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Purifing the waters (Sermon September 20, 2015)

James 3:13–4:8 (NRSV) mountain stream

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Friendship with the World

4 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

 

The problem with biblical interpretation and understanding what scripture is saying is that often we do not understand the historical perspective. I say this because these words were written nearly 2000 years ago, and a few things have changed since then. To be a student of scripture we also need to be a student of history. This is even more important when we read the letters that the various apostle have written, because often the letters are referring to historical issues. If we do not read the scriptures though a historical context we can find ourselves misunderstanding what is written.

This historical context if often what causes the controversy surrounding the letter James wrote to the church. As we have contemplated the writings of James over the past few weeks I have highlighted some of the points that often are seen as being contradictory to writings of Paul, because of this James’ letter is not very popular among most in the western church, especially among the protestant variety. I also pointed out that James unlike Paul was primarily writing his letter to people of a more eastern mindset than that of Paul. The eastern cultures placed a higher value on the community over the individual, this community focus is seen in the writings of Paul but he was primarily writing to people who approached spirituality from an individualistic philosophy. The historical context is important because the church emerged from an oriental culture. Oriental because the Hebrew culture from which the first century Jewish community emerged from was remnant that returned to Israel from exile in Persia, and the Persian Empire was an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to India.

The next historical issue we must consider is that Israel or Palestine as the Romans referred to the area, was an area that was disputed, It was at the cross roads of empires, Though Persia was pushed back by the Greeks centuries prior, as the Greek influence waned after the death of Alexander the Great, the Persian influence pushed back to the west. The Magi that we celebrate around Christmas were most likely priest from the Zoroastrian religion which was the dominate faith of Persia. Since Israel was a disputed borderland between the empires war was constantly on their minds. War within and war from without. The Gospels constantly point this out if we look at the historical context. The very fact that Magi from the east came to celebrate the birth of a king, which caused Herod to send troops to Bethlehem to slaughter the innocents shows us this, sure it was that he wanted to protect his kingdom, but his kingdom was under the lordship of Rome and if there was a king under the lordship of Persia living within the borders of Israel it would cause Rome to take a more aggressive stance.

A third historical perspective we must consider is the Jewish nationalism. They desired to be independent from their overlords, they wanted to live again under the theocracy of the priestly kingship of David. This was the source of much of their religious fervor, this nationalistic ideology dominated their spirituality to the point that it overshadowed the true message of the covenant religion that was established by Moses. Their politics controlled their theology, and their theology was based on their politics, leaving little room for the ideas that Jesus presented, and even less for what the apostles continued to preach after the ascension of Christ. This nationalistic theology of the first century Jewish people was not something that the empires of the world enjoyed, it was a threat to the power of the Emperors to the east and the west. And since Rome held control of the land it was a direct threat to them.

When James speaks of wisdom, he is speaking of religious zealotry. He is challenging the political based theology of the religious leaders that were popular around Jerusalem. He challenged them just as Jesus challenged them. As Jesus taught on the hillsides of Judea he would call out the teachings of the Pharisees, saying that they load the people down with laws that they do not hold themselves accountable to. These laws that they were trying to enforce would be laws that most religious leaders would support, because they were dedicated to making the nation a more righteous place. The problem with this sort of legislation is that if the law is not written on the hearts of the people it is an empty law one that does not produce spiritual health but only an illusion of piety.

James challenges these leaders, these leaders were inside and outside of the church. They had this idea that they were going to legislate a righteous nation, but the problem with this is that the people were not righteous. There were conflicting ideas of what was right and what was not causing great instability among the people which lead to the Jewish revolts that eventually lead to the total destruction of Jerusalem. With the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of God being leveled just as Jesus predicted, all the work of the religious leaders that were working so hard to make a righteous nation was abruptly stopped. Who is wise?

James did not see the day that Jerusalem fell because the religious leaders that he challenged plotted for his destruction as they did Jesus’. This historical fact just highlights the very things that James taught. The religious leaders were not focused on the heart of their faith but were focused on something else entirely. They were focused on wealth, power, and influence over others. James wrote this letter before is demise saying to them, “who is wise among you?”

The wisdom of which James challenges us to seek is the wisdom of God. To be more specific it is the Spirit of God, or Holy Wisdom. The wise that James challenges us to bring forth are those people that live directed by the Spirit of God in all that they do. And James says that those that live by this wisdom will be revealed to us by their actions, just as the wisdom of the world is revealed.

James says, “If you have bitter envy or selfish ambition in your hearts…this is not wisdom from above but is earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” I want us to stop right there for a bit, and remember who he is challenging. This bitter envy that he speaks if much deeper than we think. We can quickly move over this word and not really understand fully what he is talking about. The word that he uses is zeal. This is most often in reference to religious zeal, and this is why James makes so many well-meaning religious leaders mad. Bitter zeal…Selfish ambition…he is speaking about the intent of our religious activity, or more accurately the focus. Bitter zeal is imposing legalities upon others to manipulate control, and selfish ambition is to engage in religious activities for selfish gain. What can God do for me! This type of wisdom is not directed from God because the focus is on ourselves and our desires for control over others. God does not work that way.

James says, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” Jesus taught that He is the living water, and those that drink of from him will never thirst again. This is the same idea that James is teaching wisdom from above is first pure like a spring of water bubbling up from the depths of the earth. Fresh, pure, cool and refreshing living water. This concept of living water is one that speaks of grace and blessing. Living water or flowing water a good sign of pure water in ancient times. As long as the water is moving the impurities are washed away. This is why John the Baptist, baptized in the Jordan, because the living water, the flowing water was carrying away your sins washing you and carrying your sins downstream. When the water stops flowing and becomes stagnant problems arise. Moss begins to grow and a stench is released into the air, when we damn the grace of God the same happens to our lives. The water is no longer sweet but bitter, no longer refreshing but putrid.

When we live our lives based on the wisdom of the world instead of seeking the wisdom of God, we damn up the flow of grace. We become bitter and our religious zeal leave those we meet seeking for something else. When we allow the wisdom of the Spirit of God to flow through us something else happens. Our attention is turned away from ourselves and it begins to flow downstream. And as the grace again flows it saturates into the dryness around us filling it with the living water of Christ, and when that is saturated fully it continues to flow.

The letter James wrote so long ago can teach us so much today. We live in a time where there is so much bitterness and selfish ambition all around that it is hard to discern what is right. We look out at the world around us and we have a perception that all is lost, but it is not. People are thirsting for the grace that Jesus has to offer, they yearn for it. But the waters are often tainted so they turn away. James urges us to go back to the very core of the gospel, the kingdom of God is here. It is all around us, just ready to spring forth. But are we letting it flow? This is why Jesus came to live among mankind. To provide the way for redemption and reconciliation, and to show us how to keep the grace flowing. Jesus showed us how to live a life directed by holy wisdom by making it his custom to worship, withdrawing often to pray in the isolated places, and then ministering to the needs of those around him in the community. Worship, prayer and ministry is the prescription to heal the brokenness in our world. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the Love of Christ with other is the only way to allow the grace to flow again and to remove the bitterness so many see in religion. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

As we draw near to God in this time of open worship, let us consider with the assistance of God where our focus truly is. Are we a people that believe that the grace of God can overcome the world or are we being led by bitter zeal? Let us all cleanse our hands and purify our hearts so that the grace of God will flow from us and saturate the world around us.

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Dead Faith or Living Communities (Sermon September 6, 2015)

James 2:1–17 (NRSV)

Lord, that I might see! Matyas Church Budapest, Hungary

Lord, that I might see!
Matyas Church
Budapest, Hungary

Warning against Partiality

2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Faith without Works Is Dead

(Cp Gen 22; Josh 2)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

 

Of all the books of the New Testament, James is probably the most controversial. I find that very odd because it is one of my favorites, following the Gospel of John. I should rephrase that as being it is the most controversial in the western church and particularly the ones from more protestant variations. The Eastern Church loves this letter mainly because the eastern cultures have a different perspective on many things. I mentioned last week that this book was written by James the Brother of Jesus, and many have argued that James and Paul might have been having a debate while they penned their letters to the churches, while other scholars simply believe that they were speaking to two very different cultural perspectives. I tend to lean more toward the latter. I say this because I have visited a more Eastern influenced culture and found that they think, speak, and act in different ways. Their culture is more community focused than what we have come to know as the west.

East and West, I do not want you to think that I am speaking of current events when I say this. In ancient times we all know that the kingdoms of Israel were conquered by the empires of Assyria and Babylon, and were later assimilated by Persia when it conquered Babylon. All of these empires came in from the East. Then Greece from the west began to push from the west across the Persian Empire, pushing the Persian Empire to their farthest Eastern boarders known today as India. After a time Israel gained their independence from Greece forming the Hasmonian Dynasty which ruled for 123 years until Rome was asked to assist the nation in a civil war becoming a puppet kingdom under the leadership of Herod. Under the Greek and Roman leadership Israel began gaining more Westernized ideas, these ideas were what prompted the revolution from which they gained their independence for a short time. But for most of its existence, Israel has had a very eastern perspective, this is not surprising since Abraham was called out of the city of Ur, which was a prominent city of the Sumerian Empire the first major empire of the Middle East from which Babylon and Assyria emerged.

So we have these Eastern and Western ideologies working among the people of Israel, James was a leader of the Church in Jerusalem while Paul was writing to a cultural perspective that did not have the Eastern influence and was strongly influenced by the Greco-Roman philosophies. When Paul writes his letters to the people in the west they think and speak differently than the people James writes to in the East. This is important to consider because as we contemplate and study scripture the cultural perspective is important. Jesus was born and lived in a timeframe when the East and West were both influencing the area Rome called Palestine, much of the struggles that Jesus mentioned were issues revolving around ideologies that clashed between the two perspectives, and James writes to the people that continued to live where the East met the West. Of these influences the role of the individual within a community were the greatest struggle, mainly which is more important the community or the individual.

This has been a struggle within the church from the very beginning. As Paul moved west taking the Gospel of Jesus to the courts of the Roman Emperor, he was taking along with him a very eastern minded religious perspective, where the community took on a greater importance than the individual. Which was very contrary to the ideas of the west. And as the western ideas of individualism pushed East James was reminding the believers that they could not neglect their community. This struggle is most vividly seen in the passage we read today.

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” Israel was founded on equality. No one tribe was seen as greater than the other in respect to their inheritance. Each tribe was given land in accordance to their numbers. There was no favor was given. It remained this way until the people began to desire a king to fight for them. Favoritism is not from God, favoritism deems that one individual is greater than another. God warned Israel about this saying that a king will demand your sons and daughters, your produce and your flocks. Why because the king has the right do to their position of ruler over the people. Now once they had a king, your position in respect to the king gave people status over others. No longer were the people equal but they were guided by the rules of favoritism and hierarchy. People begin to strive to find favor with the king, to rise in favor, where does this leave everyone else? There can only be one king, the community begins to take a back seat when the king is not God.

The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. In God’s eyes we are all equal, no one person is greater than another. It is the kingdoms of men that cause oppression, it is the kingdoms of men that rule over other and demand allegiance. But the kingdom of God calls us to love Him with all we have and to love our neighbor. This is what James calls the royal law.

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” The concept of mercy comes out of justice, which come from the concept of equality. Mercy or justice does not take into account favoritism, it does not put one person higher than another but all members of the community are held at the same level. To live merciful lives we must look outside of ourselves and treat those around us as equals. Mercy and justice build the community where judgement based on favoritism cuts it away. James urges us to become a people not just of faith but of mercy.

This is where the controversy comes. Most Evangelicals hold very tight to the premise that we are saved by faith through grace, not by works. This is a concept that was strongly held at the time of the reformation and continues today. James says, “What good is it.” And people like Martin Luther tense because he goes on to say, “Can faith save you?” This is not so much about theology but theology in action. Remember James is writing from a perspective that the community of great importance. He gives an example that faithful looking at those in need and saying to them have faith and stay warm and fed. Yet these people need clothing and food. Can God provide? Absolutely! But what are we as a community telling them? If only you had enough faith then all your needs would be provided for. Our faith is not magic, we cannot command God to grant our wishes and call receipts down from heaven. No salvation happens when the community of faithful live lives of mercy. When we see those in need we as a community pull together and help them.  

James speaks of this from observation. He saw this lifestyle lived out before him and at first he totally rejected it. Yet something changed. He saw his brother make it his custom to worship, he saw Him withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and he observed Jesus minister to the needs of those around him. He saw all of this, he saw it move people that once lived on the fringe of society back into life. He saw people once left for dead in the leper colonies restored to the community fully cleansed from all that society rejected. He saw blind eye restored, withered limbs refreshed, and the dead come to life. He saw this and it scared him, it scared him because he thought he was better than these people. If Jesus his own brother is restoring those people where does that leave him? It scared him because he had worked so diligently to be seen as righteous, yet to his own brother these beggar were equals. He also saw that as Jesus’ followers grew in number things began to change the oppressed were no longer living as oppressed because the community took care of them. Each person as they followed Jesus added to the community.

Then he saw something even greater. The leaders were losing favor so they began to plot. James then was fearful for other reasons, if they kill his brother would they then seek me out? He began to openly rebuke Jesus, calling him a mad man because he was afraid that if he did not speak out judgement would then hit him. But Jesus did not cower. He looked out to the crowds and said that they were his family. Jesus died on a cross, he was buried, and then he rose again. He even spoke with him. James like the others did not know what to do or to think, but on the day of Pentecost Peter spoke up and thousands believed, and so did he. They began to live the lifestyle of Jesus and greater numbers were added daily. They lived that holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and ministry. Faith did not save James, it was the community of faithful living by the royal law, that brought him to the feet of Jesus the author and perfecter of faith, not just faith but mercy. 

Friends we can live by faith or mercy, we can live by judgment or grace. We can claim to have the right answers or we can help others take steps toward Christ by helping them see beyond their current circumstances. James does not say faith is out of place, he merely says faith without action, faith without movement, is dead. He is saying that often God is calling us to be the answer to the prayers of the naked and hungry, we are called to be the answers to the prayers of the hurting and the broken. We become those answers if we become people of mercy, when we become people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.

As we enter this time of open worship, I encourage us to consider and examine our lives with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Ask ourselves if we are bringing glory to Jesus through our lifestyles, and actions? Are we becoming answers to prayer or are we simply pushing people away? And are we willing to change direction as James did?

He isn’t finished yet! (Sermon June 7, 2015)

2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1 (NRSV)

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Living by Faith

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Have you noticed how a change of perspective can change your entire view? Perspective is the way that we look at the world around us, it’s what we see. Many times because we are rushing from one thing to the next we do not have time to examine things more deeply, but there is more going on than what we see.

If we were to take an art class one of the first lessons would be a perspective drawing. I remember doing this in the seventh grade. The teacher would have each of us sit in the hall way and draw what we saw. Then he would have us move to a different location and draw everything again. Some of us would have to draw as best as we could laying on the ground, other would have a seat in a high chair, others of us would stand close to a wall, and some right in the center of the hallway. The one thing that took from these lessons was that I am not an artist. But I also learned that from where we are standing the view changes, certain things seem to become more of a focal point while others fade into the background. The teacher was trying to give us the techniques to draw but he also taught us that there can always be a different way to look at things. I think that is the whole purpose of the creative arts. God has gifted certain people with an ability to assist everyone else to step back and look at something from a different vantage point, and just possibly see something more clearly.

In today’s scripture we find Paul speaking to the church in Corinth. It is important to remember who this letter was written to because it helps us put things into perspective. Corinth was a very important trade city during this time frame. Not only was it a center for trade but it was one of the host cities for athletic events that were associated with the origins of the Olympics. This gives us clues as to the reasons Paul speaks in a certain way to this particular church. Words like, “You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one runner gets the prize. So run like that. Run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24) or “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27). These are terms that speak volumes to a population that lives for the games. Paul spoke and wrote to them using language that they would understand, preaching the Gospel from a perspective that was unique to them.

There is another bit of information about ancient Corinth that sheds light into the words that Paul uses in his letter. Corinth as a culture was deeply devoted to the goddess Aphrodite. As many of us are aware the worship of this goddess usually revolved around sensual rites with the temple slaves. This one city was home to over a thousand sacred prostitutes. This city locate on a busy trade route connecting two seas, was the home of one of the largest sporting events in the empire and was deeply devoted to the goddess of love (or lust). Everything about this city revolved around entertainment and commerce, with a specialty of entertainment commerce. But even within this city devoted to pleasures of the flesh there was a large Jewish population, so they were not totally unaware of the history and religion that brought our Lord to us.

This city would make places like Las Vegas seem pretty mild. Yet this is the city in which Paul spent the most time in his missionary journeys, and it was the recipient of two of the most widely read epistles in scripture. Not only do Christian athletes find comfort and encouragement from these letters, but quotes from the letters penned to Corinth are the most widely read passages from scripture in weddings. I even used a passage from 1 Corinthians in a wedding on Saturday. We find them encouraging and comforting because the people of Corinth and the people of America are not that different. Many of the issues we struggle with today are issues causing stress to the people who first heard the words written by Paul.

If we were to look at the city of Corinth and visualize an ancient version of Las Vegas we might get an idea of just how big the task set before Paul might have been like. He had to start with the basics and then work his way up to the deeper things of Christ. In his first letter, the most widely read, he explains to us what Love is, what discipline looks like, and how important a life with God really is. The second letter is a bit more depressing, mainly because this is one of the few major first century church centers and they required a second letter from the apostle.

Yet even though Paul felt the need to remind them of all the ways they were falling short of the glory of Christ, he tells them do not give up, and to look at things from a different perspective. Not necessarily a new perspective but to slow down enough to look around. He reminds them of the faith that they had heard him and others speak about. Reminding them that very spirit that prompted the apostles to go out and boldly speak and live for Christ was available to them in the very real way.

That spirit was given so that each of us could relate to the living God personally. God sent the Spirit to us so that the one who and through whom all things were created could know us deeply and so that we could know him deeply. When he says “I believe, and so I spoke,” refers to a belief that goes beyond knowledge, goes further than trust it is a belief that entrusts every aspect of his life to the hands of God. Entrusting to such a degree that Paul would leave the comforts and security of his position as a Pharisee to speak the words the Spirit of God laid on his heart to a city consumed with the worship of pleasure.

“’I believe, and so I spoke.’ – We also believe, and so we speak.” This statement gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. Yes He desires a close and intimate relationship with us individually, one in which we are loving Him with all of our heart, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength but that relationship is not to be lived out alone. It is to be shared with the world around us, invested in the lives of others. But the church of Corinth was struggling. They lived in a culture that was about as far from God honoring as a culture could get. For every new person added to their ranks others would be drawn back into the clutches of the idolatry of the flesh. It was as if all of the work they were doing was for nothing, and many believed that they should withdraw, isolate and fortify themselves from the influences of the outside world.

Just looking at our world today we can understand how and why they might come to that conclusion. It is extremely difficult to believe and speak to a world that seems to have little interest in knowing Christ. We can look back in our history and believe that the best days are behind us, that the end is near and pray Lord Come! But Paul tells us do not give up. We know that the one that raised Christ from the grave is with us even to this day. We know that he will not forsake us even when we cannot see him working. We know that He is here and wants us to be in His presence. We know this…but do we believe?

Corinth was distracted. They could not get a handle of what it means to be in the world but not of the world, because so often when they would try the assembly would be flooded with people trying to move them away from God. They would reach out becoming vulnerable to people only to be burned, and as a result they took steps back to protect their own. They may have even pushed people away from their Meeting that had a different perspective because the very idea of looking at things differently scared them. But Paul says all this grace is for you, so that you can extend it to others. God gave us grace so we can extend that very same grace to those around us.

Paul is graciously telling them that they are wrong in their thinking. They have taken a perspective that is so limited in view that they cannot see beyond themselves, and that is an unhealthy church. It is a church that is not living out the holy rhythm of Christ. It is a church that has stopped listening and stopped believing. They may worship God, they may have all the right answers and the best systematic theologies but they are stuck.

Do not lose heart Paul tells these broken people. Though you may be weak in your body, the very same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave can renew within you the right spirit. Do not lose faith, but get back to what you know. Go back to that lifestyle of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Enter again into that holy rhythm of life that Christ himself taught us, a life of prayer, worship, and service to others. Listen again, believe again, believe so deeply that you are willing to give all that you are and all that you have for the glory of God, and love those lost people of the world that are wondering in the darkness without the light.

It is very easy to get bound in one perspective, unable to step back and examine life from a different point of view. It is easy to believe that the way that I think is the only way that things should be done, because the others options require that we put faith in someone else. It is easy to step back and isolate ourselves, because there are risks when we step forward into the unknown. God took a risk by coming to live among mankind, He took a risk by allowing His son to die on our behalf, and He took a risk by ascending into heaven and leaving what He started in the hands of man. He took a risk in us. He invested life in us. Are we willing to risk what he has given us for our world? Are we willing to believe and speak? Are we willing to entrust and act? Are we willing to allow God to use us in His ministry of restoration? As we enter into a time of holy expectancy and communion as Friends, I challenge each of us to ask those questions and to be still before God to listen to what He will say.

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