Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to live a faith-filled life

What does it mean to live by faith? The idea of having faith can be so nebulous, can't it? That's why Sunday's definition of faith was so helpful to me. Bill said that faith is confidence in God's presence and God's provision no matter the outcome. But I also found myself wondering what would it look like to practically weave that into my every day life? How can I live out Hebrews 11:1-6 in a meaningful way? I think God gave me some help in the Psalms.

First in Psalm 86:11, the TNIV says, "Teach me your way, that I might rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name." As I prayed and thought about that, I realized that relying on God's faithfulness meant trusting in His provision, and fearing His name meant trusting in His presence. Every moment of my life is to be lived in the reality of God's faithfulness and the reality of His presence, which makes every moment holy. God has to teach me how to do that (teach me your way) and He has to shape my heart to get to the place where my will is to do His will (give me an undivided heart).

But what practices could help me move in that direction? That led me to Psalm 92:2, a verse that has been working on me for some time now. It says, "[It is good to] proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night." To proclaim God's love in the morning is setting my heart and mind on the fact that no matter what I face in the coming day, He is present and He is going to provide. To proclaim His faithfulness at night is looking back on my day with eyes of faith, looking for God's presence and provision in all things. Putting these two simple practices into place can help me live by faith, not afraid of the unseen challenges ahead and thankful for all the ways God moves in and through me each day.

This week, let's put faith into practice, growing in our awareness of God's presence and provision, proclaiming His love each morning and His faithfulness each night.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Story to be Lived

The summer blockbuster season is here, yet I rarely get to see movies in the theater unless they are of the cartoon variety. So getting to see Spiderman this week was a real treat. And as the previews rolled before the main feature, I wanted to see every movie that was coming out, because I love to get lost in these big stories. The best stories to me are ones that not only show the shadow side of life and sin (though they might not label it as such) but also offer the hope of something better. A mix of warning and encouragement and hope all in one is the recipe for a great story.

We see this in Hebrews 10:26-39, where the author of the letter not only warns his congregation against the danger of rejecting Christ and embracing sin, but also offers them the memory of God's faithfulness in the past and offers the promise of God's ultimate deliverance in the future.

The reality is that sin will destroy us if we allow it to take root and if we reject the work of Christ on our behalf. But it does not have to be the end of the story. Sin reduces us as humans, enslaves us in a small story, the story of "me." The bigger story that we are invited into is the story of God's redemptive work through Christ on the cross. It's the story of here and now, the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering all who would say, "Yes" to God's offer of life and freedom. And it's the story of tomorrow where we dwell in peace in God's Kingdom.

This week pay attention to the cautionary tales around you, let them warn you, and embrace the faithfulness and promises of God. That's a story not just to be seen but to be lived.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Allen Iverson and Galatians 6: More In Common Than You’d Think

In 2006, Phildephia 76-ers guard Allen Iverson went on a now-famous rant when he was questioned by the media for missing practice (“Practice? I’m supposed to be the franchise player and we’re talking about practice?”). The clip closes with him asking, “How am I going to make my teammates better by practicing?” He just wanted to play the game.

Sadly, when it comes to church, Christians often live this same attitude in the way that we treat one another.

Galatians 5 is a beloved chapter for many Christians, because it contains the “fruit of the Spirit” verses and amazing reminders of the freedom that we have in Christ. And it’s tempting to stop reading the letter there, because Paul goes on in Galatians 6 to talk about boring stuff like humility, helping others overcome their struggles, and sowing good seed in order to reap a good harvest. Who wants to hear about that when we can talk about victory over sin and how to be Spirit-led?

It struck me as I studied these chapters recently that they are meant to be linked together. Now, if we are reading the Bible faithfully, that’s a no-duh statement, that they were meant to be linked. Who gets a letter from a friend and reads it a section at a time over the course of several days, or reads the middle without the beginning, or skips the last paragraph? No one does, yet we do that with letters in the Bible all the time, because they’ve now got those chapter and verse numbers in it. (Those weren’t in the original letters, by the way, and neither were the bold-printed subject headings inserted before new sections).

Galatians 6 rightly follows chapter five, because one of the primary arenas that we learn to walk in the Spirit and bear Spirit fruit is in the Church. Church is where we come to practice humility, speaking the truth in love, bearing one another’s burdens so that when we have chances to do that outside the church walls, we are ready.

What happens instead is that we often come to church expecting those around us to be perfect, to have their lives together, and so we are not ready to practice this life in the Spirit because we sort of think we shouldn’t have to do that at church. We tend to act like the fruit of the Spirit is only for when we need it in regular life. And that can lead us to impatient or less-than-gracious with fellow Christians.

The community of Believers is the place where we practice humility, practice hospitality, practice forgiveness and repentance and prayer, because we should all know that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. It’s a place to grow in deeper communion with Christ, to acknowledge our failings, and to grow as disciples together.

Galatians 6 is how we practice the good news of Galatians 5, and we need to notice that Paul is addressing Christians and how they treat fellow Christians. Sunday is not just about hearing a message and singing songs, and it’s not about serving in a Sunday school class. It’s a place where the Body of Christ learns to live from Christ’s life in us, that we might go out and do that in the world.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

“It’s not you, it’s me?” A question about prayer

“Marshall, it says in James 5:16 that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. But what do you do if you know that you are not a righteous man but you are trying very hard to do righteous things? Does that mean there is no power in my prayers?”

My friend who wrote this is going through major trials in his life, some of them self-inflicted and some not. And my heart broke as  I read his question because he doesn’t see God at work. The problem with his question is that he is starting at the wrong point. His view is that in order to be righteous, I do righteous things, then God is pleased with me. Action determines identity. However, for the Christian, we are righteous because of what God has done, therefore we do righteous things. Identity determines action.

And so what about this question of the prayers of a righteous person?

1) How do we become righteous? The Bible is clear that there is no one who is righteous (Romans 3:10), and that if you want to try and use your righteousness to earn favor with God, the bar is set impossibly high (Matthew 3:20).

Righteousness is a free gift, given in and through Christ. Paul says in Philippians 3:9 that he has a righteousness not of his own but that comes from God on the basis of faith. Christians are righteous because Jesus is righteous and He gives His right standing with God to us.

2) Righteousness and prayer: So when Christians pray, we pray as righteous men and women based on Christ’s work.

3) The mystery of waiting: When God doesn’t answer how we hope or tarries in answering, it’s not because we aren’t doing enough righteous things. We’d sort of prefer it to be that way in a sense because then we might be able to control our own destiny. But prayer doesn’t work that way – it’s more mysterious and dependent on God to answer in His way and His timing.

It’s hard and uncomfortable to wonder why God doesn’t answer our prayers, and it’s natural to think that we are doing something wrong, that God is mad with us and holding back His blessings. But prayer is an act of faith, putting our concerns into bigger hands and offering the outcome to God, trusting His love for us even when it seems hard to see.