Category: James

Faith IS Action

We’ve defined faith according to the stories and examples in Hebrews 11 as bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future. That’s the thing the people and the stories in this Faith Ring of Honor have in common. These people demonstrated their faith by living into and through some powerful verbs.

In each one of these familiar stories, the hero of faith was facing overwhelming odds. They were each huge underdogs. From a human standpoint, they had little or not chance to come out on top. But, by faith, they each took their eyes off the obvious, they turned their eyes away from the physical things they could see, and they did something.

Noah refused to focus on the clear skies and sunshine. He took God at his word and focused on the promise. Abraham refused to look at the 100 candles on his birthday cake and the fact his wife had been reading AARP Magazine for 45 years and by faith looked instead to God’s promise. Moses was not deceived by the glitter of the Egyptian palace or the security in his royal position; he acted boldly, motivated only by God’s promise to love him and reward him in the future.

God’s people ignored the archers and warriors perched on the Jericho walls, Daniel walked into a den of lions, the Hebrew exiles stepped into a fiery furnace — not based on what made sense, not based on what seemed smart, not based on anything they could see. They were motivated solely by the greatest reality of all: we serve a faithful God, a God who makes promises and keeps them, a God who is forever faithful to his Word and forever faithful to his people. And for the most part, that ultimate reality is unseen. But people of faith, God’s people of faith, understand — we know — just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

But the seen things — that seen reality — can be so overwhelming.

I could name a dozen people I know who’ve lost their jobs this year or are afraid of losing their jobs in the next few weeks. They see the numbers and they see the savings account dwindle and they see the dead-end job listings.

I know a dozen people who are battling life-threatening diseases with everything they’ve got. And they’ve tried everything. But every day is more painful than the day before. And less sure. They see the test results and the doctors’ reports and there’s not any good news.

Your family’s a mess. Maybe your marriage. You see the hateful emails and dirty looks and empty chairs.

Maybe you’re in a spiritual desert right now. The Bible’s not speaking to you. Your prayers aren’t getting through. You feel lost. Maybe you’re caught up in sin. You feel a long way from God. You feel abandoned.

Like Abraham: one man and as good as dead. You’re outnumbered, out-muscled, out-smarted, and out of options. Out of luck. You’re staring into the teeth of lions, you’re tiny compared to the giant walls that are blocking you out, you’re feeling the heat of the furnace — all those things.

This is exactly the time for your faith to show itself in some verbs.

See, faith is not belief. It’s not even strong belief. Faith is never: Yes, I agree with those theological points, I believe these spiritual suppositions, these sets of religious principles make sense to me. That’s not faith. Faith is action. Faith is proven by verbs.

“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… I will show you my faith by what I do.” ~James 2:17-18



The Gain is Worth the Pain

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” ~Hebrews 12:10-11

Our Father is at work during the hard times in our lives, training us to share in his holiness, righteousness, and peace. The preacher in Hebrews is telling us, look, we ought to recognize the pattern here. We experienced this with our own parents and, if we’re parents ourselves, we do the same things. Good parents, including God, exercise discipline because they want their children to grow up to be like them, to share their values and commitments and way of life.

We sent one of our daughters to college in Oklahoma City and we told her, “You can only date boys from Texas.” Why? Because we have standards — standards related to our values and way of life. I check our youngest daughter’s phone from time to time and I see that almost half her playlist is Tom Petty and Aerosmith. And I say to myself, “Ah, we raised her right.”

God’s like that, too. He wants us to grow up to be like him. He wants us to love what he loves, to think what he thinks. He wants us to be holy like he is holy, to treat people the way he treats people, and to be righteous in the ways he is righteous. So he trains us. He conditions us. He uses discipline. And it’s not always pleasant. But it is always for our good.

“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” ~Romans 5:3-5

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” ~James 1:2-4

“We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.” ~2 Thessalonians 1:4-5

We know what God is doing through our struggles. We know it’s for our ultimate, eternal good. This character forming, this kind of relationship building with God, is proof that you belong to him as his child. It’s proof that he cares for you and he’s committed to you.

I know your sufferings are painful and your trials are terrible. And I know your troubles or whatever you’re going through make you feel lonely and desperate and depressed. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually — I know it’s real. And the Scriptures do not discount how hard this life is. The Bible doesn’t downplay the costs associated with a life of faith. The Scriptures don’t brush off your feelings. Your feelings are real. Your hard experiences are real. But the preacher in Hebrews wants to open our ears and our hearts to the eternal truth, to the everlasting reality of what’s being accomplished.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Jesus stayed focused on the joy in front of him: the joy of doing his Father’s will, the joy of fulfilling his Father’s purposes, the joy of participating in God’s salvation. Jesus endured the agony of the cross, he suffered through an excruciating physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual torture and death. And because he persevered, he reigns today at the right hand of the throne of God.

The preacher in Hebrews knows the people in his church are hurting. And they’re tired of hurting. They’re tired of suffering. To encourage them to keep running the race, he reminds them of the truth of Christ Jesus. Whatever you’re suffering, whatever you’re going through, Jesus went through so much worse, so much more, for the sake of your holiness, your righteousness, and your peace.



Forgiveness Honors God

SinfulWomanWashingFeetWhen Jesus tells us to forgive, one of the main reasons he gives is because this is what God is like. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord commands, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).

Real forgiveness honors God.

All people, all men and women, are created by God and made in the image of God. Every single person on this planet is a being of supreme value to God. That’s why in Genesis 9, God says anybody who takes the life of a human being is going to be held accountable. Even when an animal kills a human, God says he’s going to hold that animal accountable. Why? “For in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6). Every human life is sacred. Every human being has dignity.

Because all people bear the image of God, because all men and women are so valuable to God, we are not only forbidden to kill people, we are forbidden to curse people or talk bad about people. Any people. Scripture tells us we cannot “curse men and women who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). All human beings have this. Not just the “good” human beings — all human beings. Regardless of their track record, regardless of their character, God made them and God loves them. So we do, too.

Timothy Keller illustrates this by imagining a foreigner who visits Mount Vernon in Virginia. He doesn’t know anything about American history, he’s never been here before, and he’s surprised that Mount Vernon is a national monument. He might be confused. There are lots of old Virginia plantation houses that are bigger and fancier and more beautiful than Mount Vernon. Lots of those houses have more architectural merit than Mount Vernon. What makes Mount Vernon so worthy of all this honor and respect?

You’d say to this foreigner, this is George Washington’s house. George Washington is the father of this country. And that would explain it. You wouldn’t have to say anything else. The merits and quality of the house itself are irrelevant. Because we treasure the owner, we honor his house. Because it was so precious to him and we revere him, it’s precious to us and we take care of it. So we treasure every single human being on earth as a way of showing respect for their maker and owner.

Forgiveness also honors God because it’s an act of faith in God. By forgiving someone, I’m trusting that God is better at justice than I am. By forgiving, I give up my rights to seek fairness and to get even; I leave it all for God to work out. He will. I trust that he will. So I forgive.



Pray for Judy

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” ~James 5:13-15

I’ve sometimes heard about churches and elders who take these words of the New Testament literally. And seriously. I’ve always admired that in a group of church leaders. It’s certainly outside our normal box. It’s stepping away from our cultural comfort zone.  And I’ve been curious. I’ve wondered. What does that look like? How much oil does one use? And where do you buy the oil?

The anointing with oil is certainly a cultural and contextual thing in Scripture. It probably had something to do with perceived medicinal beliefs. It could have even just been superstitious. But I’ve always thought that the wisdom of actually anointing a sick person with oil today is in the human touch it requires. In the closeness it demands. The intimacy and relationship that’s necessary. In other ways — and I hope I’m not stretching this too far — I can see how this anointing with oil can function in a sacramental way. The touch and the oil can certainly represent in a physical way what our God is doing in a way that can’t be seen or smelled. It can point to that healing. It can signify the compassion and care that God feels and the provision and protection he promises.

For a long time I’ve thought it would be good to belong to a church and serve with a group of shepherds who practiced this praying and anointing with oil. And now I do.

Yesterday we prayed with and for Judy Newton.

Judy has been diagnosed with cancerous tumors in her brain. It just happened three weeks ago. The doctors are giving her little hope. Nothing but bad news. She’s endured one surgery and is bracing now for weeks of grueling treatments. She and her husband Lanny are beloved members of this Body of Believers at Central. Their faith is inspiring. Their commitment to God and to one another is powerful. Their belief that he is doing something great with them and through them is real.

But they’re hurting. They’re devastated. They’ve had the rug ripped out from under them and they’re not sure what’s coming next.

Judy and Lanny are in Houston tonight — they flew out early this afternoon — in line for a full week’s worth of tests and evaluations and treatments at M. D. Anderson. And yesterday they asked the elders to pray for Judy and to anoint her with oil.

So we went to her house and prayed. Several of us, a bunch of us, I’m not really sure how many of us, showed up at Lanny and Judy’s house to lift her up to our Father in prayer. Ministers and shepherds and all our spouses.

Tim explained to Judy that we don’t really understand fully the significance behind the oil. But, at the same time, we take it seriously. And literally. He told Judy that there is something to the physical touch that goes along with the prayer. There’s something about faithful obedience. There’s something about symbolizing what God is doing, how he is active, in our prayers. And then he took the oil and gently applied a couple of drops to Judy’s forehead.

And we prayed.

All of us. On our knees. Hands on Judy and Lanny. Arms around one another. With tears and tight throats. Eloquently and, at times, haltingly. At once feeling wholly inadequate for the task and perfectly at peace that God’s Spirit is doing all the work. All of us. Begging God to heal her. Confessing to God that we don’t understand. Wrestling with God. Praising God. On our knees before the Creator of heaven and earth, praying for his daughter Judy.

E. M. Bounds once said that prayer does not prepare us for greater works; it IS the greater work. I believe that. And so does the church family at Central. We believe in the power of prayer. We believe our God hears the faithful cries of his children. And we continue to lift up to him our sweet sister Judy.

I would ask you to please pray for Judy, too. Pray for healing. Pray for comfort and peace. Pray that our God would remove from Judy’s body all the horrible things that would cause her pain and do her harm. Pray that God’s name would be glorified in Lanny and Judy through this dark trial. And pray that our Lord’s holy will be done in her life just as it is in heaven.

Their precious daughter, Aleisha, is updating Judy’s battle every day on a blog. You can get to it by clicking here.