The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

The prayer commonly attributed to the great 13th century Christian Saint of the catholic Church:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith:
where there is despair, hope:
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Perhaps in praying and living these words in unity with the rest of the catholic Church, we may be a humble representative of God’s holy kingdom, empowered by the Spirit, with Christ as our leader, to a fallen world seeking the hope and healing that only the Father, the Son, and the Spirit can bring.

Amen.

Sexuality: Calling for an Authentic Conversation

by Ben Cremer

I have been mulling over several of Walter Bruggemann’s essays as of late. His exposition on our contemporary culture brings forward several needed elements that are essential for an authentic dialogue over the topic of human sexuality. In our mainstream culture, a cloud of ambiguity surrounds this topic; and the culture as a whole seems bent on keeping it that way.

We live in a culture that endlessly advocates and calls for freedom; specifically in this case, sexual freedom. What causes me to be apprehensive is that, as many people are demanding freedom in our mainstream culture, not many seem to explicitly contemplate over the ‘kind’ of freedom being demanded, or more importantly, in what is our mainstream culture’s understanding of freedom rooted? When I bring up the topic of philosophy in a conversation with acquaintances, it is generally met with a look of fatigue, disregard, or even an eye-roll. This seems to be the norm of how philosophy is perceived in mainstream culture – philosophy just doesn’t bear authority over how we understand reality. I think this general disdain towards philosophy is in defense of a deeply ingrained belief: the belief that we as individuals determine our own reality. Brueggemann helps us by showing how this belief and our culture’s understanding of freedom were shaped through a particular… philosophy!

Brueggemann rightly portrays our mainstream notion of freedom as comprised of several strong philosophical ideas. In summation: Descartes’s establishment of the human doubter as the norm of truth, Locke’s presentation of the human person as a rational, free decider, and Kant’s framing of the human as the autonomous actor and the one who shapes functional reality. He then writes, “This Enlightenment ideology has received its popular form in a Freudian theory of repression in which human maturation is the process of emancipation from communal authority that is extrinsic to the individual person and therefore fundamentally alien to mature humanness. Thus the human goal is movement beyond any restraints that come under the category of repression.”

Naturally, in our culture of freedom, we despise anything that calls for unquestioned and thoughtless allegiance. Yet, as good children of the Enlightenment, we have given our unquestioned allegiance to this fantasy of unfettered freedom – that we should be held accountable to no one. This idea shows itself in how our mainstream culture regards and expresses the nature of human desire. All that seems to be presented in mainstream culture is that humans have desires, individuals have a right to express those desires as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, and anything that hampers this right of expression should not be tolerated. Consequently, this unquestioned allegiance to the Enlightenment’s fantasy of unfettered freedom presupposes our unquestioned allegiance to the whims of our individual desires.

This talk of human desire is necessary because of how much it plays into our mainstream culture’s understanding of sexuality. Much of how we define sexuality is framed within the context of feeling or desire. Much of what is determined about one’s sexual orientation begins, at least basely, at how a person feels towards the opposite, same, or both sexes. In mainstream culture, no serious questions are being asked on where our desires come from, how they are formed, of what are they comprised, how do they manifest themselves, how are they to be managed or, heaven forbid, can we be deceived by them? No, our conversation begins and ends with the individual’s right to determine and maintain a sexual identity. People will cheer the exercise of this ‘right’ as a sexual freedom not seeing it for what it really is, isolation. Sexuality at its core is an interactive expression – a way of communicating the self to and with the outside world. So, when we leave the deciphering of sexual identity completely up to individual desire through the lens of the individual experience, all that can really be accomplished is eloquent terms of sexual preference. Because the fantasy of the Enlightenment relegates individuals solely to silent experimentation within society by denying ambiguous thoughts and questions and a robust sexuality demands robust and open communication.

This isolationism is one of the reasons we have the puzzling argument in mainstream culture over being “born this way” and the idea that it is by “individual choice” that one’s sexual identity is formed. As if the two can really be separated and set against each other! Everything about who we are regarding how we relate to and identify ourselves within the outside world from the moment of birth is a conglomeration of genetics, brain chemistry, culture, physicality, biology, point in history, and choice. Individual choice has no say over the aforementioned human building blocks. Simultaneously however, one cannot live without making a choice somewhere along the way to participate or not to participate in a particular way of being in the world. Thus, attempting to make a distinction between choice and birth is reductionistic and harmful. The former denies free will while the latter denies the nature of growth. The irony of this fantasy of unfettered individual freedom is that enacting within it causes a legalistic relationship between our true self and our desires. For to make our unique, irreducible, unrepeatable identity known, we force our selves to pigeon-hole, reduce, and endlessly repeat a declaration of self to the outside world to maintain integrity and a place within it that isn’t subjugated to an authority. How often must we relearn Icarus’ lesson? That the freedom given to us through the wax wings of individualism, however intense, powerful, and passionate the flight may be, will always melt away in the heat of reality, leaving us in a shocking freefall alone. Our lives were brought forth through community, and for us to decipherer an authentic identity of self, including our sexuality, must be through an honest engagement within a loving and challenging community.

Our mainstream culture is made up of many separations of our own making. We have scripture separated from history and thus from the Church; the Church separated from Christ; spirituality separated from religion; information technology has helped us separate labor from learning; and we have the identity of the individual separate from community. These separations are neither loving nor challenging but deceitful; for they all detach the object from its context. Freud understood that sexuality is a sphere of endless inscrutability, the arena of our true selves and the place in our life for deepest deception and pathology. If we continue to operate under the assumption that the Enlightenment’s fantasy of unfettered freedom is the best atmosphere for the individual, endlessly praising the burden and isolation of self-determination, then we will continue to not ask hard questions of ourselves and others regarding sexuality. If we continue to deny that human desires can be self-deceptive we will continue choking on the idea that authentic sexuality is based on the ‘theory’ that unfettered human desire manifests pure truth. This illusion will only ever leave us with lifeless sexual ethics. We will continue to have raging disputes between equality and condemnation among individuals who think they are debating over sexual identity but are actually only debating over their differing understanding of how the unfettered human desire should be interpreted and expressed. Our culture is bent on producing autonomous individuals rather than fostering authentic persons.

If this continues, it will not matter how many governmental legislations are passed or not passed. Individuals will still be left secluded and alone left to forge out the ambiguity of sexuality on their own. This recipe will not only suppress an authentic understanding and expression of sexuality based on examined desires but will maintain coercive behavior that crushes and often misdirects true desire and cuts people off from authentic community. Many so-called religious folk have done great work in carrying out this coercive behavior under the banner of their fidelity to God. But Brueggemann tempers this condemning behavior with this corrective of enacting an authentic fidelity to God regarding sexuality. He writes, “such a perspective requires much more than embracing traditional mores, because fidelity means something quite different from “abstaining” or “staying married” or “being straight”. It means rather being in a relation that is genuinely life-giving and life-receiving, where the work of neighbor regard is practiced. And covenantal freedom means finding modes of fidelity congruent with one’s true self and the capacity to be emancipated from “legal” relationships that are in fact destructive and hopelessly demeaning.”

A word to we Christians: Humanity is made in the image of God: three holy persons, not Enlightenment individuals. No person of the Trinity is exploited, reduced, or oppressed by another person of the Trinity. But rather each person of the Trinity pours themselves out for the other—an authentic community. We, as human beings, were hardwired to reflect an image. If we choose our own way apart from God, we won’t stop reflecting an image; we’ll simply begin reflecting something else. Just as Adam and Eve found out in the garden, this type of “freedom from authority” will always lead to oppression and exploitation of others as well as ourselves. Apart from God, we do not know what nature to reflect and grow in to. Thus, ambiguity will then be our nature and ambiguity is what we’ll grow in to. We cannot be free to express or know our true self, including our sexuality, unless we are “dead to Christ” (emphases on WE). The unfettered freedom of the Enlightenment keeps us shackled to the haphazard whims of our human desires, even giving us ‘rights’ to do so, offering only a dismal cycle of perpetual ambiguity leading to oppression for ourselves and from ourselves to others. We must no longer accept these lifeless ethics of sex but make space available through humble service for us all to express our true self, no matter how we understand our self to be at the given point when it engages authentic community. Our mainstream culture’s unfettered freedom does not offer hope because it does not offer authentic change but rather smothers it. We have hope in Christ, because we are changed by Christ. In the midst of the authentic love of Christ in his body the Church, through humble body-to-body service of neighbor, we as both servant and neighbor are able to, as Keirkegaard wrote, “face the facts of being what we are, for that is what changes what we are.”

*Ben Cremer is the College Ministries Pastor at Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene and blogs at Constant Investigations. Ben is a graduate of Northwest Nazarene University where he earned a B.A. in Christian Ministries and a M.A. in Spiritual Formation. He is also a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary where he earned a M.A.T.S. with an emphasis on Church History and Christian Thought.

To give or not to give – how do we consider that question?

by Kelly Zwink

Money is not only a taboo subject among friends and family, but also in the church. When it is discussed, it is usually behind one’s back. Why? Could it be pride? Embarrassment? Privacy? Shame? There could be many reasons as to why money might be an uncomfortable subject; however I don’t believe it should be that way.

I worked as a missionary of sorts in college ministry for two different organizations. Both times I was responsible for fundraising my entire budget! I learned a lot during these times. I thought about my responsibility with money in a whole new way. Before my college ministry days, I never realized that so many missionaries had to raise their own support. They typically have to raise their entire budget, comprised of their salary as well as insurance and and various work and travel expenses. Also, the idea of regularly giving over and above church offerings was foreign to me.

I have come to believe that we as Christians should be intentional givers. If we truly desire to share Christ’s love and serve others, intentionally investing our money is one way we must do so. I like to use the word invest because, when we give, that is truly what we are doing. We are not only investing in things such as education, health, food, and shelter, depending on where you choose to give, but by giving out of love we are investing in the Kingdom of God.

Many times the problem is that we see the dollar amount first, but the need and opportunity to love and serve second. For example, in my area last week there was a vote for school budgets. My local school district’s budget, for the first time in a while and to the devastation of many students, did not pass. It wasn’t even close. It was mainly because the budget included a 10% tax increase.

That day the local news shared interviews of voters; I was quite shocked by the interviews of some who voted against the budget. I understand that this would have been quite a tax hike, and admit that I personally do not know all the ins and outs of how everything works within the budget. What shocked me was not that people voted no because of the tax hike. Rather, one woman said that she voted no because her kids were all in college now and no longer in the school district. Do the children currently in the district not deserve the same opportunity that her children had? Is community education education no longer her problem? What if her college aged children wanted to major in education and come back in the area to teach? Having several friends who went to school for education, I know that it is already close to impossible to find a teaching job in the area.

Another woman said she felt there were other ways to cut costs (which there could be, though I heard many of the budget issues were at a state, not local, level) and also stated “…maybe the district didn’t need as many administrators.” It shocked me that this woman so easily dismissed the value of others’ jobs. If these two women had said that they cared about the children and the school programs but felt the budget wasn’t fiscally responsible, I would have respected their decision to vote no. However, there was not a sense in either of these interviews that there was a desire for the children’s  best interests. It was all about the money. To me, this is an example where the dollar amount was seen first and the need second – if at all.

As Christians I believe we must look at the need and opportunity to serve and love first, and the dollar amount second. Does this mean we should give recklessly? Certainly not! While giving requires sacrifice, I do not mean to imply that we do not have other financial responsibilities, such as caring for our own families. Becoming an intentional and generous giver requires us to think carefully about how we spend our money. The best way to do this is by keeping a budget. I once heard one of my former supervisors say, “I feel more free in my spending because I have a budget.” After setting up my own budget about a year and a half ago, I completely agree.

Having a budget allows me to keep track of how much I have coming in and going out, whether for savings or regular expenses. I then know exactly how much I have left to spend. In my budget, I’ve incorporated regular giving to church and other organizations as well; I don’t have to worry about giving money I don’t have. Finally, after accounting for all of these things, I have an allotted spending amount for both needs and spontaneous giving. Keeping a budget can eliminate much of the stress and worry that giving and normal living expenses can bring if your financial situation is a bit ambiguous.

Setting up this budget was easy; I am the type of person who organizes for fun. I keep track of my budget in an excel spreadsheet with formulas. I fully understand that for many others that is not really an enjoyable task and even the idea of setting up a budget may be daunting. However, if we are truly to be good stewards and give generously, I believe it is necessary. If you feel that setting up a budget might be a struggle, then I would advise asking a friend or someone in your church for help.

As Americans we often carry a stigma against asking for help and think we should be able to figure out and do everything on our own. These things, plus money being a traditionally taboo topic, can hold us back from getting organized so that we are able to give when God calls us to do so. Besides, utter independence is just simply not how God created us. He created us to be in community with him and with others, with different strengths and talents to complement each other. Therefore, there should be no shame in asking others to help in this matter.

If you are not a currently an intentional giver, I challenge you to become one. God asks us to give all of ourselves for his work and his purposes, including our finances. I encourage you to begin by choosing a couple areas you are passionate about to invest in while being open to new opportunities to give that come your way. This may mean being more conscious of where our money goes, setting up a budget, and cutting back in some areas. If we truly desire to serve and love others and invest in the Kingdom of God, the time, effort, and money required in becoming an intentional giver is a worthwhile sacrifice.

*Kelly Zwink graduated from Dickinson College with a Bachelor of Arts, where she double majored in Italian Studies and Political Science, spending her junior year studying in Bologna, Italy. After working in college ministry for two years, abroad and in the US, she moved back home to Buffalo to begin a career in business and is currently pursuing her MBA. Kelly is a loyal Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan, and enjoys spending time with family and friends, food, singing, reading, exercising, cycling, and other outdoor activities.

tele-pictionary

Who ate my chicken? No one knows why we eat turkey at Thanksgiving. An Indian is asking a pilgrim about Thanksgiving? An Indian meets a pilgrim and asks about a big feast to give thanks. The X-Men attacked Batman and Superman. Batman and Robin are beginning to question why the trolls are attacking them. Superman married a bird and the bird gave birth to kittens. Superman (after degrading his costume) is a therapist to a crazy cat-man in a church. The snack that smiles back…goldfish. I love me some goldfish. I love fishing off the dock. The angry cat dances in front of the burning boat. The catman sang aboard the burning ship. The cat’s meow. My mother wears a bad toupee. A kid is mortified when he sees a scary lady’s…mouth/teeth. A giant girl is chasing a sad little boy. Imma eat you for breaking my daughter’s heart. Somebody barfed on my tilt-a-whirl. Someone screamed at my giant jawbreaker. One guy gets candy. Other guy is mad. Give me my lollipop! Two kittens sleeping in a box. Two sleeping cats are in a bed dreaming of candy. I’m ignoring you now. The goldfish ate the bear. A giant goldfish is eating a miniature sized bear with sharp nails. A giant goldfish stares at a baby bird. Two dogs are sleeping waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. Two dogs are barking at Santa’s Christmas tree. Santa, gimme all you got. Giant Santa, you’re two months late. Harry Potter fights the zombie bunnies. Harry Potter killed the rabbit. I thought it would be cool to decapitate the Easter Bunny. A man stabs a bunny with a sword. We’re just two lost souls living in a fish bowl. The fairly odd parents tricked me! Shut up, you stupid baby! A lady is overwhelmed when she sees her baby needs to be changed. The library was closed during the tornado ripping through town. The tornado is coming and the store is closed. There is a tornado outside of the abandoned convenience store. Release the kracken! The killer monster squid is killing my enemies boat #yolo #awesome #pirates. A guy is sailing the sea when a giant worm tries to eat him. Loch Ness monster attacks innocent faceless man. Save the whales! Two people are lost at sea. A boy doesn’t know the alphabet nor does his friend. I hate working as a clown. Ouch! That hurt! He took my jumprope. I can’t jumprope; I hate you. The alien gave birth to a human and the umbilical cord is still attached. The beach has a lot of turtles. Turtles go to the ocean. The tortoise is slow. The turtle is vomiting on the track and he also in last place. A woman was really mad because she forgot to put on her blue shoes for her wedding. Girl is mad pastor loves Jesus more than her. Is this the red cross? I think that’s a hospital but I’m not entirely sure. Dumbledore is eating ice cream with Harry Potter. Harry Potter and Dumbledore eat ice cream together. Harry Potter loves eating ice cream; it cures his emotional distress. I eat my cereal with two spoons at once. The ice cream truck ran out of ice cream. Protesting against school! No more school! Two people are attempting to burn a school down. The Jersey Shore cast enjoys the occasional poetry reading. An alien has an identity crisis. An alien is having a mid-life crisis in a coffin as his king tries to figure out a way to help him. An alien wakes up from a coma and the king is confused.

Someone barfed on my ferris wheel.

Humid Forest Paths

I had the opportunity to share this message with the West Chester Church of the Nazarene this morning. I hope that as you read it, you will be challenged to be a “doer of the word.”
….

“It was not too long ago that in the hot, humid countryside of Central America, there were two small children walking along a forest path. The path was half in the shade, half in the sun. By now, the little girl was almost beginning to wish that it would rain again, just to give them some relief from the hot temperatures and the humidity. As they walked, a snake warming itself on the sunny part of the path was disturbed by the two humans’ presence and it slithered back into the forest, not wanting to be bothered by the two small, thin human-shaped creatures.

“The two children had nothing. Well, they almost had nothing except for the clothes on their backs and the pants that they were wearing, but even those were pretty tattered by now. And it was not too long before that that those two children had just a couple pieces of fruit to eat and a piece of bread between them; but those little kids devoured those two sweet, delicious pieces of fruit, along with the semi-stale bread, almost the second they had received them from the poor man in the village they had been walking through.

“Somewhere, either in the village the two small children had already passed through or the village that they were coming up upon, the little girl thought for a moment that she could smell the aroma of coffee, similar to the aroma of coffee that her mother and father used to make before… well… before…. The little girl did not want to think about it. She looked at her brother and grabbed his hand. The two were alone now. Their mother was gone. And they had not seen their father in years. Their mother never talked about it, but the little boy, who was just a few years older than his sister, and who was just old enough to start realizing what was happening in the world around him, had figured out that it was not too long ago that there had been some sort of violence in the area where his village was. People from the outside, modern world, might call it a civil war, or maybe a drug war, or something similar and along those lines, but the little boy did not know about all of those things quite yet. He just knew that it was some kind of act of violence that taken his father away. But his mother, she was crying as she sent the two children away from their home. He did not know why or how, but deep down he knew that it would just be him and his sister, and somehow they had to make it in this world.

“That man in the previous village had been so nice; even the boy could tell that the man was poor and did not have much, but as the two little children passed by on the path through the small town in the hot humid weather, even the old man who wore such ragged clothes took pity on the boy and the girl, and just before taking a bite out of the delicious fruit himself, and out of the corner of his eye, he had seen the two kids walking, barely smiling and thin, as if they themselves had not had much food to eat either; and he knew within his heart that he could not eat his small meager lunch while these two kids had nothing. The boy took the fruit and the bread from the man who so graciously offered it, and he and his sister scarfed them up almost immediately. It had satisfied their hunger for now, but it would not be long before the two of them would be hungry again as they continued to walk on the hot, humid, forest path, half covered by shade and half engulfed by the blazing tropical sun.

“Again, the girl noticed the aroma of coffee in the air, reminding her of her mother who had been so long gone. She tried to think just how long it had been, but could not tell exactly. Had it been weeks? Had it been months already? She squeezed her brother’s hand even harder. By now the boy had noticed the smell of the coffee in the air as well, and it too brought back memories that had not totally slipped away through the dreary days on the mountain paths. He did not know exactly what would happen, but at least for the sake of his sister, this little boy would pretend that he knew that everything would be fine.

“By now, they saw the village where the smell of the coffee was coming from. A slight smile crept across both the faces of the boy and the girl, brought to them unconsciously by the memories that were almost unknowingly being brought to the very backs of their minds, though hunger was still on the fronts of their minds. A small house came into view behind the trees. It had already been many hours since they last ate that small meager meal of a couple pieces of fruit and a piece of semi-stale bread, and both of their stomachs were beginning to tighten in their yearning to satisfy their hungry diets. The boy looked at his sister and squeezed her hand, now smiling. The boy started to walk faster towards the direction of the house, his sister almost directly on his heels. “Surely,” he thought, “surely they will give us something to eat.” The two got closer and closer to the house, the smell of coffee permeating the air, and the smell of bread and fruit and roasting meat growing stronger. Through a window he saw a woman, and as he looked toward her, the woman looked up, and caught the eyes of the two small children that were coming in her direction.

“Immediately she began to frown and yell something at them. The boy had heard it so many times before. The door opened and the woman and another man came out, both of them still yelling something, motioning with their hands and pointing away from the house as they yelled at the two small kids. The smile disappeared from the boys face, he looked to the ground and began to turn around. Another similar feeling, a sinking feeling, was beginning to rise within his stomach, but that feeling of heartache, it combined with hunger just long enough to make him forget about his and his sister’s hunger as the sadness welled within him, forcing a tear to form in the boy’s eye. He looked at his sister; she knew what was happening, for there were already tears in her eyes. There would be no food tonight. They had already eaten their meal for the day and that would be it. The next priority for the boy would simply be to find a somewhat safe place for the two to sleep, just like they had done for so many other countless nights as they wandered from forest village to forest village in the humid countryside.”

At this point please open your Bibles to James 1:19-27.

James 1:19-27 (NRSV)

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;
20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;
24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unsustained by the world.

“It was at that point, that as the heat of the afternoon began to fade and the sun was just starting to make its descent in the hot, barren sky, and when the two children had walked a little bit further, that the boy saw another building; it was a somewhat vaguely familiar building, but it had been such a long time since the two kids had been in one like this, that they simply did not know what to expect if they were to knock on its door. The building was small and not fancy by any means, but to the outside wall it had a cross affixed to it. The boy and the girl did not know what to expect, but the boy realized that it may be their last hope for the evening. The two children thought to themselves that it would be so nice to not have to sleep outside anymore, but for just one night, be able to sleep under the shelter of a roof.

“And the two kids walked to the door of the small building with a cross affixed to the outside wall, the small boy holding the hand of his little sister, the two small children with rags for clothes who had barely eaten anything for days except for what the poor man gave them that morning. And the boy did not know if anyone would be inside or not, but he raised his hand, and knocked on the door of the church.”

Too often in the complicated and diverse branch of Christianity which we call Protestantism, a branch that we are a part of, we learn only half the picture. It is drilled into us (I’m speaking generally of Protestants now) that it is by faith alone which we are saved. That is certainly true; it is by a faith that responds to God’s abundant grace through which we enter into salvation, but that is just the beginning of the picture of this religion which we call Christianity. Salvation is entering into the kingdom of God; and now that we are part of the kingdom of God, salvation transforms into a vastly beautiful picture of love within the world. However it is a kingdom of love which we have entered into that demands action from its participants.

Sola fide; faith alone – the cause that Martin Luther championed almost exactly 500 years ago in response to the then corruption and abuses within the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Again, there is no doubt in my mind that is truly by God’s grace and love alone that God would invite us to be part of his kingdom. Our response to that grace and love is to have faith in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We become one of God’s own through the work of Christ on the cross; we become, on both an individual and community basis as the Church, representatives of God’s kingdom of love to a world that is filled with desperate, hurting, hungry, and searching people. The Church is designed to be the earthly kingdom of God, comprised of you and me, and should be a bright light of active, holy, missional love on a hill, and a light visible for all the world to see, giving hope to all who need it as the world struggles in darkness.

That is a much richer concept of the full picture; it is a picture that compels those who are a part of this kingdom of holy love to act and do. It is a picture where salvation is the beginning of true life, and not necessarily the ends which we so often treat it as. It is a picture that is not simply content with merely hearing the word, but is only content with demonstrating this word of love to all people and all creation.

James challenges us, his fellow Christian brothers and sisters, we who claim to be a part of this kingdom which is based upon a foundation of an absolute, holy love that can only be found in both the Son of God and the Son of Humanity: Jesus Christ. James challenges us to not merely be hearers of the word, but be doers of the word. In fact, James says some challenging words in verses 22 through 24 which cannot be taken lightly: “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in the mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” One who is only a hearer of the word forgets what the kingdom of God is like almost immediately; one can conclude that for someone who is only a hearer of the word and not a doer, their actions and their lives may not demonstrate who they claim to be.

There is power in this word – in what we call scripture. It is a power that brings us to life and gives the words on scripture’s pages application for our everyday lives; but it is a power given to it by God’s Holy Spirit, active and breathing this scripture to life every single day, both in the past and the present, and from now into eternity. And moreover, there is power in the Word, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of love and the incarnation of the ultimate message of this scripture: holy love. And by that power of holy love found in God and in scripture, there is power for our own lives to be changed. It is a change that is wrought in us so that we are no longer simply hearers of the word, but we become active doers of the word, living participants in the beautiful, loving kingdom of God. It is a change where we can become free from the bondage and death of sin, and become alive to the holy love that is so abundant within God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

James says in verses 19 through 21, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” By the power of God’s Holy Spirit working within our lives, we can turn from evil and from sin; we can rid our lives of unrighteous anger. We can rid ourselves of the sordidness and rank growth of wickedness that is caused by sin. And we can be restored into the image of God – the image of holy love. By welcoming with meekness the implanted word, we can become “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” We can become doers of the word and not merely hearers of the word.

There is a hurting world out there; it is a world that is in pain and oftentimes filled with people who simply do not know where they can turn to. Some of us may encounter that world today, for others of us it may be later this week, but we will encounter it; in fact, the Church is called by God to go out and encounter it. Even today some of us may be a part of that hurting world, and some of us may be desperately seeking that hope and love which is found in the kingdom of God and which should be so abundant in the Church.

Those two little children, that boy and that girl who were hungry, tired, weary, wearing ragged clothing, and who did not have a place to sleep, they do not have to be found walking on a humid mountain path in Central America. Those children can be found in the beautiful cities of Europe, in the deserts of Africa, in the rural farms of Asia, in the islands of the Caribbean, in the mountains of South America, and in the outback of Australia. Those two little children can be found wandering the streets of our own North American cities, even as the United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the history of our planet. Those two kids can be found in the rural towns of the midwest, suffering through poverty. Those two little children can be found in the homeless and hungry beggar who we encounter at the train station, and even in the man or woman that we pass by as we walk down the streets of West Chester, Pennsylvania. No matter where we go, there is hunger, there are people who barely have enough clothes, and there is poverty. Whether it is the widow or the orphan, there are people who are in need of a helping hand. There are people seeking both hope and love.

I ask of us – of this congregation, of our denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, and of the global, universal, catholic Church which we are a part of – do not let our religion be worthless as James warns us. I pray that each one of us may not only be hearers of the word, but doers of the word and active participants in God’s kingdom of love, who live by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to not only effect changes within ourselves, but who go out and do the loving work of Jesus Christ which still needs to be done in our broken and hurting world.

As we leave here today and encounter those two small children in the world, what will be our response? Will we merely be hearers of the word with no change in our lives, deceiving ourselves, and rendering our religion worthless? Or will we be doers of the word, caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping ourselves sustained not by the selfishness of the world, but by the loving kingdom of God, and inviting others into the presence of holy love? When we encounter the poor and hungry man or woman, and when we encounter the heart that is crying out in pain and simply asking for love, will we be doers of the word, helping those who are in need? Or will we merely be hearers of the word? When we see those who are being treated with injustice in the world, will we be doers of the word, standing up and demanding justice for those who cannot ask for it themselves? Or will we merely be hearers of the word? When we see those who are not being shown mercy, no matter who it is, will we be doers of the word, representatives of the kingdom of God, and ask for mercy on their behalf? Or will we merely be hearers of the word?

Will we be doers of the word and be a light for the kingdom of God? Or will we merely be hearers of the word, deceiving ourselves, and forgetting just exactly what the word is the moment we walk away?

When I think of our congregation at the West Chester Church of the Nazarene, I am encouraged. When I walk through our doors, I am confident that I will find a loving group of people. I see in this congregation a group of people who love God with everything that they are and who love each other with that same holy love. I see a group of people who are demonstrating this love to those two small children, those people who are in need. It is demonstrated with our goal to raise $1,000 for an Alabaster offering this month (a goal we can reach!), our continuing drive to bring goods in for the West Chester Food Cupboard, our food backpack drive last month for local school children, and our help with Safe Harbor in the recent months.

Let this passage be a reminder to us to not ever give up on being doers of the word; allow these words to remind us to not ever give up on being a people who act on the faith and the grace by which we enter salvation. Let us not forget the whole, beautiful picture that is the kingdom of God and the fulfilling gospel of Jesus Christ. Allow James’ words to be an encouragement to never be content with merely hearing the word. Let this passage remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, ridding ourselves of any sordidness or rank growth of wickedness, and continuing to transform us in holiness and love for others.

“When those two hungry and tired children knocked upon the door of that small church building, seeking help in their hour of need after walking all day on a hot and humid forest path, the door opened. We, the people of the Church, answered, giving food and shelter and demonstrating the love of God to both the little boy and his sister.”

Do not ever be content in being merely a hearer of the word, but live welcoming with meekness the power of the word and the power of God to change our lives, continually caring for the orphans and the widows, and all others who are in need.

viewing others through the eyes of Christ

In viewing others through the eyes of Christ, we begin to live in a way that reflects the Church God has called us to be.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling us to himself through Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This scripture has two implications for living a holy life. First, we are to view others through the same eyes God views them. Second, we are to be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation. In regarding others with the eyes of God, we open the opportunity for others to be reconciled to God and become a new creation, just as each one of us has been reconciled to God through Christ.

Paul writes in verse 16 to “regard no one from a worldly point of view.” As Paul states, we are new creations through Christ; as a result, we must begin to see people how God sees them. The way we understand people often determines how we treat people. Seeing someone from a Godly point of view means treating them with the respect and love that God would show that man, woman, or child. It means showing them the love and respect that Christ would show; Christ, after all, is the example we have of God on this earth. Not only does this determine how we treat non-believers, but also our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Too often, we in the Church treat our family with contempt, anger and bitterness; there is no difference between this and how people in the world view each other. This is not the way to do it; we must instead view our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in a Godly way. Treat them with respect and love. When someone trips, falls, or stumbles, we help them get back on their feet in a loving way. If someone makes a mistake, we as Christians can not call each other names, cast blame, or attempt to divide the Church; alternatively we hold each other accountable in a way that reflects the love of Christ. We help restore each other as only the restoring blood of Christ can offer.

As we build relationships with those who choose not to believe in Christ, we view them in the same Christ-like way. In the Wesleyan tradition and in the Church of the Nazarene, the denomination I am a part of, we recognize what is called prevenient grace. It is God’s warm love and grace that is constantly drawing everyone, even non-believers, towards him. So for those who may disagree with Christianity, or who may have not yet heard the gospel of Christ, Christians are not to thump the Bible down on their heads but show them the warmth and love that Christ showed to those he interacted with on earth. We are to represent God’s prevenient grace. We have the example of Christ’s interaction of the woman by the well who was shamed into getting water at a time when no one else would be there, or the man who cried out for Christ to help his unbelief when his child died. God has made us into new creations, and as a result we have no choice but to view humanity through the same eyes that Christ views humanity.

Working at a homeless shelter in Kansas City for nearly the past year and a half, I work with many men who have spent time in prison and faced hopeless addictions to alcohol and other hardcore drugs. However, through knowing Christ their lives have completely changed, a result that can only be explained by the redemptive and transformative power of Christ. The old has gone, and they are new creations. Even so, these men, who may have once viewed people through the eyes of a hopeless and scared person, are now able to start viewing others with the hopeful eyes of Christ. It may have only been because they themselves were seen by someone who had the eyes of a new creation in Christ.

This is a gift of God that is only available through Christ. Specifically, as Paul writes, this is the gift of reconciliation. In verses 18 to 19, Paul states, “All this from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Becoming a new creation is to become reconciled with God. Our sins, our downfalls, our addictive habits and behaviors, are all erased through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. After Christ’s death, we are once again able to become the people God originally created us to be. We can once again be in relationship and in proper worship of God. God will work in our lives through Christ and the Holy Spirit to transform us into new creations. “The old is gone, the new is here!” as Paul exclaims.

Ultimately, however, it does not stop with simply receiving Christ’s reconciliation. Paul writes that “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Furthermore, Paul states in verse 20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” We must now be the body of Christ. We must be agents and ambassadors of reconciliation ourselves. We must view others through the same eyes that Christ has viewed us. We must give others the opportunity to become a new creation in Christ. To view others in a Christ-like way is a mindset and a way of thinking that we must actively be aware of. It is only an opportunity that comes through Christ; it is through this that we are able to become the righteousness of God as Paul describes in verse 21.

This is the beginning of holy living in how we relate to those living around us. We must treat people with the same love and respect that Christ has so gracefully shown each one of us. This is how we become the Church God has called us to be.

an opportunity to be the Church

Here is an opportunity for Christians to be the Church God has called us to be.   It is an opportunity to make a positive impact for Christ.   It is an opportunity to cast off the consumerist mindset that has infested its way into our Christian lives.   During a time of financial and economic crisis around the world, and a time of food and water shortages in a majority of countries,  it is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in concrete ways.   Watch the video and allow yourself to be challenged.

Be the Church.   Make a difference.   Separate yourself from the world.

Advent Conspiracy – http://ac.wcrossing.org