Something on the inside
By Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.
Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
––James 2:14-17 MSG
With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit? He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
––Micah 6:6-8 CEB
In his book Love! Nine Fruits of The Spirit, Robert Strand reminds us how important it is to love others.
Strand tells the reader about the experience of a clergy wife:
“During Vacation Bible School my wife had an experience with her primary class that she says she will never forget. Her class was interrupted on Wednesday about an hour before dismissal when a new student was brought in.
“This little boy had one arm missing and since the class was almost over she had no opportunity to learn any of the details about the cause, or his state of adjustment. She was very nervous and afraid that one of the other children would comment on his physical challenge and embarrass him. There was no opportunity to caution them, so she proceeded as carefully as possible.
“As the class time came to a close she began to relax. She asked the class to join her in their usual closing ceremony. ‘Let’s make our churches,’ she said, clasping hands together, fingers interlocked. ‘Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and there’s . . .’ The awful truth of her own actions struck her. The very thing she had feared the children would do, she had done!
“As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, ‘Davey, let’s make the church together’.”
Not a whole lot is going to happen for the good in this world until we team up with God and other people to make life what it ought to be, the church what it ought to be, society what it should be, and our homes what they should be.
Both James and Micah raise the question of how we put our faith––our relationships––into action. Neither is concerned with words or phrases that sound very religious; they are only concerned with outcomes. They were not impressed with great speakers that could (as we say in some preaching circles) “Say it well.” They were more interested in the final product of your walk with God in Christ Jesus.
Every day, people see inconsistencies in what we say compared to what we do. Though of different eras, James and Micah question our integrity.
Following through on commitments can be difficult and can cause us to make sacrifices we would rather not have to make. If we make good on our promises to God, we may have to give away (or not receive) what we want in order to bless others.
Then there also are those times when we are just not sure if God is calling us to do all of that.
- Have you experienced situations where your faith and your actions were in conflict?
- Reaching out to offer help to others can be risky. What do you think we risk when we reach out to offer ourselves?
- Has God ever pushed you to help others? If so, what was going on inside you that assured you that God was moving you to help?
- How do you discover what pleases God?
Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., president
General Commission on UM Men