Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going Places

I love to go places.  If I had a choice in retirement to stay in one place or to go from place to place, I'd chose the latter.  

I especially like to go to places that I've never been before.  I like to explore cities and towns that are completely new and to do so without much or any agenda.  This is the adventurous spirit in me.  This works that same for me when it comes to music.  I love discovering a new artist, a new song, that I've never heard before!  

But, you know what?  I also enjoy going to places that I've been a hundred times.  Those kind of places where you know every corner, every restaurant, every store.  The kind of place that brings back fond memories time and time again.  In music, there's the "oldies but goodies" that we return to time and time again.  The kinds of songs that we just can't stop listening to.  

Still, in my book, it's always great to come home!  My son Zach said it best after returning from a day trip up north: "Home Sweet Home."  When all is said and done, home is a good place to be. It allows us the most security and comfort and brings us a normalcy that, after being away from for a few days or weeks, we really long for.  

Now that summer is nearly over, the "normal" life of school and work picks back up.  Part of me is sad that the adventurous time of the summer is over but there's another part of me that likes the normal too.  In the end, it's all good and it's all a part of what makes this life that God has given us that much more refreshing and enjoyable.   So, while the normal returns for most of us, the seasons do change and another adventure is sure to be around the next corner.  

Saturday, August 08, 2009

James 2 - Faith and Works Explained

In the 2nd chapter that bears his name, James, the brother of Jesus, expends no small amount of energy trying to get a simple and yet profound message across.  In three specific instances, in verses 17, 20 and then again in verse 26, the message is the same: faith that isn't accompanied by action is useless.  In other words, if our faith isn't backed up with some sort of living out of the faith, it probably isn't faith at all.  

What James is not talking about here is is saving faith.  This is where Luther got hung up and wrongfully concluded that James was merely an "epistle of straw" as well as a "chaotic mess." Here, James is in agreement with the Apostle Paul who claims that it's by "grace through faith by which we are saved."  However, what James is talking about here in James 2 is a faith that goes above and beyond saving faith.

James was well aware of the tendency that could easily overtake many of the earliest followers of Christ.  Scattered among the nations, they could easily fall into complacency and turn their time and attention in the wrong direction.  As such, James seemingly nips in the bud the potential and perhaps actual problem, seeking to warn his audience before things got out of hand. It would be easy to fall into the trap that faith is all that  is needed.  That works are simply an added benefit.  Nevertheless, James feels quite ecstaticlly that faith without works is useless and dead.  

And here's the main point: these actions that he's calling for arent' something we're supposed to add to our belief.  Rather, they become a part of who we are.  As a band of Christ followers, we're supposed to be living out our faith by fulfilling the two great commandments.  We're to love God and we're to love our neighbors.  The Law of Christ requires that we live our lives as servants to those around us.  

The question that we have to ask ourselves is this?  Do we really believe?  Do we really believe what we're selling?  If not, it should be no surprise that our lives are characterized by very little "works" or "action."  If we do believe, if our faith is authentic, our lives can't help but show the love of Christ in our own unique and authentic way.  

somewhat ironically, in the very words of Luther himself:  Our faith "is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly."

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Day the Stiches Came Out

During this summer, the "Golf Bug" has taken over in our house.  First it was Mitchell, mowing lawns and eventually saving up enough money to buy his own brand new set of golf clubs.  Then it was Josh - similarly working on various odd jobs in order to earn enough money for his brand new set of clubs.  Thanks to Oriole Park down the street, our kids have a great place to go hit around and gain some practice free of charge.  My oldest son even constructed a psuedo putting green behind our shed in the back yard.  On top of all this is Tiger Woods 2010 - a fun game for all to play when the sun goes down.  

In addition to the older two, Zachary and Joy have taken up golf on a lesser but still interested level. With some hand-me-down clubs inherited from a variety of places, they too have been playing around in the backyard in their own unique way.  And all was going well this summer with no injuries to speak of but then it happened.  I wasn't there but I was given the gory details from my wife.  Joy swung the club and hit Zachary just above his left eye.  According to my sources, the blood was dripping as Zachary ran into the house, shouting to my wife:  "Momma, I'm dying..."  Sure enough, this wasn't just any old wound  but one that unfortunately required a trip to the ER.  

Seven stiches and a few hours later, Zachary was home.  A brave, courageous seven- year old had faced his greatest fear (all things doctor related) and returned home victorious.  Beat up and broken, there was also evidence of popsicles on his face - apparently what hospitals give to kids as they make their way around the victory lap.  Recycled toys repackaged as gifts from the neighborhood kids lined the living room floor as Zachary walked through the door.   Visibly relieved, it was great to see his face as he walked in and saw the love and support of his troop of friends and family.

Well, after a few days of having them in, today is the day the stiches come out.  And after they come out we're still reminded of what's happened for quite some time.  The scar from my stiches all those years ago in seventh grade are still there - that day the cow's brain that I was dissecting won.  Likewise, Zach will have a lasting scar that will serve as a reminder of the day his sister clubbed him in the head.  Nevertheless, the healing has begun.  

This little even reminds me of the fact that we all have scars and wounds from our past that remain with us for a long time.  Some are physical of course, but many are of the unseen sort, and perhaps more dangerous.  They are hard to see and they often surface at the most inopportune of times.  Yes, they are subtle but they can cause so much harm to us.    The good news is that healing does happen.  Over time, those harsh words don't seem so harsh.  Over time, the memories grow less memorable and seem to lose their steam.  Still, we rarely forget and we rarely gain complete relief.  We're left with those memories and those reminders whether we like it or not.  

The question as I see it is this: Will we allow these wounds from our past to haunt us forever or will we perservere and find the courage to press on?  James tells us to "consider it pure joy...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 anything."  Like Paul's "thorn in the flesh" that God never took away, perhaps our past memories (regardless of how painful they may have been and continue to be) can serve to strengthen us.  In fact, I'm confident that it's only when we see them in this way that we'll truly be able to keep on keeping on.  It's only when we allow God to use our wounded past to mature us, that we'll actually be able to experience healing.  It's only when "the stitches come out," so to speak, that we'll be able to get back in the race and run it as God intends for us.  

Today, think on these things... and may God's grace be with you!