James 1: 22

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves.

This can be a difficult verse to teach because of the lack of good examples. The other challenge is distinguishing dead works from the work of the gospel. I think I have a good example today. To tell this story we venture back to the recent Fall Foliage bike ride in the Shenandoah Valley.

Remember my friend and neighbor Andy I told you about? Well, there was this other chap named William. William was camped on the other side of me. Frankly, he didn’t make a great first impression but later he was hanging out in front of mine and Andy’s tents. He did not hide his Christianity, but I was less than sure about the sincerity of his heart. I am usually guarded when I hear people popping off about being Christian. It is an easy thing to say, but not an easy thing to live and I find that in the Bible belt, there are a lot of what I call “cultural Christians.” You know what I mean, right? They were raised to be Christian, live in a Christian culture and proclaim their sainthood. As I told a friend, when I practiced law, I often encountered people who began a consultation with a disclosure of their sanctity. Through years of experience, I began to hear “I am a Christian” as “I’m not going to pay you.” So, pardon me if I am a bit jaded when people tell me, not about the greatness of Jesus, but about their Christianity as soon as we meet. This guy really had the smell of one of those folks, but I adopted an accepting posture.

He threw some scriptures around and Andy commented as did I. All of a sudden Andy stopped, looked at me and said, “You must be a minister.” I was quite surprised. First, he is Catholic right? And I am a woman. Second, I certainly was not dressed in any fashion that would indicate clergy. I was in shorts and a t-shirt, and no makeup. What did he hear? Clearly, he heard something that went off in him, but that is, perhaps, more a testimony about him than about me. The spirit within him registered something, responded to the Word of God coming out of me. Frankly, I was taken aback.

Time passes and it is dawn of the next day. Everyone was busy getting ready for the ride. I too was busy with my preparations, but the urge came upon me to pray. I usually do pray before my bike rides, but the nudge seemed to be to pray then rather than later. So, I sat down on my cot and prayed for all the riders, the organizers and the ride itself. I wondered, at that moment, whether other Christians were doing the same. I also thought that it was my duty, not only as a Christian but, as a minister of Christ’s gospel. Then, done praying, I exited my tent to begin loading my bike, etc. Andy was getting his stuff together too. As we greeted each other somehow a discussion regarding prayer came up. Sitting here now it seems odd that it did but there you go. I told him that I had already prayed for all of us and for our safety. He lit up responding that he had too! Right then I saw the gospel at work. Neither of us were going around doing “good works”, especially not good works to be seen by men. We had each quietly and privately been “doers of the Word.” However, there was a rejoicing together knowing that we were one with Christ and with each other that morning. There was a unity even though we prayed individually. The minister in me was joyful to see that Andy’s faith was real. Do you know, before we left that morning, Andy corralled another guy camped near us and led a joint prayer. He provided leadership that I didn’t.

You know, I may never see Andy again. Although we follow each other on Strava, we live far apart. None the less, I will always remember him. He was a living example of Christ with us, Christ in us. I love it all the more that he is Catholic because he is an iconic example that we should not judge each other based on labels. We may not believe all the same things, but when it comes down to brass tacks, I have no doubt that I could trust his faithfulness. He blessed me that morning by being a person of prayer, not because he prayed for me, but because he did the work of the gospel. He lived out his faith right there before my eyes. I was humbled and gratified.

Let us all be doers of the Word not merely deceived hearers. Let us not boast in our Christianity, but as Paul said, only in Christ and him crucified. And, let us pray! Let us put aside all of our prejudices, anger, and reasonings and just let Jesus be Lord. Let us be followers of Christ and devoted disciples of the faith.

Thank you, Andy, for being a shining example of the true love of Christ!

Judgements Aside

Acts 10: 1 – 3

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment . . .

If you lived in the Apostles’ day, what would you say about a Roman soldier? How would you judge him? The Romans did string up Jesus like a Christmas goose after all! They did torture, berate and mock him. Moreover, the Romans occupied the territory as an unwanted conquering force. Who could like the Romans? They ruled with an iron fist and almost unimaginable cruelty.

I went to a bike ride in the Shenandoah Valley in October. Quite a few of the riders camped and eventually we all had tent neighbors. Because we were camped in the green spaces around a sponsoring church, people put up their tents wherever they could find a bit of space. I ended up with a neighbor named Andy who drove all the way from Arizona to participate in this event.

Clearly Andy is an avid cyclist. It didn’t take long for me to find out that he is passionate about something else. He is a sold out, in love with Jesus, Christian. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, he is also Catholic. Is it hard to believe that a Catholic, or a Roman army officer, can also be a devout Christian? Look at today’s passage in its entirety:

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.

Wow! I like that. Jesus gave him a vision. Not only that, if you read the rest of the story, Jesus actually sent Peter to him. That’s pretty good for a heathen Roman. That reminds me of another chap. There was this guy named Saul. Unlike the Romans soldier, he had all the right credentials. He was a Jew’s Jew, educated in the law of Moses, trained by the most highly esteemed teacher of the Jewish faith. He, however, was the number one persecutor of Christians. He had the right robe, the right papers in his pocket, but he was about as far off track as a person can get. We can sit here today and judge him as harshly as the Christians of his day surely did. However, Jesus appeared to him in a vision too! I guess Jesus just doesn’t know who the saints are. He kept picking the wrong folks. What is wrong with him? Saul was on his way to Damascus with the permits in his pocket to arrest and persecute anyone professing Jesus as the Messiah. He was fervent in his pursuit of Christians, yet he became the great Apostle Paul.

It is interesting to me that there are two stories in the Book of Acts about people receiving visions and, in both cases, these men who received the visions were “heathen.” One was a Jew who didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. The other was a Roman who did believe in Christ, but was a Gentile. Both were outcasts of the faith in one way or another, but Jesus bothered to visit each personally. What are we to conclude from this?

The moral of the story is that you can dress up in the right Christian garb and utter the proper Christian “speak” but be as much a heathen and just as lost as a Gentile. Alternatively, a person can look like the wrong sort, not have the raiment of proper Christianity and yet receive a visitation from Christ because of his devotion. Some people judge Catholics harshly, but I tell you this, Andy lived his faith in Jesus. Whatsmore, I didn’t hear him judging anyone. He was a good neighbor to have for the weekend and he vocalized his praise to the Lord Jesus for giving him a faith partner for a neighbor. The moral of the story is judge not! We are called to be believers in Christ, not judges and we better get our lives straight on that score lest we incur Jesus’ wrath.

Love all, judge none. Easier said than done, but the command of Jesus none the less!