What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

Paul tells us that faith and love is what matters most

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he opens chapter five with a discussion about freedom and slavery, about following the law and not following the law. He says that in Jesus these things have no value.

His explanation of this is a bit confusing. It’s a passage we need to go back and reread to try to understand what this prolific biblical writer is trying to tell us. But if we don’t quite grasp it, that’s okay. He summarizes his point in one succinct line: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6, NIV).

The only thing that counts is love expressed through faith.

Think about it.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Click To Tweet

Faith is the starting point. We have faith in God the father through Jesus the son as revealed by God’s Holy Spirit. We have faith that God lives in us and is through us. We have faith that a better tomorrow awaits us, both in this world and in the next. We have faith that God is with us in all circumstances and at all times, that he answers our prayers aligned with his sovereign wisdom.

But faith alone fall short. James tells us that faith without action is dead (James 2:17). While action could mean many things, let’s go back to Paul. He says that through our faith we are to express love. That’s what matters.

If faith is the starting point of the one thing that counts, love expressed is the outcome. Love is a confusing word in today’s modern society, covering the full gamut of emotions from preference to passion. But to understand the kind of love that Paul is talking about, we should go back to the Bible, we should go back to the words of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. He starts out by saying, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV).

He ends his explanation of love with these words, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Did you catch this? In Paul’s trio of traits, he starts with faith, and he ends with love. Hope is what connects the two.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Paul says so.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Galatians 5, and today’s post is on Galatians 5:6.]

 

Bearing Fruit is Key; Having a Right Theology Isn’t

In matters of faith, it’s not what we believe, it’s what we do

Faith without action is deadOne of the promises during the modern era was that through the Age of Enlightenment (Age of Reason) we could pursue truth and it would eventually converge on a single understanding of reality. This didn’t happen.

Instead of converging to reach consensus, we diverged to produce disagreement. Though this is true in all facets of our life, it is perhaps most pronounced in the area of spirituality. Protestantism is a prime example, with our 43,000 denominations disagreeing with one another.

We fight about theology. Then we separate ourselves from those who don’t agree with us.

The sad thing about pursuing a right theology is the inevitable conclusion that everyone who doesn’t agree with us is wrong and headed down a misguided path. Then we separate ourselves and cause more division.

At a most basic level, theology is the study of God. I think about him a great deal. I contemplate my relationship with him. I wonder how that should inform the way I interact with others. Yes, I think a lot about theology (God), not as an intellectual pursuit but as a matter of spiritual imperative.

To be painfully honest, I must admit a sense of pleasure over the results of my spiritual musings. I hope a degree of humility can replace this hint of pride. Although I think my deliberations in spirituality are correct and produce meaningful insights, I hold my views loosely. After all I could be wrong.God doesn’t care about our theology nearly as much as he does our actions. Click To Tweet

The reality is that the details of how we understand God don’t matter as much as how this understanding affects the way we live. God doesn’t care about our theology nearly as much as he does our actions. We need to produce fruit. Jesus says that bearing fruit glorifies God (John 15:8).

This means we need to put our faith in action. The Bible tells us to. James discusses this (James 2:14-26). He ends this passage by saying faith without action is dead (James 2:14, CEB).

What we believe doesn’t matter nearly as much as what we do. May we never forget that.

The Role Faith Plays in the Creation Versus Evolution Debate

For all their differences, both creation and the theory of evolution require an element of faith

In school I learned about evolution. In church I learned about creation. Creation marks the beginning of the Bible and forms the foundation of my worldview, which started as a child from my parents and became an informed decision as an adult.

I’m not sure if creation versus evolution is an either/or consideration, or if there’s a way for them to peaceably coexist. It could happen. But I do know is that either perspective requires an element of faith.

Obviously, it requires faith to believe in an unseen God who created the universe and has an interest in us as his creation.

However, when I look at the theory of evolution in follow its path back to the beginning, I reach a point where something had to come out of nothing. That requires a great deal of faith, too, even more then is needed to accept that God made us and the world we live in.

To me it’s easier to, by faith, except a superior entity who exists outside our time-space reality. In fact, since time and space exist on a continuum, if you perceive God as the creator of space, then he’s also the creator of time. That means he exists outside our time-space reality, which he created as our playground. On a simple scale, it’s much like you or I constructing an ant farm. We would exist outside our creation, and the ants would live inside it. The ant farm would be the ant’s world, their reality. We would be an entity external to them and beyond their comprehension.

The issue of creation versus evolution boils down to faith. Which is easier to accept in faith? At its basic core evolution requires we accept that something came out of nothing. Conversely, creation requires we have faith of an entity who lives outside our time-space reality. Given this, I need less faith to believe in creation than I do to accept the theory of evolution.

Yes, there’s a middle ground, that God created our reality using the process of evolution. To me it doesn’t matter how God created us and our world. I see myself as a created being and desire to worship the God who made me.I see myself as a created being and desire to worship the God who made me. Click To Tweet

Put Your Faith in Action

Good deeds and right living don’t earn our salvation, but they do confirm it

Put Your Faith in ActionPaul writes to his friends in Thessalonica. He reminds them—and us—that salvation is a gift from God. We can’t earn it and can only receive it through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But it seems that many people do try to earn their salvation through their actions, by living in right ways and doing good works for others.

James helps us put this into perspective. Though our actions don’t earn our right standing with God, they do prove it. He asks, “How can I see your faith apart from your actions?” He goes on to say, “I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice. You’ll know my faith is real by the things that I do,” (see James 2:18).

From God’s perspective, our actions don’t earn us anything. Yes, doing good may earn us attention from other people. We can receive appreciation from those we help and admiration from those who watch us. Yet to God our good works don’t matter.

Then why should we bother?

It’s through our right behavior and what we do to help others that we prove we have faith. By putting our faith into action, we demonstrate that it’s real. Faith without works is dead.Our actions say thank you to God for what he has done for us. Click To Tweet

We don’t act in certain ways to garner God’s favor. Instead, the things we do emerge from our gratitude for what he has done for us. Think of our actions as a tangible way of saying “thank you” to God for the gift he gave us.

By his grace and through our faith, we receive salvation. We need nothing more. But if we truly appreciate this gift of what he has done for us, then we show him by what we do.

We put our faith into action. And that honors God.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is James 2, and today’s post is on James 2:18.]

Does Dropping Out of Church Mean Turning Your Back on God?

Church attendance may relate to faith or the two may have no connection at all

Does Dropping Out of Church Mean Turning Your Back on God?It borders on gossip, but I occasionally hear a whispered concern about so-and-so not going to church anymore. They dropped out, which in the minds of some people means these nonchurch attenders have “fallen from their faith,” “have backslidden,” or are now “going to hell.”

On a broader scope, I keep hearing reports that Millennials (or some other demographic) have turned from God and left their faith. What is the reason for this conclusion?

It’s simple. They’ve dropped out of church.

Ergo they must have abandoned their faith. However, just as some people attend church and don’t really know God, others know God quite well but have given up on church.

We need to, once and for all, disconnect the assumption that church attendance equates to faith—and that regular attendance implies a vibrant faith. To the contrary, I’ve heard many people say they stopped going to church to preserve their faith in God, that church attendance damaged their state of spiritual being more than it helped.

Don’t take my assertion that church attendance is not an indicator of faith as an excused to stop going. However, if going to church presents an unhealthy burden for you or causes you more harm than good, then perhaps you need to find a different church.

And by different church, I don’t necessarily mean a different denomination or a different style of service, but to perhaps re-envision what church is

At the basic level church is where two or more people gather in Jesus’s name (Matthew 18:20). This might mean in a church building on Sunday morning. Or it may mean at a coffee shop Wednesday afternoon or a restaurant Friday evening. How about a sports event on Saturday or dinner on Sunday? What about a game night or movie outing?

Before you bristle at the implication that playing games or watching movies in Jesus’s name is on a par to Sunday morning church attendance, which one offers more Christian community? Which is the setting where serious faith conversations are more likely to occur?Bible warns us to not give up meeting together, but it's not a command to go to church. Click To Tweet

When the Bible warns us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), it’s not talking about going to church. It’s really talking about meeting together. This may mean meeting at the coffee shop, restaurant, sports event, Sunday dinner, game night, or movies.

We are not to live our faith in isolation but in community. However, we must dissuade ourselves of the notion that this community should happen on Sunday morning.

If the traditional form of church has let you down, don’t give up on all forms of Christian community. Find one that works for you and pursue it at all costs. Your faith may depend on it.

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Let Us Persevere in Our Faith

The book of Hebrews tells us how to react to what God has done for us

Let Us Persevere in Our FaithAn interesting passage in Hebrews opens with a reminder of who we are in Jesus and through Jesus (Hebrews 10:23-25). With this as our perspective, the author tells us four things we should do in response.

Let Us Pursue God: The NIV says to “draw near to God.” I like this imagery of us steadfastly moving toward God, getting closer and closer, almost as though he gently pulls us to him. Though we can accept or reject his supernatural yearning to pull us close, we consent to his attraction when we pursue him.

May we pursue God as if nothing else matters—because nothing else does. We need to do this with a sincere heart and full of faith.

Let Us Hold Onto Hope: Next we need to grasp the hope we claim to have within us. If we say we have hope but don’t act like it, what good is that? Instead our behavior, both in thought and in action, must align with what we believe.

And if we face temptation to waiver in our hope, Hebrews reminds us that he will faithfully give us what he promised. Cling to our hope.

Let Us Encourage One Another: Third is the reminder to encourage each other. While we can nurture many godly traits in others, this passage specifically mentions two: love and good deeds. It’s as if nothing else matters.

We love others in the same way God loves us. He shows us his perfect love and we strive to follow his example. And we help others. Why? Not to get God’s attention or to achieve some agenda, but because he says so.The practical extension of love is to do kind things for others. Click To Tweet

The practical extension of love is to do kind things for others. Love connects to good deeds.

Let Us Not Isolate Ourselves: We can’t realize all God desires for us if we separate ourselves from his other followers. Together we stay strong. Apart we falter. As the Bible says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

The oft-quoted text for this is to let us not give up meeting together, which many misapply (read more about this). The point is to hang out with others who follow Jesus. The details of what this looks like is for us to determine.

As followers of Jesus, may we pursue God, cling to hope, offer encouragement, and spend time with each other.

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What’s the One Thing That Matters Most?

The list of faith essentials is short—a list of only one item

What’s the One Thing That Matters Most?Two thousand years ago the religious leaders, called Pharisees, heap a bunch of manmade requirements on the backs of the people so they can be right with God. Some scholars place the number at over 22,000 regulations, far more than the 613 items the Law of Moses contains, which far exceeds God’s top ten instructions (aka The Ten Commandments).

While today’s religious leaders have numerically fewer requirements for their followers, they, too, heap a pile of expectations upon us: of things we shouldn’t do and things we should, of hoops to jump through to be accepted into their group (their church).

They spout requirements for us to meet, a checklist of tasks to complete—or behaviors to avoid. We need to agree to their specific theological mindset, and if we question just one item they hold sacrosanct, we’re booted as a miscreant, likely on our way to hell. Branded as a heretic, we’re banished from their community.  Some enlightened pastors advise to hold a short list of essentials. They have the right idea. Click To Tweet

They call their requirements, the essentials. These so called faith essentials sometimes carry a prooftext, but more so than not they are no more than traditions, conventions, and preferred practices, with an elevated status for us to adhere to.

Some enlightened pastors advise to hold a short list of essentials. They have the right idea.

Jesus has this in mind when he says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). The essentials of Jesus are simple. He creates no undue burden for us, much unlike the Pharisees of his day—or the Pharisees of our day.

But how short should this list of essentials be? Ten items, perhaps five or six? Can we boil it down to three?

How about one?

Yes, there is one faith essential. Jesus says so.

What is this one thing that matters most? It’s Jesus.

At the house of Martha and Mary, Martha is worried about many things (in a practical sense, her list of essentials), while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. She focuses on one thing, and Jesus affirms her for that (Luke 10:39-42).

This one thing isn’t baptism. It’s not saying a certain prayer or joining a church. It’s not witnessing or tithing. It’s not going to church on Sunday or taking communion. It’s not reading a certain version of the Bible or being filled with the Holy Spirit. And it’s not going through a class or completing a spiritual rite of passage.

It’s Jesus.

Jesus is the one thing, the one faith essential.

Avoid Suffering Needlessly For Our Faith

Religious persecution is real for many people, but some people needlessly bring opposition upon themselves

Avoid Suffering Needlessly For Our FaithIn many parts of the world religious oppression is an everyday reality that affects adherents’ ability to move about freely, earn an income, and purchase life’s necessities. A deep religious hatred limits the daily freedom for some people of faith. Their unwavering devotion to what they believe only earns them more revulsion. In some cases this animosity results in physical harm, sometimes fatal.

While horrific, I don’t have the perspective to write about this kind of severe religious persecution with the insight it deserves. Instead I’ll address a lessor form of suffering, the suffering we bring on ourselves: self-inflicted persecution.

I once had an employee who had recently converted to Judaism. She didn’t know much about her faith practices, at least not that she could explain to me, but I did admire her unwavering commitment to follow what she had been taught. (Once, at a company luncheon, she declined a cheeseburger but couldn’t tell her perplexed coworkers why she was prohibited to eat it. I later explained to them the Levitical law behind the practice.)

A few months into her employment I noticed a disturbing trend. She would sometimes leave me a voicemail message—always after 5 p.m.—informing me that she wouldn’t be working the next day because it was a religious holiday for her. And she had lots of them that fall.

From a planning standpoint this frustrated me. Often I had specific things I needed her to do that next day, but she was giving me little time to make adjustments. I explained that I was happy (okay, willing) to accommodate her religious observances, but I needed advanced warning. A list of holidays would be helpful.

She said that wouldn’t be possible because sometimes she didn’t know until the day before. Really? When I pressed her on this, she was steadfast that she couldn’t give me a calendar of her religious holidays. I suggested she ask her Rabbi for a list. She didn’t too much like that.

A week or two later she shoved a sealed envelope into my hands. The stationary bore the name of a Rabbi. Glad to be making progress, I opened the envelope in excitement, but the Rabbi hadn’t given me a list of dates as I requested.

Instead, he had drafted a tersely worded missive to inform me what I already knew, that I needed to provide her time off to observe Jewish holidays. And that a failure to do so discriminated her for her religious preference. He implied I was persecuting her for her faith.

No, I just wanted a list of holidays so that I could provide time off in the best way possible.

I don’t know what she told her Rabbi, but I doubt she asked for a calendar of Jewish holidays so that I could plan better. I doubt she told him I was making the accommodations she sought and merely needed some basic information to do so better.

Based on the tone of his letter, I suspect she presented me as someone who discriminated her for her faith, perhaps even anti-Semitic. (I have great affinity for religious Jews, as their faith history is my faith history.)

I considered contacting her Rabbi directly to explain—since she didn’t understand when I tried, once again, to clarify—but with the press of other work I never got around to it. A month later she quit, likely believing that I had persecuted her for her faith. We can experience negative reactions to our faith, but we need to be sure we aren’t the cause. Click To Tweet

In truth she brought the situation on herself.

She told me that her new employer would provide her the time off that she sought, something I had done every time she asked, even though she failed to provide a simple list of holidays.

While we can experience varying degrees of negative reactions to our faith practices, we need to be careful that we aren’t the reason for the animosity. Maybe it’s not our beliefs that cause the problem but the unwarranted way we conduct ourselves.

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If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.If God sent someone to check out you or your church, what would their report be? Click To Tweet

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

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The Power of David’s Example

David models bold action and his nephew learns from it

The Power of David's ExampleMost people are familiar with the story of David and Goliath in the Bible. It tells of the young boy David, armed only with godly confidence and a sling, killing the warrior giant of a man Goliath. It’s an inspiring tale of courage and faith in the presence of improbable odds. But this story isn’t in our text for today. It’s found in 1 Samuel 17 instead.

Though today’s passage is about David, it occurs much later when he is king. Squeezed among three chapters packed with battle stories of strategy and victory stands an incidental tale of David’s nephew Jonathan. In this story Jonathan kills a huge man from Rapha. In addition to his ginormous size, he is noted for having six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Like Goliath before him, this man from Rapha taunts the army of Israel. And like his uncle before him, Jonathan slays the cocky titan.

Why is this significant?

What bold action will we take in our lives that will inspire others in theirs? Click To TweetJonathan, no doubt, heard of the exploits of Uncle David in confronting the jeering giant of a man Goliath. Of how, in godly confidence David, though completely outmatched, fell the hulk with a small stone guided by his sling and then cut off the fallen warrior’s head using his own sword.

Talk about inspiring.

What bold action will we take in our lives that will inspire others in theirs? When we trust God with the outcome, it isn’t hard.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Chronicles 18-20, and today’s post is on 1 Chronicles 20:6-7.]

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