Monday, July 20, 2009

Turning Faith Into Action

In the same way, faith by itself – that does nothing – is dead.
-- James 2:17

When you hear the word allegiance, what comes to mind? For millions of citizens of a certain age, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited each morning in thousands of classrooms across the nation –- with millions of students placing their right hand over their heart –- and all in front of the American flag. It was a daily declaration of devotion to the Stars and Stripes and the nation it stands for.

Being a Christ-follower also calls for allegiance, but to One much greater than any flag or country. In fact, Jesus calls not just for allegiance but for total devotion from His disciples and would-be followers. Half-heartedness and non-committal don’t make the cut. As Believers, our lives must show tangible actions that reflect our faith in Him. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we have to work to earn our way into God’s favor by living a so-called “good life,” following a set of rules, going to church and putting some money into the bucket each Sunday. That standard could never be achieved because not one of us comes close to meeting God’s demand for perfection. That’s why Jesus – Who actually did live a perfect, sin-free life – was the only one worthy enough to die on the cross to pay the penalty we all deserve.

No, we can’t save ourselves. But Jesus did so willingly. And through His sacrifice, He saved His followers for centuries to come to serve as His hands and feet on earth. To illustrate the importance of this incredible mission, Jesus told a story about a master who gave each of his three servants a considerable amount of money (“talents”) to invest while he was away on an extended trip. After a while, the master returned to claim what was his. He was very pleased with the first two servants, who had wisely invested what he had given them. Their efforts and willingness to risk their talents resulted in doubling the master’s money. But it wasn’t so with the third servant. He was afraid of his master’s stern reputation and didn’t want to risk a loss. So instead, he played it safe and literally buried the master’s money in a hole in the ground. The master was displeased, to say the least! Instead of commending the servant’s regard for safeguarding his money, the master was actually furious because the servant had wasted the opportunity to invest and multiply his treasure.

And that’s where Christ-followers enter the story. God has also given us different resources, skills, opportunities and circumstances for investing in the spiritual lives of others. They could be as close as your spouse, sibling or child. They might be a co-worker, a neighbor, villagers in Africa or maybe someone who God puts in your path at a most unexpected moment.

How are you investing the many talents God has given you? Are you putting your faith into action and changing the world one person at a time – or are you playing it safe? Unlike the stock market or the commodities exchange, this is one type of investment that’s guaranteed to pay unbeatable dividends every time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Rest of the Story

That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-- 2 Corinthians 12:10

Paul Harvey’s remarkable career in radio spanned eight decades and began while he was still in high school. His broadcasts were heard on about 1,500 radio stations and his commentaries appeared in hundreds of newspapers. No doubt he was best known for a segment of his program called The Rest of the Story: a five-minute, true-life narrative that always concluded with a surprising – and often uplifting – twist revealing greater meaning and purpose in an otherwise mundane or difficult situation.

The Rest of the Story maintained its popularity over the years because it always resonated with Harvey’s millions of listeners. They readily identified with the famous announcer’s depictions of the unpleasant realities and struggles faced by the common man (and woman).

What unpleasant realities have you had to face? Whatever they are, it’s a fact of life that you can count on enduring more. Sometimes they come out of the blue, like a car accident or a natural disaster. And others might be more of our own making, like an arrest for drunk driving or the agony of a broken marriage. The difference for Christ-followers, however, is that we have access to a personal Power who’s here to help us get through the hardest of times. We worship a caring God who gives us both faith and hope.

In fact, ours is a God who specializes in taking the worst situations and turning them toward good. For instance, the first Christ-followers were hunted down, arrested and sometimes executed for worshipping Jesus. But this only caused the new, upstart faith to spread far and wide from Jerusalem and into Asia and Europe. And what can we learn from the Apostle Paul’s life-story? Although he spread the Gospel across the Mediterranean and made many converts, he spent years in jail before his eventual execution. This might sound to some like great wasted potential. Couldn’t God have kept Paul free so he could preach to thousands more and establish other churches in distant lands?

Yes, God could. But He had a much better plan for advancing the name of Jesus. While Paul was in shackles, he spent his time writing much of what we know today as the New Testament -- words of truth that God has used over the centuries to turn millions of men and women away from their destructive lifestyles and over to abundant lives and eventual eternal life.

The saying goes that uncertainty is the only thing certain in life. But as Christ-followers, we can rest assured each day. That’s because ours is a God who already knows The Rest of the Story.