liked. The hope we have, however, is that as someone who puts their faith and trust in Christ, we will inherit the unshakable Kingdom of God.

When we are facing hard times, and it seems like life is falling apart, it is comforting to know that God is not shaken, and the promises he has made to us always stand firm.

Does Habitual Spirituality Work?

This year is leap year. That means we get one extra day in our calendar, and it got me thinking, what are we supposed to do with it?

I recently saw a television show devote an entire episode to leap year day. One family took the day off from work and school and did only fun, crazy, and adventurous things for the day. One person actually had his birthday on February 29, so he had a 10th birthday party.

I don’t know that I am going to go all out with a special day of adventure, but I do want to honor the extra time God has given me in some way to worship and praise Him. Each and every day we are to praise God, and this year we get one extra day to do just that. But am I really praising and worshipping God each day of my life? That’s a hard question to answer.

You’d think that since I am a pastor, the answer would be an easy and hearty yes. Virtually every day of my life I am involved in some aspect of ministry. Whether that be composing sermons, visiting the sick, calling on members and guests, or studying the Bible, my activities generally have some aspect of ministry and should inherently involve worship of God.

The problem is that sometimes I do these things out of habit instead of with admiration and awe for my Creator.

In thinking about this, I think we are all guilty of falling into habitual forms of virtually everything we do. We go through the same routine each morning. We drive the same way to work each day. We may even go to the same place for vacation each year. We get into a routine. And for the most part, we’re OK with that. We may even like that. It’s comfortable; it works.

The problem with routine is that we can do it without really engaging our brains or our emotions. We do it almost automatically and don’t consciously think about what or why we’re doing it. In Mark Batterson’s prayer devotion called Draw the Circle, he says that after singing a song 30 times, we stop thinking about the meaning of the words. We sing it out of rote memory, and the conscious thought process we once had with the song is gone. It doesn’t mean we don’t love the song – it just means we’re not thinking about it anymore.

That familiarity and disengagement of our brain’s thought processes has some pretty interesting implications for worship on Sunday mornings. It also highlights the need for us to reexamine other areas of our habit-filled life.

Habits, of course, are not bad. They allow us to do things quickly and more easily. But when we allow our spiritual practices to become habit, we are in danger of losing their meaning and true purpose – connecting with God in a personal way.

My challenge for you (and for me) is to examine your spiritual practices and ensure that you’re still engaging your mind and your heart when you do them. Are you praying the same prayer you’ve always prayed? Are you reading the same book? Are you just making donations without really thinking about or praying for the charity you’re supporting? If yes, change it up somehow so that you can really engage all of your being in the task. Try standing when you pray. Try reading outside, or a new book. Try writing a letter of thanks or support to send with the donation check.

Habits are not a bad thing – but they can become a trap for us when we allow our brains to go on auto-pilot when it comes to matters of faith and practice. Our relationship with God needs to be a matter of the heart and the mind – we must take care not to neglect either.

Entertainment or Worship?

code black logo

As fall comes upon us this year, though the weather doesn’t feel like it, we know it is here because of the new crop of TV shows appearing. This year many new shows are hitting the air waves battling for our attention. I’ll admit, I do enjoy finding a new show each year. Some years are better than others, but this year, there were a number of shows that caught my interest. One such show was Code Black.

Code Black is a medical drama based in Los Angeles. The name comes from the code given when needs outnumber resources. We’re told in the pilot that this particular hospital goes into code black 300 days out of the year. As a fan of ER, I was excited. I thought, This is going to be exciting! So I settled in for the pilot episode and I was extremely underwhelmed. The acting was fine, but there was a sense of excitement and tension missing from the show. I found myself tired of the story and almost turned it off part way through. Now, that’s just my opinion, as one of my friends really liked it (although he is an EMT, so maybe he is predisposed).

So what was my major problem with the show? It was just boring; particularly compared to the fast pace and intensity of ER (at least in its early days). I missed the doctors barking out orders, recognizing the life-and-death impact of their action or inaction. I just didn’t feel that in the pilot of Code Black. Maybe it gets better in the second episode, but I probably won’t be there to find out.

This whole situation got me thinking; thinking about the church.

As a church, we are asking people to spend an hour out of their weekend each week to worship God. To many, Sunday is a prime time to sleep in and have a lazy day – at least until the football game. So what are we as the church supposed to do?

There are several answers to that question. One suggestion that I have seen attempted over and over is to try to make the worship service as exciting, energetic, and entertaining as possible. Through the use of music, media and lighting, the church tries to put on a show each week. They try to compete with the world’s entertainment standards to entice people out of their beds to see what’s going to happen each Sunday. The problem is that with 99% of the churches, there’s no real way to compete. We don’t have the budget, time or talent to put on a Broadway caliber “show” every Sunday. Instead, churches who try this model of worship often end up looking like a cheap knock off, and it’s just a sad shadow of what people might expect.

As you may guess, I’m not a fan of this model. In fact, even if we had the budget, time and talent to pull it off, I don’t think I would. Don’t get me wrong – I think using lighting, media and contemporary music are all good things – but the focus can’t be on the production – it can’t be about the entertainment. It has to be more.

Worship services need to be a time to come together to connect with one another and to connect with God. In order to do that, you need a service designed to quiet your mind, freeing it from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, so that you can truly focus on God, your creator. Certainly using lights, music, and media can help that process – I use them myself – but that can’t be the focus.

While I say that, church should also not feel boring or lazy, as I felt Code Black was. We are doing one of the most important things we can possibly do – praising God, proclaiming his truths, joining with other believers. That’s what we need to focus on. Regardless of church budgets or resources, any church properly focused can have a meaningful worship service focused on Jesus Christ, our Savior.

If our focus is on Jesus, building relationships and telling people about salvation, then our focus is in the right place.

I believe people like a good show. But I also believe that people are seeking something authentic. Something worthy of their time. I hope and pray that is what we offer at my church, and I pray that is what all churches strive to do.