Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ways to Live Out Our Faith

There is a book in the New Testament called the book of Hebrews. It is one of the last books in the Bible, and it is about Jesus. It was written to help people know and love Jesus more. The writer focuses on people who have become too religious, but instead of making any improvements on their faith, they have complicated the simplicity of knowing God. This letter is singularly written to help us understand that Jesus is the most important person in our lives, and the writer offers advice on how to live out our faith. The last chapter is filled with practical steps for believers—suggestions that will help us be more committed to God. Here are a few of the things in the chapter:

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to practice the gift of praise, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:15-16). When we really love Jesus, we can give him our praise and worship. Remember that Jesus never changes but remains the same (Heb 13:8). When things seem to be changing all about us, remember that Jesus is the same. When life is in an upheaval, Jesus remains the same. People change, even people who were once your friend can become your enemy, but not Jesus.

Hebrews tells us to “Keep on loving each other as brothers” (Heb 13:1). Tell people that you love them. Use it with emphasis on the “I” and “You” so that they feel the impact of your love. Keep on loving them. Love has to be expressed, and love has to be felt and experienced. When you give love, you give a gift that changes people.

We are to give the gift of generosity “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16). We do forget, but Christmas is a reminder to give and to share kindness and generosity, and God is pleased when we do.

Practicing hospitality: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2). This is about how we treat strangers. Someone who is different, someone who we may never meet again who needs to feel our hospitality. Maybe someone who seemingly doesn’t even really matter that much in the great scheme of things.

Hebrews encourages us to practice compassion, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb 13:3). Those in prison and those abused. Can we enter into and share their sufferings and empathize with their plight? Compassion begins when you begin to put yourself in their actual position. What if it had happened to you?

If our faith is to have meaning, it must be practical and it must be lived out on a daily basis. We must share Jesus with the people we live with. When we do, we will experience his presence and so will they.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Jesus Calms the Seas

Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake” (Luke 8:22). The crowds had been large and the demand of the people great, and now it was time to end the long day as they enjoyed the ride over the lake. Then suddenly, the beautiful tranquil lake became the center of a terrific storm. The winds caused huge waves that hurled their boat up and down leaving the disciples panic stricken.

While living in Corrientes, Argentina, a colleague and I with our sons went fishing on the Parana River. We fished for the famous Dorado and Surubi. At first we caught nothing, then as the day worn on we finally caught some magnificent fish. Abruptly however, the wind came up, and the waves started to rock the boat. We decided it was time to head to shore when the motor quit causing us to feel panic. The swift current carried us swiftly downstream, and we were over a half mile from shore. Our hope was a coast guard station up ahead. If they didn’t see us, we would be in for a long ride while fighting the lapping waves. I took off my vest and started waving it back and forth, and fortunately a coast guard boat showed up and towed us to shore. We were immensely thankful to be on land after facing such a scary moment on the water.

The storm in the disciples’ lives was a test, just as the wilderness had been a test for the Israelites. Without life’s difficulties we would never grow spiritually, and our walk with God would be so shallow. Some of the tests we face are when we hear the words you have cancer. It could be when you find out a son or daughter is on drugs. It might be when your marriage comes apart. What about when you lose your job and can’t get another one. Then sometimes it’s when you have been hurt so deeply you can’t get over it. It could even be when you lose a loved one and the sadness just won’t go away.

Jesus, asleep in the stern, was absolutely remarkable. While the boat had taken its beating and the disciples had been plunged into dark despair, Jesus was resting from his extreme weariness. Remaining asleep on this day clearly demonstrates his humanity but also his trust in his father. It was how he lived. This is as great of an example of his incarnation as there is. In one moment he is totally human with all his frailty of fatigue, and the next he is totally God with all his omnipotence over all of creation.

The storm brought fear to the disciples: The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" (Luke 8:24). The disciple’s words openly display their inner thoughts and feelings. They were paralyzed with fear that they were going to die. Fear of death is our greatest fear, and it haunts us our entire lives. They were convinced that all was lost, but how wrong they were.

Jesus rebuked the wind and the raging waters, and the storm subsided, and all was calm (Luke 8:24). No more fierce wind because it immediately stopped and there was an incredible calm. Nothing could have compared to this experience. Jesus asked his disciples "Where is your faith?" Their faith had been overcome by their fear, but now they can see what they couldn’t see a few moments before: “In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him" (Luke 8:25). Jesus can calm any storm because he is Lord of Creation. He calmed the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, but he also calms those storms in our lives if we trust him.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Coming Back to Say Thanks

God invites us to come to him and acknowledge our needs, and then he responds to them, not always in the same way, but in his way. One day Jesus encountered ten lepers who stood at a distance and called out to him, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests" (Luke 17:11-14). Then the narrative says “And as they went, they were cleansed.”

People thought of lepers as having an incurable disease, and to keep the community safe, lepers had to abandon all normal interaction and live by themselves. They couldn’t even be with their families. They lived as outcasts outside of the walls of the city. When they walked anywhere, they had to call out “Unclean.” Jesus was moved by their need and responded to it with compassion. If we want God’s help, this is how we get it. We start by acknowledging our need and asking for his intervention.

Once while I was away from home and in California and my family was back in Puerto Rico, I received a call from my son Eric. He said, “Dad, we’ve got a serious problem; we locked the keys in the car. I know you have an extra set under the car, but I can’t find them. I don’t know what to do.” I simply told him how to lie down and which arm to lift and in which direction to move it until he found the keys. That’s how it works with God; you start with “I don’t know what to do.” “I need help.” “I’m desperate.” “I have a serious problem here.” You see God knows what to do, but he won’t help until we acknowledge our distress.

However, as the lepers went, they were not yet at the temple but while they were on their way, something incredible happened.  All ten of them were miraculously healed. Toes grew on feet that were toeless and fingers on knobby hands. Faces became recognizable once again. They all continued on their way to the temple to see the priest. But one of them when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and came praising God in a loud voice. He was seized with an irresistible urge to share his gratitude. The priest, the temple it all could wait while he personally took time to thank Jesus for what he had done. He parted company with the rest to do this.

The one who went back was a Samaritan, and the others were Jews. He was the unlikely one to make the trip back, but he did. It’s a journey that you travel out of gratitude. Unfortunately, most are not overwhelmed with what God has done for them. They simply journey on in forward motion and find a routine of life, but in this story here is one who comes back. He can’t go on until he comes back to God to say thanks (Luke 17:15-19). The other nine missed a rare opportunity to experience one of the most exhilarating emotions—that of being thankful and sharing your gratitude to God. What a missed opportunity! But the one who came back shows us the way.

There are times in my life when I am overtaken with gratitude to the one who has done for me what I could never have done for myself. I am stopped in my tracks, and for a few solitary moments I can see with different eyes how fortunate I am. I can see what God has done for me. I can look at my life and see the many places where he has said “This way, son.” I can look at my family and say “Thank you, Father.” When these moments happen, I have to stop and go back to say thanks.