February 28, 2016 – manuscript

I read an interesting definition of faith this week, “a confidence of God’s saving act along with the evidence of that act in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ.”  Throughout our lives, we have opportunities to re-gift our faith.  Over the past fifteen years, two guys taught and modeled the value of relationships.  I have been told stories of how Bill and Bob sat down for a meal, a conversation, or anything in between.  It is evident they instilled within this church a desire for valued relationships.  The relational connections in this room should breathe life not just into the rest of the church, but into Warren and the rest of Huntington County.  I haven’t seen any homeless people in Warren, but I wonder what we would do in the following scenario:

A Chicago-based newspaper, StreetWise, is sold by homeless people, who collect a portion of the proceeds. One day as I walked to work, I passed a StreetWise vendor. It was a bitterly cold January morning, and I had already stopped by Starbucks and paid more than a dollar for a measly cup of coffee. Feeling noble, I struggled to find my wallet, reached in, and took out a dollar.

The homeless woman asked, “Do you really want the paper, or can I keep it to sell to someone else?”

“Keep the paper,” I replied. Then I added, “How are you today?”

“I’m so cold,” she said.

“I hope the sun comes out, it warms up, and you have a good day,” I told her as I turned to go.

I continued on, with the cup of coffee warming my hand. About half a block later, the conversation finally registered. I wrestled for a moment with what I should do, but I was late, so I kept walking.  Ever since, I’ve regretted not giving her a cup of hot coffee in Christ’s name. – Written by Joseph Stowell when he was president of Moody Bible Institute.

I’ve walked down the sidewalk between Starbucks and Moody Bible Institute many times; it’s a short walk and there are always homeless people covered up with blankets as I walk by them with my expensive coffee.  In the scenario, he was consumed with his agenda that he wasn’t able to listen well.  I am just as guilty.  Verse 15-16 says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  I was convicted this week of my shortcomings in this verse.  I don’t often run into people that are without clothing and I don’t always know when a person is lacking in food, but my conviction came in the form of not slowing down enough to listen well.  I don’t always take the time to hear what another person is trying to communicate even if he/she doesn’t have the right words to say.  I get busy with tasks and the pursuit of how I want things, that I become guilty of the principle behind these verses many times.  God reminded me that people always have needs and it’s our job to get close enough relationally to recognize those needs without being asked.  Certainly, I’m still being refined in this area and I wonder if you are also.

The first evidence of true faith surfaces as we touch other people relationally.

Scripture Text: James 2:14-26 (ESV) – 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Throughout the gospels, we find Jesus often touching the lives of people through conversations, meals, long walks, and physical healings.  Jesus had emotional connections with his disciples and close friends.  From my view, Jesus had full, busy weeks but always made time to give full presence to the conversation of the moment.  James 2 specifically mentions caring for those without clothing and food, but I think the text goes deeper and invites us to live as Jesus did by being fully present and fully engaged in every relational contact.  When we take this form of action, our works match our faith and we allow our lives to make the point of James 2.

The second evidence of true faith surfaces when we allow the Bible to shape our lives.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Demons are angels that were created by God and once called Heaven their residence.  Revelation 12 teaches us when Satan fell from Heaven, he took 1/3 of the angels with him.  Jesus has authority over all created beings, including demons.  In Mark 5, we read about a group of demons, called “Legion”, falling down before Jesus. The demons believe who God is and they shudder.  The word shudder means they are so afraid they shake.  It isn’t enough to simply read the Bible.  When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4, he knew the Bible and twisted it for his purposes.  James 1:22 taught us that if we are not doers of the Word of God, we deceive ourselves.  When James 1:22 is combined with James 2:19, we force ourselves to make a decision.  When we do not allow the Bible to shape our lives, we place ourselves a little lower than the demons who fear God and recognize God’s authority, but do not submit to God’s plan.  A person who doesn’t allow the Bible to shape his/her life, doesn’t fear God and doesn’t recognize God’s authority.  I could make a strong argument that this person thinks his/her plan is better than God’s plan.  Colossians 3:16 invites us to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly”.

I had dinner with somebody this week and he asked me, “Why James?”  My immediate response was “because holiness matters”.  It could be argued that a person can be hyper-relational without Jesus.  To that argument, I submit that allowing the Bible to shape our lives makes us pursue and care about relationships we never would without Jesus.  When holiness matters, the Bible shapes our lives.  When the Bible shapes our lives, we notice the cold, homeless person who would love to have our hot cup of coffee.

The third evidence of true faith happens when we don’t see God working, but trust anyway.

 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James takes us back to the beginning in order to show us natural relationship between works and faith.  Works did not save Abraham; his faith did that.  The trust Abraham had in God allowed for some amazing works.  In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abraham that will shape the future.  Genesis 22:1-6 reads, “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Isaac was about 21 years old.  The amount of trust that Abraham had in God throughout a situation that he didn’t understand should be overwhelming.  We’re so quick to stop trusting.  God, I don’t know how you’re going to pull this one off.  God, I think you might be a little crazy.  God, are you sure you know what you’re doing?  God, did you abandon me?  God, are you there?  Of course, he is there.  In fact, he isn’t the one that stopped trusting.