FAITH & ACTIONS PART 1
CHALLENGED; NEEDING A CONNECTION
JOHN 6: 26-38
JAMES 1: 1-18
June 16, 2019
“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED … YOU BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME.” The words of Jesus Christ … words that for many leave it all said and done.
There are many amongst the Christian family who cling to God’s love through the words of our Savior declaring that ‘Yes, they raised their hands … they stepped forward to the altar call’ … they had a one day transition or not even a one day but a momentary what John Wesley refers to as a “strange warming of the heart” … Individuals declaring that they have been born again and some even have the day written down in a Bible or tattooed on their arms without believing that there is any other expectation just that one time statement. So easy .. so simple and yes I have responded to those who have asked about the event on His last day, when Jesus turned to the one vile awful criminal on the cross next to His and recognizing the man’s transition from non-believer to one who believes declared “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The work of James is to challenge those who believe to consider what that word, BELIEVE, means for the living and for life. It is the one New Testament book whose author considered that when we believe … when we truly believe … that there is a transition in whom we become. That criminal on the cross was about to die … he had very few breaths of life to take in but for those of us who walk, run, hobble, or wheel through our journey here there is much to live for but do we live for Christ? Have we chosen to pick up our cross and follow the One who died and rose out of that tomb. I am right there with James questioning those who take the easy route saying that they were born again and that’s all it takes. I insist that Scriptures teach being born again is not about an altar call’s step forward when an evangelist’s message strikes home … it’s bringing Jesus Christ home and just like my grandson who is about to be born … it marks a new beginning and a total transition from the womb of sin to the life as God’s child that challenges each individual making that claim of faith. Are you born again? You must be to see the Kingdom but that means change. You cannot continue as you once were because then you have not been born again; it’s that simple.
To me, it makes coincidental sense that we begin this journey through James’ book of faith and actions on a Sunday when two mission opportunities of this church are right before all of us. FAMILY PROMISE … RED BIRD … are missions of this church that so many of you step forward to take on. And can I add the WORLD outside these doors to the missions that are before us all this morning and surrounding our homes, your place of work and everywhere we go to eat or shop or vacation? Even online its our missional opportunity to showcase Jesus Christ’s calls to stand up for love and justice. FAITH and ACTIONS are the two elements of life that God is expecting from us and James begins his letter with words that I often wonder whether we are willing to take on for ourselves, “From James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
James is asserting right from the beginning of his letter that to be in a relationship with God and Christ is to become subservient to both of them. This is not a denial of love but an awareness of God … that God is awesome .. God is huge … God is GOD my goodness; GOD is beyond, above and can never be boxed in. We declare Lord and Master … well the Good News references those descriptive terms for Jesus. Savior, Friend but Jesus declares leave it all and follow Him; Take up your cross and the past is behind those who truly believe … MAKE A DECISION; A DECISION because FAITH and ACTIONS go together, which will be highlighted as we journey these next ten weeks through the book of James. FAITH without works is dead. The caveat being FAITH without LOVE is impossible because it took God’s love and grace to send Jesus here to teach us. Jesus taught love and action before showing His love by taking our sins to His cross. He died; HE IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> and He will come again but we pray that we will make God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven … we all do! EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY we pray that! But without the actions of the faithful; of true believers that cannot happen … if I sit back to watch the latest episode of The Bachelor saying I am too busy to visit with the families of FAMILY PROMISE then how will “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” ever happen. If I declare that I have no real skills and I really don’t have any friends … then why go on mission trips? If I love my politics so much that I have to dump hate on my social media attacking people and politicians whom l have never even met then how in the world am I born again and living for Christ? Being known for my love?
So, from this Sunday through the last Sunday of August; Oh I know it is vacation time … time to take Sunday’s off from church because other things take up our time. Just like our public schools, it seems that churches across our nation lose people from June through September but I hope you stay focused with me in the book of James. FAITH and ACTIONS. I hope your summer beach reading will include some books of faith and perhaps even your Bible. There will be Sunday inserts but we will also have these online at the website so you can access them there too. I will suggest some activities; oh how I hate to say homework during the vacation season but call it what you will. But, inspired by my pastor who I grew up with and who became my friend … we are diving head first into James and I hope when September’s Labor Day rolls around all of us including this pastor will be more energized than ever before to take on the work of faith that we are all called to. It might be something new or perhaps we are already in the right place.
But, a little more Jesus this morning …. Church you don’t mind hearing a little more Jesus do you? Jesus had attempted to get away from the crowds to whom He had just provided a free lunch but when He reached Capernaum there they were waiting. Jesus makes an interesting statement, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.” The free meal syndrome is nothing new friends but then Jesus declares something that will resonate throughout the book of James. So if James challenges you, then you need to make a direct connection to Jesus Christ because if you believe; truly believe not just the accidental and momentary belief then hear what Jesus told the crowd, “WORK for the food that endures for eternal life!” Jesus then teaches the familiar, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. I won’t send away anyone who comes to me.” WORK … live through our actions … “they will know you are my disciples,” Jesus states “by your love.”
Friends they won’t notice your love unless you are actively engaged through actions for Christ … Jesus said don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but work for me and so we need to read James and hear James.
After the greetings James admits the obvious to those of us who believe and live for Christ, “Think of the various tests you encounter …” Yep, there is no doubt that faith is going to challenge us and frankly, it seems that many people rediscover faith in the midst of their greatest challenges. But, James suggests that by carrying our crosses and living separate from the world for Jesus Christ that we are able to find joy. Remember that Paul wrote “Rejoice in the lord always; again I say rejoice” from prison. I can’t imagine being in a jail cell because of my faith and then writing a note saying rejoice but friends this is where we have to begin to consider who we are and what we are.
Life is temporal here on this planet; one of my close friends almost died this week when his car hydroplaned on the Atlantic City Expressway sending him into the cement barrier, spinning him around, flipping his car upside down and then the car skidded along on its roof with Kevin’s battered body inside. He was scared … he was sure that was it. But, on Friday he was eating what he referred to as his death meal but his car is destroyed and he is alive. So, are we so focused on six months from now and what we want, need or are going to get or are we considering what we do here is for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?
We are going to be tested … challenged … and to get the wisdom it takes to survive in a world that energizes itself in hate we need to discover God’s wisdom. James writes, “Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score.”
But, I do want us to consider that most if not all of us get our faith lives not only challenged but pretty battered. We are like the Dave Delaney’s of the world who walk into a gym totally out of shape and staring at the exercise equipment with hesitation and just like I avoid the gym we turn away from God’s endurance program. Truth is we will not grow in our ability to live for Christ … we will not find the energy to be the people who follow the directives of our Savior to go into the world to make disciples … we will not be able to love as He loved us unless we shake off the doubt and build up our hearts, souls, and minds for Christ.
It should not surprise any of you here today or those watching that the moments when people grab hold of faith the most is during times of trouble. I am sure Kevin was praying faster than that journalist had ever prayed before. In the ICU and the ER I have heard incredible confessions of sin and pleas for faith that I would never have heard from those folks if I had met them at McDonalds. John Bird writes, “When there are no trials, faith takes a holiday. When there are no tests, faith goes to sleep.”
But God doesn’t want us to wait until we are afraid … Jesus wants us to follow Him today not just when we are tested but James teaches that once we start to follow; when we truly believe and are faithful to the God we claim to love that we will be challenged but that through those challenges we will rediscover God and Christ once more, which means we will find joy. And, by living our faith we can find our strength. Paul as his letter from jail to the Philippians continues adds, “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives me strength!”
Strength in faith … James relates that to living for God; being a slave or servant … one who bows down and admits that God and Christ are above him and that his very existence is for the Holy not for himself because friends James was born again into the new life that we call Christianity. He figured it out … he knew that he had to build up his faith just like we have to build ours up but that in the midst of this there are outside powers, realities, people who bring the challenges attempting to turn our eyes away from Jesus. When Peter saw Jesus out in the stormy sea and followed Jesus directions to come Peter was fine until he turned his eyes away. In Jesus strength amidst the tests of the waves and the winds but lost without Jesus. Thankfully when Peter slipped Jesus was still there for him but you know that storm only made Peter stronger knowing the saving power of Christ. We too can use our challenges to grow stronger; an early lesson from James as he begins to teach.
If you are out there amongst the doubters then perhaps you need to dig deeper into the reason you label yourself a Christian. Is it to have a pass in your back pocket just in case … you know, if you had an accident and didn’t make it you want someone to find the card that gives you membership in the club even if you really have no faith? James deals with people of faith like that … remember his letter is not to the non-Christian … when he writes, “Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind … people like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord.” Harsh words indeed but if you only have the membership card but aren’t living the changed life then have you truly taken on a new life in Christ?
A challenge from a faith leader in the 1960’s was this, “It is possible when we come to th ink of righteousness as being infinitely more precious than comfort, happiness or peace, when we come to see the great thing fo us in this life is not to enjoy ease and prosperity, to get rich, to rise in the world; but to become better people, For then we require wisdom.”
God is offering us wisdom my friends … Jesus Christ has provided us salvation … John Wesley preached, that the linkage between faith and works is as unbreakable as that between heart and life. He said, “It is incumbent on all that are justified to be zealous of good works and these are so necessary that if a men willingly neglects them, he cannot reasonably expect that he shall ever be sanctified.”
FAITH and ACTIONS go together like BREAD and BUTTER … Challenged, we need a connection to make it through this life and into the next. That connection is God’s love through Jesus Christ, which is always there to bring us into a new life; a new life with challenges that will strengthen us and a new life that will help us bring God’s Kingdom to earth in each of our own way. Discover God’s wisdom … take this journey in faith with me so that our actions will reflect our God and Savior each day!