Monday, February 15, 2010

Our faith walk for Ordinary Times

This was yesterday's (2/14/2010) Sunday School lesson and I loved it. Large chunks of the following are straight from one of James Moore's books . . .thank God for wonderful authors who share their writing with all of us!!

Our scripture for the lesson is from Hebrews 10:32-39

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

We’ve had many lessons lately on how to keep our faith when problems come or when tragedy strikes. Remember I even told y’all that I felt like I was teaching those lessons either for me or for someone else in the class. Those lessons were and are important but there is another side of the coin that is also important. How do we keep our faith when times aren’t so tough? What happens to commitment in the give and take of everyday living? How do we hold on to faith in the “daily-ness” of life when times are just ordinary?

Working on the church staff and being a Sunday school teacher, I sometimes get to talk to people when they are in the middle of really bad news. I must admit that it is amazing how well people rise to the occasion. It amazes me how well people respond with courage and strength when tragedy strikes. But it also amazes me that sometimes it is the daily things, the routine irritations that eat us up and tear us down. We so often handle the big battles pretty well, on to be torn apart by the little stuff. I think I shared with y’all about one of the older members calling and chewing me out about the way her tidings was addressed? Something really little sent her over the edge. We’ve all heard the old expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But the corollary to that should be, “When the going is easy, even the tough slack off.” When things are ordinary, we often relax. We have a tendency to let down, to overlook, to neglect, to coast. We’ve seen this happen in football before. If one team is having a great year – winning is coming easy . . .all of a sudden, another team comes along who hasn’t had a great year – but they want to win . . .and often times the upset occurs. When the pressure is on, when the challenge is great, we stand firm only to fall flat when things are normal.

Our scripture today has that warning from the writer of Hebrews. Beware when no one wants to crucify you; beware when no fearsome threat hangs over your head; beware when you drift unchallenged into the ruts of the routine. Your faith may be in no greater danger THAN IN times like these. These are the times, says the writer of Hebrews, when we have to pay attention lest we drift away. It is not when the battle lines are drawn or when the trumpets blare or when the drums roll that most of us either find or lose our faith. Rather, it is when the bills are being paid, when we are caught in traffic, when the shopping is being done or when the church pledge card is being signed. It is in how we speak to our neighbor, how we relate to our children, how we treat the waitress or the waiter, how we respond to our co-workers. It is in daily living that our faith is really affirmed and expressed or else it slips away so silently, so quietly, so gradually that it is almost gone before we even realize it. Then one day we are jolted to see that our values have become those of the crowd and not of the Christ; our choices have become those of chance and not of commitment; our faith has become convenience instead of obedience; our morality has become custom instead of character.

The truth is that for most of us the real challenge of Christian life and faith is precisely here – in ordinary times, in ordinary places, in the give and take of day to day living. So just how do we hold on to a vibrant and exciting faith when the times are normal? How do we maintain that love of Jesus – that feeling of “I know God and he knows me” and I want others to see it in my face? The writer of Hebrews is actually helpful here. He suggests several things.

He suggests that we remember the original challenge of discipleship. Remember what first challenged you. Recall what caused you to make your initial leap of faith. Remember those times when God first revealed himself to you.

I have a great story (from James Moore). A mother went upstairs into her son’s bedroom to wake him and she said to him, “Get up and get ready. It’s almost time to go to church.” The son pulled the covers up over his shoulders and turned away from her saying, “I don’t want to go today.” His mother said, “Come on, Son, we always go to church.”
He answered, “I’m tired.”
“You can rest some other time, we need to go to church this morning,” she countered.
Then he said, “I want to sleep in. Sunday morning is the only time I have to sleep in.”
“You can sleep some other time. We are going to go to church today,” she replied.
He bolted up in his bed and said, “Give me one good reason we need to go to church today.”
“I’ll give you three reasons,” she replied. “First of all, it’s good for you. Second, it’s a habit in our family; we always go to church. And third, YOU ARE THE MINISTER.”

I’m sad to say that minister had lost something along the way. He forgot the original challenge. He forgot that commitment. So often, we have not so much turned our backs on Christian commitment as we have forgotten it. We have not so much denied Christ as we have ignored him. We have not so much rejected Christianity as we have neglected it. That one is powerful to me - we have not so much rejected Christianity as we have neglected it. Ever happen to anyone else? Sometimes when things are going along pretty well, we forget and we give our energy to other things.

There was a woman who responded to the knock at her front door. There was a home freezer salesman standing on her front porch. Before she could get in a word, he gave her his spill and said, “Ma’am if you buy this freezer from me, you could save enough on food bills to pay for it.” At this, the woman responded, “Mister, we are buying a car on the bus fare we save; we are paying for the washer on the laundry bills we save; and we are purchasing the house on the rent we save. To tell you the truth, we just can’t afford to save any more right now.”

Some of us may be right there in our faith pilgrimage. We know it’s a good thing, but we are so strung out with so many other things that our energy is depleted. We have so many things to do, so many sporting events to attend, we are so busy, that we don’t have any energy left or time left or creativity left for the single most important thing in our lives . . .our relationship with God and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Our faith sometimes gets crowded out in the ordinary times; our commitment gets elbowed into the background. We include the church in our lives when and if we can work it in.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us to remember those days when we have seen God in action and felt him in our lives. We are to remember who captured our hearts.

The writer of Hebrews also says, “Do not throw away your confidence.” The great commitment is so much easier than the daily one. Talking a good game is not enough. We have to live it daily. It is so much easier to make a commitment than it is to keep it. We are doing weight watchers here at the church and many of us have been successful with the program. Our leader told us just last week at the meeting that we couldn’t just join and say, “I joined Weight Watchers. Watch me as I lose weight. . . .and do nothing else.” Just because we join Weight Watchers does not make us lose weight. Signing our name on the little card and writing a check does not make us lose weight. Eating well and exercising – doing it daily – is what makes us lose weight. Signing up for Weight Watchers is easy. It’s eating right and doing it that counts. It is the same thing with our Christian journey. Signing up to be a member of Trinity is pretty easy but living as a committed disciple of Jesus Christ takes daily commitment. We are counting on Jesus and he is counting on us daily to live as an example of His way.

The writer of Hebrews also reminds us to remember the ever-present cost of discipleship. He tells us to persevere - to endure.

She was a delightful woman and very well advanced in years. She had purchased a small booklet the day before for 25 cents and she liked it so much that she went back to buy another one for a friend of hers. As the clerk rung up the sale, she said, “that will be 35 cents.” The older woman said, “But I only paid a quarter yesterday.” The clerk answered, “the price has been the same all week – thirty five cents. I mark the books myself.” The woman dug the rest of the cost from the bottom of her purse, saying, “Sorry I was such a bother,” and then she turned to leave.

The man behind her stepped up to the cash register, but then the older woman turned back, stepped in front of him and said, “I’m terribly sorry to interrupt but there’s one more thing I need to take care of with this young woman.” The woman began to dig in her purse and apologized again saying, “I hate to be such a bother but this is important.” After what seemed like an eternity, the woman lifted a single dime out of the bowels of that purse. She handed the dime to the clerk and said, “This is for yesterday. I only paid you twenty-five cents for my booklet yesterday, so I owe you another dime.” The clerk said, “Oh no, that’s all right.” But the older woman was insistent. “Oh you must accept it. It’s the only honest thing to do.”

A big gruff looking man standing in line with a cigar in his mouth spoke up: “You are right, little lady.” It always pays to be honest.”

“Oh no,” the woman answered, stuffing the other items back into her purse. “No, it costs to be honest. It just cost me a dime; but Jesus is honest, and I try my best to be like him.”

Ten cents. One thin dime. Too many of us lose our standards or water down our commitments when life is just ordinary. Mark and George’s mom always says, “either you are honest or you are not.” That has come up in three different discussions with others this week. Either you are honest or you are not. There is not a lot of gray area in honesty. Too often, we just go with the flow. The writer of Hebrews tells us not to throw away what we know is right but rather to endure and do the will of God.

Honesty costs. Discipleship costs. Christianity costs in ordinary day to day living because it means what that older lady knew. It means “being like Jesus” and trying to be like Jesus is what makes the most ordinary times extraordinary. Did you hear it? Being like Jesus is what makes the most ordinary times extraordinary. Being like Jesus is what makes the most ordinary times extraordinary.

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