witness

What About the Jews?

Romans 9:1-13 (NLT)

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.

Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children. For God had promised, “I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”


No one likes to think about losing someone he or she loves. Paul is concerned about losing the vast majority of his people, the Jews, for all eternity.

It is a disturbing idea for any loving person even today, one that can still puzzle us if we have Jewish friends, or for that matter, friends of any faiths other than Christianity. What about the Jews, specifically those Jews who do not see Christ as the Messiah? What about the other people around us who have never accepted Christ or even flatly reject the idea of Jesus as savior?

Paul clearly is in pain as he raises the topic in his letter to the Romans. This is not some vague theological exercise for him. As he rhetorically explores the issue, he surely is thinking of specific people: family; mentors, perhaps like his respected teacher Gamaliel; sincere fellow students who had rigorously studied Judaism alongside him; the faithful Jewish vendor who sold him lunch in the marketplace.

We have to be careful not to read too much into his angst, however. While he is in pain for his people, the Jews, he does not speak as a man wrestling with a question. In that way, he is very different from some of us. Paul knows the answer because he has directly experienced the risen Christ. He understands and accepts the exclusive claims Christ made regarding his ministry and his sacrifice on the cross.

When we struggle with the question, “What about the others,” we actually are debating an idea that has been clearly defined for us in Scripture. A lot of us simply don’t like the answer. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life; there is no other way for sinful beings to reconnect to a holy God except through Jesus. (I’m referencing the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 1 through 11, here.)

Sometimes, it doesn’t seem fair. Paul says as much in next week’s text, although he quickly discounts this notion of unfairness. In this week’s text, he notes the Jews were “adopted” by God as the People of Israel, using the same familial language we heard last week when we considered our own status as adopted children. He recounts the history of revealed glory and covenants entered, and the giving of the law. Worship has been happening among the Jews, and promises were made.

It just seems like they’ve been trying so hard! The same can be said for our religious non-Christian friends, and Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama, and all those other good people we have seen.

If you take Scripture seriously at all, though, some truths about the nature of Jesus are undeniable. Jesus came as the result of those promises to the Jews. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the promises, a fulfillment so great that from Jesus’ day on, we live in a time described to Abraham thousands of years ago.

Through Abraham’s Jewish descendants, God has blessed “all the families on earth” (Genesis 12:3). He has gone to great lengths to ensure any human being can be saved from sin simply by believing. If the Jews reject Jesus, they reject a promise first made to them. If others reject Jesus, they reject a promise extended to all of humanity.

Perhaps our problem with the exclusive claims of Christianity lies not in how God works, but in how we respond to God’s work. We sit back and say, “How can God be working this way,” and never for a moment consider what we are called to do in response to Christ’s sacrifice and the resultant gift being offered.

If you’re concerned about someone’s relationship with God, you are called to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To do so, you need to understand the message so well that you can relate it to nonbelievers in a winsome, non-threatening, non-judgmental way.

The non-judgmental part is very important, by the way. Only God can ultimately determine who is aligned with him and who is not. We are called to bear his loving invitation to others, not his judgment.

There is an art to such witnessing, and all of us as Christians need to develop this art form as best we can.

Someone among this congregation recently put it this way in reference to evangelism: How much do you have to hate a person to not tell that person about Jesus? Those of us who call ourselves Christians know the source of eternal life; we have found the path to God.

It is as if you are crawling through the scorching desert with others, dying of thirst, and you stumble across a cool, flowing spring rising up out of the sand.

How dare you not call out, “The water is here! It’s here!” You would have to really hate those other people to leave them to their deaths, crawling around in the sand.

If there seems to be a gap in God’s plan for salvation, it’s very possible our reluctance to share the Good News contributes greatly to the gap.

Paul concludes what we hear today by starting a deeper examination of why some seem to be favored by God while others are not. He reminds his audience of a very Jewish story, the story of the twins Jacob and Esau. Even before birth, one is clearly favored by God, while the other is not.

It will take us a few weeks to unpack the idea he is offering us here. Prepare to go deep.


The featured image is Giovanni Maria Bottala’s “Meeting between Esau & Jacob,” circa 1638.

 

With Us in the Last Days

Acts 2:1-21

The most immediate and personal expression of God usually is the most difficult for us to comprehend.

For many Christians, the first story that comes to mind regarding the Holy Spirit is the one we celebrate at Pentecost, the falling of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers. While the Pentecost story found in Acts 2 is powerful, I have wondered if its mysterious tone contributes to the confusion even longtime Christians sometimes experience.

The Spirit rushed in like wind and danced like fire on about 120 of Jesus’ followers. They began to speak loudly in languages they did not previously know, attracting a crowd, some of whom accused them of being drunk.

In other words, the Spirit caused them to behave in a way that made people stare.

That can make people who don’t like to be stared at a little uncomfortable with the idea of encountering the Holy Spirit directly. Open yourself to the Spirit, and hey, the next thing you know, you might be speaking in tongues. (Speaking in tongues is biblical, by the way, although the gift should be used with limitations; see 1 Corinthians 14.)

It helps me to spend time studying what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit’s purpose in John’s gospel, specifically, in chapters 15 and 16. It is a purpose designed for the last days, the era between the Spirit’s arrival and the return of Christ, the era we live in now.

Working through us, the Holy Spirit accomplishes three particular tasks, laid out in John 16:8-11.

Task no. 1 is to provide a clear definition of sin. In this new era, all sin is rooted in the failure to fully declare in our hearts and with our mouths that Jesus is our savior. When we do this—when we humble ourselves enough to say we are dependent on God and cannot save ourselves through strength, intellect, wealth or power—we open ourselves to discerning what is and is not God’s will.

For most Christians, even devoted ones, it remains an imperfect understanding, of course. So many aspects of our broken humanity, in particular our emotions, still get in the way. That is why Scripture remains so important to us, even with the Spirit at work in us. We know God is unchanging, and that thoughts and feelings we experience cannot be from God if they conflict with clear scriptural teachings. We are blessed in the last days with dual revelations co-witnessing to Christ, one written for our eyes and one whispered to our spirits.

Task no. 2 is to declare to the world that Jesus is right in what he taught and continues to teach through the Holy Spirit. Now, it is not politically correct these days to declare anyone right. “Tolerant” has replaced “righteous” as the secular description of an upstanding member of the community. But guided by the Holy Spirit, we are to share with the world the definition for righteousness, as provided by God. Jesus, as revealed in the Bible, is the shining example of righteousness.

This is not as harsh a task as it might sound. The word “righteous” can have such negative connotations. But remember, from a Christian perspective, righteousness is best defined as loving God completely while at the same time loving other people as we want to be loved. We obey God, but a big part of that obedience is loving and forgiving people who are difficult to love, even when their sin touches us negatively in some way.

Task no. 3 is to declare that judgment already has come and remains under way. When Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross, he meant that his work to break the power of evil in this world is complete. As terrible and messy as it can be at times, our fight with evil is now a mop-up operation. The evil spiritual forces opposing God know they have been defeated because God’s Spirit is visible to them in the world.

Note that all of this involves our active participation. God wants us to play a part, in the process growing into the beings he intended us to be. Trusting the Holy Spirit, we are a people who are working to expand Christ’s kingdom and waiting for Christ’s return.

We may have other work we do to get by, along the lines of Paul continuing to make tents while in Corinth, but service to God’s kingdom is our primary reason to exist. Anything we put ahead of that responsibility likely is an idol.

Let me add something important: It is glorious work. If you seek meaning in life, know that the moments you walk hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit to serve God’s kingdom will be your best moments. We can even make what should have been otherwise mundane moments shine with the glory of God, if only we learn to constantly look for opportunities to let the Holy Spirit work through us.

Hear again the mystery in Peter’s words as he speaks of people working in conjunction with the Holy Spirit in these last days:

“Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

If you want a life that is more than what you feel you have now—if you want a life that transcends a normal life—engage fully with God’s Spirit. He is available to you always through prayer and meditation, in the sacraments, through Scripture, and in all those other places God has promised to meet you.

Show and Tell

It’s the end of the Pentecost story that intrigues me. Any preacher would like to see 3,000 give their lives to Christ following a sermon.

What led to that astonishing response remains instructive for us today. In the events of Pentecost, I see a model for evangelism so simple a kindergartener should be able to grasp it.

God led the way, of course, and God still leads the way today. Pentecost began with Jesus’ followers waiting and praying, just as Jesus had told them to do before he ascended into heaven. God arrived as the Holy Spirit in wind and something that looked like flame, and the earliest church members received a power they did not have before. Specifically, they were able to declare Jesus as Lord and Savior and be understood regardless of the audience’s language.

As followers of Christ today, we know Christ told us to tell others that salvation is available. We also believe the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Logically, we should speak, knowing God’s work will be done in those who hear us.

Practically, however, most Christians seldom witness to others about their faith. I believe it is largely our fears that prevent the Holy Spirit from going to work through us—fear of not knowing what to say, fear of looking foolish, fear of making someone angry, fear of seeming different.

Maybe, just maybe, this Pentecost model I think I see is simple enough to undo some of that fear.

The model in the Pentecost story is as simple as show and tell. You remember how show and tell works. You find something that excites you, you take it to class, and you show it off. Your friends are intrigued. They want to know more. You tell them more.

First, God showed the early church in tangible ways the Holy Spirit was with them. Wind and fire. Supernatural gifts. How could they doubt?

In their excitement, they showed others what they could do; they demonstrated the changes in their lives.

That should be easy enough for us to do today. Our faith should make us different in ways people can spot. We should show more love, grace and forgiveness than we would without Christ in our lives. There should be a core of joy that remains with us regardless of our circumstances. People should sit up and say, “I want what that person has.”

If we don’t have much to show—if we’re not different than before our conversion—we need to re-examine our relationship with God. Maybe ideas like love, forgiveness and grace really haven’t sunk in.

Get the show right, and the tell becomes easy. People probably won’t be converted by your actions, but many in this searching, jaded world at least will want to hear what you have to say. Peter began his sermon in answer to a question: “What does this mean?”

Yes, some sneered at what they saw; some will always sneer. Peter just used their sneering as an opening to further capture the attention of the intrigued.

The sermon was straightforward. Peter was, after all, a simple man. He connected the Jewish audience to prophecy being fulfilled that day and in recent days prior. He declared Jesus to be their Messiah. He confronted them with the sin of not recognizing their Savior, of killing him. The 3,000 were “cut to the heart,” repented, and were baptized.

The tell is always the story of Jesus. God among us, Jesus taught love and forgiveness. He died on the cross to break the power of sin. He is risen. Each piece may need explaining, but the story is simple.
Show and tell. Try it. You might be surprised who watches and listens.

Wind in Our Sails: Our Witness

We’ve reached the last mast on our Lenten ship, the final part of our membership vows that allow us to catch the Holy Spirit and propel our church into the future. Today, we’re going to talk about our pledge to be a witness for Jesus Christ in the world.

This requirement for Christians is straightforward; the Bible records Jesus making clear his expectations on this matter in several places. Today I’m working from Acts 1:6-8, a record of the resurrected Jesus’ words just before he ascends into heaven.

Jesus was speaking to his followers standing before him, of course, but he also was speaking to those of us who follow him centuries later. Those in his presence would tell his story in Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria and even more distant points. But for the word of Christ to spread to “the ends of the earth,” every generation of Christians must be involved.

While the requirement is straightforward, many Christians behave as if the act of witnessing is too complicated or involves words and phrases that are somehow embarrassing to utter. I have just one goal today. I want to give you a simple strategy for explaining Jesus to someone who has not accepted Jesus as Savior.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier sermons and teachings, it helps if you have a relationship with the person already. Step 1: Be friendly. For a Christian filled with God’s love, this should not be too difficult.

If your new friend doesn’t know Christ, opportunities to be a witness will abound. Trust me. I’m continually amazed at how those who don’t yet know Christ will steer the conversation toward the nature of my faith without my prompting. And yes, this used to happen before I was a pastor.

To give that conversation some structure, learn this simple sentence: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” One of my seminary professors used to say that this four-word sentence is the core of Christianity. It was perhaps the earliest creed of the church.

Let’s break the sentence down.

Jesus is a historical character, one of the best attested historical characters of his era, with four accounts of his ministry in the gospels and numerous mentions of his life and work in letters from his followers. There also is evidence of his existence outside the Bible.

As he was very real in human terms, I like to imagine what he looked like. We don’t have a lot to help us describe Jesus’ appearance; writers in the New Testament era simply didn’t provide information about a person’s physical characteristics like we see in modern writing.

He was Jewish; it’s not hard to think of him with black curly hair and a beard. Tall or short, Jesus also likely had a powerful physique. We translate his occupation as “carpenter,” but the Greek word teknon really has a more generalized meaning like “construction worker.” Jesus worked hard in a pre-power tool era, and by the time he was in his thirties he surely had the muscles to go along with the work. I also have trouble imagining a frail Jesus clearing the temple with a whip of cords.

I point this out to emphasize his humanity, and to counter an image of Jesus that troubles some men and makes church unattractive to them. Artwork, movies and the way we speak of Jesus or read his words sometimes make Jesus look frail or effeminate, a wispy, doe-eyed figure exuding a weak, false image of spirituality. When that happens, we lose Jesus as a strong male role model.

And yet, this man’s man preached love and forgiveness. Like God, in strength and power there is peace.

We take the man to a new level when we call him Christ, another word for Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jews’ hopes, and of our hopes.

In God’s covenant with Abraham, the man who would father the Jewish people, there were three basic promises: that the Israelites would be a great nation, with land; that his descendants would be numerous; and that blessings would abound, including a blessing for all the families of the earth.

When we call Jesus “Christ,” we place him in that stream of history recorded in the Old Testament. He is that blessing for all the families of the earth.

The tiny word “is” holds a place of great importance in this sentence because of its present tense. Jesus is not a history lesson. He is for today, ruling in heaven as part of the Trinity. He also continues to work among us by sending us the Holy Spirit, the same aspect of God empowering Jesus’ ministry.

When we speak of Jesus in the present tense, we affirm that his sacrifice on the cross was effective and that the resurrection happened. Jesus died, but now he lives.

The last word, “Lord,” declares that Jesus is over and above all things. As Christians, we test all of our other interests and loyalties by whether they supersede our allegiance to Christ as Savior.

If they do, they have to go. Calling Jesus “Lord” is what got the early Christians in trouble. They were using a title that was supposed to be reserved for the Roman emperor.

That’s the core understanding of Christianity; we pray that those who hear our witness will accept that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We also need to be conscious that when we take people to that point of understanding, they still need our help. They now have a new belief system, but as they explore it, they will find significant parts of their lives are in conflict with Jesus’ teachings.

James wrote of the danger of being double-minded. Psychologists talk of cognitive dissonance, the pain experienced when we try to hold conflicting ideas in our heads. While we’re saved at the moment we believe, a conversion is not truly complete until that double-mindedness is resolved.

Such resolution is worth pursuing. It is the moment we achieve our greatest joy and peace.

That truth reminds me of one of the best reasons for witnessing. Telling people of Christ ultimately is an act of love, a gift from God that we’re allowed to deliver.

Wind in Our Sails: Our Prayers

To move more swiftly as a church, we need to better understand the commitments we made when joining Cassidy UMC. You may recall pledging your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and, if you joined in recent years, your witness.

Think of a five-masted sailing ship. Each mast represents one part of our pledge, and we don’t want to let the sails on any of those masts go slack through inattention. If we do, we miss our opportunity to catch the wind that is always blowing, the Holy Spirit.

This week, I want us to focus on our pledge to pray. Few Christians would openly decline to call prayer important, but I’m also very aware of the large number of Christians who struggle with what prayer really means, how it works, or why it’s important.

Jesus, of course, taught us to pray. The classic example is where he said, “Pray then in this way,” and then taught us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus also showed us how to pray while he was in more difficult situations, and I think it would be instructive for us to look at what may have been his lowest moment on earth.

I’m working from Mark 14:32-36; there are similar passages in Matthew and Luke. I say Jesus was at his lowest point here because the full reality of his impending torture and crucifixion had settled on him, but he had yet to find solace and strength from God the Father.

“In effect, Jesus stepped beyond the circle of light cast by God’s presence into pitch blackness in the jungle of evil,” writes biblical scholar and preacher David L. McKenna. “Before this moment, He had theoretically accepted the responsibility for bearing the sins of the whole world. Now, terror tells Him what it really means.”

Jesus’ humanity was on full display; he described himself to his disciples as “deeply grieved, even to death.” With no alternate routes around the cross visible, Jesus threw himself on the ground and began to pray, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Even in his perfection Jesus did not want to face his terrible suffering to come. He prayed earnestly and in very personal terms to Father God, using the Aramaic word for “Dad,” the same word Jewish children might use in speaking in a familiar way to their fathers.

It was Jesus’ hope that God the Father, who retained full divine knowledge and understanding, perhaps knew a less painful solution hidden from the Son, who also was fully God but limited in knowledge by his temporal flesh.

In the prayer, however, there also was recognition that the cross very likely was the only way for the Father’s will to come to fruition. God’s will ultimately is a positive, wonderful result for all humanity. God wills that we do not suffer for our sins.

Only Jesus in his suffering and death could make fulfillment of God’s will possible, however, and his “not what I want, but what you want” shows us the deepest goal of prayer. Prayer should lead us to put aside our will, our desires, and replace all of that with God’s will in every circumstance.

This is a very Methodist concept. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wanted people to understand the need for “sanctification,” that process Christians undergo after turning their lives over to Christ. It largely is a process of becoming more Christlike in our thoughts and actions, learning to love others as Christ has loved the world.

When we love in such a way, our will becomes more and more conformed to God’s will.

For those of you who want to pursue sanctification by deepening your prayer lives, I’ll offer just a couple of brief ideas. We can better develop these ideas in other settings, such as Sunday school or in prayer groups.

There are lots of ways to pray, ranging from highly formal to very informal. As we’re a supposedly busy people, I’ll group them broadly according to time commitments.

It is very healthy for any Christian to learn to commit a block of time to prayer each day. If you’re just starting to pray in an organized, committed way, it may be that 15 minutes will seem like a long time to you. Commit at least to that; in that time, find how you best commune with God, remembering that the goal is to understand and follow God’s will. If you want to discuss the “hows” of such prayer further, I’m always happy to have that conversation.

I also find it useful to try to lift up little prayers throughout the day. For example, if you see a person in need of prayer, pray then and there, even if it is with your eyes open, going about your business. Such prayers, I think, keep us constantly seeking the will of God in our everyday lives—we become more conscious of how God is working in the world and remember to seek God’s will in every moment.

Next week, we’ll talk about filling the sails on our second mast, presence.

Wind in Our Sails

I plan to spend the next five Sundays in a seafaring mood, talking about how our church can have the weather gauge in our battle with the devil.

Now, I’m no sailor. And “weather gauge,” used in the context of ships going to war, is an antiquated term, better suited to the wind-driven ships of Admiral Horatio Nelson than the nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers of today. But I like the metaphor all the same.

What little I know of sea battles comes from books, specifically stories in what fans call the “Aubrey-Maturin series.” Through 20 books, author Patrick O’Brian tells an ongoing tale of early 19th-century British captain Jack Aubrey and his close friend, Stephen Maturin, a shipboard surgeon who occasionally disembarks to work as a spy. During the last three years or so, I’ve read 15 of these books. Yes, I instead should have been deepening my understanding of theology or New Testament Greek, but we all have our weaknesses.

What makes these stories fun is simple: These sailing men (and the occasional woman, sometimes smuggled aboard) are going places all over the world. As any dog or small child will attest, it’s just fun to go. And in the early 19th century, if you were going to go somewhere far fast, you needed the wind to fill your sails.

Having the wind working for you also helped when you encountered the enemy in your travels. Having the weather gauge meant that you were windward of the enemy, capable of charging down upon them at the time of your choosing, guns blazing. Such a position didn’t guarantee success, but

Battle of the Nile

most captains preferred to have the weather gauge. In the words of the aforementioned Nelson, “Never mind about maneuvers, go straight at ’em.”

Despite how grounded our church buildings may seem, the church itself moves through an ocean of time, headed for a place so spectacular as to be almost unimaginable. The Enemy hopes to sink us before we arrive, of course.

The Holy Spirit is the wind that keeps us moving and gives us the weather gauge against evil Captain Scratch. When you join the Methodist Church, you promise to do your part to keep our sails rigged using five tools: your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

Prepare to weigh anchor.

New Year’s Commitments

I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. Even though the concept is rooted in the word “resolve,” it seems that resolutions are made to be broken.

If you don’t believe me, just ask some gym managers to tell you what months their treadmill and weight room usage peaks, and how quickly that usage declines. Resolutions are mostly about us saying, “I’ll give it a shot and see what happens.”

Christian living is about year-round commitment, the kind of wholehearted, “I’m in” attitude that raises our level of joy dramatically. Christian commitment drives Christian ministry, changing the world for the better. And because Christian commitment has a huge spiritual component, it also is sustained by the Holy Spirit, helping us avoid burnout.

All of us in church, myself included, need to take time occasionally to measure our commitment. The first of the year is as good a time as any.

As a starting point, here’s a basic question: How are we responding to the salvation freely given to us by Jesus Christ? Because all Christians are called to spread the good news, I would suggest that our commitment should in some way sustain the church’s primary mission: to offer Christ to those who don’t understand that salvation is available.

When you commit to pray, you are changing the world. Pray for the lost, pray for the hurting, pray for the church to be effective. I’ll admit that how prayer works is often a mystery. Pray anyway. We pray in faith, knowing we’re pushing creation toward full reunion with God.

When you commit to be present in the life of the church, you empower your local congregation to better do God’s work in the local community. You help your church worship well; you help your church serve the world. For example, at Cassidy UMC, you might find yourself feeding the hungry, something this congregation particularly likes to do. Or maybe you’ll help us grow our children and youth into the Christian adults the world so desperately needs. There are lots of opportunities to serve.

When you commit your gifts of money, you make ministry happen. Yes, the church needs your money; every institution in our culture needs money to operate, and in a church run by good stewards, the money is used in holy ways. I feel I’ve been at Cassidy long enough to affirm that buildings and staff are in place so that people may know Christ. Also, Cassidy’s budgets are designed so that others may know Christ through our ministries.

An unfunded church is like a car without gas—it’s going nowhere. Can you commit a percentage of your income in 2012? A church filled with tithers, people who commit 10 percent of their income toward ministry, can do great ministry quickly. Few American churches are full of tithers, nor even committed givers. Too few Christians are carrying the load for others.

When you commit to be a witness, you promise to know the story of Jesus Christ well enough to tell it. Therefore, you also are making a commitment to study. You then find people who need to hear the story, building friendships along the way so you earn the right to tell it.

When Jesus died for our sins, he didn’t do it halfheartedly. The cross took commitment. And in committing to the cross despite his anxiety, best revealed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus became all his Father intended him to be.

For us, too, commitment is not about rules. It is about becoming what God would have us be, in the process helping the world become what God says it will be.