faithfulness

7 Ways to Live a Faithful Life

katarinag / Shutterstock.com
katarinag / Shutterstock.com

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]

Too often, perversions of our world’s religious traditions make the daily news for their violence, corruption, greed, and prejudice. Meanwhile, authentic representatives of those traditions are often busy doing good — good that goes largely unnoticed. That’s why I’m glad that a diverse group of religious leaders are sharing about seven ways authentic people of faith can work together to make a better world.

I served as a progressive evangelical pastor for 24 years, and during those years, I saw the evangelical movement struggling with its identity. The best versions of evangelicalism, whether they were labeled conservative or progressive, always took seriously passages like Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Those verses continue to inspire evangelicals of all persuasions to engage in life-giving mission — and in particular, to engage constructively in the world in seven positive, reconciling, and healing ways.

If you invest just a few minutes over the next seven days thinking and speaking up about these seven ways to participate in our world, I believe by week’s end you will be moved to action and in it find a richer, more faithful life:

10 Personal Decisions for the Common Good

WE LIVE IN an age in which we are encouraged to make decisions that further our personal benefit. This attitude is so pervasive that it extends even to our spiritual lives.

There is a danger in making our faith so personal and inward, so focused on the first commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that we forget to keep the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Though our culture would tell us to look out for number one, Christ’s upside-down kingdom offers a different and subversive message: Lose your life and you’ll find it. The church was designed to display the “manifold wisdom of God” by creating a community full of people who, like Jesus, put others before themselves and seek the common good. Christian community is intended to be a living witness, to demonstrate and to anticipate the future of the world that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it’s impossible to keep the second commandment without loving God with everything we have, but it’s also impossible to keep the first without loving our neighbors as ourselves.

A thriving common good and the quality of our life together are deeply affected by the personal decisions we all make. The commons—those places we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space—will never be better than the quality of our own lives and households.

But what does that look like on a practical level? How can the choices we make as individuals reinforce the common good and promote human flourishing? As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve come up with 10 personal decisions we can make to further the common good.

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Sheer Christianity

DURING HOLY WEEK this year, columnist and practicing Catholic Andrew Sullivan wrote a Newsweek cover story titled “Christianity in Crisis.” He argued that Christianity is being destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. This would “baffle Jesus of Nazareth,” Sullivan wrote. “The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear ... in the New Testament ... It seems no accident that so many Christians now embrace materialistic self-help rather than ascetic self-denial ... [and] no surprise that the fastest growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity.”

My sense is that people are leaving organized Christianity because it has left behind the radical message of its founder. This has been a long and continuing struggle. Jesus taught and embodied a revolutionary, transforming love. Forsaking wealth and power, he constantly reached out to those on the margins of society. Renouncing violence, he loved not just his friends but his enemies. Condemning religious self-right-eousness and hypocrisy, he healed broken lives and opened eyes and hearts to the near presence of the kingdom of God.

The church confesses him as the risen Savior and Lord. But then, so often, it tries to domesticate him, explaining away those sharp, demanding edges of his compelling words, and finding theological excuses for not following his radical ways. We call upon people to believe in Jesus. But the question is whether we believe Jesus.

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Sermon for Ordination: You Don't Have What It Takes — But You Have a God Who Does

The hands of the author and ordainee, Matthew Nickoloff, in the baptismal font.
The hands of the author and ordainee, Matthew Nickoloff, in the baptismal font. Photo via the author.

Years ago on a bright Tuesday in March, I was driving to seminary and I found myself stuck in traffic on I-25.  Sitting in a dead stop on the interstate I stared up into the clear blue Colorado sky and thought, “What in the world  am I doing?  I don’t believe a word of this Jesus stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale.”

But then in the very next moment I thought, “Except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.” 

I experience the gospel to be true even when I can’t believe it. And honestly sometimes I believe the gospel even when I don’t experience it.  And I suggest to you today that this is why we have and even why we need Word and Sacrament. Because see, we are a forgetful people.

And it is to this office of Word and Sacrament that you have been called Matthew and I feel like in an ordination sermon, the preacher should in some way address the level of preparedness of the ordinand in question, and I am in a position to do just that.

GOP Candidates Answer: Does Marital Fidelity Matter?

http://youtu.be/imsHVJbkAU4

The question of moral character and how it plays into public life has tended to be fairly low level conversation in our country. It’s subjects of discussion are usually those who we aren’t planning on voting for.

This is why it’s hard to trust what most commentators, religious leaders or politicians are saying right now. Things said in this moment might have more to do with which party or candidate they are planning on voting for than serious thinking about moral character and public life.

Taking the Long View vs. the Fierce Urgency of Now: Lessons from Arizona

Statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero at Westminste
Statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero at Westminster Abbey. Image via Wylio.

Arizona won a significant victory last week when Russell Pearce, author of Senate Bill 1070, lost in a first-ever recall election. 

It was not without great effort. I’ve since been reflecting on the lessons of the work and how we traveled from the darkness of SB1070 to the hope we feel today.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Oscar Romero are our heroes. They shared much in common: Both ultimately were focused on being obedient to God and his call on their lives and as such they were both, first, ministers of the Gospel. King and Romero were fixated on justice — in love with poor people and hurting communities. Both searched for middle ground while others stayed safe inside comfortable margins; both were agents of reconciliation.

And, finally, both were martyred for their message.

Yet Romero and King have a seeming discrepancy I want to explore.

Romero called us to take the long view; King discussed the fierce urgency of now. 
Romero essentially prays: Trust God, be faithful. King preaches: now is the time, act forcefully.

Andrew Marin answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

andrew-marin

The reason the word Evangelical has become so poisonous is because the answer to the above question comes from a conversion-based model of cultural engagement - political, theological and social. Too many Christians believe, and have wrongly been taught, that those "others" and "opposites" who have made an active choice not to believe in "our" teachings are justifiably: 1) left to their own devices as we wash our hands of them because of their bad choice (think in terms of blood-on-their-own-head); or 2) uninformed, so much so that their "no" is an illegitimate answer.

Evangelicals care more about positions -- whether progressive or conservative -- than people. We lack nuance. We have become either all Scripture or all Justice. I don't know where the balance was lost in terms of holding Scripture in high authority and, simultaneously, loving with reckless abandon?

SEPTEMBER Not for the Faint of Heart

Following where God leads is not an easy task. God's ways are not only foreign to us, but often go against our sense of what is acceptable, realistic, and just. We do not become willing disciples simply by saying yes to God. It takes practice, prayer, and ongoing relationship with God and one another to shapeshift ourselves into those who "live in the manner of Christ."

We can admit openly that being faithful is hard work. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is hard work. Forgiving once -- let alone seventy times -- is hard work. We will fail time and time again to be who God desires us to be. But that’s simply the human predicament. The good news is that God cannot seem to let us murmur and moan alone.

This month's lectionary passages highlight our very real and understandable human behavior, but also challenge us to remember who God is and to live from such remembrance. The path to salvation is a life-long journey, with fits and starts, more dependent on God’s love, patience, and teaching than on our blurred understandings. But that doesn't let us off the hook as idle recipients of God's mercy and grace. Our duty is to turn to God for instruction, to bring both our pleas and praises honestly before a God who hears us, and to love, support, and encourage one another in our feeble attempts at faithful living.

Enuma Okoro, of Durham, North Carolina, is the author of Reluctant Pilgrim and co-author of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

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Good Friday: Praying in the Abyss

E. O. / Shutterstock
Photo via E. O. / Shutterstock

In Christian confession, Good Friday is the day of loss and defeat; Sunday is the day of recovery and victory. Friday and Sunday summarize the drama of the gospel that continues to be re-performed, always again, in the life of faith. In the long gospel reading of the lectionary for this week (Matthew 27:11-54), we hear the Friday element of that drama: the moment when Jesus cries out to God in abandonment (Matthew 27: 46). This reading does not carry us, for this day, toward the Sunday victory, except for the anticipatory assertion of the Roman soldier who recognized that Jesus is the power of God for new life in the world (verse 54). Given that anticipation, the reading invites the church to walk into the deep loss in hope of walking into the new life that will come at the end of the drama.

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