Sunday, November 17, 2013

Faith Without Works

Faith Without Works
Peggy Mack
October 6, 2013

Fall has arrived in South Carolina and the air is crisp and cool and clean.  There is less of an awareness of the more humid, ocean breathe that blankets this Southern coastline in the summer.  I admit that although I have spent 90% of my lifetime living near a coastline, I have never been one for the beach life.  I prefer tall timbers and lakes, I do believe, and higher elevations, if only the less challenging ones which seem to offer cool breezes that are easier for me to breathe.
Bill and I were riding southbound on Hwy 31 talking about what we refer to as "this and that" when we came to a part of open forest land in North Myrtle Beach that had been devastated by a forest fire four years ago.  It had destroyed 30,000 acres of land and engulfed dozens of beautiful homes.  The homes have since been rebuilt and neighborhoods are more beautiful than before the fire.  But the open forest land was covered with young pine trees.  When we drove past them I noticed that the blackened 20 foot stakes in the ground still stand as reminders of how fire can leave us with permanent damage.  I rode lost in thought as I stared at the tiny black silhouettes of what once was a vibrant, young forest.  That is when I realized there was new growth on, maybe, 20% of those scorched reminders of devastation.  New growth!  There were tiny tufts of green pine needles midway up the smoky trunks! 
Those images lead me to remember a Bible verse: 
James 2:14-26

New International Version (NIV)
Faith and Deeds

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I confess in my walking away from actively attending church I was convinced within my heart that I was a Christian.  I never stopped having faith.  I suppose if I am searching for proof of deeds I can quickly say I was still doing good deeds.  But I now see there is a difference between being thoughtful and doing good deeds with Christ as your focus in each day.  I don't know how to explain in words how I see things differently now.  I can only say I am aware of how my understanding has changed slowly with my new walk in faith. 

Practicing religion is not the same as having a deep, living, active faith but they do walk hand in hand.  Once I read Rick Warren's, Purpose Driven Life, I was able to see there is a faith based reason for being active in a church.  Yes, man has distorted, changed, interpreted and altered the first church created centuries ago and with all things when man gets his mind and hands on something, there is often parts of religious history which are not near the model Christ designed.  And yet, beyond all those criticisms and "reasons" for not attending church there is this.  We are called to worship God in the commandments and when we do we are surrounded by others who are faithful and in many cases, doing good deeds for Christ.  Life is so unpredictable and having a connection to a church "family" is a wonderful life preserver that can carry you through challenging times.  I have come to understand that while we worship God we are showered with blessings like words from the Bible or the pastor's sermon that feel as if they were chosen for us alone.  We are lifted spiritually by the music, the handshakes and smiles and the laughter of little children.  So many blessings await our attending church.  One of the silent blessings is a calling to reach out to others in our week, to be a blessing to them.  We are inspired to do good deeds and to care for others through prayer and through action.

I see myself as a Christian of faith who much like those singed forest trees is showing new growth.  I can see with my own eyes how my faith is coming alive and changing on a daily basis.  I am in a place where I feel showers of blessings and feel my growth in faith.

I am so humbled by how God continues to forgive my endless walking away from living a faithfilled life and finding ways to call me back.  I can only imagine how He is doing this with all of us on a daily basis.  There are little nudges out there that speaks to us.  As for me, I was busy, self confident in my own "good" self and unwilling to be open to how God works through us. I am grateful God found a way to speak to my heart.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your endless efforts to call us to a life of living faith.  You speak to us through your beautiful world far from man's own structures.  You speak to us through those who share our interests.  You speak to us through your Holy Word.  You speak to us through invitations to be part of a church family.  Open our hearts and minds to those invitations because you have endless blessings waiting for us and it is in having a living faith that we walk closer with you and serve you best.
In Jesus' Holy Name,

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