Two days of crisis
Most of us know 9-11, the date of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. But how about November 8, 2018? It was the day I can't forget—when the firestorm ripped through Paradise, CA, moving at three football fields a minute at one point, and burning its way to within about a mile and half of my house in Chico. The Camp Fire represents the most expensive natural disaster in the world that year, with a price tag of $15 billion, and the deadliest in California history.
I mention to underline one point: preparedness can’t happen while you’re in a crisis. We can't learn to care for those suddenly without homes, to pray when our backs are against the wall, and to live compassionately with those in terrible suffering while it's happening. Those are virtues we have to practice before the crises.
Habits: "We are what we repeatedly do"
About a week ago, I was listening to the leading sociologist from Princeton University about his new book on "lived religion." This isn't represented by scholarly texts of religious doctrine or theories about how people should preach (i.e., homiletics), but how we actually pray, how often we participate in worship services, what kind of small group community we're a part of. As Wuthnow writes, "Practicing religion focuses on what people do and say rather than only on what they think and believe."
Living religion is related to famous philosopher Aristotle's virtue ethics. It what cognitive psychology tells us: practices become habits, and habits become character. It's really what I as a Christian have learned from the Jewish roots of my faith, which calls it halaka, or "walking" in the way of God.
What we practice. What we do is what we become. In fact, our practice becomes a habit and might even change the world.
Coda: "Does this mean we earn our salvation”?
Some of you might be concerned that this implies we earn our salvation.
Put simply: No. We are assured of our salvation, and this is Jesus's call to discipleship and simultaneously his offering of abundant life (John 10:10).
Listen again to how Paul sets this so brilliantly in Philippians 2:12-13:
"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."
Put a little more clearly perhaps, we work out what God has worked in.
Or perhaps better, we walk out what God the Spirit has empowered us to do.