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True to the Faith

April 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 174

What does it mean to be true to the faith? People obviously believe different things. It seems pretty clear that people believe differently from each other. We also tend to express our beliefs in different ways, using different language, and reflecting different points of view. We would be wise to maintain both an openness and a willingness to respect our different answers about God and to learn from each other in our quest for what will make life meaningful or at least more tolerable. The same be said for our questions about Jesus and the answers we seek about him as well. I think a better way of understanding this question about being true to the faith is this, What do I need to do to build a life worth living?"

What do I need to do to build a life worth living? This is a great question first because it recognizes that I'm the one who needs to do it. Second, the question recognizes that it's a building process, not something that just happens or comes into being right away. It is rather like that image from the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel in which a wise person builds his house on solid rock while a foolish person builds on a sandy foundation. The choice of building sites is ours.

Third, the question assumes that the object is "a life worth living." That's really important because the Gospel is all about following Jesus to build a life worth living, a journey that requires commitment and effort - a journey that is worth the effort!

To build a life worth living, you need some resources. Francis Dewar has been a spiritual guide to me the last ten years through his book Invitations. He posed two questions that are central to the question we are considering here, and also vital to each of us " What brings you to life?" "What has a deadening effect on you?" (Francis Dewar, Invitations, p. 8)

If these questions really speak to you, then feel free to stop right here and stay with them. If you can answer them well and put your answers into practice, your answers can lead to building a life worth living!

I've been hearing voices this week, though perhaps I shouldn't put it quiet that way! They are been voices of freedom-the quality that is essential to building a life worth living. One was the voice of a popular singing group in the 1960's called Up with People. They sang a song called "Freedom Isn't Free" (Paul Colwell, 1965). The lyrics included this line: "You've got to pay a price. You've got to sacrifice for your liberty."

Another voice was that of the Apostle Paul in his New Testament letter to the Galatians (Gal. 5:1). It says simply, "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." The Apostle Paul wrote to churches in Galatia about "freedom" from having to submit to the laws of Judaism in order to follow Christ. In doing this, he challenged the orthodoxy of his time. He challenged the church and its leaders to risk freedom and embrace its responsibilities. Paul knew from his own experience to choose the life-giving pathway

The third voice I've been hearing this week has been the familiar spiritual from the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960's, "We Shall Overcome"-especially the verse, "Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall all be free some day." The call to freedom is an inspiring one, yet somehow, we find ourselves making other choices, prompting my own voice, my own thoughts.

The dream of freedom, take wing and fly; to boldly go, but we don't go. We cling to familiar land-bound prisons. Freedom inspires with heroes who step boldly into a stark sun, but somehow, we choose to retreat to the shadows. We mean to change the world, but push comes to shove and we hold back. We fail to break through and we give in to inertia. Still the call to freedom sounds boldly in our hearts and echoes in our souls because freedom is the way to life that is worth living.

Freedom is relative. Most people wrestle with attitudes, behaviors, or relationships that, in effect, hold them prisoner. Identifying what is liberating/life-giving for us and also what is stifling or deadening to us is an important start. But then, how can we overcome fears that keep us from living fully and how can we live in a way that is life-giving and liberating?

On our faith journey, freedom is the choice we have to believe what Jesus, in the Gospels, said are the values and priorities of God: loving the divine with all we are and all we have. Freedom is the choice we can make to shape our lives by those values and priorities: loving our neighbor as ourselves. Freedom is the choice we have to challenge the common wisdom of society about what constitutes success and a life worth living.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young pastor in a church doing a capital campaign to build a new building. Unlike Crossroads, this congregation had a couple of really wealthy families. One of those families made a pledge well into six figures and paid much of it up front. Obviously, their gift made the campaign very successful and the building program went well. Within a year, that family suffered a significant financial loss. They faced the real possibility of financial ruin, even of losing their home.

The first time they came back to church after their financial lost, I wasn't sure how they'd respond or how they'd feel about having given all that money to the church building. I was sure they would love to have that money back, but what they said surprised me and has stuck with me. They said, "Thank God we invested that money in this place because we have this place to come." Their investment was in the community who embraced and supported them in a time of great need. That's how you build a life worth living.

The most important building block for a life worth living is the investment we make in each other and in a community of faith. The very best way I know to build those relationships is by talking with each other, having one to one conversations. Share your hopes and dreams, your fears and ambivalence, your frustrations and your grief with people you know and with those you want to know better. Share your story and listen to theirs, especially people you don't know very well yet. Do this and you'll build community. Do this and you'll discover who you are and begin to learn what it is you really want. That's what you need to begin to build a life worth living.

Do you know what it is that "brings you to life?" Then start doing it, or continue doing it, as much as possible! As for what has "a deadening effect on you," stop doing it as soon as possible! Accept you own fear and learn to trust that much of it is your creation, a way of dealing with life. And dig into what brings you life. Do it as much as possible. As you grow, you'll find your fears recede in your life - and eventually, maybe, you'll hardly notice most of them. Embrace the freedom to be and to risk and to choose. Live your life! Say yes to that freedom and to the Spirit who gives it!

Nobody knows her name. She was just the woman at the well, or the Samaritan woman at the well. Her legacy was the interchange that happened in the few brief minutes of her encounter with Jesus. There is no assurance she was an actual historical flesh and blood person at all. Only John's gospel relates her story and that gospel was not fully written for some 70 years after Jesus walked that road from Galilee to Jerusalem through Samaria.

She came to the well at midday when respectable women did not come. There she saw the dusty traveler, tired and sitting by that well. Custom would have the two ignore each other. It would have been a gross breach of good taste for the man to speak to the woman in such a setting. Even more, it would not have happened since he was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. But he was thirsty and asked her for a drink. He asked her to draw water with her bucket and let him use it to drink. Perhaps we don't understand how wrong that would have been-a stark violation of Jewish religious laws of ritual cleanliness.

She was shocked, but at least as curious as she was shocked. After all, the fact that she was at the well drawing water at the noon hour meant that she had found herself on the wrong side of social custom-that she was an outcast in her own village. So she just asked the stranger, "How is it you're asking me for a drink-given the obvious socio-religious differences?" After that, the conversation took a strange turn and the man started telling her about some secret living water he could give her.

Jews and Samaritans really did not like each other. There was bad history between them, bad blood. They were kinfolk and shared a checkered history back to the fall of the kingdom of Israel some 900 years before Jesus. Israel under David and then Solomon had come apart. It had splintered. They split into two weak kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah, with its capital at Jerusalem, in the south. And in 827BCE, the empire of Assyria conquered Israel and wiped it out. Very few Israelites were left. Gradually, other people came in a settled the land. They intermarried with the remaining Israelites and re-settled the land.

Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah watched, and some cheered, until it too was conquered. This time the evil empire was Babylon. Solomon's great Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was torn apart. The people were sent into exile, though eventually their descendents returned. It was that return that prompted some of the run-ins with those remnants of the north kingdom now called Samaritans. The feud continued after the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, conquered Jerusalem. Samaritans and Jews became bitter political rivals and there were occasions for intrigue and betrayal that only deepened the animosity. Jews considered Samaritans unclean, ritually impure, and would not share dishes or utensil with them. To do so would have meant violating kosher law. By Jesus' day, most Jews avoided going through Samaria on their way from Galilee to Judah and back. They chose instead to take the long way around Samaritan territory. But Jesus cut through and the rest is history. The rest is theology!

Whether or not this is the telling of an actual encounter Jesus had, this story is certainly a living parable. Water was precious on a journey through the wilderness. Most often, the water that was available was drawn from a well. It was still, stagnant water. Quite rare was to find living water, flowing from a spring. Was that what Jesus promised? An unknown spring of water would have been a great find for that Samaritan town, certainly for the Samaritan woman. If she could receive some credit for finding it, that might be her ticket out of exile and back within the town's social order. She would not have to come draw water at noon. It would be like winning the lottery!

But the more they talked, the more she revealed about her own checkered past, the more heard Jesus talking about something very different, that he was the source of water that was life itself, that anyone who drank of his water, his teaching and his spirit, would never thirst again. The Samaritan woman lived in a wilderness of a different kind. Jesus found her on her journey and showed her how to find water, to find life. We can only discover the meaning in this story by finding ourselves in it. The meaning is ours to determine once we see ourselves in the Samaritan woman. Jesus shows us how and where to find life, but the task is ours to embrace and drink it in.

Many people will tell you, gladly, what you need to be fully alive. That's called a commercial or a sales job. Churches will happily tell you what you need-that you should just accept their religious message. And if not accepting that message is what is keeping you from experiencing life, then that answer is exactly what you need. But the answer we really need is not usually a religious one, and religion is not all church can offer you. Look back at Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman. She explored the religious question, though probably more to distract Jesus than to gain new insight. And that theological conversation about where to worship, that brief reference to church, led Jesus to offer living water.

Religious faith does not have the answers we seek. This is one of two grand assumptions I now make in my life. Somewhere during the past several years of my life, I have chosen to make the two assumptions. They could be mistaken. I could be wrong, but they are assumptions of faith and I choose to stake my life on them. The first assumption is that religious faith does not have the answers we seek, but it can help us find those answers. The Church is mistaken, and so are we when we expect correct belief or correct practice to save us. Even notwithstanding questions and differing opinions about what the correct belief is or correct practice. Life of the quality about which Jesus spoke is only available along the journey of risking and perhaps failing, of trying and sometimes losing, and of continually living in the present while moving forward.

The other assumption is that God is one. We are fundamentally one with each other in God. There is no real duality, but only expressions of a core unity. We cannot be separated from God, but only choose to live out of touch with the truth. And that lasts as long as we want it to last. But God invites us. Life and the universe call us to wake up and live. That abundant life is not a secret saved for after we die, but an attitude we choose in order to live life fully.

My call to action starts with some questions. Is there something vital missing from your life? What do you need to do to: learn what it is, to get it, to make peace with it? Do you find yourself in a wilderness of some kind, not sure of the way out? What is one step you can take toward your goal? Is there something you really want in your life? What do you need to do to get it? If you don't know what you really want, what legacy you really want to leave, and what will you need to do to discover it and to do it?

What is needed with these questions are not answers, but life changes. The story is told of a native tribe who shared stories of legendary magic rock called the singing stone. It was a source of great wisdom, but none had ever seen it. A young member of the tribe set out to find singing stone. He travelled in each direction, often heard tales of it, but could not find the singing stone anywhere. Finally, after several years of fruitless searching, he turned for home. As he approached his village, he began to heard voices and shouting. He got closer and the shouting and singing grew louder. At last he heard what they were saying, "Welcome to the singing stone!"

Like most worthwhile answers, most wisdom in life, the answers to life's deepest questions don't come to us fully formed. They emerge from within us, each of us, as we become the answers we seek. These answers don't come ready made. They don't fit neatly into ready-made categories. They wait for us to learn and discover them within ourselves. Jesus told the woman, "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." We are: creators of life. This is our passion: to make the new and to be springs of new life.

Do you have questions about your religious faith? Are you confused? Do you suspect that there is more to life than you are getting? When people ask me what I do for a living, and I know they won't listen to me more than about 30 seconds, this is what I tell them: I work with people who are on a journey. Many struggle with finding answers to their deepest questions. Some had given up ever finding these answers Many even stopped asking the questions until they talked to me. I've been a pastor for 30 years I have earned a doctorate degree from Princeton, two master's degree.(one in theology and one in music). I've worked as a musician, a church musician, a drama coach and actor, as well as a pastor. I'm married with two children, three dogs, and two cats.

Source: EzineArticles
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True To The Faith


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Questions About God

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