James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:20-22

The phrase that stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of the second chapter of James was: “his faith was made complete by what he did.” When we come to belief in Christ, it’s the beginning of a process — the process of sanctification. In many places in the New Testament, we are told that our faith will transform us. For example:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Our faith is not a simple philosophical assent — it’s meant to take over our way of thinking, and also our way of behaving. Here’s a comparison for you. A while back, I took a “Prevent Diabetes” class at the local Senior Center. One of the participants came to every class. She learned about counting calories, portion control and exercise. She believed what she was taught — but she never put what she learned into practice. At the end of the year, she had made no progress toward her goal of lowering her blood sugar count. Simply sitting in class week after week didn’t get her the results she wanted. She didn’t really get with the program.

God has a program too, and it’s very simple:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.(and) … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Mark 12:30-31

The emotion of love is not complete until we follow it up with loving deeds. So, make sure your faith and actions work together. You’ll be pleased with the results, and so will your Father in heaven.

What is a Church?

,My husband, who is our pastor, wrote this article for a recent church newsletter, and I thought it was worthy of sharing.

What is a church, or specifically a congregation? Have you ever thought seriously about this?

Well, the first thing we say, of course, is that it is a gathering of the people of God in a certain place. People may gather at schools or work places or gyms, or ball games, but none of these places can be a congregation because they lack the one defining requirement, the people gathered there must be people who follow Jesus.

Now we have to admit that not all people who have their names on the roll of a congregation are people of God. As the Lord points out in the parable of the wheat and the tares, some are not who they seem to be. They are not really part of the true congregation. At least, not yet.

As the people of God gathered together, a true living congregation seeks always to grow in grace and faith in the Messiah. I don’t care how big your gathering or what the name plate on the door says, a living congregation must be a spiritually growing congregation. No one achieves full sanctification in this life, but those who truly confess Jesus as their Lord strive to attain that goal.

A living congregation has living Christians at the core. And living Christians are those who grow in their faith lives through ever increasing understanding of what it means to confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord.

Congregations where there is no faith growth or signs of life are dead gatherings and the Holy Spirit is not at work among them.

Dead gatherings might survive for a time, but they will eventually fail, for if the Lord doesn’t bless those who call on His name there is no hope.

So the question for St. Paul’s, and for all congregations is this — will you be living or will you be dead?

I Can Do Better

This was the daily quote in my devotional reading recently:

“Do not try only to abstain from sin, but strive, by God’s grace, to gain the opposite grace.  If thou wouldest not slip back into sin, thou must stretch forward to Christ and His holiness.  It is a dull, heavy, dreary, toilsome way, just to avoid sin.  Thou wouldest not simply not be impatient;  thou wouldest long to be like thy Lord, who was meek and lowly of heart.  Thou wouldest not only not openly murmur;  thou wouldest surely long, like the beloved Apostle, to rest on Jesus’ breast, and will what He wills.”

Edward B. Pusey

I realized this is what I have been talking about with my reunion group friend. I have shared that I can usually refrain from “outward” sins.  In other words, I do a pretty good job of avoiding sinful behavior.  However, I still struggle with things like a poor attitude, lack of gratitude for the good things God has given me, or uncharitable thoughts.  The author of this quote has it exactly right:  I need to pray to not only to do what is right, but to really want to do it.  I need to do good not just because it is my duty, but because it brings me joy to please God.

This reminds me of the famous love verses from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[ but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I obey God without love for Him and for others in my heart, it’s meaningless.  I’m like the Pharisees in the Bible, and Jesus called them “white-washed tombs.”  In other words, they looked good, but were dead inside.  I must develop the qualities of a truly loving disciple.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  1 Corinthians 4-7

This certainly isn’t easy, and I can’t do it on my own.  I need the help of the Holy Spirit.  I’m praying for that.  Will you join me?

For more quotes by E. B. Pusey see:

Advice From E. B. Pusey

Victorious Faith

Being More Than Conquerers

 

My Hope for the Future

It will soon be January, and at the beginning of a new year, we often think of making some “new year resolutions.”  What do I want to accomplish this year?  How do I want to change?  What could I do better?

Recently my reunion group friend and I have been discussing the examination of conscience (for more information see Examination of Conscience).  We both agree that our biggest problem is not doing sinful things, but doing good things with a poor attitude.  We can do our Christian duty while grumbling, becoming impatient or feeling aggrieved.  I’ve been praying to improve, and this quote from my daily devotional describes well the way I hope to behave with the help of the Holy Spirit.

“That is what our sacrifice of ourselves should be –‘full of life.’  Not desponding, morbid, morose;  not gloomy, chilly, forbidding;  not languid, indolent, inactive;  but full of life, and warmth, and energy;  cheerful and making others cheerful;  gay, and making others gay;  happy and making others happy;  contented and making others contented;  doing good and making others do good, by our lively vivid vitality,–filling every corner of the circle in which we move, with the fresh life-blood of a warm, genial, kindly Christian heart.  Doubtless this requires a sacrifice;  it requires us to give up our own comfort, our own ease, our own firesides, our dear solitude, or own favorite absorbing pursuits, our shyness, our reserve, our pride, our selfishness.”

Arthur P. Stanley 

Philippians Chapter 3 –What Stands Out

This is the third in my series of lectio divina meditations on Philippians.  What stood out for me in this chapter is:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”  Philippians 3:12

The “this” the apostle Paul is speaking of, is his attempt to imitate Christ, his master.  He wants to:

“… know him and the power of his resurrection …. share his sufferings …. (and become) like him in his death ….” Philippians 3:10

In other words, Paul is describing the process that Lutherans call sanctification.

Like Paul, I am far from completing this process.  I’m still pressing on, and will be until the day of my death.  Some days, I’m all too aware of my failures and shortfalls.  Strangely, this doesn’t make me feel hopeless, but hopeful.  After all, in the end, I do not have:

“…. a righteousness of my own that comes from the law; but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”Philippians 3:9

The race is already won, but running gives my life meaning.  I want to imitate Jesus who saved me.  I want to meet Him and hear these words:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Matthew 25:21

I want to persevere.  It’s my “one thing” — for more about this see: Bulls Eye!

For more on the book of Philippians visit these posts:

The Theme of Joy in Philippians

Philippians Chapter 1 — What Stands Out

Philippians Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

 

Lovingkindness by William R. Miller–Book Review

What is lovingkindness?  The term was first used by Myles Coverdale in 1535 as a translation for the Hebrew word “hesed” as used in the Scripture.  According to the author, there are closely related concepts from Baha’i, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, and so he does not address it as specifically Christian.  I also take issue with his view of human nature, as he believes:

“… our fundamental, natural, intended, and mature nature– is lovingkindness.”

Lovingkindness may be our intended nature, and as we progress in sanctification, it will become more apparent in us;  however, original sin prevents it from being our fundamental nature.

That being said, the book does contain information that is helpful in cultivating lovingkindness  in our lives.  Miller defines lovingkindness quite simply — to act for the well-being of others.  It can be sacrificial in a heroic way, or found in the many small choices we make every day.  If we practice lovingkindness as a discipline, it will become an integral part of our character.

He lists and discusses these twelve attributes of lovingkindness::

  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Contentment
  • Generosity
  • Hope
  • Affirmation
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Humility
  • Gratitude
  • Helpfullness
  • Willingness to yield

Each quality is covered in a separate chapter, along with practical suggestions about practices you might undertake to increase that virtue in your own life.  At its’ heart lovingkindness are the following characteristics:

  • It is chosen.  It cannot be done grudgingly
  • It is enacted.  It is not just the emotion of sympathy, but compassionate action.
  • It is empathetic, having an interest and understanding of other views, even when they differ from our own..
  • It is selfless.  It cannot be done for personal gain or rewards.
  • It is consistent, a way of living, not an isolated act.

He also discusses some obstacles to lovingkindness:

  • Inattention
  • Fear and anger
  • Privilege

VERDICT:  3 STARS.  I disagree with some of the author’s premises, but he has provided an accurate description of lovingkindness, as well as some helpful suggestions for growing it in our relationships with others..

For more on the topic of kindness see these posts:

Deep Kindness by Houston Kraft–Book Review

Apathy, Sympathy or Empathy?

The War For Kindness by Jamil Zaki — Book Review

 

 

Clothed With Christ

We’re studying the book of Colossians in our Adult Sunday School class, and this week I’m teaching.  The theme of our lesson is “clothed with Christ” taken from these verses:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them together in perfect harmony.”  Colossians 3:12-14

Clothing ourselves with Christ’s nature is something we need to do every day.  Unlike the atonement, it’s not once and done (although we might wish it to be so!).  This quote from my devotional reading describes how to go about this:

“Nothing so purifies the thoughts, shuts out self, admits God, as in all things, little or great, to look to Jesus.  Look to Him, when ye can, as ye begin to act, to converse or labor;  and then desire to speak or be silent, as He would have you;  to say this word, or leave that unsaid;  to do this, or leave that undone;  to shape your words, as if He were present, and He will be present, not in body, but in spirit, not by your side, but in your soul.  Faint not, any who would love Jesus, if ye find yourselves yet far short of what He Himself who is Love saith of the love of Him  Perfect love is in heaven.  When you are perfected in love, your work on earth is done.  There is no short road to heaven or to love.  Do what in thee lies by the grace of God, and He will lead thee from strength to strength, and grace to grace and love to love.”

Edward Pusey

So, dress yourself in Christ every morning.  Let Him lead you.

For more another quote by Edward Pusey see this posts:

Victorious Faith

For more about being clothed with Christ see:

A New Suit of Clothes

 

 

Keep in Step with the Spirit

In our second church study of the Holy Spirit, we took up a new topic — the fruit of the Spirit.  Good fruit in our lives does not come through self development — it is a gift from God.  Our redemption has a purpose — to transform us into fruit-bearers. This is called sanctification — the process of becoming Christlike.

In Galatians we find a detailed description of what this means:

“So live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft;  hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy;  drunkenness, orgies and the like.  …..

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. ”  Galatians 16:5-22

You may take note that love is central to the fruit.  The sinful acts listed destroy love, while the fruit of the Spirit increases love.  Why would this be?  Because God is love, and His desire for us as His creation is that we love Him and love one another.  We were made to live, not for ourselves, but for the glory of God.  So,

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Galatians 5:24

In other words, LOVE.

For more on the Fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow

Martin Luther on the Fruit of the Spirit

Increasing the Fruit

 

 

 

The Great Pope, Self

This quote was part of my devotional reading this morning.  The author is Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker.

“The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self.  The most difficult thing we have to manage is self.  Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations, and our peculiar temperaments–our inward affairs of every kind–these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness.  In laying off your burdens, therefore, the first one you must get rid of is yourself.  You must hand yourself and all your inward experiences, your temptations, your temperament, your frames and feelings, all over into the care and keeping of your God, and leave them there.  He made you and therefore He understands you, and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it.”

This reminded me of one of Martin Luther’s quotes:

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”

I agree with both of these great Christians, that the most besetting sin I deal with is selfishness.  It’s hard to sacrifice my own comfort, desires and preferences for somebody else.  Yet our calling as Christians is to put others first.  I can only hope to do this in small steps, day by day because selfishness is my default position.  Often I fail, but I keep plodding away.  I try to help when asked.  I try to give more generously.  I try to not expect more from others than they are willing to give. I try to have patience (this s a hard one).  I try to trust God in this process of sanctification.  In a class I took years ago about spiritual direction, we were told to know our own sinful tendencies and ‘lean away from them.”  How about you?  Do you struggle with the great pope, self?  How do you lean away from it?

For more Hannah Whitall quotes see these posts:

What Damages our Spiritual Life? (according to Hannah Whitall Smith)

How to Recognize a Christian

For more Martin Luther quotes see these posts:

Martin Luther on Serving Others

Martin Luther on Sin

 

 

 

Everyday Faithfulness by Glenna Marshall — Book Review

Think like a farmer.  This is Glenna Marshall’s advice when it comes to persevering in spiritual disciplines.  Just as a farmer must plant the seeds, water, fertilize, weed and wait, our spiritual growth is a slow process.  It requires steady attention even when we’re not seeing or feeling the results.

What is everyday faithfulness?  It’s pretty basic.  Follow Christ through regular Bible reading, prayer and corporate worship.  That’s it.  It’s nothing fancy and complicated.  Nothing that, as Christians, we don’t already know we should be doing.

Why is it important?  Here’s what Glenna has to say:

“I know now that unless we all commit to regular, daily faithfulness to Christ, we’ll be confessing our prayerlessness and dusty Bible covers for years to come ….”

If we aren’t persistent in incorporating spiritual disciplines into our daily routines, we’ll never grow and mature in the faith.

There are nine chapters which explain how to live faithful lives during challenging times.  For example:

  • When it’s difficult to remain disciplined
  • When you’re busy
  • When you’re waiting
  • When you doubt
  • When you’re suffering
  • When your spiritual life feels dry
  • When you sin
  • When you grow old

At the end of each chapter, Ms. Marshall gives a brief description of a woman she has known who exemplifies perseverance in the particular season of life described.  It’s not always easy to find the time, energy or motivation to read the Bible, pray and attend worship and other church activities.  However, the rewards of continuing them even when we don’t feel like it are great.  Once we learn to “think like a farmer” we’ll reap a plentiful harvest of peace and righteousness.

The theology is spot-on.  Ms. Marshall is quick to point out that God not only plants our faith in us, His Holy Spirit encourages and assists us in sanctification.  She also quotes from a number of sources that will encourage further reading on the topic.

VERDICT 5 STARS:  I loved it!

For more on this topic:

Bulls Eye!

Developing Spiritual Habits

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

The Lutheran Ladies received a free copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR part 255.

If you would like to purchase this book, follow the link below:

https://www.crossway.org/books/everyday-faithfulness-tpb/