Vicar's Voice, 13 October 2019

“Be doers of the word, and NOT merely hearers who deceive themselves…” (James 1:22).

When James wrote his letter it wasn’t to an homogenous group of followers of Jesus. Some had converted from a Jewish background and had all kinds of traditions and rituals to overcome and replace with faith. Others were from a pagan background and worshipped amongst a plethora of gods and idols, accompanied sometimes by possibly outlandish, even occult practices. They were from widely diverse cultural backgrounds. But the common denominator is now, writes James, “the implanted word that has the power to save…” (James 1:21). 

It is not a theoretical “word” but one that must have profound effect on our values and behaviour. It is the word that God’s people have had already for many generations and have yet to put it into practice. Sadly, they were hearers but not yet doers.

It is a challenge for all of us who follow Jesus. The Scriptures as we now have them, consisting of the Old and the New Testaments are so rich with teaching about how to live the godly life. How easy it is to read James’ letter, for example, giving mental assent to what he writes but then, like the Pharisees of old, fail to take the next step. Our lives must be changed.

Resonating with James’ letter, this week I read and adapted this excerpt from Brandon O’Brien’s blog (and also found in his book Not From Around Here). He deals mainly with adjusting to a new culture but this exercise is very helpful in any stressful situation or dealing with our own bad reaction to others’ poor behaviour. 

1. Become aware of God’s presence. Pause where you are, stop and take a deep breath. Give yourself a moment to let your thoughts settle and become aware that God is with you always.

2. Give thanks for God’s blessings. Recognize the good things God has done for you where you are, however small. Thank God for something good about other people. Consider thanking God for this new perspective that you find challenging or frustrating.

3. Pay attention to your emotions. Reflect on what happened and how you responded. Did what you read (or heard or saw) make you feel angry? Guilty? Self-righteous? If you aren’t sure, that’s ok. Tell God about that, too. Spend enough time on this step to gain some clarity.

4. Repent and receive forgiveness. Confess your self-righteousness, fear, frustration—whatever it was that motivated your reaction. Say it out aloud. This isn’t about guilt or shame. It’s about change. Saying it will help.

5. Give thanks for God’s grace to have a better tomorrow. Thank God that he knew your motives before you did and had already forgiven you. Ask for grace to face tomorrow with greater confidence and courage in his grace.

A lot of our divisions with other people stem from divisions within ourselves. This kind of confession and repentance, over time, strengthens our capacity to deal with difficult and frustrating situations. But you have to begin recognizing that God is with you and for you, or you may quickly become demoralized. Rest in the grace God offers and let it empower you to move closer to other people who have different perspectives.

Let’s be doers not just hearers.

In Christ,

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 6 October 2019

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV). This is one of the most familiar parts of Scripture, known to most Bible-believing Christians. The implication is that followers of Jesus, seek to be faithful to our call by God to give ourselves to His service. A “living sacrifice” is literally an act of complete surrender to the will of God, so that we might glorify him in our lives. The whole point of resisting conformity to the pattern of this world is so that we can turn away from sin and evil and seek those things God wants in our lives. The resulting transformation is in body and mind and in spirit.

Our lives will be different. Followers of Jesus are set apart and don’t speak and act like unbelievers. Our actions are consistent with our words. Yet many unbelievers say they want nothing to do with the Church because it is full of hypocrites. You might be shocked when I agree with that statement. “Hypocrite” literally means play-actor. What is happening on the outside is not consistent with the true beliefs and values on the inside. Imagine what life would be like if our thoughts were displayed on a screen on our foreheads for everyone to see! So, in that sense we are all hypocrites because none of us are perfect.

The transforming though is meant to be ongoing, like a journey. We know our goal or destination is perfection in Christ and we are motivated by love for God to do our best to do that. Hopefully we get closer each day to our words and deeds becoming consistent with each other. We want to “practice what we preach.”

The apostle James, the brother of Jesus wrote many aspects of this in his letter to the Church. It would be too simplistic to say that his central message was that faith and works are inseparable, but it is what he essentially writes. Maybe a little more elaborately than that, but he does deal with many life issues that sometimes cause us to fail the consistency test (between words and deeds). 

James deals with a variety of themes, with an emphasis on practical aspects of the Christian life. Some of the subjects include: handling trials and temptations, practicing pure religion, understanding the relationship between faith and works, the proper use of the tongue and display of true wisdom, being a friend of God rather than a friend of the world, and the value of humility, patience and prayer. While these may appear unrelated, they are crucial to the growth and development of the Christian. 

I look forward to digging into this goldmine together over the next few weeks.

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 1 September 2019

“…for he is my chosen instrument …”

The conversion of Saul (later named as Paul) is a monumental event in the life and history of the church. It has made a great impact on world history as the apostle has a dramatic turnaround from being a fierce persecutor of Christians in the early Church to a conversion experience without equal. So intent was Saul on destroying the Early Church that the only way for the Lord to get his attention was to confront him on the road to Damascus. The Church is later affected as persecution then subsides somewhat and there is a brief period of peace and growth (Acts 9:31). Imagine if Saul had not become a follower of Christ and he continued his murderous rampage unabated.

His old friends, the Jews were not at all pleased when he started to proclaim the message about Jesus with the same sort of passion he used to persecute Christians. They attempted to capture and kill Saul but he is able to escape their clutches with the aid of his disciples.

But a “Damascus Road Experience” has also passed into secular literature to denote a complete reversal of will in a general sense, without the spiritual connotation. I wouldn’t be surprised if some authors now use the expression with little or no understanding the origin of the phrase. What is understood is that it means a complete reversal. It is assumed that everyone knows the context. That will change with time of course as secular society continues to drift away from even a fundamental biblical knowledge. The saying will become meaningless outside of a Christian context.

Many of us have come to faith in Christ in a much less dramatic way. That doesn’t mean that our conversion is any less genuine or sincere. Some, like me, have had some slow transformations, also some quick ones. We are not all the same, thankfully. The important thing is that we are responding to Jesus’ call, we know we are followers of Jesus and are trying to live by “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Jesus”. Like Saul, we have been chosen to be Christ’s messengers to the world. We are the only means by which the Gospel can be proclaimed through our words and actions.

Let us persevere in our efforts to live as light and salt in our community. Pray that the Lord will lead us to those who are ready to hear and respond to the message of Mercy and Grace. Come Holy Spirit, fill us anew!

 In Christ,

Alan