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The Book of James – Part 7

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

In the previous section of James’ letter to the scatter churches he reminds his readers that true allegiance to Christ & His Kingdom starts in the heart, not merely in external acts of obedience.  When we find ourselves divided & in conflict, it is our own hearts that are reflected.  We are to be as faithful as a lover & as devoted as a slave.  For sin is as much (if not more) about failure to do what is good than simply being bad.

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

It might be easy for us to look at this rebuke and distance ourselves from it, just as we so often do when reading Jesus’ rebukes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  However, we must be aware that while the dynamics of our relationship to the poor is not as directly apparent (as in the case of a land owner hiring workers), we are just as guilty of this kind of treatment of the poor whenever we participate in and/or benefit from economic or social systems that profit through the abuse & exploitation of the poor.  James, like Jesus, is speaking directly to us, pointing to the very real blood on our hands.  Jesus told us that where ever our treasure is, so there is our heart also (Matt 6:19,20).  This not only calls us to question the false treasures we hold in our hearts, but also to ask what treasure, then, would Christ have us embrace?

This kind of misplaced treasury is not only the result of greed (though it certainly is a significant source).  We are in danger if we only expect that such explicitly selfish motivations can sully the heart.  Like the two men who passed by the injured man in the story of the Good Samaritan, the reasons for making these choices can often be grounded in solid, logical & socially expected reasoning.  When we allow self-protection (be it economic, social or spiritual) to keep us from fully following the self-sacrificing example of Christ, our hearts have gone astray.

“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

For those who are victims of the kind of injustice mentioned previously, James reminds us that we are to persevere.  While we do not allow people to commit injustice without responding, the nature of that response has been transformed by Christ’s life, death & resurrection.  After all, the weapons we are called to us to battle injustice are not those of the world, but are patience, peace, grace and love (to name a few).  In a culture of immediate gratification (where loading website, delayed a matter of seconds, can make us angry), this call to patience is timely & difficult.  While we do the work of sowing seeds (good deeds), we must learn to wait for it to bear fruit in God’s season (faith).

Because the seeds we sow are meant to take root in the hearts of men, our expectations for others will be immediate and central.  Thus, the need for patience becomes especially clear.  All of us know that it is in relationship with others where our fuse is most often the shortest.  Yet we must remember Jesus teaching to withhold judgment, unless we face the same standard we hold to others and cannot possibly meet.  Before the true Judge, we are all so far into sin that relative to one another we see that we have no right or authority to cast judgment.

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

Here we see Jesus final Beatitude reiterated explicitly by James.  We must not only find comfort in our suffering, but take joy in it as well, for the godly women & men before us also suffered.  And it is Christ Himself that we most identify with, humbly and unworthily joining in His suffering by His grace. Where does the comfort & joy come from?  From the promise of eternal blessings & freedom from suffering & death?  Of course, this is significantly a part of God’s promise.  Yet, in citing Job, James seems to be suggesting that even on this side of death God will comfort & bring joy to us, making us inheritors of His Kingdom.  This is not a “prosperity gospel”, as the previous verses make abundantly clear, but rather a reminder that our Father in heaven will provide for needs, forgive us our sins and give only good gifts to His children.

All too often we respond to suffering & trials in our lives with impatient complaining, selfish bickering & pointed accusations of blame against something outside ourselves, by it people or circumstances.  If we truly believe in the compassion and mercy of God, and in His promise of comfort and provision, then we must learn to abide in His sustaining presence.  We must learn to celebrate the gifts of grace, hope and love, which far out shine the temporary sufferings of the immediate.  These graces are so powerfully an example of God’s unmerited love for us that we should be inspired to extend that same love and grace and hope to each other and the world.

Here I must make a word of caution, one reinforced by my recent visit to Haiti.  For many in the world, this suffering surpasses by significant degrees the reality of suffering that most of us in the West live with.  While this truth remains true regardless of context, we must be careful that those of us with (relative) privilege, power and wealth do not dismiss (or worse, rebuke) the cries of the suffering from the truly poor & suffering.  Their cries for justice should bring to our hearts James’ rebuke to the wealthy.  It is not for us to remind them to persevere in their suffering from the comfort of our own privilege.  It is a lesson they are learning from within their own circumstance far better than we could teach them.

“Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.”

Here we see the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:33-37 (another reference to the Sermon on the Mount, further proving that it was a guiding source for the early Christian community).  In this admonition to not take oaths or swear to something, James is again reinforcing the importance of a faith proven by deeds.  For it is when our character is openly above reproach, both in our righteous behaviour and in the humility of our repentance in the face of our sin, that our word requires no oath.  After all, if we swear oaths at certain times, does it not suggest that our words should be suspect in the absence of such oaths?

This reminder is especially critical for those who are living in the midst of suffering.  When we begin to use oaths and/or use the name of God for our own ends, not only do we sully our own character, but we sully the name of God as well.  It is to God that we are to pray for what we need, trusting in His provision.  It is to use His name in vain to invoke it for any purpose not His own.  We are especially not use such oaths to bargain with God, promising Him especial obedience if only He will intervene.  Are we not His servants already & in entirety?  How arrogant is it for us to bargain with what isn’t our own!  What an insult to offer to God, in exchange for our obedience, what is already His!  Again we see the importance of guarding our tongue, as it reflects the nature of our hearts.

Throughout the book, the theme has been repeated again and again.  We are not our own, but His.  Our lives, both in the convictions of our beliefs AND the practices of our lives, must be uncompromisingly submitted to Christ alone.

The Book of James – Part 6

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

James has the ability to make the obvious truths that we ignore to smack us back to reality.  Conflict is a constant in all of our lives, as is the tendency to point fingers at people and/or circumstances outside of ourselves to lay the blame.  Here we are reminded to look back to our hearts as the true source of our conflicts- a hard, but unarguable truth.  Our selfishness fuels our desires- desire to be right, desire to have, desire for position, desire for vindication.  We must own our selfishness and submit our desire to Christ.

Rather than through fighting, James tells us we will get what we want through prayer.  Is he giving us freedom to ask for the wrong things?  Of course not, as he echoes Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (see here and here).  We are to be first and foremost submitted to His Lordship (”…may Your Kingdom come and Your will be done…”), then rely upon Him for that which we need (our daily bread, forgiveness & deliverance).  It is then that we can ask for what we need to hearts freed of selfish desire.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:  ”God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.””

What James means by “friendship with the world” is made clear in his use of the opening identifier of us as “adulterous people”.  This image of marital unfaithfulness powerfully portrays both the gravity of the sin and the nature of the relationship that has been violated.  It not only that we have defied our Lord, but we have betrayed our greatest Love.  To entertain our selfish desires, yet seek to follow Christ is no different than keeping many lovers while claiming to be faithful to our true love, our spouse.  This, again, reminds us of Jesus warning that we cannot serve two masters, but here it is that we cannot be faithful to two lovers.

As in the previous section of the letter, James calls us to humility.  How can humility serve us in our pursuit of faithfulness to God?  Because it is only in our humble and contrite acknowledgment of our sin and genuine repentance that we receive the unmerited grace that will restore us in our relationship with the true Bridegroom, Christ.  We see, then, that the practice of confession within the community of faith is not about fear and judgment, but about relational restoration to Christ and His Body.  Unless we can call sin sin, we cannot expect to receive grace.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

From humble fidelity to our lover, James moves to humble submission to our King.  You cannot be submitted to God if you are not fleeing the worldly desires and temptations.  We are to flee, not flirt, with sin.  Our lives must be consumed with the active pursuit of God and His will.  With every line, James is more clear- following Christ is an all or nothing commitment.  There is not justification for compromise.  Yes, there is grace for the humble when we sin, but that grace is not license to fraternize with the world.

In calling us to both wash our hands (external acts of purification) and purify our hearts (inner repentance), James again reminds us that faith, while born in the spirit, must produce fruit in our actions.  It requires real, action-based change.  Beyond a mere intellectual acknowledgment of wrong doing, it must produce in our hearts the aching contrition of an unfaithful lover pleading forgiveness from their faithful partner.  Blessed are those who mourn!

Consider this section as paraphrased in The Message:

“So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.”

“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?”

Judge not lest you be judged.  Jesus words are not far from James’ & his readers minds.  Just as James begins by addressing us in familial terms, we must begin from the context of our relationship with God and the implicit relationship that brings between all of us.  God is the Father of us all, the only one loving and righteous enough to speak judgment over us.  And He chooses grace for the humble.  Apart of this, none of us merits any love.  Thus, judgment is not the right of the Christian, but rather costly grace is our ever-present responsibility.

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.”

All too often we organize our lives around plans, dreams, agendas and expectations.  While well intentioned, we more often than not try to make room for God within that.  However, unless everything else in our lives are organized secondarily to the primacy of God and His will, we are not truly submitted to God.  He becomes our servant, doling out grace and comfort and provision as we see fit.  Who is the master?  Who is the slave?  Who is the Father?  Who is the child?

To live our lives according to our desires, yet call ourselves Christians is to use God’s name in vain.  It is pure arrogance for us to take advantage of the costly grace of Christ in our lives, then choose to live as though those lives were our own.  They are not!  Our lives belong to the one who has purchased them at a price could never pay or even conceive.

“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

Here we see James’ underlying message at its clearest.  That we should not do anything that is wrong should be obvious to us.  However, he clearly paints of picture of what sin is.  Sin is any failure to do the good we know must be done.  Big or small, we are made sinners by our failure to do what is right.  Even acts of evil are ultimately sin for the good they fail to be!  Following Christ is costly, demanding, active.  There is no way around it.

Faith without works is dead.

The Book of James – Part 5

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Since it has been a while since I have blogged, I will be posting Part 6 of James series shortly after this one.  Thanks for your patience.

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”

Again we see how deeply James has been shaped by the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount.  While calling us to a radical standard of active and selfless faith, he recognizes that we are broken and sinful people.  We will fail and therefore should have the humility to make choices accordingly.  This is not a cop out or a compromise.  He makes it clear that there are no excuses, but rather calls for caution, especially when we would choose to place ourselves as teachers of truth.

While James would likely have affirmed this statement in respect to false teaching, given the wider context, it becomes clear that James is not cautioning against teaching untruth.  Rather, he is warning us against teaching truth with our mouths, but living lives contrary to those truths.  Again like Jesus, James warns us against this hypocrisy.  He calls us not to perfection, but to humility.  By saying “we”, he indicts himself as much as anyone else.  Seeing this, we know that this is a natural progress of his teaching on faith and works.

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

In his most vivid language yet, James paints some brilliant pictures to help us understand how significant our words are.  It is not enough for us to claim and/or proclaim Christ.  Our words must bear witness to what our lives bear out in good fruit.  Again the old rabbinical proverb comes to mind: “We have two ears, but one tongue- and it was provided a wall of teeth to hold it back”.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

The worship of God is sacred.  This would be all the more clear to the Jewish believers who read James’ words.  Therefore, to contrast the casual and caustic use of our tongue with its use in worship is a powerful image of how corrupting our words can be.  As we pray, worship, read Scripture and speak words of love to God and one another, consider what other unworthy words have passed our lips.  Like in faith, our words cannot serve two masters.  Our words, like our hearts, must be pure at all times.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

James reminds us that true wisdom is proven through humility.  Why?  Because it is only in humility that we can see the truth of our sinful nature.  And it is only through humility that we can see the true nature of grace.  The humble and contrite heart is fertile soil for faith that produces good fruit of words & deeds.  Boasting of ones wisdom is a self-defeating pride, as all wisdom comes from God, not our own cleverness or righteousness.  By our fruits will we be known.  For us today it is critical to remember that our words include our blogs, tweets, text messages- any use of words.  Guard your tongue as you guard your heart.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

Again we see that all wisdom, all righteousness in word or deed, is a grace from Christ alone.  It is only received as we come to the Cross in humble repentance and contrition.  It is when we are weak that we become strong in the grace and the wisdom of Christ.  It is when we are truly humbled before God that His wisdom produces in us the good fruit.  It produces believers who are lovers and makers of peace and leads to a harvest of His righteousness.

For those who would dismiss or minimize James as suggesting salvation through works, here he refutes them quite clearly.  For Christ is the one and only foundation for forgiveness of sin and lives of faithful and fruitful obedience.

The Book of James – Part 4

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

While James is referring to the broad and varied forms of righteous action that we are called to practice, it is important to note that this comes directly following his comments on hospitality and equality to the rich & poor in our community.  Again, given that this letter was written broadly to many communities, we must see that it is more than just a narrow contextual example, but hinting that this was a (and remains) a central struggle for Christian communities in general.

The saying, “Be warm & well fed”, when honestly considered, seems a ridiculous thing to say to someone in need.  James is intentionally using this example to demonstrate that our more subtle and rationalized excuses for service and sacrifice are equally silly.  Consider what “reasonable” excuses too often come to mind (and mouth) is response to this.  After all, we are all performing “deeds” all the time.  If they are not the fruit of faith, what are they?  Are there truly any neutral deeds?  We must not get caught in the snare of double-standard, which praises good deeds & denounces evil deeds, but does nothing in the face of empty deeds.  There are only two kinds of deeds- living and dead- each a product of the faith we are called to live.  Here we see that we are called to live distinctly from the world- not apart from it, but in ways that embody the truth of God, which is Christ.

“But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.  “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

We have all sought to demonstrate our faith apart from our deeds.  These demonstrations may have expressed things that were good, worthy and even necessary (such as sound doctrine), but apart from living, active faith bring no more life than the profane, unworthy and meaningless (even false doctrine).  This does not mean that God cannot work in spite of such unfaithfulness, but rather that it is not reckoned as faith to those who bear it.

When James said, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that- and shudder” he was referring to the central prayer and belief of the Jewish people, the Shema Yisrael.  Drawn from Deuteronomy 6:4,5, which says “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” they would pray, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad”.  Christians today would immediately remember Jesus reference to this prayer in Matthew 22:34-40, summing up all the law (righteousness) and the prophets (justice).  However, He also included Leviticus 19:18 as an equal, indivisible part of that truth, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.  This is what has popularly become known as the Jesus Creed.

For the Jew, belief in the truths of the Shema Yisrael was at the heart of what made them God’s chosen people, set apart from the pagan and godless nations that surrounded them.  They considered themselves righteous on the merits of being His people, demonstrating it through the proclamation of this foundational prayer.  Yet James reminds them clearly that Jesus made the active love of neighbour (understood significantly to mean living justly towards all others) inseparable from the declaration and devotion of the One God.  Our identity in Christ, the very proof of our faith, is demonstrated in our love of God and others.  The standard is set high for all believers, without exception or qualification.

“You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

It is when James says, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” that he landed himself in hot water throughout Church history.  Many believed that he was clearly contradicting Paul’s teaching on justification my faith alone.  For example, doesn’t this verse contradict Romans 3:28 which says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law”?  In fact, he is not.  While our salvation is absolutely an unmerited grace from Christ alone, one that cannot be earned through any words or actions, we also believe that true faith is an active pursuit of Christ.  It is neither an intellectual nor emotional acknowledgment/acceptance of an idea(s) being right and true.  Neither do we believe that we are saved in spite of ourselves, but rather salvation is chosen freely through the exercise of our will (which is itself a grace from God).  Therefore, so to is obedience a reflection of the work of salvation in our hearts.  (For a brief overview of an Anabaptist view of justification, check out “What do Anabaptists say about justification by faith?”).

Consider it this way.  When we are married, we are bound together by God before His people in a sacred covenant.  Unarguably it is this binding by God that makes the marriage true.  However, after such a binding, if one of the partners is immediately and consistently unfaithful, the quality of that marriage is in question.  We might speculate that there was never faithfulness in the heart of the partner, but does that make the binding invalid?  Is it truly marriage if it remains in this state?  Rather, a true marriage, while made possible only through the power of God’s binding, is proven true by the daily work of faithfulness and service that reflects its intention.  So too with faith and works.

“In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Here James makes his most powerful blow to the religious entitlement of the Christian community to which he writes.  Remembering that his readers were primarily Jewish Christians and that he reminded them that their identity as Jews was not enough to merit true faithfulness (i.e Shema Yisrael), he cites an example of true faith (alongside that of Abraham) that was quite radical: Rahab the prostitute.  While Rahab was well known and honoured among Jews, it would have been shocking to use her in this example.  Why?  For three core reasons: First, because she was a prostitute, one who was unclean in one of the most culturally reprehensible ways; second, she was a Gentile, making her example alongside Abraham a direct assault against the claims of Jewish faith-supremacy; and third, because she was a woman (and we can assume that the Jewish Christians were still wrestling with the implications of Jesus’ radical embrace of women into the heart of the community.  Who are the Rahabs in our communities whom we presume our faith surpasses?

What James is teaching here is the very real implications of living the teaching of Christ explicitly as His people.  Faithfulness is costly to all of us, all the time.  We recognize His grace as an undeserved gift, but it is a gift after all.  We must believe that, though it will be hard and costly, such obedience will ultimately bring us true wholeness and happiness.

The Book of James – Part 3

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

With this admonition, it becomes clear that James’ concern over treatment of the poor and rich in the church is not a passing issue.  While it can be argued that he was addressing a specific, contextual concern, that the letter is addressed so widely suggests that the writer is confronting a more universal problem facing the all Christian communities.  Is it any surprise that the Book of James has caused such controversy in Church history?

In the NASV, the first line of this section is translated as: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” It is clear from this that favouring some people in the church according to their financial and/or social capital is not only wrong, but contrary to our submission to the Lordship of Christ.  At stake in this is our very role as disciples.  The word “discriminated” is the same word used in James 1:6, there translated as “doubt”.  This suggests that when we discriminate according wealth in the church, we are choosing to evaluate or question, rather than obey, God’s will.  It is for God alone to judge, and in His eyes, we are all equal (both created in His image & fallen short of His glory through sin).  Faith in our “glorious” Lord is such that we His is the only glory worth favouring.

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?  If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”

Here we are clearly reminded of the Lucan Beatitude, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”.  Together, we can clearly see that Matthews “poor in spirit” was not completely unrelated to material poverty.  While God does not wish poverty on anyone, He knows that in it that pretense is lost, exposing our absolute dependency- a dependency hidden by the shallow security and power of material wealth.

James is not suggesting that all rich people are somehow bad (as almost all of us in Western Christianity qualify as rich), but rather that, more often than not, those of us with privilege and power are too easily drawn into lifestyles of injustice, sometimes explicitly, but all too often in subtle, but devastating ways.  Rather, he is reminding us that true freedom, true obedience is through relinquishing all of our selves to God.  It is this commitment, demonstrated in this very clear example, that embodies Jesus call to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

Again, it might be quite easy for us to make light of such favourtism.  No example of this was more clear to me than at the funeral of Mother Teresa, where dignitaries and world leaders were given prime seating while the poor, while present, remained in more manageable areas.  All kinds of good reasons could be given for these decisions, but I believe they were contrary to Christ’s teachings and Mother Teresa’s will.  It is all too easy for us to make similar expressions of favourtism.  Do you rewards those who give more to the church or ministry?  Are you more likely to reorganized to accommodate  the needs of the “haves”?  Does your faith community even have representation of a truly diverse socio-economic group?  These failings breech God’s intention, no less sin than murder and adultery.

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”

Again, it is not for us to judge.  It is God who will judge us all and, thankfully, it is mercy and grace that will triumph in our judgment, for we all would otherwise perish.  How then can we judge the value of others in the community?  We must radically embrace the equalizing grace and love of Jesus Christ.  To do so is to actively celebrate and incarnate the truth of God’s saving grace for all creation.

The Book of James – Part 2

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

In the first half of James 1, we saw how James exhorted his readers to recognize and respond to the trials and temptations that seek to subvert our commitment to living obediently according to the teachings and example of Jesus.  That the example he cites was how we treat the poor and privileged among us, it says a great deal about what he was presupposing about the nature of Christian community.  For us at Little Flowers Community, this will be a very real challenge for us.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

At first, this can seem like fairly obvious advice.  Yet, when we consider how hard this is to practice in every day life, it becomes clear why we need the wisdom and strength of God to get there.  An old rabbinical saying reminds us that We have two ears to listen, but only one tongue to speak- and it’s walled up behind our teeth”.  The disciplines of self-restraint and silence are essential for all believers as we seek to listen- listen to the truth of God through His Word, His Spirit and His people.

When James reminds us that “anger does not bring about the righteous life”, it could also be translated as the “just life”.  Given the previous reference to injustice in the community, this makes a great deal of sense.  When we are confronted by injustice in the world and/or in our community, it is expected to stir a great deal of emotion.  Yet we are called represent the justice of God- a justice that restores and redeems, but does not seek to judge or avenge.

Two things stand in the way of our ability to hear God’s truth- moral filth and evil.  These words can, at times, lose their meaning in the obscurity and familiarity of religious jargon.  However, when we remember that sin is any deviation from the will of God (both in choosing to do wrong AND in failing to do what is right), it becomes clear that James is remind us of how easy it is to stray from the path and lose touch with the guiding truth of God.  This isn’t about moral purity for it’s own sake, but for the sake of God and His Kingdom.  We all must honestly face (together) any sin that keeps us from the purposes we are called to.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

When we cast off sinful ways and are able to hear and understand the truth of God, James reminds us that we are not nearly finished.  Too often we settle for the right understanding of truth, thus deceiving ourselves as though we are being faithful.  However, just as truth is most fully represented in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, so too is it necessary for us to embody His truth through faithful obedience.  In some translations, it calls us to be “doers of the word”.  This word “doer” is the Greek word “poietes”, the same word from which we get the word “poet”.  In other words, we are called to be public performers of truth.  What a beautiful image!

To hear the truth of God but fail to practice it is like looking in a mirror and, seeing the dirt on our face, be satisfied with the knowledge but do nothing to remedy it.  The mirror of truth can feel like a mirror of judgment, but instead it is a gift of grace.  In it we can not only see the sin which keeps us from the Father, but also the image of the Christ we are meant to reflect.  It is a stunning and humbling privilege.

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In the last section of chapter 1, James reminds us again to learn to keep our mouths shut and be “doers” of God’s truth.  He shows us what it means to live truly worshipful lives for God.  Evelyn Underhill defines worship like this:

“The adoring acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us—the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator, to the Eternal Reality from which they came forth.”

It is not true worship and devotion to God when we see, acknowledge and proclaim the truth- though these are all essential!  It becomes true worship- true religion- when we live that truth in our own lives together.  James’ emphasis on keeping morally pure and caring for those in need echoes Jesus own calling to love God (righteousness) and love our neighbours (justice).  In this all the Law and the Prophets are summed up- and they do so in a command to be “doers”.  It should be noted here that between helping others and staying pure the word “and” that separates them is not present in the original text, reinforcing the indivisible mandate for Christians to holiness and justice.

Lord, make us doers of Your truth by Your Spirit for Your glory!

A Vision of a Community Transformed

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In the eight years since we moved to Winnipeg’s West End, a great deal has changed.  While the challenges of poverty and crime are still very much present, as is the wonderful cultural, racial and linguistic diversity, the all too common effects of gentrification are also beginning to the neighbourhood.  Aspects of its influence are positive- the reduction of violence, organized crime and the sex trade, for example- but all too often it is not as a result of the problems being treated as it is that they are simply forced out into other parts of the city.  In other words, the so-called improvements to our community are often the result of lower income residents being forced out.

The West End is our home and the place that Little Flowers Community calls home.  Sustaining relationships with our neighbours is very difficult, as many find themselves pushed out after only a few months.  While some will argue that this transience is typical of the urban poor (and there is an element of truth there), more often than not it is a dynamic created and perpetuated by the trend of the privileged and the wealthy.  This reality has made us consider if we should consider relocating to the more “stable” locus of the poor, but we have felt that we are meant to stay where we are.

In response to the dynamics that make it more difficult for lower income residents (including members of our church community) to stay in the West End, we have tried to find ways to make life more affordable.  Through various methods, such as community gardens & bulk shopping, intentional simplicity, debt/credit counselling, intentional community, etc., we have slowly been able to find ways to resist the impact of the gentrification.  We are working on other approaches too, such as micro-loans, small business plan development and other ideas.  However, the scale is small and the pace is slow.  Most of all, the impact is limited to the small group of people in our immediate community.

One of the bigger dreams that we are pursuing in respect to helping the wider community is the plan to make quality low income housing available in the neighbourhood.  Our immediate plan is to purchase an apartment building in our community where the suites would be made available for low income housing.  This could include those on government subsidies or housing programs for the mentally ill.  We would also hope to have members of our Little Flowers Community living in the building too, nurturing a supportive community atmosphere.  One of the buildings we are considering would even leave space for the intentional community we have been expanding and developing.  We are very excited by this.

The challenge we face, of course, is resources.  In order to make such a dream a reality we will need a great deal of money and skilled labour to purchase, renovate and sustain the building.  We are blessed that a group of Christian business people from the Mennonite community in Manitoba have committed to get behind us in this project, carrying the bulk of the responsibility.  Their goals is to do this without any expectation of return, but rather as a Kingdom investment.  However, we will need a great deal more above and beyond this group.  Our hope and dream would be that we could eventually offer several such facilities that would help protect the unique diversity that is represented in the West End.

We are a small church of 20 to 30 people.  We know that for God’s vision to coming into being in this neighbourhood it will take something amazing and miraculous.  If you are interested in being a part of this, let me know.  While we do need money, we also need people willing to relocate their lives into our neighbourhood and invest themselves in these emerging expressions of the Kingdom.  We also need prayer.  Feel free to fire any questions my way.

The Book of James – Part 1

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

At Little Flowers Community we are beginning a series on the Book of James.  I will be posting the parts of the series that I lead, but as I won’t be present for two weeks of the series, there will be some gaps.  Hope you still enjoy it.

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.”

From this simply greeting, we learn a great deal about the people James is writing to.  Like so many other followers of Christ, they are among those who have been scattered by all kind of circumstances.  This is such a critical place to begin, as we see how faithfulness to Christ calls us immediately to the Cross.  Immediately, these challenges are highlighted in the following verses.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

James’ admonition to consider trials as “pure joy” would have immediately been reminiscent to his readers of Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-12).  Not only does this again reinforce the centrality of our response to suffering, but it highlights how significantly the teaching of Jesus was to shaping how the community of faith lived.  While this may seem an obvious dynamic, consider how much Christendom has shifted the emphasis from following Christ to worshiping Him.  We need reminding that one is impossible- even inseparable- from the other.

If we believe that trials build our faith through developing perseverance, how do we reconcile that with our own culture that teaches us to pursue our own comfort and ease at almost any cost?  Consider your life and the life you share with your community of faith: How have trials brought forth maturity and perseverance?  Or are we avoiding those trials altogether?  What holds us back?

It is clear that, in order for us to build our faith to maturity and completion, we will need to seek God for wisdom.  Again, this might seem like stating the obvious, but sincerely seeking God’s wisdom is also a confession of our insufficiency.  It calls us to humility, honesty and sometimes even repentance.  James knew how strongly we resist this admission of dependency, both to God and the wider community.  When we come to God with sincere supplication- not through empty ritual or unbelieving adherence- God will answer our prayers and lead us into maturity and completion in our faith.

“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”

Many believe that James seems to go off topic in this section, likening his writings to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.  While those similarities are present, that is not what we are encountering in this section.  Rather, the teaching on right hospitality speak directly to the issue of trials and temptations.  It speaks directly to a reality the people would have been facing (and one we too will face if we follow Christ together in our communities).

The pursuit of humility as a path to wisdom and maturity is reinforced in a community where the wealthy and the privileged subvert the world’s values through taking the lesser position.  Further, as struggling communities in need of strength and resources, it would be a great temptation to give preference to those who might further the cause of Christ through their means.  James is clearly reminding us that this is unacceptable.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

It is important to remember that, like in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, James is not promising a blessing as a reward for perseverance, but reminding us that in the present-yet-coming Kingdom of God, we live in the present blessedness of Christ, even in the midst of suffering.  That is most powerfully realized through the incarnation of Jesus Christ present with us and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which transforms us into that presence for the world.

In the face of trials and temptations, the idealism we often hold falls apart.  We can all too quickly begin to blame God for the tension and suffering we face in these circumstances.  God is not causing us suffering in order that we will mature.  Rather, God is calling us to Himself which cast a light on those things already present in our hearts that hold us back from radical obedience.  The barriers and tensions we experience, then, are not created by God as some kind of test, but a reflection of our own brokenness in need of transformation.  As they say, if you pray for patience, don’t blame God when circumstances test your patience.  God did not make you impatient, but simply provided the opportunity to learn it.

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.”

So many excuses keep us in compromise.  We justify our compromises by citing the greater good.  We minimize the demands our temptations make upon us, pointing to God as the one who is testing us.  We make excuses and shift blame, but ultimately we lose out the most.  When God leads us on a path, regardless of how difficult it is, where He leads us always brings life.

Are we willing to follow Christ into a life of radical obedience trusting that, in the face of trials and temptations, we believe that He is bring us towards Himself?  If so, the Epistle of James offers a powerful direction for us to follow together.

Easter at Little Flowers Community

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

While this is our second Easter as a congregation, last year most people were away with family.  Therefore, we are really excited that this year will be having our first real Easter at Little Flowers Community. For those who aren’t familiar, every Sunday we come together for a potluck meal followed by a time of worship and teaching (which happens in the round in a more dialogical style).  After that, we generally hang out for the evening.  This year, however, we’ve integrated the meal with the service.  While a description can’t give you the full experience, I thought I would share an outline of what it was like.

Throughout the early afternoon, people begin to trickle in, usually with their contribution to the potluck in various states of preparedness.  Then the dance of cooking a half dozen meals in our small kitchen begins.  Others hang out in the living room/dining room, making conversation or setting the tables.  This week, we’ve managed to set things up so that up to 25 of us can sit around one “table”.  As 5:30 approaches, the house begins to fill with wonderful sounds and smells.

Once everyone gathers around the table, I stand and welcome them, opening the evening with a prayer.  After explaining how tonight will be a different, I sit and another person stands and reads from Isaiah 51:9-11:

Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD!

Awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago!

Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?

Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep;
who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to cross over?

So the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

We then raise our voices together in the Easter hymn, “Man of Sorrows”.  It is a traditional hymn, unusual for a church where the median age is 24.  However, it is deeply fitting on this occasion.  When we are done singing, another person stands and reads:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Body, O Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin to our eternal Father!

Here I say the blessing over the meal:

God in our waking, God in our speaking;

God in our cooking, God in our eating;

God in our playing, God in our digesting;

God in our working, God in our Resting.

In a world where so many are hungry,

May we eat this food with humble hearts;

In a world where so many are lonely,

May we share this friendship with joyful hearts.  Amen!

And then we eat the meal.  Usually our potluck is a very eclectic collection of very random foods (which is wonderful), but this time we arranged for a more “traditional” Easter meal.  The conversation is always great, if perhaps somewhat atypical to your expected Sunday conversation.

As the meal finishes, it is here that I stand to led us in Communion.  The following is taken (and adapted) from a traditional Anabaptist service:

Sisters & Brothers, if we choose to love God before, in, and above all things, in the power of His holy and living Word, serve Him alone, honour and adore Him and henceforth sanctify His name, submitting our sinful will to His divine will which He has worked in us by His living Word, in life and death, then let each say individually: “I will.”

If we will love our neighbour and serve them with deeds of genuine love, lay down and shed for them our life and blood, be obedient to all godly authorities according to the will of God, and this in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who laid down and shed His flesh and blood for us, then let us say together: “We will.”

If we will practice mutual accountability with our brothers and sisters, make peace and unity among them, and reconcile ourselves with all those whom we have offended, abandon all envy, hate, and evil will toward everyone, willingly cease all action and behaviour which causes harm, disadvantage, or offence to our neighbour; and if we will also love our enemies and do good to them, then let each say together: “We will.”

If we desire publicly to confirm before this community of Christ this pledge of love which we will now make, through the Lord’s Supper of Christ, by eating bread and drinking wine, and to testify to it in the power of the living memorial of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, then let each say together: “We will”

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Here we break the bread and share it among us)

“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Here we raise our glasses and share the cup of Christ)

Therefore, Sisters & Brothers, let us eat and drink with one another in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. May God Himself accord to all of us the power and the strength that we may worthily carry it out and bring it to its saving conclusion according to his divine will. May the Lord impart his grace.

In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit, Amen.

As we finish Communion, we sing our next song, “There Is A Redeemer”, followed by this reading:

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

When the meal is done, we sing “Up From The Grave”, then someone rises and reads from Luke 24:1-10:

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

After the final hymn, “He Lives”, we all rise for the Benediction:

Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

This we declare in the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

We finish the evening with announcements (as every good church must have), then hang out for the evening as we share our dessert together.  I hope you enjoyed sharing the evening with us.

St. Patrick, the Cross & Missional Formation

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

As we make our way through this Lenten season, towards our celebration of Easter, Little Flowers Community has been meditating on the Cross and its formational work in shaping us into Christ’s Body, a missional-incarnational people together.  This past Wednesday was the Feast of St. Patrick, a man whose life powerfully displayed this pattern of cruciform devotion.  And so today, we spent some time learning from his life, discerning the fingerprints of Christ along the day.

Before going further, please know that I am not suggesting the following as a formula or rigid process, but rather a dynamic and fluid pattern that we see reflected throughout the history of God’s redeeming work among humanity.

Patrick was a Romanized-Celt who enjoyed a life of relative wealth and privilege in a northern district of what is today England.  While his father was a deacon & his grandfather a priest, Patrick showed little interest in the faith, enjoying instead the pleasures of youth.  His was a care-free life.  However, at the age of 16, everything changed.

Raiders from the northern tribes attacked his community, pillaging and killing many.  Patrick was one of many people captured to be taken back as a slave in the uncharted lands of what is now known as Ireland.  Faced with torture and death, the young man was forced to watch as others were beaten and killed on the long journey north.

For years Patrick served as a shepherd for a people he had previously dismissed as savage and inferior.  Now he was among the lowest of the low, valued far less than the livestock he was charged to care for.  As the years slipped away, so did his hope of escape and freedom.

Then, after six long years of servitude, Patrick received a message from God, promising that his freedom was at hand, miraculously providing everything he needed to return home.  Even a ship across the cold, enemy-protected waterways fell neatly into place.  And true to his vision, Patrick escaped freedom and returned home a changed man, humble and contrite and thankful to God.

And yet, truly transformed by the grace of God, Patrick obediently follows the call of Christ to return to the land of his captors as a missionary, engaging the people with a vibrant and creative authority rarely seen among Christian then (or since).  Today, Ireland owes a great debt to this former slave, as does the Church as a whole.  What can we learn from this profoundly moving story?

Patrick lived the life of his youth behind the pretense of wealth and privilege.  Like the plants & skins that Adam & Eve used to cover their own sinful nakedness, so to did Patrick cover up his own emptiness and need.  This Hidden Nakedness- something we all share- belied the true price that sin exacted upon him.  What masks do you wear to cover your own Hidden Nakedness?  What pretense covers up your own fears, doubts & failings?

The false security of Patrick’s life was shattered in the chaos of his violent abduction, reducing his wealth, privilege, education, status- everything!- to nothing in the face of this event.  Confronted with the fragility of his own mortality and the illusion of his own freedom, the young man was crushed in the face of suffering and death.  Here Patrick confronted the reality of The Cross in all its devastating reality.  Have there been moments in your life where the masks & pretense have been shattered through suffering or loss?  Have you experienced the real suffering of The Cross we are called to take up daily?

Death might have seemed a better option for Patrick, rather than facing the emptiness and indignity of been reduced to the lowest slave.  As the days turned to months and the months to years, everything in Patrick died away- his pride, his rights, his expectations, everything.  He was left in the emptiness of The TombWhen faced with Christ’s call to fully surrender your life to Him, what parts of your life to most resist letting die?  What aspects hold you back from truly entering The Tomb?  Why?

And yet, out of the emptiness was born a new, humble and contrite heart in Patrick.  When everything died away and he was left fully at the mercy of God, hope was reborn and way to freedom was made clear by His miraculous grace.  Patrick was touched by The Resurrection power of Christ at work in his life.  How has this work of Christ’s Resurrection manifested itself it visible ways in your life?

For most people, Patrick’s freedom would have been enough to demonstrate God’s character and power.  Most of us are satisfied with the saving work of Christ in our lives.  And why not?  It is the greatest reality of love and grace possible!  And yet, the Holy Spirit stirred Patrick yet again, filling him with the power, passion and purpose of Pentecost to become a missional servant among the very people who caused him so much suffering.  Has your Christian devotion largely stopped at the point of redemption and restoration?  How is Christ actively calling you to live Pentecost out in missional service to His Kingdom?

Again, this pattern is not a formula.  It is not a process of steps that can simply be worked out and completed for your own spiritual benefit.  It is the mysterious, but very real work of God through the power of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost baptism that is available- that is necessary!- for every believer.  It is not about an event where we “achieve” God’s will, but rather a journey we follow in becoming the very Body of Christ to the world.

Lord God, we come out of the darkness into Your presence, exposed in the brokenness of our sin.  Free of from the lies, excuses and pretences that keep us from standing in the purifying light of Your holiness.

Lead us daily to the Cross, even when every instinct and desire is to flee from the suffering it brings.  Help us to truly die to the selfish and narrow impulses of our hearts, relinquishing every right and privilege we hold onto.

Comfort us in the loneliness of the death we must embrace, broken and empty and wholly Yours.  Speak to us Your wisdom with Your still, small voice, quieting our souls in the silence of this necessary grave.

Bring us new life, Lord Jesus, as we share in Your wondrous resurrection, celebrating the promise of new life for all Creation. Bind us to You as a Groom to His Bride, and renew us and transform us together into Your image, Your Body.

Fill us and unite us and empower us with Your Holy Spirit, moving us with Your perfect will.  Lead us into all the world where we will become and live as Your Body, continuing Your mission to every living thing.

All this we ask in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

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