Don’t be discouraged by James’ marriage of faith & works

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Patrick has been continuing to preach on that often controversial passage in James 2 about how faith and works relate.  Yes, we are saved by grace through the gift of faith.  But the changes in our thoughts, words and deeds (‘works’) that follow our conversion offer proof of the genuine nature of our new faith.

James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

Having just finished Michael Crichton’s novel – State of Fear, a fast-paced thriller about stopping some extreme eco-terrorists, I easily recalled a perfect example of this faith needing works to be legit.

State of Fear

Toward the end of the race to save America from an induced natural disaster, the main character is challenging the claims of both a housewife and a TV actor that the environment is their primo cause that motivates them.  Their testimony or profession crumbles with each pointed question:

  • Why is it that your main residence has 10,000 square feet?
  • How do you also justify maintaining an apartment in NYC and a vacation home to which you travel?
  • Why is it that you jet here and there to environmental conferences?
  • Why do you live so far away from your husband’s office that he commutes daily by vehicle, thus adding to carbon emissions?
  • Why is it that you think that those eking out an existence in ‘natural’ jungles in the 3rd world are content and we should all return to the wild?
  • Why haven’t YOU given up living in a 1st world country, then?

It is not enough to claim you believe something without proof that your convictions have changed the way you live.  As James points out so pointedly,

James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

This morning I was reading in 1 Samuel 11 about the terrorized people of Jabesh Gilead whose village was besieged by the Ammonites.  They sent word to Saul and Samuel who through the Holy Spirit united all of Israel to come to their rescue.  See if you can discern how faith and works are coupled in this next verse: 

1 Samuel 11:9 They (the mustered Israelite army) said to the messengers who had come, “You shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have help [against the Ammonites].’” So the messengers came and reported this to the men of Jabesh; and they were overjoyed.

That last word, ‘overjoyed’ is evidence of the Jabeshites’ faith in the messengers’ news. Anxiety and fear fled when they trusted the communiqué. How do we know?  Look at how they rejoiced – not just a little, but with exUBERance.

Their demeanor and response backed up their profession that they believed the messengers. There was no longer a ‘need’ to fret.

Works don’t have to always be big actions.  Our settled feelings, our resting in God prove our faith.

Are these kinds of works easy? No!  I have to sometimes fight the fear and anxiety when facing a situation for which I have no answer and see no solution.

Just this week God has gifted us with a new opportunity to prove our faith.  An old enemy, a bodily response to worry sprang up suddenly, attacking my husband 3 days ago.  This condition had not plagued him for 4 1/2 years, so the return was a shock.  You know how the fear works, the well-worn pattern of thinking and ‘what-if-ing’ that accompanies these situations.

Immediately I pulled out my go-to weapon of choice, Psalm 84:11 NO good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

I have to conclude, by reason, that if God has seen fit to allow this old enemy to plague us, then He has only good in mind.  By His grace, Mike and I ARE stronger and more practiced at trusting and wielding the sword of the Spirit.

Yes, it’s hard and continual, but I trust our good and loving Father.  And I want the spiritual forces of darkness AND my Christian brothers and sisters AND the unbelieving world to witness what faith in God looks like in a Christian.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, YET I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Stay tuned for how God brings us through this excursion into the valley.

 

 

Who’s in charge?

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If I were in charge, I wouldn’t have done it THAT way!

 Have you ever muttered that?  Consider these scenarios

 ·       You’ve been praying for an adult child to come to Christ.  Here he is, approaching 50 and just beginning to show signs of a softened heart.  But you think, “Lord, his life would have been so much better had You done this 20 years ago!”

·         Or it could be your aging mom – defiant until almost to the end.  Suddenly a hearing loss or lessened mobility has gotten her attention and she is asking about God.

·         Or, it’s your husband who has plugged away at his career with such a great attitude, yet no recognition.  “Father,” you plead, “can’t You allow him SOME measure of success!?”

·         You’ve heard of Joni Eareckson Tada – paraplegia PLUS breast cancer?  Not what she would have chosen..yet she claims she wouldn’t change a thing!

·         And finally a Scottish woman whose 2 children died in infancy, her ‘good for nothing’, titled husband was worse than terrible so that all in all she led a bleak life….yet…at age 35 he succumbed to a terminal illness that softened his heart. He actually repented and turned to Christ – literal death-bed conversion whose veracity was attested to by Scottish Presbyterian Pastor Samuel Rutherford.  She later wrote that it was totally worth it, to know that he would share eternal life with her.

 

For sure, not what these fellow believers would have chosen had their plans been sovereign.

 We should also take heart, for it’s not just recent believers who share our puzzled expectations, but Bible heroes as well. Many men and women in the Old and New Testaments echoed equally poignant laments.  The prophets did not understand God’s use of evil nations against God’s chosen people.  You can hear both Habakkuk’s incredulity and horror in 2:13 when he questions the Almighty’s strategy of bringing the hated Chaldeans AGAINST Judah:

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
                 and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
                 and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
                 the man more righteous than he?

 And what about the Hebrews en route to the Promised Land?  I bet they would have been quick to give you their 2 shekels’ worth about the frustrations inherent in a 40-year detour.

 

So….? How do these anecdotes help you & me?  When life doesn’t go according to our plan, we have to remember that Jesus is the happy controller (1 Tim 6:15) not us.  Therefore, His route and plan WILL be best.

With this fact about God in mind, I want to encourage all my dear friends (AND ME!!), those

 ·        who have miscarried too many babies

·         who are raising children with less than perfect brain chemistry or physical attributes

·         who are waiting for the right Christian man to join them in marriage

·         who are working diligently to build a business, yet have yet to see growth

·         who are praying that their children’s marriages will heal

·         who struggle with finances

·         who cry out to God to grow their church

·         whose bodies are breaking down and wearing out

·         who want nothing else than children and spouses to come to Christ or to grow in Christ

 God DOES know what He is doing and you are neither forgotten nor unloved.  Cling to Him, wait in faith and pray on:

 With Habakkuk, cry out:

Though the fig tree does not bud
            and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.  (3:17-18)    

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