What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since, I think it is edifying, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and was talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished– “I read my Bible, pray and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”
God would show me what was so hard about it within 18 months. We began attending a church that emphasized fellowship and the “one anothers”. In no time I was getting on people’s nerves and they were returning the favor. Life in community with sinners doesn’t fit on in a Hallmark Card. It’s messy and pride exposing. It is anything but easy.
In his design of the Christian experience, God has created very simple ways for experiencing his grace. Particularly in the gathered church, we have prayer, Bible reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s table, baptism, and fellowship. These ordinary activities don’t lend themselves to off-the-chart experiences but rather they are, steady, compounding and shaping. Over time one can look back with some surprise and say, “God has been so gracious, he has changed my life.”
As a result of both the ordinariness and God’s faithfulness, we may slouch into a posture of passivity and presumption. Neither are helpful. Let me explain.
I was thinking today about the connection of zeal to hope. Hope is the ballast in the soul of the Christian that keeps him from being tossed about by the winds of uncertainty. It is also the basis for our zeal. When we say that we are hopeful we are saying that our faith is in God and all that he promises. Zeal then is the response to resting in God’s promise. You might say that resting produces a flurry (zeal) of activity. When our zeal is low we can be sure that we are not truly hoping in God (or at least wilting in it).
This brought me to the following quote from J.C. Ryle in Practical Religion on the subject of zeal. I find it instructive in line with the connection between hope and zeal. As you read it remember that Jesus was the most hopeful person of all time, little wonder he was also the most zealous (Jn. 2.13-17).
Previously God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation (Gen.12.1-3). This after, as Paul eloquently put it, Abraham was as good as dead (Rom. 4.19). The promise would not come through Eliezer, his present heir (Gen. 15.1-4) but his own son. Nearing 100 years of age Isaac is born and the word of the promise is confirmed. However, now, several years later, God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son on the mountain.
We know how the story ends. God mercifully stops Abraham and provides the ram. The promise does indeed come through Isaac. God is faithful.
Many years ago I was driving across the country to visit my future wife. As you can imagine I was eager to arrive so I minimized stops and attempted to make the 26-hour drive all at once. Going nearly a full day without sleep and in spite of being fueled on more Mountain Dew than is advisable, I began to nod off. I soon meandered over into the other lane and was startled by an 18-wheeler’s lights and horn! I awoke and swerved back in my lane. That shook me. My pulse went through the roof. I lost my breath. I contemplated what would have happened if I didn’t wake up. I was good for another 5 hours. No problems. After my pulse descended to reasonable levels I remember getting mad at myself. “How could I be so careless?”
The Book of Hebrews often functions like the headlights of an 18-wheeler. With pastoral clarity it provides a number of warnings as well as reassurances. We are told do not neglect so great a salvation then we are told that we have an anchor of hope within the veil. We are warned about the danger of hardening our hearts through unbelief while also being reminded that Jesus has delivered his people from the bondage of death (cf chapters 2, 4, 6, 10, & 12 for warning passages).
If you are connected in any way to mainline (particularly American) evangelicalism then you have probably said or heard the following said countless times in the last two years:
“I need to get back in the Word.”
“My prayer life has been kinda dry lately.”
Often times these “confessions” come in the midst of small groups or in response to some eager, well-meaning brother or sister. How do we respond?
Most often it is with the super-spiritual, muppet-faced grimacing sigh: “Hmm. Hmm. I will pray for you that God would help you get back in the Word.”
Is this helpful?
What is your most prized possession? To find out we would only have to look at what you give your time, attention, and resources to.
For the Christian, what should be the most prized possession? Everyone including the First Grade Sunday School Class just rightly answered, “Bible.” Very good; but, why?
The reason why is because the Bible is rock of revelation that our faith is built upon.
As is I am sure is common in other places, we have experienced one of the longer, more intense spells of illness in recent memory. Here in Omaha, Nebraska sickness is being passed around like dollar bills. Our church family and our immediate family have also been greatly impacted. Even I, though not normally prone to getting sick, have come down with multiple viruses.
In recent weeks, while afflicted, some truth hit me like a surprise flu: I am generally very healthy. This is a tremendous blessing. In a world full of bacteria and sickness we get along pretty well. What’s more, we are not guaranteed health. Therefore, what we do get is a blessing.
If you are saved then you are saved by works.
No, I am not retreating or backsliding or apostatizing into Roman Catholicism or other synergistic form of salvation. I am simply restating the truth that the Bible declares. You are saved by works.
Let me elaborate and clarify the statement: You are saved by works, just not your works. If you are saved, you are saved based upon the works, the merits, the doing and dying of Jesus. This is the truth of the gospel.
I am an unabashed gym eavesdropper. This is really the only place where I shamelessly listen to people talking. Whether it is in the locker room, on the workout floor in the lobby or wherever: I listen. In one recent conversation I heard a couple of guys talking. The one guy was in his mid 50’s and the other guy, I’ll guess early 20’s. Both guys were in great shape. The older guy was telling the younger guy what he has been up to in terms of training. Apparently they hadn’t seen each other for some time and this guy was noticeably different. He explained how he changed his diet, got disciplined about weights, and didn’t try to go too fast. Over the last year and a half the guy has transformed.
As I listened to them I couldn’t help but notice the younger guy’s shock. He is knee-deep in the culture that demands instant results. He remarked of how amazed he was at the difference over time. In the end it was a proper plan, consistency of discipline, and time. The guy was a different guy.