In November, Joy and I went to Buffalo, N.Y., and saw Niagara Falls, among other things.
We are now hearing the term “fiscal cliff” in the news. Watching the roaring cascade of Niagara Falls could be the same as watching the invisible fiscal cliff our economy may be getting ready to plunge over. We hear the noise, sense the catastrophic affects, yet are helpless to act on a national problem.
I contend that the average person has little idea of the fiscal cliff. The majority of residents in Fayette County are content to live simply and enjoy our families. We also have a deep sense of the necessity of helping our neighbor who may be struggling.
Jesus challenges his followers to live according to a different standard. Matthew 16: 25-27 says: "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."
Jesus challenges you and I to lose ourself by helping others. In the greatest sense, we are to immerse ourselves in Christ and follow his command to help our neighbor; that we, in one sense, lose our life as we help others. In the process of losing my life, I find it. This is not some spiritual gymnastics but a deep truth of following God.
The challenge of the Gospel is to become so engaged in following Christ that I eventually take on the very character of Christ. That is the point where I lose my life and find my identity in Christ.
Several years ago, my oldest son, Tim, was on the Vandal golf team. He would go to the country club during the fall of the year and practice golf. One evening, I picked him up from golf practice and he was obviously upset. I asked if he had a bad outing at golf. "NO!" Did he have a bad time at school? "NO!" What’s wrong? His response was simple. "Everywhere I go, people say 'I know whose boy you are; you are Rev. Joe’s son.' I look like you; I can’t get by with anything. This is not fair."
God wants us to look like him so much that when people look at us, they see a resemblance to Jesus. That is truly losing your life.
James addresses the issue of looking like Jesus as a demonstration of faith. Faith always is accompanied by action. Read what James says in James 2:14: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.'”
I believe church attendance is a good thing. I believe giving a tithe and offering to the church is a step in demonstrating faith. Yet, it is not a substitute for a personal active faith. Jesus never said to place your butt in the seat and be satisfied. Jesus never said that giving a tithe fulfilled my life in Christ. He challenged each believer to develop their faith by “doing.” Doing is touching lives in the name of Christ in hands-on, tangible ways. James uses the illustration of clothing the cold and feeding the hungry as demonstrations of faith. The overwhelming human need in our county is evident. It has also led to a bit of cynicism that the government will help, or even worse, I have mine so you get yours. We may be limited financially to care for the needy, yet we should place no limit on compassion.
This time of year, there are at least two organizations that raise funds and do hands-on giving to those in need. The Salvation Army and Caring & Sharing each strive to help the needy – not only at Christmas, but year-round. I am proud of the residents of our area that give time, money, and energy to these causes. Yet many more of us need to get involved.
Ringing a bell for the Salvation Army is a step in demonstrating our faith. While it may not seem like much to bundle up and take a turn at bell ringing, it is a baby step in acting our your faith. Call the First United Methodist Church and get on the schedule. Packing a box or sorting food and toys may not seem like much of a faith step yet a baby step is better than no step. Give the Caring & Sharing folks a call and spend a couple of hours sorting and boxing. Both of these efforts to help the needy can use your help.
When you’re ready for a bigger step of faith, there are many personal or corporate things one cam plug into. Need never takes a holiday. In fact, need persists year 'round. It may literally be your next door neighbor. David Platt penned the book Radical a few years ago. The challenge of the short book is simple: Live like Jesus lived. Jesus lived on the edge of accepted society. He lived out the faith and commitment he desires you and I to have. Jesus traveled, teaching his followers great spiritual truths, which are very simple. Then he demonstrated his faith by helping the people he encountered. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and comforted the sad. Jesus did these things by self sacrifice.
I wonder how many times Jesus wanted a day off from people, an easier group of disciples or even fewer preachers to contend with.
Jesus set all his personal wants aside to demonstrate for you and me how to live sacrificially. He lost his life figuratively before his death on the cross. He lost his life, literally, through his death on the cross. Jesus then tells us through the resurrection to walk by faith. Walk by an active faith through which I lose my life and find my soul in Christ.
The choice is yours. Develop an active faith, as described by James. Lose your life, as taught by Christ.
Have a thankful and insightful Christmas.