Monday, September 20, 2010

The Right Mixture

James 2:14-17
14 Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, 16 and you say, "Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well" -- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, it isn't enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all -- it is dead and useless. - New Living Translation

What a beautiful drive into the office this morning! It was just warm enough to turn my air conditioner halfway up (which for my old truck is rolling one window down). The air was crisp and just wanted to make me sing out, and I apologize to all the cows I scared as I passed by. But I just could not imagine anything being more beautiful. That was until she pulled up alongside side of me. She was a candy-apple red, 1966 Mustang convertible with the 289 small block engine and white pony interior. Oh, she was a beaut! Mostly, stock, gleaming and shining in the bright morning sun. The driver was a man who looked just a few years older than me. He had the top down, of course, had on a Mustang cap, just like the one I used to own, and a pair of dark Ray-Ban sunglasses. He had a cherry car and he knew it. He also saw the extreme envy I had; he had to with it being so evident as streams of drool gushed from both sides of my mouth. I only got to fantasize over her until the horn from the car behind me brought me back into reality that the light had changed. the driver of the Mustang just kind of gave a smirkish grin as we both pressed on our accelerator pedals to launch us toward our respective destinations. Then I heard it...the sound with which I had become all too familar...VROOM...pft.pft.pft...VROOM.pft.pft.pft. Then the smell of gasoline started to waft its way toward my nose. I started to hang my head in complete shame when all of a sudden, I noticed something strange out of the corner of my left eye. The Mustang started it trek across my peripheral vision, but traveling in the opposite direction from what I was expecting. It seemed to be traveling backwards. It suddenly dawned upon me that I was the one moving forward and it was not my truck that was sputtering; it was that candy-apple red, 1966 Mustang convertible with the 289 small block engine and white pony interior! As I proceeded on, I saw my dream car sputter into a side street where I knew the driver would then open his hood to wonder why his prized possession would be acting up like it was. Of course, anyone with minimal car knowledge (of which I consider myself to be the posterchild for) will begin to surmise that the culprit is the carburetor.

The carburetor is a component that is rarely found on cars today, having been replaced by the fuel injection system. Its purpose is to mix the right amount of gas and air to support combustion. If too much gas is in the mixture, the engine runs "rich" and will not perform right. If there is too much air in the mixture, the engine runs "lean" and will fail to perform right. For optimum performance, the right mixture of both gas and air is required.

I believe James, the writer of the letter from which comes the above excerpt, would understand this concept. He used a similar postulation in reference to our faith and how we live it out. If we say we have faith (air) but it is not combined with the right amount of action (gas), what good is it? It gets us nowhere. Similarly, if our action (gas) is not mixed with a right amount of faith (air), then again, we are at a loss in our performance. For us to have optimum performance in our lives as followers of Jesus, we must combine both faith and action. When we do so, our lives will show it as we live it out.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just the Facts

John 12:20-22
20 Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to attend the Passover 21 paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, "Sir, we want to meet Jesus." 22 Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus. - New Living Translation

I've been looking for another car or truck to drive. Now, I've been doing this for some time now, so it's not like I am actively looking to do something soon, much to my wife's frustration. I have an old truck, and being an old truck, let's say it has issues. The carburetor doesn't always carburate, the alternator doesn't always alternate, and the pistons don't always...well, you get the point. But, trying to be a thrifty and frugal person with money now (it's about time), I prefer to get something pre-owned. That, however, leads to the possibility of buying someone else's troubles. Wouldn't it be great if when you went to look at a used car, the seller would be completely honest about the condition? Not too long ago, I called about a car that sounded great and for a pretty decent price - fairly low miles, new tires, no interior damage, good running engine. So what was the problem? Nothing according to the ad. It was only after I called the fellow that I found out that it didn't have a transmission! That's a significant bit of information that was left out. But, the seller still tried to sell me the car based on all of the other things, like he cleans the inside with Armor-all each month. I'm sure it is nice an shiny sitting there in his driveway, unable to move.

I am beginning to thinks that it is just human nature to perpetuate the trivial rather than the central, especially if we haven't really grasped what's really important. I am beginning to think that's a systemic problem among a large percentage of church people and many churches too. Too often, when we try to go out and tell the Good News, it becomes more about what goes on in our church rather than about Jesus. Seekers of Jesus aren't hungering for Bazaars and committee meetings, they hunger and thirst for Jesus.

I think that is why today's scripture is so poignant. The Greeks came searching for Jesus. They weren't looking for theories or postulations. They were after the facts. They weren't at all interested in the "fan club" meeting, the Jesus t-shirts, or I Jesus coffee mugs. They were looking for the real McCoy - they wanted Jesus.

Now, I'm not down on church or on our "feel good" expressions of faith. I just hope that we make sure that in the midst of all the hoopla, we don't forget that what the world is seeking, what the world needs is not more items and programs about Jesus, but Jesus. All these other things should always point and lead to Jesus.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Messed up or Misunderstood

Acts 16:16-32
One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her.
17 She started following Paul around, calling everyone's attention to us by yelling out, "These men are working for the Most High God. They're laying out the road of salvation for you!" 18 She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, "Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!" And it was gone, just like that. 19 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them 20 and pulled them into a court with the accusation, "These men are disturbing the peace - dangerous Jewish agitators 21 subverting our Roman law and order." 22 By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood. 23 After beating them black and blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. 24 He did just that - threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
25 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn't believe their ears. 26 Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose. 27 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, 28 when Paul stopped him: "Don't do that! We're all still here! Nobody's run away!" 29 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. 30 He led them out of the jail and asked, "Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?" 31 They said, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live - and everyone in your house included!" 32 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master - the entire family got in on this part. - The Message

What a strange world we live in. The news that is coming across the Internet this morning is filled with stories that make the perplexed even more confused. That firmly grounds me in this category. I am bewildered at how messed up or misunderstood people are today. Last week, we anxiously waited to see if more lives would be lost as a result of a small, obscure church's plan to burn thousands of books that are held sacred by a sizable percentage of the world's population. The pastor said that his church's intent was misunderstood. Another story that surfaced in a local news story was about a man who was arrested because he picked up and carried a lost child to the service desk of a local store. The frantic parent accused him of trying to kidnap the child.

What's happening here? When did it come about that people started to think that their constitutional rights gives them the liberty to trample on other's rights and beliefs? When did it become unsafe to help help out a frightened child? We are messed up and misunderstood.

The scripture passage above gives some hint that this isn't a recent phenomenon. We see that some two millennia two men who were trying to do a good and godly act was quickly arrested and thrown in prision. They were misunderstood by a messed-up world.

But, the story doesn't end there - not with them rotting away in prision. Instead, it gives the insight to their hearts, that was still filled with joy for serving God. No one around them could believe it. Even when they had the opportunity to escape from their unjust accusers, they remained, so that God would be be honored. Because of this, God was honored with more to believe in his saving grace.

That's probably not what most want to think about though when we are in misunderstood by a messed up world. As a dear friend of mine used to say, "When you are up to your elbows with alligators, it's hard to remember that your purpose is to drain the swamp." But even in the midst of the alligators, even in the mire and muck of the swamp, God is with us. Don't forget that. Don't forget to sing some praises.


Monday, September 13, 2010

The Wisdom of Friends

Acts 15:35-41
Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren't alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch.
36 After a few days of this, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let's see how they're doing." 37 Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. 38 But Paul wouldn't have him; he wasn't about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. 39 Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus; 40 Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master, 41 went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations. - The Message

Have you ever thought you knew what was best? Of course you have; we all have. It is human nature to think that what we know is, at least for a moment, is the best course of action. Sometimes while driving in a unfamiliar part of the country, I will forgo the directions that are given to me by my GPS, especially when I can see my destination. Sometimes, I am right, but not all the time. I have found myself on more than one occasion having to backtrack because the course I chose turned out to be the wrong one. though I could clearly see where I was wanting to arrive, the my self-improvised path was mired by roadblocks or one way streets, that went in the wrong direction. Yet, as stated earlier, sometimes my chosen path was the better one.

Of course, thinking we know best isn't just relegated to our navigational skills. It encompasses so much more. I cannot begin to think of the times, when I was much younger, friends warned me that the relationship that I was in was the wrong one. Love or infatuation was blind. I thought I knew best and found myself hurt and wounded later. The funny thing was that I often wondered why no one told me this would happen.

Often our pride and/or our heart gets in the way of reason and common sense. We will go against the grain of wisdom from family, friends, and colleagues, hoping for the chance to prove them wrong. Sometimes we prevail, but most often, we wind up wondering where we went wrong.

The scripture passage today tells of a similar account between two of the early church leaders. Paul and Barnabas had been tight in their mission of spreading the good news about Jesus. They were successful and wanted to ensure that their message was remaining entrenched in the hearts of those they spoke to earlier. But, as they made plans to return to the cities that had previously visited, they reached an impasse about who would accompany them. Barnabas chose someone who had deserted them earlier. He missed out on acquiring the basic first-hand knowledge that the early church required. Paul and Barnabas argued vehemently about this and decided to part company. Paul took with him and man whom had the blessing of the church leaders and his ministry is recorded as being exceedingly fruitful. Barnabas, while still trying to accomplish the same goal, followed his own ambition and went against the wisdom of his friends and colleagues. This is the last account recorded of Barnabas in this book.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here. In my faith tradition, we are to temper our decisions based on scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. I believe that second part includes the wisdom imparted to us by our friends. Sometimes, our way is best, but we should always weigh others views and insights. Afterall, friends are gifts from God.