A Time For Waiting

Theologically speaking . . .
The entire Church waits now as they have for weeks. Little ones wait naively for the human celebrations that many will have on March 31. Some are waiting for a new human leader to emerge in Rome during this time of Lent. Millions are waiting for a glorious experience, sitting on the cusp of Passion Week, a week full of services, tragedy and joy. The entire world, if not all of creation, waits, unconsciously, unknowingly, for hope. We are in a time of waiting, awaiting a time of redemption, a redemption we cannot initiate.

Let us ponder what drives God toward this redemption only God can offer, while we wait together lacking any power to save ourselves. Compassion drives God to offer redemption. Ancients in faith discovered that the characteristic of mercy drove God’s actions of redemption. Later, some saw this mercy as compassion, a major characteristic of the promised Messiah. It is this compassion which drives the passion which we will celebrate one week from now.

A congregation is the space where faith is practiced, rather than one in which the Christian faith is merely discussed. Clearly the Christian congregation may not become the only place that those who follow Christ express their faith. Wherever those who follow Christ go, they should express their faith in both word and deed.

Congregations should not only wait patiently during this time of Lent. They have the opportunity to practice the faith in the Messiah, demonstrating compassion, even mercy. Doing so such congregations will be driven to passion, participating in the redemption which all the world awaits.

How can academic communities wait patiently during this time of Lent? Certainly, these are not congregations, but their students and faculty take part in congregations gathering across diverse areas. An academic institution could become a catalyst for compassion among those who participate in a learning community as well as among those who are touched fully by its life. While waiting patiently during Lent, let us practice the compassion which leads to our passion.
Dr. Robert Cochran

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When Seeing Isn’t Believing

Faith is defined in Hebrews 11: 1 as “… being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (TNIV) One might not see this definition as a ringing endorsement for confident living. We desire in this twenty-first century to live in the shelter of absolutes, where questions find answers and doubts are overcome. “Seeing is believing,” we boldly proclaim in our empirical arrogance. The Hebrews 11 definition of faith…not exactly the absolute many are looking for.

It’s interesting to see Jesus’ definition of faith, offered to a doubting disciple. Thomas brashly declared that he would not embrace resurrection until he saw Jesus before him with nail prints in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side. He further claimed that unless he could put his fingers into the wounds themselves, he would not believe. Perhaps it was disbelief, disappointment, even anger that empowered this crude declaration. But when Jesus did appear before him, offering freely the evidence Thomas demanded, his skepticism melted into humble awe as he fell at Jesus’ feet, proclaiming him as Lord. What Jesus said next is perhaps the truest test of faith: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 challenges believers once again to “hold firmly to the faith” and “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”(TNIV) Words like firmly and confidence might not seem appropriate to some in the context of faith, and yet, they are absolutely vital for one’s journey with Christ.

The cross is our destination in this season of Lent, but the road that leads us there is full of uncertainty. Sure of what we hope for…certain of what we do not see, we take each step in faith, for there, at the cross, you and I receive mercy and find grace. And there, we witness the unmatched love of God that fuels every faithful step.

Jim Abernathy

Faith University: One’s Church Congregation

A congregation is the space where faith is practiced, rather than one in which the Christian faith merely is discussed. Clearly, the Christian congregation may not become the only place that those who follow Christ express their faith. Wherever those who follow Christ go, they should express their faith in both word and deed.

Still, the Christian congregation is that place where faith is practiced. Those interested in learning of Christ can experience the presence of Christ in fellowship with believers gathered together. Those learning to walk in Christ receive the nurture and encouragement to begin, to fail, to succeed, to celebrate their growth. Those who have traveled extensively in Christ continue
to learn in community, learning to trust, receiving encouragement in their fatigue and patience in their expectations. In dozens of additional ways, a Christian congregation serves as a laboratory where believers experiment with the teachings and the power of Jesus. The congregation is that place where faith is practiced so that God’s people can more perfectly express their faith in both
word and deed wherever they go.

How clearly the Amish taught the American public in 2006, by example, the power of a congregation (as did the Amish and the Mennonites of the 1600s). An Amish congregation learned the values and the power of peacemaking and forgiveness in their exclusive community, their laboratory for the Christian faith. When tragedy struck in Nickel Mines, PA, their faith held, providing a clarion witness to faith, to forgiveness and to hope. The recent tragedy in Newtown, CT, underlines the importance of this witness from 2006, one that surely will be essential in the coming years, as well.

How do we practice congregational life today? Many seek to strengthen the functions of a Christian congregation: worship, discipleship, fellowship and outreach. Congregational leadership and congregational life are examined, studied and tested, in the light of techniques from a variety of academic disciplines. Authors write of principles learned. Consultants offer advice to thoughtful leaders. Still, the result of all this reflection seems to lose its appeal to both the practicing congregation and those who live outside it, as well.

The congregation is a place where Christian faith is practiced, even evidenced, where the Christian faith is followed, where one learns the faith so that he/she may responsibly demonstrate that faith in the world. Only through practice of the Christian faith can people complete the promise of the Christian faith. Now, our world sits on the edge of a New Year, uncertain of the coming challenges. Our country teeters on the cusp of a so-called fiscal cliff, divided by political ideologies that appear more important than the common good, than agaph. Is it time for the Christian congregation, the Christian community to learn to practice hope so that others might
see the hope which only comes in Jesus Christ?

Dr. Robert Cochran

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