Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Is It to Believe in Jesus, or, To Have a Life of Faith?

Isn't it just crazy when different media you subscribe to suddenly align and seem to be giving a similar message? That's what has happened to me in the last week.

 It started with Pray As You Go. The scripture that was read was a passage from John's gospel that comes right after Jesus fed the five thousand. The crowds follow Jesus, as he has left in a boat, and when they encounter him again he criticizes them and says, "You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life" (NRSV John 6:26-27). It seems like a critique aimed at all of us, and for my part, I feel like I am being taken to task for not seeking the ways of God.

But at the end of the prayer, I was left with an idea that came straight from the Gospel itself: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

This idea made me uncomfortable when I first heard it. Because, in the past, people have said to me "Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" (emphasis is not mine... I've heard it said like that). That question has been asked so many times that it starts to become hard to understand. What is a personal Lord now, in the Digital Age? What does it mean to have a Savior? Is it all intellectual or is it something emotional? Because I don't really want something that I have to keep present in my mind, I moreso want something to do... something that matters and might be able to make a difference to the ills of the world. Which made me wonder about this statement regarding the work of God; belief is the work of God, he says. And I wonder if that's it? Because once again, is this belief an intellectual assent? Is it an emotional state? Is it both or neither?

And out of that confusion, I realized that it is just as possible to believe in a person as it is to believe in what that person has to say. Myself, for example, I believe that what Jesus said was true and I also believe that he is the son of God in the sense that he was God incarnate and came to either to live and die as a human.

Why do I believe that? I have no intellectual or logical reason to believe in this stuff. And yet I go on believing because there is a sense, deep in my gut, that tells me that this is true and authentic...

This is the point at which my confusion and effort to understand my reflections from Pray As You Go intersected with the most recent episode of The Collect Call (which could possibly be my favorite podcast at the current time).

The hosts, Holli and Brendan, looked at the prayer for the Feast of Saints Philip and James. The prayer itself was kind of bland, but there were two phrases in the prayer that struck the hosts and led most of their discussion. The first was, "Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James grace and strength to bear witness to the truth..." and the second (also in reference to Philip and James), "we, being mindful of their victory of faith..." Between these two phrases, it seems that the biggest reason that we have a feast day for these guys and hold them up as saints and examples of faith, is simply because they had faith in the the Risen Christ.

It seems mundane, but Brendan had the ability to dig into those phrases. He described how he came across a sermon that described faith in Christ not as an intellectual assent to a series of propositions, but as something that the heart knows.

Image borrowed from the Saint Lawrence Press Ltd

That insight blew me away. Here I am, grappling with the words of Christ himself, as they are recorded in the Gospel of John, trying to figure out what the heck me meant by saying that the work of God is belief in the one God sent, and then I run smack into a feast day for two guys who had the audacity to believe Christ. They had the audacity to believe Jesus when he said he was sent from God and began to instruct people in a way of life.

Now, from where you are, dear readers, you may think this is not a huge insight. And I will admit that I may still be reveling in awe of it. But even if those are the circumstances, I still feel like it's at least one brick put in place to build up the Kingdom of God.

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What sort of seemingly mundane insights have you had into a life of faith? What do you think
is belief in the Risen Christ? Please leave your reflections in the comments below. I would love to hear what you wish to share. Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Facebook or Twitter! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!