Friday, September 1, 2017

To be Faithful, Not Faithless

      I am not a consistent blogger; neither do I regularly write in my journals. I hope that, if my children or loved ones ever read my journals, they will realize that I often write when I am upset--as an outlet for my emotions.  When I go months, or even years, without writing, I may be okay or just interested in something else.  Or, I may be feeling despondent, defeated, and depressed--unable to do it. For those of you reading this blog, I do a lot of writing that  I don't care to share with anyone and which never makes it to this page. As much as I try to live a life of transparency, I am not always able to lay it all out here in the open.
     However, I am trying to be more consistent with my morning quiet time--when I get my cup of tea, sit in my chair, read my Bible, and then write in my prayer journal. Some days I just can't do it. Other days I spend a couple of hours there. I journal, I blog, and I even do some work on a book.  If I do other things before settling down in my chair, I often become consumed by those things--tasks, bills, pet-feeding, weed-pulling, cooking, laundry, etc.
     Today, I want to share something that struck me recently when I was reading James. It has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to clear out the fog in my brain enough to publish this, but no writing, however well-thought out, is perfect. And, God is able to use our imperfections to accomplish His purposes.  So, I'm trusting Him with that.

"For the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. " James 2:26 ESV

        Conversely, in order for a body to be living, it must have a spirit. And, in order for faith to be alive, it must have works. I'm thinking about how "works" might be manifested in my own life. How am I living out my faith in my actions? Perhaps going ahead and publishing this blog today is a work of faith.
      Examples of "works" in this chapter in James include giving a brother or a sister food and clothing (verses 14-16).  Although I have participated in that activity, and I see many people giving of their time, talents, labor, and fortunes in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and its destruction, I am not satisfied with giving being  the only evidence of a living faith.
     The next verse follows this example by saying, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17 ) Certainly, I don't want to have dead faith!
      What comes next in verses 18-23 is a description of Abraham being justified by his works because he "offered up his son Isaac on the altar" and showed "that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works." Furthermore, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness – – and he was called a friend of God." James 2:23 ESV  What,  exactly, Abraham  believed is explained in Hebrews 11, the book that comes just before James in the New Testament.  It tells us that "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (v. 1) I don't know that I could have exhibited the sort of faith that Abraham had  as evidenced by the actions that he took.
     Continuing in Hebrew 11, "by faith  we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen is not made out of things that are visible." (v. 2)  This concept is huge and unfathomable  to me. Our current physicists believe that there was a "big bang"  that started the universe. All I know is that God did it. The first verse of Genesis tells me that He did. Hebrews 11:3 tells me that He did.  I have faith that God did it, but I don't know how, and I'm not sure how that faith can be demonstrated in my works, except to continue to take God at His word and believe it.
      Further down in Chapter 11 we read, " without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. " (v. 6)
      I seek him by sitting down in the morning in my quiet-time chair, opening my Bible, and  reading his word. By doing so I am participating in a work – – opening the Bible because I believe God inspired it, reading it because I believe that he has something to say to me today, and meditating on what I read so that I may draw near to him and show him that I am seeking him. These are works that demonstrate my faith,
      Verse eight tells us " by faith Abraham obeyed"..." When he was called to go out"..." Not knowing." " By faith he went to live…" " By  faith Abraham… offered up Isaac" (v. 17) because " he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead ." (v. 19)  Abraham's faith in God was demonstrated in his obedience to God's direction, even when he didn't understand how God's promises could be fulfilled if Isaac died.  He just trusted God and believed that God would keep his word, would fulfill his promises, and would do so in his own way. Perhaps I may be able to relate to Abraham's faith in action.
      When I'm reading God's word, I find guidance for life, sometimes in the form of instructions that make no sense to me, directions that are beyond my ability to understand. If I obey, if I believe even without understanding, if I act on that belief because I am trusting my Lord to work it out, that also is a work. However, reading  it and not believing it enough to act on what God says is an example of "faith without works".
      James 1:22 directs, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."  I am deceiving myself if I act on my own understanding and don't take God's directions to heart. Although I say I have faith, I am not demonstrating it by obedience. This is another example of faith without works.
      As a believer in my early thirties,  I was in a bad marriage and trying to endure it. On the one hand I believed God when he said divorce is wrong and that he hates it. (Malachi 2:16)  But, on the other,  I had needs that were not being met. I was committed to staying married but vulnerable to temptation. The result was that I justified my own sin  while obeying part of God's word and denying other parts. The consequences of my decisions have been ongoing, and I mull over those today on the day of my wedding anniversary of my first marriage.
      It has been twenty-seven years since  that fifteen-year marriage ended, and I still see the repercussions of those decisions being played out in my own life and in the lives of my children. God knew what would happen if I was a hearer of the word and not a doer. He knew what would happen if I picked out only the parts of his word palatable to me, cherry-picking the fruit that was compatible with my tastes and preferences.
      I can visualize Him now, my loving Father, shaking his head and grieving over me and with me, weeping as I weep, yet singing over me, soothing me with his voice of encouragement.
     He  knows I still seek him. He has guided me these twenty-seven years, healed me and shown me his unfailing love, and given me a life more beautiful than I could have ever imagined when I was trying to solve my problems in my own way, with my own understanding.
      I considered suicide twenty-eight years ago when my husband left me. I went into therapy and was hospitalized for treatment of depression. My therapist was a Godsend, and the hospitalization a much needed respite. God was Jehovah-Rophe to me, my healer. He continues to be who he says he is today.
      "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

     I hope by now that my faith is evident in my works, especially in believing God regardless of what He does or doesn't do, regardless of my limited human understanding, regardless of whether I get my way or not, regardless of whether his word agrees with my current opinion or not, REGARDLESS.

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