A Long Winter…

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The calendar says that it is spring, and yet when we look outside our windows, we see few signs of spring amidst the lingering snow.  And when we go outside, we do not feel fresh spring air, but rather the persistent bitter chill of the the whipping wind.  For those of us who live in areas in which winter comes every year, we expect and sometimes even joyfully anticipate it’s coming.  But we also trust in the assurance that it is only for a season and that it too will pass away, making space for the new life of spring.

In a similar way, we know that Jesus came, died on the cross, and rose from the grave.  In fact, we just recently celebrated that reality once again at the beginning of the month on Easter Sunday.  And yet we still live in what can sometimes feel like a lingering spiritual winter amid the darkness of our fallen world.  The light has come and there are glimpses of it all around and yet the darkness of this world lingers on and continues to shadow our surroundings.  We, like generations of believers before us, long for the promised return of the messiah, Jesus’ second coming, in which all things will be made new like the newness of life that comes with the annual spring bloom bursting forth.

We know that it is coming.  We trust that God’s word is true.  We see glimpses of it that spring forth from freshly plowed spiritual ground in us and in the lives of others that we know.  And yet we wait for it to grow into fullness before us.  Meanwhile, the waiting can get long, oh so very long.  And as the time draws on, the waiting can become discouraging and depressing.

In these times, we would do well to remember that we need not wait alone.  Our relationship to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is personal and yet in is not wholly individual.  God has also created us to be communal, to live out our faith with other believers.  The support of fellow believers can be especially important during times in which the winters of life have a way of pulling us down and discouraging our spirits.

If you are a part of a faith community, now is a good time to lean into that community of support.  If you have stepped away from a body of faith, now could be a good time to reach out and to reconnect.  If you are not currently connected with a body of believers, now may be the perfect time to seek one out.  There are a number of good options in our area.  Because God has promised us newness and while we know that the time is coming, the waiting can be long.  But we need not wait alone.

The Approaching Storm…

There is much about life that we can celebrate and that brings us joy: friends, family, hobbies, and for some of us, even work.  But there are also many things about life that can be challenging and even downright discouraging: bills, unexpected repairs, illness, and for many of us, even work.  Sometimes our challenges are just a part of the everyday fabric of our lives.  Other times they come up suddenly and unexpectedly.  And at still other times, our challenges are like a storm on the horizon that looms out before us and is rapidly approaching, soon to be upon us whether we like it or not.

The reality is that much about our lives is made up of circumstances that are beyond our control.  And yet, how much energy do we spend worrying or complaining about these things that we have no control over?  While there are many things that we can not control, there is also so much about our lives that we have choices about.  Many times we are able to choose which way we will go.  Other times we simply have a choice about how we will respond to what we are facing.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discouraged worrying about what was beyond our control and instead encouraged trusting in God.  This is true of the approaching storms of life as well.  We read in Proverbs 3:5-6 that we should “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.”  We can choose trust over worry.  And we can choose to look for what God is doing in the midst of the storm instead of berating God and the world for the swirling storm surging against us.

Living in the midst of a raging storm is a place in which few of us desire to dwell, whether figuratively or literally.  And yet, it can be in the midst of the storm that some of our most profound breakthroughs take place.  For instance, think with me about the time in which Jesus sent his disciples ahead while he went to spend time in prayer.  As they crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat, a storm came upon them.  The wind was howling and the waves were crashing.  The disciples were already afraid when they looked up to see what appeared to be a ghost crossing the water.

Then one of the disciples realized that it was Jesus walking across the water.  And Peter cried out, “Lord, if it is you call me to come to you.”  It was Jesus and He called Peter to step out onto the water.  Even though he was in the midst of the storm with the wind and the waves, Peter did step out onto the water and he took several steps before beginning to sink.

More often than not, we give Peter a hard time about this story.  We focus on his lack of faith as he walked on the water and how he began to sink because of it.  But the flip side of this is to recognize that in the midst of the raging storm, Peter did what none of us have ever done.  He trusted in Jesus to the point that he was able to take a few steps on the water.  It was in the midst of a storm that Peter had a profound experience and breakthrough.  And it was in the midst of the storm that Jesus reached out his hand and saved Peter from his own fear and failure.

Perhaps in those times that we see an approaching storm, part of our prayer can be for us to be receptive to what God would do within us both in and through that storm.  This is easier said than done, and yet with the words of scripture to guide us and the presence of a community of faith to support us (in you are not already a part of a faith community, consider checking these out); perhaps we can choose in the midst of those circumstances that are beyond our control to look for and to live into what God is doing within us.

Faith is Belief in Action!

When it comes to religion, many of us tend to focus on the centrality of our beliefs.  Along with that, it is not uncommon for us to use our beliefs to determine whom we will and will not associate with.  We tend to feel more at home with people who share our political views for instance and to distance ourselves from or to be suspect of those who have differing political views.

This tends to be true of our religious beliefs as well.  Many of us look for a faith community that shares our particular beliefs and historically this has been linked very closely to denominational affiliation.  And certainly, what we believe about who God is and who we are in relation to God is tremendously important.  Yet, how often have we settled for right belief as if that is the end goal in and of itself?  How often have we been content to surround ourselves with people who believe the same as we do and to focus our energies on reinforcing our shared beliefs as if that was the sole purpose of having faith?

Our beliefs are important.  I John 3:23 tells us, “He has commanded us to believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ…”  But our beliefs  are not the same as our faith.  To have faith is to put our beliefs into action.  The second part of I John 3:23 says, “… and to love one another as he has commanded us.”  Love is a verb.  Love takes action.  And while what we believe matters, what we do with our beliefs also matters.  As Hebrews 11 suggests, putting our belief into action is faith.

It was by faith that Abel brought a better sacrifice.    It was by faith that Noah built the ark.   It was by faith that Abraham went to a new land.  It was by faith that Moses left Egypt.  In each of these cases, their belief in God led them to a response, led them to action.  Faith is belief in action.

Living out our faith is something that we as individuals can and should be doing on a daily basis wherever we are.  But it is also something that can be strengthened and multiplied in the presence of community.  When we come together in our faith, what we can do together is much larger than most of us can do on our own.  When we come together in our faith, we can be encouraged and empowered to be intentional about living out our beliefs in action.  And when we come together in our faith, we have the benefit of a variety of gifts that will allow us to be a part of living out our faith in ways that we could not do on our own.  No one of us is capable or gifted to do everything.

To be people of faith is to be believers in action.  This is a matter of prayer.  It is a matter of intentionality. And it is a matter of community.  Find a community of believes (like these) who will empower you to put your belief into action, to live out your faith.  Faith is belief in action.

We aren’t meant to do it alone…

We live in such an individualized culture.  We have so many personal freedoms and the ability to make many individualized choices.  This is a tremendous blessing, a blessing that we often take for granted; and yet it can also be a stumbling block to growing deeper in our faith.  How so?

Certainly to have faith is an individual thing. We each individually choose to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but to live faith requires a community.  The Be 323 Life is one of faith that is lived in community.  I John 3:23 states, “And He has commanded us, to believe in the name of His son, Jesus Christ.”  That is an individual decision to believe in the name of Jesus.  But the verse continues, “… and to love one another as He has commanded us.”  Following this command to love one another requires community both for people to love and for the accountability to be loving.

Certainly there are those times and people in which love comes very naturally to us.  We have close family members, dear friends, and cherished coworkers.  But most of us also have that person or those people that are much harder for us to love; people that we genuinely don’t prefer to be around or that drain us of our energy.  Yet when we talk about loving one another “as he has commanded us,” that is not just about loving the people that we want to love.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the unlovable person was the one who showed love across an ethnic divide.  This was Jesus’ model for how we should love one another.  On top of that, Jesus said that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  How many of us just naturally love our enemies? Living this type of love requires that we are in community with a group of people who will nurture us in practicing our faith, of being loving.

It is because of this, that we believe that living the Be 323 Life requires community.  To practice our faith in isolation is inherently impossible.  Community can happen in a variety of ways like smaller groups of accountability and fellowship, or it can happen in connection with a local congregation (like these).  The form that the community takes is less important than the need for community to form around us.  We simply aren’t meant to do it alone.