Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Im-Not-Thankful-EnoughThis week has been a mixed bag of emotions for me. With the American Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, there have certainly been more than the usual number of moments reflecting on all for which I am thankful. But some of the week was dominated by other less-than-admirable emotions of anger, of disgust with what I was watching in the news, and of times when I spoke or wrote out of those emotions when I should have probably just kept my thoughts to myself.

What I should have demonstrated for the week was an ongoing attitude of gratitude. What I actually demonstrated was a far cry from that. I resonated immediately, therefore, with my friend, Jay’s, post on Facebook last night when he wrote, “I’m thankful, but not often enough. It’s good to have a day to be reminded.”

I really do have so much to be thankful for:

  • a family who loves me and whom I love;
  • my first grandson and second grandchild on the way, due in April;
  • a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood in a city we’ve enjoyed living in for almost 30 years;
  • a job and career that is fun and fulfilling and a joy to invest my time and professional life in daily;
  • all the food and necessities of life a man needs – so much more than what is typical throughout the world;
  • a country that in spite of its challenges is where I prefer to live;
  • good health that allows me to do what I want when and where I want;
  • a church and church family I have loved since our second week in Louisville in 1985;
  • a relationship with the living God that provides ultimate meaning, purpose and hope for this life and the next;
  • the opportunity to freely read, study and apply God’s Word to my life;
  • opportunities to serve God and others every week in a variety of ways;
  • and even the best canine friend and companion I’ve ever had in my nearly 58 years.

When I look at the above list, I am in awe at the blessings I enjoy. And I am simultaneously embarrassed by the times I allow an unhealthy focus on other matters to steal that joy. I am ashamed that I could for a moment look past these giant gifts only to focus elsewhere. I regret that I fail to be a consistent source of a good and encouraging word to others, choosing instead to sound off about my latest emotional reaction to news or events of the day. I feel remorse for getting angry at those with whom I disagree rather than seeking to understand and show the love of Christ in the midst of those differences. I realize after the fact far too often that I have failed to be Christ’s ambassador when I spew from my mouth the venom that I allow to fester in my heart, for “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matthew 12:34), and that overflow is too often sewage rather than life-giving water.

So on this day after Thanksgiving, please know that this ongoing work in progress called Jeff is truly grateful and thankful for so much. Also know that I am truly sorry for those moments when I am far less than what I can and should be. I am called to be conformed to His image, and I have a long, long way to go.

rattlesnakeSome of you may have heard about the Appalachian snake-handling pastor who died several days ago from a snake bite. Here are my thoughts on the matter…

While I applaud the exercise of faith in any professing Christian, there is a difference between exercising faith and laying down on the railroad tracks and daring a train to come by. Surely God expects us to use our brain and accumulated knowledge in matters clearly known (such as the fact that poisonous snakes can kill you) and not waste our time putting God to some magic genie test. In fact, Matthew 4 tells Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptation where Jesus was basically asked to prove himself by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple without getting hurt. Jesus replied, “Do not test the Lord your God.” So those who center their faith around such silly tests are not only misguided in their focus, but are, in fact, not following the example and command of Jesus.

Also, while it may make the heads of some of my fellow conservative Christians explode, it is thought by many biblical scholars that Mark 16:9-20 which contains the snake handling passage was not originally part of Mark’s gospel. That is why several translations either omit it completely or place it in brackets to note its uncertain origin. To center one’s faith and practice around some of the very few disputed verses in the Bible is woefully misguided.

And if the passage was considered to be authoritative and taken literally, don’t you think there would be some history of that happening in the first 1900 years of the church rather than strangely appearing in Appalachia a century ago? Here’s a clue, folks: when practices and beliefs emerge a couple thousand years after the history of the church has done otherwise, it is inevitably the new divergence that is astray and not the countless generations that came before.

If the pastor was truly a man of Christian faith – and I have no reason to believe otherwise in spite of our very different take on snake handling – then I believe he has passed from this life to an eternal one in the presence of his Lord. However, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ first words to him after death were “What were you thinking?”

image from lyndasgrainsofsand.blogspot.com

image from lyndasgrainsofsand.blogspot.com

Christmas exists to remember and celebrate the first coming of Christ to a world in need of a savior. As a colleague at work said this week, he’d prefer to call it Incarnation Day instead of Christmas, but he’s right in suspecting that won’t catch on. While most biblical scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere close to December 25, it’s still fitting to set aside a day to remember his coming and its purpose.

Christ has always existed. He didn’t come into being in that manger in Bethlehem. He always was and he always will be. All that we see and enjoy in this universe was created by him, including humankind.

Because humans willfully chose to rebel against a holy God, we suffered the just consequences of that sin, and our world has suffered death, deterioration and decay ever since. If left separated from a holy God at death, then the judge of the universe gives us the just reward (punishment) for our rebellion. Like wages earned from our jobs, it is the wage we earn for our unforgiven sunfulness.

But the God of the universe created us initially for right relationship with him. God loves us. It is not his will that anyone perish, but that all come to repentance. Therefore, he did what he did not have to do following our separation from him, and he chose to come in the form of a human – fully man and fully God – to live a perfect, sinless life, to suffer a horrible death that we deserved, and to rise again, conquering death.

The manger was never meant to be celebrated without also remembering the cross and what followed.

Through his selfless act, God has provided a way for the great chasm between God and men to be bridged. All that turn from their sin and place their trust solely in what Christ has done on their behalf, surrendering their will to his, can receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

Since today is Christmas, I will receive several gifts. I will take great pleasure in them and be grateful for the gift and the giver. But no gift can ever equal that offered by the Giver of life. His gift is eternal. His gift is truly life-changing. His gift changes one from the inside out. His gift is incomparable.

For those readers who already know Christ and have surrendered their lives to him, my wish for you is to continue growing in holiness and living life faithfully for him day by day. For all others on this Christmas Day – this Incarnation Day – my wish is that you will receive from our Creator his gift of repentance, of faith, of salvation, of eternal life, and that you will begin the transforming journey of becoming who you were created to be.

Now that would make for a very merry Christmas.

A Life Well Lived

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Behavior
Tags: , , , ,

A-Life-Well-LivedI attended the funeral today for a wonderful, sweet, giving, godly, 94-year-old woman from my church. Her equally kind and faithful husband preceded her in death several years ago. I greatly admire their whole family – their closeness, example, faith, and their love for each other.

As I sat in the service today and listened, remembering interactions in years past with this great couple, it struck me that every remembrance – every remembrance without exception – of this man and woman is a good one. Never did I see anything but love and graciousness from either of them. Never did I hear an unkind word from their lips. In life they were a model for others to emulate, and in death their memory is a challenge to be a better person.

When people like these two saints pass from this life to the next, it serves as a reminder that lives can be well lived, but to do so is the exception rather than the rule. Each of us considers himself good, but to whom do we compare ourselves? We can always find others whose behavior is less admirable in some ways than our own, leaving ourselves with an inflated sense of goodness and pride. But it is when we look to those rare, exceptional models that we realize how far we have to go to become all that we might.

Today I am thankful for these two examples of grace and faith, for their lives well lived, and for the challenge their example is to others, including me. May the God who transformed them do the same in all his children.

CalvaryI have intentionally saved for last in this series on thankfulness that for which I am most eternally thankful. It’s hard to rank the objects of my thankfulness and some may think that valuing one over the others is unnecessary. However, I place those involving relationships higher than others, and there is no more important relationship any of us can have than one with the Creator of the universe.

For those who know me and for anyone who has explored this blog much, it should come as no surprise that my Christian faith is important to me. That’s why I choose to clearly post a page here about what I believe. But for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, faith is not just a set of beliefs – it is a relationship. It defines who we are, what values we hold, what priorities we ascribe to all of life’s concerns, how we live, and the worldview by which we see and interpret all that happens.

Christian faith is an affirmation of the truth of the Bible and all it teaches about God, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, eternal life (or death) and much, much more. It is a reasoned and reasonable trust and confidence in the One who did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is a voluntary surrender of one’s will to the lordship of Christ.

It is impossible for me to imagine life without faith, nor would I want to do so. It is the core of who I am and why I exist, even though I fail miserably at living out that faith more often than I care to admit. Fortunately, my hope for the future and what comes after this life is not in myself or what I can do for God, but in what He has already done for me in Christ.

The Bible teaches that faith, itself, is a gift (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Thank you, God, for my faith and for being its source and focus.