Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Do You Really Believe?

Who Am I, Really?
It is often quoted, “You are what you eat.” But I am not a tuna sandwich or a quesadilla. Perhaps what we eat gives us the energy to be who we are, but it is not who we are. Rather, it is our thoughts and beliefs that make us who we are. We do not name ourselves according to our culinary preference, but we proudly tell others the names that display what we believe. Our church group (what we believe about God), our political leanings (what we believe about how to help our country), our sports team (what we believe about that team—namely, they are great)—these are the things we talk about to indicate who we are (as well as other things, like occupation)

However, our beliefs are as complex as our thinking, and at times we say we believe something that contradicts what we believe about something else. And we also will say that we believe one thing and do another. I can say that I believe that people should be nice to one another, but if I found out my neighbor took my television without my permission then I might not be so nice to him. My wife would then point out the contradiction between what I say and what I did, and I will explain it to her: “You see, I think that we should generally be nice to each other, but if someone takes something from me, then I don’t have to be nice.” The reasoning may or may not be valid, but I only came up with the reason to excuse what I did. The reality is, what I said I believed originally—“People should be nice to each other,”— is different from what I really believed— “I will be nice to others as long as they are nice to me.”

Given that what we say we believe is so often contradicted by what we do, how do we know what we really believe. I say I believe in Jesus—but do I really? And how do I know? I think that if I make statements of belief—“I believe that Jesus is Lord”, that will be enough. If I know something, “Jesus rose from the dead” or “Airplanes are safe,” does that mean I believe in it?

Evaluating What We Really Believe In

Jesus recognized that often what we say and what we believe are two different things. This is why he gave us a test to find the true character of a person—what they really believe in, whether they are really good and bad. Jesus said, “We know a tree by its fruit. We know that a tree is an apple tree because it bears apples. And we know that a fig tree can’t produce pears. Even so, we know what a person is really like by their actions and careless speech.” (Matthew 7:16-20 and 12:33-36). Thus, we know what people really believe by how they behave in certain areas in life.

Below are six areas that, according to Jesus, indicate what we really believe. If we follow God in these areas, then we can say we believe in God. But if we do not, then we must believe in something else—for our actions are a mirror of our hearts.

As shown above, what we do with our lives—our work, our response to stressful situations—that’s what really shows who we are. We can say that we love God, but the question is, how do we show it? Sometimes the best way to determine our character is to imagine that a stranger who has never seen us before is presented with a videotape of our whole lives, with the sound off, so they can’t hear our own explanations of our lives. How would that stranger evaluate us? What would characterize us? If we stole, we would certainly be characterized as a thief. But we more often than not excuse ourselves, not wanting our actions to determine who we are—“Sure, I get drunk occasionally, but that doesn’t make me an alcoholic.” “Yes, I have hit my child in anger, but that doesn’t make me a child abuser.” Yet Jesus said that a person shows truly whether they believe in him as to whether they do what he says (Luke 6:46-49)

Jesus says that what we do with our money and possessions indicates where our heart is, thus who we are (Luke 12:34). A person can say, “I believe that God will heal me,” but then why does he spend so much money on medicine? A person can say, “My comfort will be in heaven,” but then why does she surround herself with comforts on earth? If we want to see what a person really believes in, we can look at how they spend their money—that will indicate what they think to be most important in life. Jesus said that if we want to show that we believe we will get to heaven, then we need to take a substantial amount of our wealth and give it to the poor—not necessarily the church, unless they are serving the poor (Luke 12:33; Acts 4:34-35)

As we said above, a person can say one thing and do another. But Jesus said that we should pay attention to people’s careless words—the statements they make when they didn’t have time to plan it out. Often that’s when people’s pride and anger and selfishness flare up. If we are planning a statement, that can be one thing we say, but the statements we use when we are being thoughtless and carefree—those are the words by which we will be judged, for those are the words that show what we really believe and so who we really are. (Matthew 12:35-36)

At times we all feel insecure. We are often struck by anxiety and we don’t know where to turn. Where we do turn in those moments of crisis indicates what we trust in or who we think will pull us out of our fear. Perhaps we will turn to a family member—especially if they are wealthy—or a friend. Perhaps we have a habit or addiction that we think will make us feel better. Perhaps we have nothing we can rely on but our anxiety, but we say, “How I wish I had this or that”. That is what we really rely on, the person or object we truly believe in. But Jesus tells us that in our time of crisis, the one we can always count on, the dependable one who we can trust in is God. (John 14:1; Luke 12:30-32). To “believe in” God doesn’t mean to have the correct doctrine, it means that you will count on him in a time of crisis. So whatever we turn to in crisis, that is our real god.

God makes it clear that he wants us to treat everyone according to their well-being. He wants us to do what is good for everyone we meet—whether that person is an evil person or a good one (Luke 6:27-36; Galatians 6:10). We can make a list of who we actually show care for and who we do not. “Yes, I try to help this person whenever I can. This person, though, is a dolt and so I avoid then when possible. I like to assist this kind of person, but this kind I detest and wouldn’t even give them the time of day.” By this test, then, we can often see what limits we place on our belief in God. We believe in God and in his ways when we are around certain people or situations, but in other ones we do not. If people respect us, that’s fine, we can believe in God in that situation. But if someone cusses us out, then we find it difficult to believe in God. For we know that we will be rewarded according to our love, not our doctrinal beliefs.

We often make promises and commitments, from appointments to projects we agreed to work on. Sometimes we do not even have a promise to do something, but we have a “social contract” with our family, in which our behavior is determined. And there are many things that we “believe in” that we commit to do, whether it be prayer or a favor for someone at church or visiting a sick person in the hospital. But what we believe in is not found in the promises we make, but in the promises we actually keep. We may “believe in” prayer and make a schedule for us to wake up a bit early to do it. But, when the time comes, we find that we actually believe in sleep more than prayer because the snooze button is hit until the prayer time has vanished. We may “believe in” visiting the sick, and so promise to do it, but when the time comes we find the television too alluring, showing that we believe in our comfort and rest more. Jesus said that we must fulfill our promises and so display our faithfulness, for what we do shows what we believe. This doesn’t mean that we are able to keep all our promises. Sometimes emergencies come up. But we must remember this, whatever we chose to do, that is what we really believe in. (Matthew 21:28-31)


One last thing to note—Jesus is a firm believer in changing one’s ways. We know he believes in change because he forgives people their sin. He displays his belief of changed behavior by accepting those who have repented. Even so, if you evaluate your true beliefs and determine that you haven’t really believed in Jesus, it is not too late to change! Jesus said he will give you his Spirit and he will help you repent from your old life and begin to believe in Him anew! Pray for God’s grace and you will begin to truly believe in Jesus, not just in words, but in your whole life. In that way you will be a new creation, created by God to do actions in light of Jesus!

Evaluate your actions, and determine
what you really believe!

Relaxing in the Tough Will of God

From a letter from Archbishop Fenelon

See God’s hand in the circumstances of your life. Do you want to experience true happiness? Submit yourself peacefully and simply to the will of God, and bear your sufferings without struggle. Nothing so shortens and soothes your pain as the spirit of non-resistance to your Lord.

As wonderful as this sounds, it still may not stop you from bargaining with God. The hardest thing about suffering is not knowing how great it will be or how long it will last. You will be tempted to want to impose some limits to your suffering. No doubt you will want to control the intensity of your pain.

Do you see the stubborn and hidden hold you have over your life? This control makes the cross necessary in the first place. Do not reject the full work that the power of the cross could accomplish in you. Unfortunately, you will be forced to go over the same ground again and again. Worse yet, you will suffer much, but your suffering will be for no purpose.

May the Lord deliver you from falling into an inner state in which the cross is not at work in you! God loves a cheerful giver. Imagine how much He must love those who abandon themselves to His will cheerfully and completely—even if it results in their crucifixion!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

God Challenging Social Norms

From "The Mirror of Perfection", a biography about Francis of Assisi

Likewise the Lord revealed to him the salutation which the friars should use, as he caused to be written in his testament, saying, “The Lord revealed to me that I should say for a greeting, ‘The Lord give you peace.’” Now, in the first days of the Order, when he would go with a certain friar who was one of the first twelve, he saluted the men and women on the road and those who were in the fields, saying, “The Lord give you peace.” And for that men had not heard up to then such a salutation from any religious they wondered greatly. In fact, some used to say to them with great indignation, “What does this salutation of yours mean?”

So that brother began to be ashamed of it, so he said to Francis, “Let me use another greeting.” The father said to him, “Let them talk, since they do not perceive the things of God. But do not be ashamed, because from now on the nobles and princes of this world shall show reverence to you and other friars for this salutation. For it is no great thing if the Lord should wish to have a new and little flock, singular and unlike all those who have come before them in life and work, a folk which should be content to have him alone and most sweet.”
-Section II, Chapter 23

This is a summary of the Priestly blessing in Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” I summarize this blessing to my children and my congregation to: “May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace.” To have peace, in Scripture, is to have wholeness in one’s life. It is not the blessing of wealth or health necessarily, but the gift of well-being, having nothing in our lives that tests us beyond what we can bear. Peace is not the lack of conflict, but the grace to deal with conflict as it comes.
At times people look at the new thing and find it disturbing, even if it comes from God. Well, perhaps, ESPECIALLY if it comes from God. We want our God to be traditional, to fit into modes that we already understand. But God is looking for the well-being of his people, for their righteousness and devotion to Him, and He will guide his people to that place, even if it means that we must toss aside tradition and seek out the new.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God's Call for A New Community

From The Mirror of Perfection, a biography about Francis of Assisi

Francis said, “The order and life of the Friars Minor is a certain little flock which the Son of God in these last times asked of his Heavenly Father, saying, ‘Father, I wish that You should make and give to me a new and humble folk in these last times, unlike to all others who have gone before them, in humility and poverty and content to possess me alone.’ And the Father said, having heard the Son, ‘My son, that which You have asked is done.’”

Francis used to say that for this reason God willed and revealed to him that they should be called Friars Minor, because this is that poor and humble folk which the Son of god demanded of his Father. This folk the Son himself speaks of in the Gospel, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And also, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you have done it to me.” And the Lord understood this of all spiritual poor men, yet He spoke it more especially of the Order of the Friars Minor, which was to be in his Church. And so, as it was revealed to Francis that it should be called the Order of Friars Minor, so he made it to be written in his testament and the first Rule which he took to Pope Innocent III who approved and conceded it, and afterwards announced it to all in Consistory.
-Section II, Chapter 23

What a contrast is Francis’ attitude of his people from the majority of the church! Today, we want bigger churches, bigger incomes, larger congregations, and more significant influence in the world. Francis, however, recognized that Jesus called the church to be of and among the disenfranchised, the outcast, the poor, the suffering, the lowly.

Jesus said that it was the wealthy who were to be cautioned, for “you have already received your comfort” and because “It is difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus said that those who were lauded were to be unhappy for “this is how the false prophets were treated.” Francis sought out those who were willing to give up all they had to be lowly and poor and suffering and wretched. Jesus also told his disciples to be prepared for poverty, for the surrender of all we have, for injustice and for persecution. But in our teachings of the gospel, we encourage people to expect all blessings—a better life, health, wealth and honor.

Woe is us! Woe to those who preach the American gospel! Woe to those who think that they can gain everything in this world and have the next world as well! But blessed are the poor, for they shall receive the kingdom of God.

A Letter From Fenelon

You need to learn to separate yourself from unnecessary and restless thoughts which grow out of self-love. When your own thoughts ar set aside you will be completely in the middle of the straight and narrow path. You will experience the freedom and peace that is meant for you as a child of God.

Endure the aches and pains of your body with patience. Do the same thing with your spiritual afflictions (that is, trouble sent to you that you cannot control). Do not add to the cross in your life by becoming so busy that you have no time to sit quietly before God. Do not resist what God brings into your life. Do not resist what God brings into your life. Be willing to suffer if that is what is needed. Overactivity and stubbornness will only increase your anguish.

God prepares a cross for you that you must embrace without thought of self-preservation. The cross is painful. Accept the cross and you will find peace even in the midst of turmoil. Let me warn you that if you push the cross away, our circumstances will become twice as hard to bear. In the long run, the pain of resisting the cross is harder to live with than the cross itself.

What Does It Mean to Be Radical for Jesus?

1. We believe in taking risks to serve Jesus. We don’t believe in church leadership as a profession, or in upward mobility.

2. We believe in setting aside our desires and resources for the sake of the needy. We don’t believe in the American dream or capitalism, nor in our own personal property or privacy.

3. We believe in accepting persecution for Jesus. We don’t believe in staying quiet or in remaining comfortable.

4. We believe in loving our enemies and accepting persecution. We don’t put any faith in violence, empires, or cultural prejudice.

5. We believe in Jesus’ community working together to create community. We don’t believe that any denomination or church has a monopoly on loving God.

6. We believe in Jesus’ return and rule over the earth. We don’t believe in preserving our life, but are holding out for the next one.