Monday, November 30, 2015

How Pure Is Your Religion? James 1:27

"27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" James 1:27

My grandson, David, is a typical ten year old. He lives in a world of Minecraft and Clash of Clans. His family spends many a night curled up on the sofa watching their favorite movies like Star Wars. Rarely is he left alone. Only recently has my daughter allowed him to stay by himself for a few hours. I don't think he's ever walked the mile downtown alone.

A very illustrative pre-teen in an average

family, surrounded by love, compassion and protection.

The other day, The Washington Post ran a picture of a boy--no older than David, but probably around eight. He was walking through the ruins of a Syrian town. Not one building stood. The hills he climbed were the rubble of war, the remains of his village. Everything was blackened by fire, and around the corner he could face rifle fire or a bomb or the poisonous gas from the president sworn to protect this country.

I thought, "I could never let my child live under these conditions." If this was my world, I'd flee.

That's exactly what thousands of Syrians thought, and it's what they did. They ran to the shelter of the West, to towns in Serbia, Germany and France. If they got lucky, they could get to England or the United States and raise their children in saftey.

Sadly, what met them were people saying, "Go home" or "Go to another country".

President Obama wants to bring some to the United States. The loudest opponents to this are the Christians. "We don't want a Muslim here." "There'll be terrorist in the lot." "I'd be open to letting them into the United States if they were Christian."

How can we read texts like James 1:27 and deny solace to devastated peoples?
Can we gain comfort from the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), and then turn our backs on others?

Can we remember the Jews we turned away from our borders in the 1930s or the Japanese we interred at the end of World War II and still deny succor to refugees?

And how about those in ghettos in our own country--people denied human rights because their skin is dark? Do we forget the Civil War and the misery of slavery?

As my brother reminded me, my own family faced bias in the fifties simply because they immigrated from Belarus in 1915 and were still considered a threat.

We, as Christians, cannot be bigots. We cannot worship on Sundays and curse the people made in God's image and likeness on the next day.

A church that does not couple compassion with spirituality, is defiled.

Do you stand for pure and undefiled faith or is your religion vain?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Be Doers of the Word: Look in the Mirror--James 1:22-25

English: The Big South Fork of the Cumberland ...
English: The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River
 in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
 in Scott, Fentress, and Pickett Counties of Tennessee
 and McCreary County, Kentucky, USA.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude them-
selves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

On a beautiful Saturday, three friends and I hiked Big South Fork in Kentucky. The sun shone, the air was dry and crisp. Life--and the scenery--couldn't have been better. It was time for a photo.

I grabbed my phone, held it out over the overlook. Instead of seeing Devil's Jump or the Big South Fork, I saw me. 

English: A natural bridge in the Big South For...
English: A natural bridge in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Scott, Fentress, and Pickett Counties of Tennessee and McCreary County, Kentucky, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Unaware that the lens had been turned in my direction, my image startled me. My hair stood on ends--unparted and tangled from pulling my hoodie over my head. Mascara had streaked from the wind that caused my eyes to water.

I turned the lens the opposite direction, and took the snapshots. Beauty.

Life captured my attention. I oohed and aahed with my friends. Examined the arches of the rocks, the holly berries, the sweeping panorama and the fungi. We ate a fabulous lunch and continued our hike.

But me? I hadn't changed much. The wind blew my ratted hair, but it didn't restore it to order. My eyes watered a bit more, and layered my skin with more mascara. I was a mess.

Not Looking Good
And that's us if we're only hearers of the word. I hadn't changed at all after viewing my appearance. My life only worsened it. My hair needed a comb, my face a little "spit and polish." Without tending to what I knew to be wrong, my appearance only worsened.

In our lives, we listen to the words of this week's sermon on giving thanks in all things. Then we go home and complain--about Obama, about the weather, about ISIS, or about our husband's socks on the floor. We don't get the gratitude that makes life divine. The sermon did nothing to transform us.

We read in our Bibles to give to the fatherless and the widows, but on Thanksgiving we stuff our stomachs then grouse on the couch when our favorite dog doesn't win the dog show or that our mother-in-law's cole slaw unsettld our stomach. No one is helped. Those who have nothing on Thanksgiving still have zilch. Those who gave to us are not appreciated.

You hear the building fund needs money? The kids' church lacks helpers? Someone needs to fill out the choir? 

Do you sit and say, "Why doesn't someone step up?"

Have you looked in the mirror?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Giving Birth To Sin: James 1:14-15

Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower
"14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15).

With the world, I grieve over the latest actions by ISIS--more than 120 people killed in Paris

Shortly before that, 224 people died on a Russian jetliner.

And a month prior, over 90 people died in Ankara.

Their psychopathic route to destruction will have no end.

What a sad illustration of James 1: 14-15. Militants, sucked into jihadism by their own evil desire gave birth to sin which led to death on scales we haven't seen within my lifetime.

It's so easy to point the finger at these radicals. Heinous, unscrupulous, and narcissistic, to be sure. Their deadly objectives, though, can point a finger to us.

We are like the people described in Philippians 3:19. "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame." 

A leading hashtag on twitter boasts about how proud woman are about their abortions. We, as Christians, have certainly been confronted with the transgender issue. An underground movement still exists that claims it is normal to have adult/child sexual relations. We've accepted marijuana as legal. We eschew any mention of God in our laws. Blacks are angered that whites are distressed about Paris. Whites despise Blacks because of actions like the Baltimore riots. Does anyone love a Muslim these days? Do we remember that not all of them are militant?

Many of our actions start out innocuous enough. And extra piece of cake is fine. Done too often, overeating leads to gluttony. We ooh and ahhh over celebrity status, then do things to achieve our own status--even if it's evil.

One sin always leads to another. For centuries, we've jettisoned truth, and the end result are horrible acts like Umpqua, Ferguson, Paris, the European migration or the Nazi Holocaust.

The only good found in these actions is they give us a foretaste of hell, an eternal place far worse than any of these awful situations.

We must find our moral compass. That only comes from living a life Christ ordained for us.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Faith: How to Get It: PAPS

English: The apostle James in the Stavelot Bib...
English: The apostle James in the Stavelot Bible. Initial to the Epistle of James. Folio 197 verso. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:6-8

Faith is hard for me. Before I became a believer, it was impossible. People proved the Bible by the Bible--and that to me was a fallacy. I couldn't prove the world was flat by the book I wrote about a flat world, so how could I believe in the fiction of the Bible?

God, though was faithful, and heard, if not my prayers, the prayers of my Christian brother who loved me. 
Ivan Panin
Ivan Panin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across a tract written about a number system developed by Ivan Panin. Essentially, he had a mathematical formula for the word structure of the Greek New Testament. It was a complex thing that, to me, proved the Bible. I no longer remember the details. It was enough for me to take a step of faith.

And what happened afterwards?

Christianity proved itself--over and over and over. Lifestyles I couldn't change by myself changed. My chronic daydreaming disappeared. Cursing died. The strange, incomprehensible stories made sense.

And I became an insatiable devourer of the Word of God. I read the Bible through in various translations--no, not Greek or Hebrew--but in the KJV, NIV, NASB and others. Through it all, my life changed, my faith grew and I forgot most of what Ivan Panin taught. It no longer mattered.

However, the one area I struggled with was the demands to believe when I had no faith. The Scripture quoted above, "That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord" seemed cruel. How could I believe in something I didn't believe?

I won't lie. It's not easy. It can be done. Here're four ways--The PAPS.

  1. Pray. One time I had no desire to forgive a person who emotionally wounded me. I didn't want to forgive. So my prayer became, "Lord, make me want to forgive. If I don't want to want to, then make me desire to want to desire to change." My "want to want tos" went on a nauseatingly, only God could love it, long time. Guess what? I forgave. I don't even remember the wound. Honestly. It is only through the power of God that faith increases.
  2. Act. Behave as though you believe. I hated my job as a school teacher. I'd walk into school each morning grousing like the best of them, about how I hated work. It was sin. So, I asked for forgiveness for the lie I was about to utter, and I thanked God for the job I absolutely loved. Guess what? I loved teaching--almost from that moment on. I adore the Book of James because it talks so much about action. Christians often forget that actions over-shout words.
  3. Persist. If you give up the first time you don't understand something, you will stumble and fall away. I go to the gym on a fairly regular basis. Lifting a twenty pound weight on the machine that works my triceps seems insurmountable. By slowly adding weight to my workout, that goal can be achieved. If I quit? All I will get is what on trainer called "the happy muscle," a waving flap of skin on the bottom of my upper arm.
  4. Study. Faith comes from hearing. (Rom. 10:17). We can listen to the preacher, and I would never discount that. However, I have heard preachers who got it wrong. Seriously wrong. And even if these humans got it right 100% of the time, they don't always preach about the issues we need. So study. Not only will you grow, but the beautiful, interwoven tales, prophecy and history found in the Word of God will increase your faith.

Monday, November 2, 2015

You Be The Judge

Who judges?

Not me!

We all exclaim not me, yet...

Recently I read an article in The Washington Post. Lizzy Velasquez was a bubbly, happy child until she went to school. She'd been born with a rare metabolic disease that makes her unable to maintain any body fat. She has 0%.

If you're like me, one who obsesses over her weight, that may sound ideal, but we know it's not. Lizzy is skeletal and her metabolism is reeking havoc with her health. It makes her look odd.

One day she happened on a YouTube video of the world's ugliest women. To her horror, she found pictures of herself and hundreds of comments. In a desperate attempt to find one positive response about her as a lovely person, she read them all. To a one, they were awful--many suggesting she do away with herself and make the world a better place. Not one person knew this beautiful woman. All looked superficially.

Phew, we say, we're not that bad.

My daughter, Sarah, has a good friend she met

when both were members of the PTO.He's a math teacher and a swim coach.   This man's done many marathons--was running the Boston Marathon the day it was bombed. He's completed multiple triathlons and is training for an IRONMAN. He's a great husband, a loving father.

And he's a dwarf.

How sad life would be if we looked at this amazing man an suggested the world would be a better place without him.

Phew, we say, we're not that bad.

Sadly, recently I discovered that I probably was in league with these people.

I volunteer in Celebrate Recovery, a Christian program for those struggling with addiction or co-dependency. With each meeting I trembled fearing people would believe I had an addiction problem. (Maybe I do, but that's another blog).

I looked at others, and I wondered about their lives and where alcohol or drugs had taken them.

As I immersed myself in the program, I discovered two are missionaries from a local Bible camp. No addictions. Another was recruited because the tragic loss in her life rivaled Job's--including the unsympathetic comforter. No addictions. Another volunteered to help with the children, another had a bubbly personality and was recruited to greet people, another had been sentenced to jail, mandated to attend and had turned her life around.

On crazy lady who looked older than I but was probably younger, the one who had no hope of redemption got saved.

Some fit my pre-conceived ideas. But it's up to God to deal with them, not me. My job is to show them hope and let them make their choices. I need to show mercy. Not judgment.

We're a mix of ordinary people whose extraordinary lives touch the souls of others.

What did I miss in my first weeks at CR? What do we miss when we look superficially at others?

And how do we stop doing it?

I suggest starting with CR's first (paraphrased) step: We admit we are powerless over our judgmental attitude, that our lives have become Pharisaical.

James is one of my favorite Bible books because he offers such practical steps on living our faith.  In chapter 2 we read:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism....Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor....If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it....12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.