Monday, September 25, 2006

Actions Speak Louder Than words.

In the Faith Chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, faith is described using the nouns, "substance" and "evidence." Faith is defined as "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." But in the book of James (James 1:22 ) in the Bible, faith is also a verb. Faith is something we do. Christianity is more than a religion or a philosophy. It is a lifestyle…a way of doing…as well as a way of being, and is based on the heart changing and life changing amazing grace that we receive when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of our life. James (James 1: 22-25) tells us that willingness to do what one hears from God…is what characterizes genuine faith."if we just listen and do not obey, it is like looking at our face in the mirror. As soon as we walk away, we forget what we look like. Some of us, as we get older may want to forget what we look like. When I speak to Senior Citizen Groups I remind them (and me) about one of the laws of compensation. As we age, our eyes get dimmer, so when we look in the mirror we do always see …all our wrinkles and age lines. "Ode to Myopia" by Cary Fellman.

My face in the mirror…Isn’t wrinkled or drawn. My house isn’t dirty,…The cobwebs are gone My garden looks lovely…And so does my lawn. I think I will not…Put my glasses back on. Many of us identified with Bishop Bevel Jones, who, when speaking at a recent mission event told us when he looked in the mirror he kept "trying to change the channel." James advises us to "keep looking steadily and clearly into God’s law…not just to mirror our own finite thoughts …but to get a word from the infinite God." I am not a sports fan. But someone called my attention to an article in the Atlanta Journal about a fullback with the Atlanta Falcons. His name is Bob and his faith in Christ is worked out in what he does and how he lives. He was an eight grader when his parents invited Christ into their lives. Bob witnessed the dramatic change in their lives. So Bob became a Christian a few months later. When Bob, who is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in Electrical Engineering .was playing in Chicago someone asked about his lifestyle , and he knew they might make fun of him when they learned he took seriously the teachings of the Bible…but decided that if speaking out helped just one youth, it was worth any harassment. Bob said something I believe. We as Christian adults are letting our youth down when we know what is right but are not getting the information out to our young people because it is politically incorrect by the standards of Hollywood and Academia. We expect our youth to take on our values. At the same time we are not giving them practical reasons for practicing sexual abstinence before marriage in a world of Aids and sexually transmitted diseases. We need to give our young people reasons for not drinking and set the example in a world of high powered automobiles and DUI’s and a time when one out of ten people who drink become alcoholic almost from the beginning and according to stats many more become problem drinkers. If the church does not tell the truth, we can be sure people who have a vested interest in a multibillion dollar alcohol industry will not. So it is good to have successful sports figures, not just talking the talk but walking the walk. I read a story recently about a poor farmer.He had one horse he depended on for his Living. (1) His horse pulled the plow and was his only means of transportation. One day a bee stung the horse and it ran away into the mountains. His neighbors in the village heard and came by to tell him how sorry they were to hear about his "bad luck" in losing his horse. The old farmer again said to his neighbors; " Good luck, Bad luck…who is to say?" A week later the horse came home and with him were twelve fine wild horses and the old man and his son corralled these fine horses. Again the news of the farmers windfall spread throughout the village and his neighbors came back to congratulate him on his good luck. Again the old farmer just shrugged and said;"Good luck, bad luck…who is to say?" The only son of the farmer was one day trying to tame one of the fine wild horses and the horse threw him off and his leg was broken in three places. When word of the accident spread the villagers came back saying, " we are sorry to hear of the accident and the bad luck of your son getting hurt. The old farmer just shrugged and said: "Good luck, Bad luck…who is to say?" Two weeks later war broke out between the provinces…and the army came through constricting every able bodied man under sixty. The son did not have to go because of his injury …which turned out to save his life because every soldier in the village who went was killed in battle. The old farmer was wise in accepting the fact that we human beings, regardless of advantages or education or money…are not wise enough to make final judgments on what is good luck or bad luck. He was profoundly wise in accepting his creaturelessness and his inability to make a final verdict until all the evidence is in. (2) As Paul tells us, "now we see through a glass darkly" (3) Verse 17 in James 1 tells us that God is the father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. We are wise to remember that we are not in a position to make a final judgment on some things that happen to us. Some events that have every appearance of bad luck…in the mysterious unfolding of life, may turn out to bring unexpected good. We may flex our muscles and spout off our learning in the arts and sciences, but I visit in hospitals and nursing homes enough to know... we are not always in charge of our own body. The arts and the sciences are constantly being revised and "new scientific truth " is brought forth and yesterdays "old scientific truth" is being discarded. In one sense, I had the privilege of going through seminary twice. My first degree from Candler was a PHT (Putting hubby Through ) When my husband was a seminary student at Emory, because of my interest and calling, I read most of the books he brought into the house…Rudolph Bultman was one of the major theologians in the fifties with his works on form criticism and "demythogizing " the New Testament.Martin Buber the Jewish thinker was cited often with his "I Thou" relationship theology. When I attended the same seminary in the 1980’s neither Bulltman nor Buger were on our reading lists. The point is; human wisdom and the combined wisdom of noted thinkers often changes with the times. We see this illustrated in the medical field…in science as well as in theology. We see this idea reflected…mirrored in our schools, TV programs and newspapers every day. How wonderful to be privileged to gather around the timeless wisdom of the Bible…the word of God that "stands written" ...and is the eternal truth for every generation. This is basically the message of this text in the book of James. James wants us to know..."faith is something we do" Our actions (our behavior) does indeed speak louder and clearer than our words. The Lord wants to rescue from our damaging lifestyles and sins...because God loves us and wants the best for us. Therefore, when the Bible states clear and direct and strong moral proclamations about certain behaviors, you do not have to be a religious fanatic or a bigot to take it seriously. The people who are handing out condoms in pubic school in the name of "raging hormones " are giving kids the mistaken idea that hormones do not rage beyond youth so they had better take advantage while they can. Two often, our youth are advised to sell their future blessings for a mess of potridge …like Esau who so devalued his birthright that for immediate gratification he lost his blessing for a lifetime and lost the blessing that would have gone to his children, God wants to lead us into whatever changes are needed in our lifestyles…even if painful in the short run are changes that will bring blessedness now and in the long run …joy for a lifetime and beyond into eternal life. A few years ago…(8-17-97) I turned on the TV to "The Christophers"… an interview type program hosted by a priest. I tuned in just in time to hear a distinguished PhD type talking to the host. He was telling how he had been invited to speak a few years ago at John Brown University. He wondered about the origin of the name..."John Brown University" He decided it would probably not be named for the John Brown of "John Brown’s body lies a molding in the grave" fame…so he wrote for a brochure. He learned that the John Brown who founded the university had been a traveling evangelist. So as he was preparing to go to the school and give his speech…he admited he felt "a little condescending." He said he was identifying the term "evangelist" with some radical TV evangelist. On the morning of the speech, his father called from Tennessee and asked about his day and what he was about. So this distinguished speaker… mentioned to his dad that he was about to catch a plane to go out west to speak at John Brown University. His dad replied, "oh yes, I know about that university … it was under John Brown’s preaching that my dad was saved. " In relating this story he turned to his host and explained…that "saved" is the term commonly used in some church groups for becoming a Christian . The rest of the story is that this distinguished speaker’s Grandfather had been from a non Christian and poor, very disadvantaged family in the hills of Tennessee. At the age of 16 he has struck out on his own. He happened to encounter John Brown’s preaching …became a Christian. When he was ready to get married , he married a Christian girl…and established a Christian home…and thus his life and the life of his family and descendents was guided by and thus blessed by God. I thought as I heard this story, what better word could be found in all the dictionary than the word…"saved" to describe what happens to individuals and even families when Christ comes into a person’s life? Not just saved from the "wrath to come’ that John Wesley and the early circuit riders preached about. But also saved from illiteracy, ignorance, poverty …spiritual poverty and often economic poverty also as we join our disability with God’s ability. Christians established the first hospitals, schools and all the Ivy League Universities in our nation. James speaks of looking into the prefect law of God…not to mirror our own flawed wisdom. But to point us beyond human understanding to the liberating message of the mercy and grace.
AMEN. Notes 1. Johm Claypool, The Library of Distinctive Sermons, General Editor, Gary W. Kingston. P.31. 2. Ibid 3. I Corinthians 13:12

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