[How do we, under God, grow our faith in him?? My previous post submitted 5 avenues]
Sixth avenue, by putting our faith into action. Dr. Jordan Peterson (below) is a world-renowned Canadian behavioural psychologist and emeritus prof. at the University of Toronto. He’s a high achiever but simultaneously wonderfully in touch with his own and others’ emotions. In recent times he’s abandoned atheism for a journey toward God, weeping at the mere mention of Jesus’ name. Peterson argues cogently and enthusiastically that ‘belief absolutely necessitates acting on it!’
2000+ years ago the apostle James made the same point in writing to scattered, persecuted Christian groups about ‘Listening and Doing’ (I guess most of us are poor at both?). His readers were surely familiar with the many ‘religions’ of the day – James writes concerning a unique, ‘pure religion’ of God the Father: “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word but don’t obey it, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it! If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you’ (1:22-27/NLT) (‘world’ here = the idolatrous, humanistic, egoistic, materialistic society-system of every age). And so we could be long-time professing believers, kidding ourselves about the genuineness of our faith and practice! If so, let’s repent and act, beginning with v. 26-27!
There is need not only for individual repentance but corporate repentance. A week ago News24 in South Africa published an article by Dikeledi Molatoli,‘The Dead Faith of Christian Churches.’ In it he highlighted the SA Council of Churches’ response to one of the deadliest floods ever to hit our country (in Kwazulu-Natal), claiming the lives of some 500 people and leaving 8,000 homeless. The message included condolences and a request to ‘set aside a moment of prayer’ on Good Friday. The author expressed dismay at this inadequate response: not even calling the Church to contribute finances, food, water, blankets, clothing and equipment. All this when the local Islamic ‘Gift of the Givers’ was already on the ground with immediate practical aid, many churches working alongside that organization because of its proven record in SA and abroad. Molatoli then goes on to quote Jam. 2:14ff, ‘”My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? … Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? … In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity!” (CEB)
I’m reminded of a powerful, personal encounter with Jam. 1:26-27 many years ago. I attended our annual national ‘Synod’ on the Reef (Gauteng). One of the early speakers was Ds (Pastor) Christo Botes from Belville in the Cape. I remember feeling so disappointed at the turnout, approximately 50 leaders out of a potential 200? He and his flock had been engaging the poor and broken on the streets and under the bridges of their suburb. His text was Jam. 1:26-27, an ‘unusual’ one for ‘evangelicals’? As he shared those brief verses and his congregation’s journey with the needy, the Spirit was powerfully at work. At the conclusion of his message, he made an invitation in the context of James’ definition of ‘true religion.’ Now imho professional pastors can be some of the proudest and self-sufficient people, believe you me! Overwhelmed, I made my way to the front of the meeting place and knelt there weeping. Others joined me, a bit of heaven came down, and I knew I would never be quite the same again – a powerful, living seed was planted within me that day, and grows within me still. [PS, 15 years ago I learned that 80% of our world is young and poor]
While we are all called to this ‘pure religion,’ some of my readers may/will be called to give themselves more fully to the challenge of the poor – some of my younger readers, and even older ones! (I recall visiting the underground church in China and meeting an elderly couple from the West overseeing a home for children with special needs). So let me tell you the story of Craig Greenfield and family (pic below)…
Craig grew up in New Zealand, came from an affluent home, and from his earliest years wanted to be well-off, climb the corporate ladder and drive a really fast car! Then, as a corporate executive, Jesus interrupted his life while travelling in Cambodia. He recognized his Saviour in the distressing eyes of the many orphan children. ‘I realized that Jesus left the most exclusive gated community in the universe to move in among us!’ (see Addendum). He and his wife, a Khmer Rouge refugee, emigrated to Canada. Soon God called them both to plant orphanages in Cambodia, and they moved in among the destitute of that distant land. God gave them much success, under extremely trying and dangerous circumstances. At one point, with their lives in danger, they were forced to return to Vancouver, again moving into an inner city community, this time to create a safe community for addicts and the homeless. Over the years they’ve established ‘Alongsiders International,’ a grassroots youth discipleship-movement spreading into Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. In fact I’ve just read of their work in Malawi in Central Africa, where thousands of children are starving. [In my own tiny ministry in the slum areas of my city, I have learned from Craig ‘never to do for the poor what they can do for themselves’ – quite a challenge to keep the balance, I can tell you]
All of us need to ensure that we escape the extremely subtle self-interest and materialism of our time, live a simple life, so that we can take care of the vulnerable in one way or another. Bob Goff, NY TIMES best-selling author, lawyer and philanthropist, has challenged comfortable churches and church leaders with these pungent words: ‘If you want applause, join the circus, if you want Jesus, find the poor!’
We’ll never be able to fully plumb the depths of that pivotal scripture, Jn. 1:14, this side of heaven! The apostle John has been speaking about the eternal ‘Logos/Word of God’ moving into our world of time and space at a specific point in history. We need to read the preceding verses, i.e. v. 1-13, to capture the the context of God’s massive self-revelation to humankind: v. 14ff/NLT, ‘So the Word became human (Gr. ‘became flesh’) and made his home among us (lit. ‘pitched his tent among us’). He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son’ (the OT word ‘glory’ carries the idea of weightiness, the NT word that of splendour/beauty). The MSG paraphrases v. 14, ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.’ Here is God’s own expression of ‘true religion!’ How shall we express our faith today?? Please ponder that before moving on in your busy world, and may God be with us all!