Monday, August 16, 2010

Creating a mess of the perfect opportunity

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80

Luke 12:49-56

In both Isaiah and the Psalm today, we see an image of God as a vineyard keeper. Now, the process of growing and tending to grapes, of selecting and fermenting the fruit of the vine until is produces a luscious wine may be lost on most of us. But it would not have been lost on an ancient Hebrew audience. Ancient Israel was a rich, arid country and thus well suited to the task. And yet, they knew that cultivating a vineyard was demanding and tedious work because it took a long time to bring a vine to maturity. “Vinedressers must be dedicated, patient people, not unlike shepherds. Both are dealing with living things that follow their own laws of growth, which the ones tending cannot really control. They must be willing to forgo their own comfort in the face of long hours and inclement weather." 1

So while this image may not be as familiar to us, what a beautiful and accurate description of God- both then and now. God had certainly put in long and tedious hours with his people Israel. God had transplanted the Jewish people out of Egypt where they had been oppressed. He had listened to their cry when they feared starvation in the desert. He had led them to a fertile land where they could live in prosperity. Indeed, the scripture makes clear that God had set up the perfect conditions- the stones had been cleared, the vines planted, the watch tower built, the vat dug, shade provided, irrigation- accounted for. There was no loose end that God had not accounted for. In its description, it sounds like a new Eden- a paradise where all was perfect.

Having created the ultimate setting to which life could flourish, God turns over the vineyard to his chosen people. Imagine being handed a successful business, a livelihood where if you but follow instructions, you are guaranteed to profit. You’d be excited right? And yet, when God leaves the tending of the vineyard in the hands of the chosen people, God returns to find the paradise trampled. The well-manicured fields are now overgrown. The hedges left in disarray. The grapes crushed beneath the tracks of wild animals.

What had happened? How could the people have gone so wrong? How could the perfect situation have been turned upside down so quickly? Luckily, this is one parable that the scriptures give us a direct explanation. In Isaiah, chapter 5, verse 7, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” The full turn around that took place is made even more poignant in the Hebrew- the word for cry, tse'aqah, is particularly important and revealing. “When God’s people were being victimized by Pharaoh in Egypt, their response was to cry” or tse’aqah to God for help. This is a famous phrase in Exodus that Isaiah is using for a purpose- The people of Israel have recreated the oppressive conditions of Pharaoh’s Egypt- only this time it is their leaders and actions that have followed a system that created victims who cried out to God for their help.

So, why do they not tend the vineyard? Why do they not follow the will of God? God created the conditions by which the people could flourish- why not follow through? We can speculate about human nature, about the persistence of evil, about the oppressive economic and political systems of those ancient days. But, perhaps the more poignant question to ask is, given those same conditions, given that same vineyard to tend, how are we doing?

I don’t know about you, but if I suddenly inherited a vineyard, I’d make a mess of it. It sounds as if it requires considerable patience, never-ending attention, and a green thumb that I’ve never managed to develop. Amidst my crazy schedule and at times non-stop life, where on earth could I find the time to care for it? I might be able to squeeze caring for the garden in for the first few weeks, but eventually my attention would stray so that the vines would wither and the yield would dry up.

In these last few weeks, many of you know that we’ve been having a series of coffee chats so that I could get to know you better through some small group discussions. Thank you for taking the time to host or attend one. By the way, if you couldn’t make it, next week I’ll have a signup sheet for one last coffee chat that will take place here at church the last week of August. But one of the consistent struggles that I heard people express was how busy they were and thus how difficult it was to fit more activities, including those in the church, into their busy schedule. Now the reasons for the business varied, including those who were already ensconced in a number of church activities, but finding time without dropping from exhaustion was nearly a universal concern.

Theologian Richard Gaillardetz, in Transforming our Days- Finding God amid the noise of Modern Life, argues that one of the quintessential features of western culture is the desire to control and manage time. He points to the myriad of devices that are advertised as time savers, the prevalence of microwave meals instead of those prepared from scratch in the kitchen, and the constant need to be digitally connected as ways in which society tries to control, take back and conquer the ever moving clock. He continues that in today’s society, the new normal is a kind of hyper-reality in which any time spent at rest or in leisure is considered to be wasted, or at the very least, boring.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Gaillardetz isn’t saying that we should try and turn back the clocks and ignore modernity, but simply to consider the tradeoffs that are occurring so that we might use timesaving devices to create more space rather than pack more into every minute. For instance, I have both a “smart” cell phone and an Ipod that allows me to organize my time and stay connected to the world. I can always get my email, be available by phone, and know my schedule. This frees up my tendency to double schedule and helps aid my brain in remembering tasks and appointments. But, it also creates in me an urge to constantly check the news, my email, and the events of the world in any free moment I have. It even can intrude into my face-to-face conversations as I habitually check my email or news updates and ignore what is right in front of me. In essence, I allow the timesaving device to consume more time and effort rather than create more space and leisure.

I think one of the more interesting parts of the vineyard analogy are the duel roles in which we play. Yes, God gives us a vineyard to tend and we hold the very real potential of destroying it. But, we are also part of creation, this vineyard that God himself is trying to tend to. We are the fruit of that creation that God wants to flourish, we have to take time to- and I know I’m starting to take this too far- to ripen on the vine. We have to give time over for prayer, study, reading, meditation, some form of quietness in which God can intrude in our lives and expand our range of vision. The time to do this can be difficult in our modern lives, but without it, we can become self-centered and exhausted.

But as people created to be vinedressers, we must find the time to care for those around us and the world in which we live. We must take the time to serve in mission so that we might help those who are struggling to get by in the world. We must be patient and supportive of those who struggle with the grief and to actually be present with them as they go through the healing process. And we must make space for those whose doubts and ideas may not conform to our understanding of God’s will in the world and be open to give both them and ourselves time to grow so that we might reach new understanding. If we fail to do this, the part of creation that we can touch will inevitable wither and go into disarray.

Today we have an opportunity to renew our pledges as God’s vinedressers. We have the honor of baptizing Kody. As part of this process, we will make several pledges. First, we will vow to renew our own baptismal commitment in which we declare ourselves to be children of God and set out to live out our lives in accordance with the divine will. And second, we vow to be an extension of Kody’s family, one that will take the time to ensure his best interests and to help him as he grows. We will have to commit the time to teach Kody in our Sunday schools. We will have to support him as he grows and cheer him on. We will have to help his family create the perfect environment so that he too may go forth to tend fields of his own. This is a difficult commitment. We are signing up for many years worth of work. But it is a mission to which we are called. It is one of the purposes for which we were created. Let us take the time to do so so that God need not come in response to his or the wider world’s cry.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Judgment and Justice

Scripture Texts for Sunday, August 8th.

Isaiah 1:1-20

Psalm 50

Luke 12:32-40


Justice and judgment. These are the two concepts that are central to the three scripture passages, and in many ways, central to all of scripture. And yet, they are concepts that people are not often comfortable talking about- at least not to talk about them together. Depending on the theology and ideological leanings of the church, often times only one of the two J’s get preached. In one church, you may hear quite a bit about God’s judgment for those sinners who fail to submit. You may hear about the wrath of God and repenting before it is to late. But, often times, little is said about the present injustices of the world; or, at the very least, little may be done to actually bring about change.

In the other church, you may hear quite a bit about seeking justice for the poor and impoverished on this earth. You may hear about seeking the common good and working to enact change in society. But, often, little is said about God judging individuals for their failure to follow the will of God, and less is said about the possibility of eternal punishment.

If I make a confession, I would probably tend toward the second camp rather than the first. But, neither message is a complete reading or understanding of scripture. Justice and Judgment cannot be separated if we are to truly understand God, the Bible, and specifically the scripture passages in front of us.

Though the passages in Isaiah and Luke take place hundreds of years apart, in many ways the people are facing similar situations. In both places, Jerusalem is central to the understanding of God’s plan. In the center of Jerusalem sits the temple where God is said to be most present in all of the earth. People stream from all over the world to give their sacrifices at the temple to honor God. However, Jerusalem and the temple are under dire threat by foreign invaders. In Isaiah’s time, the immediate concern is the powerful Assyrian army. The Hebrew people had been split into two nations at that point, Judah and Israel, and Israel had already been completely overthrown. Judah itself was ravaged so thoroughly that only Jerusalem remained fully under Jewish control. Likewise, Israel in the time of Luke was under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Here, they did not even retain control of Jerusalem, the chosen people, the ones to whom God made a covenant, were completely at the mercy of these invading armies.

This prompted considerable concern. How, if they were God’s chosen people, could this have been allowed to happen? After all, the people had built the temple according to the vision David and Solomon received. The people sacrificed according to the regulations laid out in the Torah. But, despite their piety, God rejects their sacrifices because they are hollow. They worship God with their lips, but they allow injustice to fester throughout society. For this, Isaiah says, they will be judged. Jesus asks, will they be ready to face the son of man when he comes back?

Because I struggle with the issue of God’s judgment, I wanted to take some time to explore exactly what that means. The bible seems to refer to two types of judgment. One is the type of judgment that is to occur at the end of ages. This is what tends to capture the contemporary imagination. How many have ever seen a movie or read a book that purports to describe what God’s judgment will be like at the end of the world? Or, that describes how and when God will judge us in the afterlife? There is no question that the Bible makes reference to some kind of ultimate judgment, though theologians throughout the centuries have disagreed on what and when that judgment will be. But the judgment referred to in Isaiah and Psalms is a different kind. It discusses a type of judgment that occurs within the earthly life of its listeners. It describes how real world events will occur that will punish those who fail to follow God’s command. The Assyrian army that defeats Israel is claimed to be operating according to the God’s will. This claim will also be made about the Babylonian army that eventually takes Jerusalem and destroys the temple.

So, how then are we to understand this worldly judgment? Does this mean that every time a nation loses a battle, every time a hurricane hits, that this is God’s will? I am probably not alone in being uncomfortable with that. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans several years ago, I recall that Pat Robertson claimed God had sent it to punish the United States for allowing abortion to occur. I scoffed at his claims, but is he justified based on this reading of Isaiah? On a wider reading of scripture?

Though there are many theories as to how God’s judgment on earth functions, I think they can largely be divided into three categories. The first is that God actively seeks to punish those who fail to bring about justice here on earth, or; that God’s protection is withdrawn from those who defy him. This certainly seems to be the position in the parts of the Hebrew scripture that show God striking down those who commit evil. Now this can be scary in the parts that refer to a vengeful God. But, if God is active in this way, then God could also provide direct comfort, healing and relief to those who are obedient. There is certainly some justification for this understanding. One note of caution, however. Even if we were to accept this explanation, that does not mean that we can claim to understand exactly when and why actions are occurring in the world. We claim too much if we can say that an earthquake occurred for such and such reason. This assumes a far greater knowledge of the divine then we can humbly assume. However, this also means that we have to grapple with difficult issues like the Holocaust. Are we really ready to claim that it was God’s will for it to occur?

But, this is not the only understanding that is possible from scripture. Indeed, in the book of Job, Job loses his wealth, his family, and his health even though he has always been a righteous man. When his friends try to explain that God is punishing him for being a sinner, Job protests that they are wrong. By the end of the book, God appears and condemns Job’s friends for making these claims. However, when Job challenges God to explain why this has occurred, God responds that this is not for any human to question. It is only God who has the perspective of the entire world; thus we could never understand God’s actions if we tried. This seems to be a middle ground claiming that while God may act, we as humans have no way of understanding where, how or when. Under this understand, we would shy away from making any claim on God. Though God might have acted, we would never make a statement that “God desired for someone to die so that they might be in heaven.” To say this is to make a claim to understand the workings of God.

The third way to understand God’s judgment on earth is called natural law. This means that God has set up a world where cause and effect operate according to a certain set of rules. For instance, if I were to through this book, the rules of gravity say that it will eventually drop and fall. Furthermore, if I hit Ted down there while throwing it, he’s going to have a predictable reaction of being upset with me. Do I need to test this theory, or can we just assume Ted doesn’t want me to hit him with a book? The point is that we live in a world that is predictable, through so complex that we can often misunderstand the effect of the actions we might take. So, on the plus side, this would resolve the issue about a loving God actively punishing people. We can say that God always wants us to do good, influences us to make the best decisions possible, but does not actively intervene. This too has basis in scripture- in the book of Esther, humans are at the center of the action. Though they operate morally according to what they believe God wants them to do, God does not intervene at the time of crisis but instead leaves things in the hands of humanity. Furthermore, in the New Testament, it is clear that many righteous people, including Jesus himself, face the natural consequences of challenging the powerful Roman Empire- they are executed. They were not punished because of what they did wrong, but the response of the empire to their challenge took a somewhat predictable route.

So, why take this detour into trying to understand God’s judgment? Partly because I think we often struggle with the issue of why bad things happen. If we take the time to explore just how God functions, it can help us in a time of crisis. But, I think it’s also important to point out that multiple ways in which scripture understands God acting. Rather than allowing one particular understanding of God to become entrenched, scripture actually encourages dialogue and preserves disagreement. Thus, no person should be able to claim an absolute understanding of God that cannot be swayed, but we must instead follow our fathers and mothers in faith in being open to how different perspectives might challenge and enrich our understanding of God.

This brings us to the second J- justice. When we talk about justice in the Bible, we can generally all agree in theory to the demands- we believe in humility, we can applaud Isaiah’s call to “do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” We might squirm at the command to “sell our goods and give alms,” but we at least applaud the theory. But what happens when we try to talk about justice in the here and now. Well, it gets us into sticky concepts like health care, immigration, welfare, unemployment, abortion, world hunger, torture, and issues of war and peace. Given the volatility on these issues, we are sometimes tempted to remain silent. In fact, in the psalm, God says that when the people committed injustice, they thought he would remain silent like they usually did, but instead, God speaks. If we are to mold ourselves in the divine image, it means we must not be silent about issues of injustice.

But, how do we do that without treading on to sticky issues where many of us will disagree? Won’t discussing these issues mean disagreement and possible discord within the church? My answer to that would be- yes, absolutely. It is much “safer” to say that such and such is a political issue and has no place in the church. But, God is not a God of the church. God is lord of all of creation. When we say that Jesus Christ is Lord, we are not saying he is lord of our prayers, of our singing or of our sermons, but of our entire lives. So we must not be silent on these issues; and we must not avoid them simply to keep the peace.

But, what we can do, is come at them with a bit of humility. If the writers of scripture are content to leave multiple interpretations of the work of God’s judgment, might we be open to the expression of multiple understandings of contemporary issues of justice? If my understanding of God can be enriched through multiple viewpoints in scripture, cannot our understanding of immigration, abortion and the like be enriched through really and truly listening to those with different opinions?

Now, I can be as guilty as the rest. When I get going on issues, my mind and ears can shut out others. But we’ve got to try. If we can’t figure out how to talk about these things as Christian people who love one another, what hope is there for the rest of the world? How can we answer God’s cries for justice if we refuse to talk, or listen? Let us see if we can make this church a place where we can talk and work for God’s justice. Otherwise, our inaction will lead us to the point of dealing with God’s judgment- in whatever form that takes.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Being at home

Matthew 7: 24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.’

Home has been a word that has been floating around my consciousness lately. One month in to my appointment at IUMC, I’ve been so grateful for the ways in which everyone in the congregation has tried to make me feel at home. I’ve been received with kindness and have been continually encouraged by the excitement in the congregation for continuing to build and expand on our ministries.

Furthermore, I’m looking forward to experiencing my first Independence Home Days. As I understand it, the Home Days are a time in which the community can come together in fellowship to celebrate our heritage. We do so in part by honoring those who laid the foundation upon which this community currently stands.

We in the church operate in a similar way. We build upon the work of our forbearers to continue the living ministry of Jesus Christ. We remember John Wollpert who was appointed by the German Evangelical Association, a predesessor to the United Methodist Church, to this region in 1854 and held the first worship services in German. We remember John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, for seeing that the church had lost touch and going out into the streets to preach and act upon the good news proclaimed in Christianity. And, of course, all that we do is modeled after the saving work of Jesus Christ, who came to this Earth 2,000 years ago to preach about the coming and present Kingdom of God in which all people would be made whole (the literal translation of salvation) and healing would reign throughout all of creation.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells a story of two people who build houses. One builds the foundation upon the sand while the other builds on a rock. When the rain and floods come, the house on the rock stands strong while the other is washed away. Many of us know this story well enough to know that Jesus is the rock upon which the wise person builds a foundation. However, its often overlooked that Jesus was calling specifically for those who “hear these words of mind and act.” It’s not enough to know what Jesus says, we must with all of our being try to live out the life that Jesus proclaimed.

So, as these home days approach, I ask you to consider the ways in which this congregation can bring healing to this community? How might we bring the peace of Christ to every person regardless of where they stand or what they believe? How might we show those who are discouraged that there is a God who loves them and a people who are willing to live out that love? May we find a way to make all people feel that when they enter into the doors of this church, they will truly be coming home.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Keeping our feet on the ground while our heads are in the clouds

Scripture Texts for August 1st, 2010.

Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21


Sam was walking through his village when he came across a large crowd. He was in a hurry to get home, but it seemed every which way he turned the crowd blocked his path. Curious as to why a crowd was gathered in this normally sleepy village, he asked a woman on the outskirts what all the commotion was about.

She replied- “I heard that there is a famous preacher in town. He and his followers are known for their generosity, wisdom and healing powers. I’m trying to get close enough to hear him speak.”

Sam grew excited by the news. What fortune for him to have stumbled across such an important man! He began to push his way through the crowd to get to the front. As he was pushing, he heard people in the crowd discussing what the man had said.

One woman excitedly proclaimed- “He has revealed to us the secret of prayer. He has taught us how we are to pray to our God, and explained that if we are persistent, God will answer.” Sam knew he must obtain this knowledge. He pushed further.

A man excitedly yelled- “Did you see that? Ever since I was born, I haven’t been able to speak. I have struggled my whole life, always misunderstood and unable to communicate my feelings. This Jesus healed me. I know the religious authorities think he is from the devil, but I am proof that he is from God.” Sam grew even more excited. Surely this Jesus was a powerful man sent directly from God. I must get to the front of the crowd.

Sam pushed and shoved, no one could slow him down. He stepped over a child who had fallen; he scratched and clawed his away through a crowd that just would not give way. Though he couldn’t see Jesus, he was finally close enough to hear him.

“"I've had it with you! You're hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God's love. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.” Sam laughed aloud. He had never heard the Pharisees spoken to in that way. He had little use for religion and thus was happy someone had finally told off these sanctimonious leaders.

Sam had finally pushed is way to the front of the crowd. He saw that Jesus’ followers were becoming frightened by the threats of the Pharisees. Jesus responded by saying- “Do not be afraid. When they drag you into their meeting places, or into police courts and before judges, don't worry about defending yourselves—what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there. The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the time comes."

The crowd roared. The tension had built to a crescendo. Jesus had revealed that God would come down to earth and help all those that followed him. God’s spirit would be upon them and God would be with them. They were elated by the news; no longer afraid.

Suddenly, Sam cried out. “Everyone be quiet! Shut up! Jesus, you must listen to me. I want your advice. Tell everyone to be quiet.” The Pharisees, the disciples, the crowd all looked aghast at the Sam. He continued- “My brother took something and I want it back.”

Really. Are you kidding me? He sees Jesus heal; sees him cast out demons; he knows he is of God, and he hears the news that God’s Spirit is coming to be amongst them, and when Sam gets the attention, he whines about some family dispute. How incredible! How strange! How….selfish.

The parable of the rich fool is likely one we are all familiar with. We know the story of the man who selfishly stores up his riches only to die. It is an important story about hoarding money and was one of John Wesley’s favorites. It indeed is a scathing parable that should cause us all to consider how we use our money. But, I think sometimes we skip right over the man, the one I’ve called Sam, who is the occasion for the story. The man asks about a dispute regarding inheritance. Now, based on the context, most scholars will tell you that the brother requesting the division of the inheritance would be seen as greedy - the brother would be trying acquire for his own personal possession a share of the family inheritance.” 1 So, not only is Sam interrupting this important speech by Jesus and insisting on attention to his personal matter, he’s trying to get Jesus to help him cheat.

So, if you stumbled face to face with Jesus today, would you do better? I certainly hope so. I do think so. But sometimes I wonder. Perhaps Sam didn’t quite know what was going on. He may have heard Jesus, he may have seen what Jesus was doing, but perhaps he was so caught up in the day-to-day aspects of his life that it just went over his head. Maybe he didn’t quite grasp the gravity of what was going on; maybe he didn’t quite get whom Jesus was. Now, if we consider the situation in that light, I’m afraid I might not do so well.

You see, all too often I think we get caught up in the individual things that are going on in our lives and we fail to see the bigger picture. We rush to meet all our obligations, we worry about the bills we have to pay (often for the purchase of things we don’t really need), we get wrapped up in the minor details of everyday life. None of these things are wrong individually. But there is also something seductive about them. When we rush through life preoccupied with our own interests, the world around us can become a blur.

You see, the story from Luke today is about greed, but it’s not just about greed. It’s also about selfishness. Its about getting so caught up in the daily petty disputes that you can fail to see the ways in which God maybe working all around you. And often, it can be about making decisions with only your interests in mind, and not that of the wider community.

I think we can see this happening in many places in our country. All too often we see it in our political discourse. Whenever the subject of taxes, health care, immigration, frankly any subject, comes up, the discourse seems to revolve around what am I going to get out of it. How will I be affected? Or, we practice a form of tribalism where we think only in terms of our nations interests. The question is not what serves the interests of all people, but how can my nation remain on top and in power.

We as Christians have to do better. We have got to figure out ways in which we can make decisions about important matters in our country while moving beyond personal or even at times national self interest.

Of course, we are not unique in this struggle. The people of Corinth struggled also. Even though they were new Christians excited by the prospect of following Jesus Christ, they found it difficult to maintain the enthusiasm and drive that they had first had. Where at the beginning they may have been focused on their new lives and identities, they quickly became mired in fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. All of these began to affect the community and drag them away from the good work. The community, which had been strong, began to dissolve as fights broke out about different understandings of God. In the words of Paul, their minds began to be set on earthly things instead of heavenly things. He urged them to return their focus to the heavens.

I’ll admit that I struggle with how to balance this at times. I certainly understand Paul’s admonition against concentrating on earthly things. But, I’ve also seen distortion occur by those who purport to only focus on heavenly things. There are some, while sincere in their beliefs and worship of God, who seem bent on escaping the world. Instead of focusing on how they can change the world in the present to benefit all of God’s creation, they withdrawal and yearn for they day in which they can be removed from it all. In a way, this can be just as selfish as the man who stored all his grains in the barn. The focus is not on being generous and loving to one’s neighbor; it’s on their own personal assurance of securing their future in the life to come. There must be some middle ground. To turn a phrase, there must be a way to keep one’s head in the clouds while also keeping one’s feet on the ground.

How many of you have ever used a compus? It can be invaluable if you are trying to find your way through the woods. Since the compus always knows the way north, it can help you make your way though the wilderness even when you can’t see very far in front of you. It doesn’t matter how hot, cold, or difficult the terrain; it is independent of your present condition and always continues to point the same way. But, simply following the compus with no regards to your surroundings is bound to get you hurt. Hiking through the woods you will always encounter obstacles. You may find a raging river in your path; a cliff that you cannot climb down; a patch of briars that will tear up your skin. Thus, despite the fact that the compus points the general direction, you must adapt to your surroundings if you are to find the true path to lead you out of harms way.

So, what is our compus in Christianity? We as Methodists have declared that we essentially have four cardinal directions that help us to navigate our faith. First and foremost, our true north if you will, is scripture. It is in scripture that we learn of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the unyielding nature of God’s love for creation, and the stunning news that the Kingdom of God is bursting forth hear on this earth. Despite its primacy, though, we have wisely noted that there are three other points of direction that help to lead us in our decision-making. The second is tradition- our ancestors sought out the will of God in their lives also- we are foolish if we assume they can provide us no guidance. The third- reason. God has created us with minds that help us to sort through the probabilities and determine what is the most logical course of action. We fail to use our God-given gifts if we fail to use reason. Lastly, experience. We all have witnessed a great variety of things that has taught us the ways of God in the world. We only truly know hunger if we have ourselves been hungry or have witnessed people starve. We know God not simply because of doctrine, but because we have experienced God’s presence in our lives.

These four points can help to guide us on our way. When we use them, we’ll gain a wider perspective on life. It won’t simply be about my personal self-interest, but we might actively seek the wider work of God in all of creation. It is then when we may be stripped of our old selves- the pettiness, the narrowness, the judgment, the selfishness- and may instead be renewed in knowledge according to the image of our creator. We may become the people we were created to be. May we seek out the way.