One wonders about the chutzpah of Martin Luther sometimes. After all he declared to “christendom” that one is justified by “faith alone.” He then demonstrated clear audacity to oppose the inclusion of the letter of James in the New Testament canon because James (who knew Jesus personally) argued that a person is saved by his or her works and not by faith alone. All the while, Luther argued that the Bible was the sole authority for religious faith. Too bad when one is writing it is impossible to demonstrate the shaking of one’s head.

Luther never back down from his assertion regarding justification by faith alone and scripture only. He never really believed it either. His hedge was to carry a copy of St. Augustine along with him thereby giving a nod to tradition. As Charles Schulz claimed, “I understand the gospel. It is theology that is confusing.”

Faith justifies because it is the primary step one takes to begin following Jesus. The gospel of John carries belief and obedience together in chapter 3. Faith is a necessary part of living any lifestyle we wish to live. Christian faith is required if one really intends to follow Jesus way of living. Carrying one’s own cross is impossible if one does not believe that there is meaning in doing so.

One can live a spoiling life if one wishes to have no faith in anything. Such a person could lead an existence that destroys relationships, harms others by indifference, and follows a freedom of emptiness.  Very few people really want a life like that. And yet, so many people choose it because it is easier than having the discipline that faith requires.

Some people claim that all they are doing is “going with the flow.” The imagery is interesting. It is like a leaf drifting along the current. But, the only fun in riding downstream is if you can feel the thrill while knowing what you can do to save your own life. Whitewater rafters know there are places the waters can kill them. They do not allow it to do so. Likewise, geese will often sit in a current even a whitewater current and feel the thrill of the rapid. And they too know they can get out of it anytime they need. The reality is that the only things that go with the drift of the current are dead. A spiritually dead life is what so many people choose when they choose to avoid discipline and struggle.

Christian faith allows us to hold on to the hope of Jesus while living through the struggle. Luther did not simply believe and try to avoid controversy. He made it through controversy and persecution because he was being saved in his faith. The same is true for every believer in Christ who holds on to faith for dear life’s sake. Faith makes life full. It does not make one’s own life as empty as a person could do on his or her own.

This writer encourages everyone who reads this that our hard times are the times that will make us more into the image of God’s son. Hold on to your faith. It is saving you in the struggle.

Building the “kindom.”

Escapism is no longer a past time for many people. It is a lifelong ambition. There was a time when I was guilty of turning my entertainments into my goals. I love movies, games, and sports. There is nothing real about any of these things. Some historians thought that the programs that gave “bread and circuses” eventually caused the downfall of Rome forget that it gave the empire 400 more years of existence. What they accomplished was to hold the people in a position in which they did and thought very little.

The christian church often gets caught up in the escapist mentality. Many people will attend church to “feel better” about themselves. The rule of the church working to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable is lost when everyone feels afflicted because they do not receive the luxuries they want. Happily not everyone is in this kind of spiritual spiral. There are many church people who pray and act for the reign of God in their lives and the lives of others. These people love and serve. They know what is right and condemn what is wrong without judgmentalism. They are spiritually discerning. They laugh at their own foibles. And most importantly, many of these same people find a way to be a blessing in the lives of so many other people.

It is in this way that the church will continue to survive and uphold the truth of Christ. We can do this by walking along the same road Jesus walked. Jesus never desired anything more than people should know God. He talked about God reigning in the lives of the people living in this world. Yet, the new people of God were not meant to be a “Kingdom” like the kingdoms, empires, republics, or even democracies of this world. Jesus provided for leaders to not be lords over the people. A new word that has been gaining some currency in recent years and in theological discussions about the nature of the church is the word “kindom.” It looks like “kingdom” at first glance. Speaking it aloud gives it the connotation of a family. However, it is not a family with a structure that includes only a few responsible persons. It is a community of those who follow Jesus in every part of the world. It is simply our calling in this life to build this kindom everywhere we are.