James 2:18—But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (ESV)
The faith versus deeds debate is a wrestle that transcends generations. Even so, I believe that in the wrestle of today’s culture, these verses could be reapplied as so: “But someone will say, “You have grace and I have holiness.” Show me your grace apart from your holiness, and I will show you my grace by my holiness.”
Have you ever wondered, What do I have to do to live a stable life, to not be twisted with every fierce wind of opposition or pulled from what is right to what is ultimately degrading? How can I have the kind of healthy fellowship with God that will bring joy and fulfillment?
1 Timothy 4:16—Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The Apostle Paul wrote his protégé Timothy to encourage him but what makes his words so powerful is his own example. He faithfully paid close attention to his life and his teaching. Next to Jesus, the case could be made that he influenced Christianity worldwide through his leadership more than any other man. His epistles continue as vital roots of the worship, theology, and pastoral life in the Catholic and Protestant traditions of the West, and the Orthodox traditions of the East.
What made Saint Paul such a strong leader was that he:
Daniel 1:17—God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind.
Daniel, probably in part because of my given name, has always been my hero. In studying his Old Testament prophetic book that contains his story, there are at least five superb applications that ought to inspire us to be like him.
Since 1958, the West Point Association of Graduates has presented the SYLVANUS THAYER AWARD to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.”
Joe works hard at work and by the time he gets home he is exhausted. Too often he is impatient with his children and snaps at his wife. When he loses his temper and yells at her it is not because he wants to be a jerk or to act in such an unloving manner. The fact is his willpower is nearly sapped. Unfortunately, because of this, he is also insensitive to the fact that his wife, Alice, is also exhausted from watching high-energy children and operating at the tail end of being sick. Her willpower and ability to understand his feelings is also at a low end.
1 Peter 1:14,15—As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.
Do you ever wonder why is it so hard to be holy? Why is it so difficult to abstain from sin? The Holy Spirit brought to mind something that was instantly convicting. I sin because I am not focused on honoring God’s will and reputation.
Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. Sitting just two seats away from the podium, President Barack Obama listened intently as this godly doctor shared observations about what is troublesome in America and his prescriptive ideas as to what would change the country for the better. It was a bold, uncompromising message delivered by a humble, God-fearing man. Some in the media castigated him for daring to speak openly against policies connected to the president. Prophetically, the Dr. Carson emphasized the dangers of political correctness in his message.
Colossians 3:5,8,12,13—Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry . . . But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth . . . Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.
What Christian is not frustrated in trying to live a godly life? Why is it so hard? For starters, we are flawed. We enter the world dripping wet with a sin nature and from the very outset need God’s grace. A baby’s temper tantrum was not learned behavior it was already ingrained. We grow up enamored with the world’s offerings—what man is not drawn to lust after a sensual woman or woman drawn to the need for security? We are stubborn, preferring to do what we want. It is completely counter-culture to pursue holiness. There is nothing easy about achieving purity and we are quickly frustrated by adversity, failure, and the clever attacks of Satan who will do all he can to disrupt us from fellowship with God.
When I read my Bible I look forward each day to hearing from the Lord. I look forward to learning something that will help me live more effectively or that will enable me to help others. I don’t know about you but I find the book of Leviticus to be hard reading. For the first nine chapters, God instructs Moses in how the Israelites are to bring offerings and the priests are to conduct themselves and I’m struggling to see anything even remotely interesting. Then chapter ten comes along and I read the shocking verses below.
I apologize in advance for this illustration but I am not trying to be crude in making a crucial point. Each night I walk our two dogs, Hero the Labrador retriever and Saber the Sheltie. When the three of us walk, Saber has a habit that is extremely annoying. If he comes across what I suspect is dung from another animal (I’m guessing raccoon), before I can stop him, he literally does an in-the-air rollover dive into the mess and slides his chest and back all over it! Now I’m mad because I have to clean him (a difficult task with his thick and long hair) and he stinks. Furthermore, can you imagine what people would think of me as an owner if they came upon Saber in such a disgusting condition?
Recently I sat on a plane next to a man named John. Several months ago, John’s wife of 15 years left him for another man. She was his second wife. His first wife left him after 10 years of marriage for similar reasons. When I looked in his eyes, I saw a kind, confused man. I shared with John that the reasons his wives left him were not really about or because of him, they were about the emptiness in their hearts that marriage was not filling. After interacting with his ex-wives, John hears that neither of them is happy. As he described his current journey to see his girlfriend, it was obvious that he also is unfulfilled.
There are two kinds of ground in this world, holy and unholy ground. The former is found wherever God’s presence abides. We see this most clearly when Moses, seeing the burning bush approached to determine why it was not consumed only to be met by the voice of the Lord.
Recently I had the opportunity to go back for my 25th college reunion. On a beautiful Friday morning we met in the cadet chapel to honor in a memorial service our classmates who have passed away. Dave Mead, my old roommate, planned within the service the opportunity for people to come up to the microphone and share memories of those who had died. Mike Meese was one of many who walked up and paid tribute to our departed comrades. Mike shared a brief story about John Hennessey, a fellow Company D2 member.
Ephesians 5:1,2--Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.