God Is Faithful

5 10 2011

Becky Savageby BECKY SAVAGE, First Presidency

Scripture tells us God is faithful in relationship with all creation. Hebrew scriptures, especially the Psalms, assure us of God’s faithfulness.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. —Psalm 36:5–6 NRSV

The New Testament provides more insights into God’s faithfulness. God offered the most-generous gift, a faithful Son; one to show us God’s intention for our relationships with God, each other, and creation.

The Gospels offer stories about Jesus in relationships. Jesus teaches by sharing parables that uphold the worth of all persons and protect the most vulnerable. Jesus says faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mulberry tree into the ocean or make mountains move (Luke 17:6, Matthew 17:20).

Jesus and Faithful Relationships

How are relationships and faith intertwined? Consider the example of the friends of a paralytic man (Mark 2:1–12, Matthew 9:1–8, Luke 5:17–26). They are concerned for their friend’s physical needs and are convinced through faith that Jesus heals. The paralyzed man also has faith in his friends. He trusts them to lower him through a roof safely to Jesus, the healer.

Sensing the men’s faith, Jesus tells the paralyzed man “your sins are forgiven.” This story intertwines faith, relationships, individual worth, and protecting the most vulnerable. The men have a faithful relationship that is strong enough for physical risk. Their faith influences Jesus. He heals and sends the man home, transformed from a marginalized person to a person of worth.

Luke 7:1–10 connects several types of relationships with faith. The slave of a Roman officer is gravely ill. This officer is a friend of Jewish leaders and has built them a synagogue. The officer is so concerned about his servant’s condition he sends respected Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant.

Before Jesus reaches the home, the officer sends more friends to tell Jesus he feels unworthy to meet him. Instead the officer is convinced Jesus will heal by saying the words. Jesus is impressed with the profound faith of the officer and heals the servant. Jesus tells the crowd “I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!”

Consider the various faithful friendships described in this scripture. While the officer and slave are master and servant, they also share love and compassion. The officer respects the Jewish elders and builds them a sacred place of worship. The Jewish leaders show their mutual respect for the officer by asking Jesus to heal the servant. Jesus honors all of them and responds to the officer’s faith.

In the Gospel of John (20:11–18) Mary Magdalene, a faithful follower of Jesus, goes to his tomb to honor him. The discovery of an empty tomb magnifies her grief. When the risen Jesus calls her by name, Mary recognizes and honors him as “Rabbouni”—Teacher. Jesus invites Mary to go into the world as the first apostolic witness of the risen Christ.

She responds faithfully, joyously sharing the good news with others. Christ lives!
In these scriptural examples Jesus’ actions are rooted in the principles of love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness. His interactions uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and protect the most vulnerable.

Faithfulness Requires Presence

Doctrine and Covenants 163:2b offers this personal challenge for each of us.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

In both the Old and New Testaments, relationships involve presence and intentionally being with another. God is with the people, and the people connect with God. Jesus reaches out to people, and people seek out Jesus. The sacraments, such as Communion, connect us to the Living Christ and give us the opportunity to invite others to share in sacred ministries.

God is calling each of us to engage in faithful relationships where we are physically present with others. We model our faith when we form genuine friendships. Forming faithful friendships does not require special skills or preparations. It does require intentional commitment, time, and presence.

Author Alicia Britt Chole describes Christ-like presence as purposeful proximity.

Jesus ministered to the multitudes…But concentrated his life in 12 rather rough individuals, and their first job description was simply to be with him…in a shoulder-to-shoulder position of saturated with-ship.

By spending concentrated time with a few disciples, Jesus created genuine friendships. He accepted each one, including their flaws and giftedness. In return the disciples agreed to follow Jesus faithfully. Jesus taught these faithful followers about God’s generous love and grace by spending time with them. He showed them how to be kind to the hateful. He reached out to the most vulnerable, touching and healing the poor, diseased, and rejected.

Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a tells us love, respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness are required to form authentic, Christ-like connections. How can we create purposeful proximity or intentional relationships that are faithful to the model of Jesus? First, let us consider a definition of faith offered by theologian and author Daniel L. Migliore.

Faith is the personal response of trust and confidence in the gracious God made known in Jesus Christ…. The object of Christian faith is not some thing or idea but the living Lord Jesus Christ who is God with us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Substitution of any other object of faith—whether self, family, church, race, or nation—is idolatry. The subject of faith is the whole person, including mind, will, and affections.

When we are baptized we make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and with our whole life. Jesus lived in whole-life relationships. He was with God when he went alone to pray quietly. Jesus was present with his disciples when he stayed side-by-side with them; walked, ate, and slept with them; and taught and sent them to teach others.

Faithfulness Involves Presence

What are some ways to describe presence? Words like sharing, inviting, serving, loving, and caring come to mind. The challenge for many of us is how to live in intentional relationships when we live in technology-based cultures. We talk on cell phones and send messages via text or the Internet. It is easy to substitute technology-based conversations for genuine relationships.

Christ-like, purposeful proximity implies physical closeness and commitment or covenant. Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a–c specifies behaviors that show such connections. The behavioral principles of love, mutual respect, and justice require outer and inner connections.

Outwardly, we show love and respect through physical closeness and touch, kind words, considerate conversations, and shared experiences. Genuine love, respect, and justice also require us to relinquish the judgments we make about each other. Overcoming inner prejudice may be one of the hardest behavioral principles to uphold.

Because faithfulness requires letting go of our human perspectives, bias, and judgments, we must learn to view others with Christ-like vision. As Migliore explains, “Faith is the personal response of trust and confidence in the gracious God made known in Jesus Christ.”

Our human weaknesses hinder our ability to overcome our ingrained prejudices. We must depend on God’s grace and generous love to show us how to see the worth of others, especially those we do not know or understand.

Another aspect of faithful relationships involves personal vulnerability. Too often we mask or hide our personal difficulties or life circumstances. We do not want others to know we are not perfect. Faithful relationships require honesty and genuine openness. We covenant together and respectfully value each other when we share openly with each other.

Scripture assures us God is faithful, and Jesus models whole-life faithfulness. We are challenged to form faithful relationships based on the example of Jesus’ life and ministries.

Jesus was intentionally present with a few disciples. He showed them that faithful relationships are based on a mutual covenant between each person. Faithfulness requires us to embrace the guidance of Doctrine and Covenants 164:5.

It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.

When we depend faithfully on God’s Spirit to guide our lives, we are blessed with insights that allow us to overcome inner prejudices and accept others with Christ-like love. When we have Christ-like love we have faithful relationships.

The Voice Continues to Echo, Echo, Echo…

3 10 2011

by DAVID R. BROCK, presiding evangelist

The seminary course was “Theology of Mission.” The students and I all grappled with words like mimesis, paranesis, hodos, kenosis, and perichoresis. (Go ahead, Google them!) It was seven weeks of writing papers, seven weeks of pushing 2,500 pages of reading up against our sense of call. It was conversations with church leaders at the Temple and “face-to-face” on the Internet from Holland, Canada, and around the USA.
We found that Jesus’ “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” mission statement is unchanged. Christ’s mission and ours still originate in “the Voice that echoes across the eons of time and yet speaks anew in this moment” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:1b). The ways we embody that mission, however, constantly change. Our deeper understanding of what the Creator, “creating still,” is doing now is an ever-open invitation to our own transformation.

“Our mission initiatives define our response to God’s grace, hope, and peace found in Christ,” said one student, Erica Blevins Nye of Young Adult Ministries. “Holistic mission includes inviting people to Christ, abolishing poverty and ending suffering, pursing peace on earth, developing disciples to serve, and experiencing congregations in mission. These initiatives are a…framework to help the church discern and tend to…mission.”

“Mission is not a noun,” said Heather Lawson, the unofficial “pastor” of the homeless she serves in her profession. “Mission is a verb, requiring action.” Quoting from Transforming Mission by David J. Bosch, a late expert on mission, she added that mission involves “a multi-faceted ministry in respect of witness, service, justice, healing, reconciliation, liberation, peace, evangelism, fellowship, church planting, contextualization, and much more.”

President of Seventy Keith McMillan reflected, “If we run around doing mission breathlessly because we are the only solution…we run the risk of returning to failed ideas of a paradigm that shifted long ago.”

And Graceland University intern Melanie Grimes, prayed,

Bring the calm to my soul that is only available through you.
When I have reveled in your mystery
and regained a sense of peace within your warmth,
inspire me to lead my life in the way you would desire.
Make me understand with new clarity the depth and perfect
balance of the community that you would have us create…

“I am empowered by the time and place where I live,” said Laurie Heintz, a business owner and active disciple. “This is an era where humanity has a renewed curiosity about their purpose and seeks answers of a spiritual nature. This is an opportunity to be instrumental for God in being (God’s) hands and feet. …It is not I who will transform others, but the Holy Spirit….”

Church planter Matthew Swain challenged disciples to “…establish congregations that embrace the role of a risk-taking messenger of Jesus Christ…to start fostering your ‘inner little missionary.’… Cultivate passion and excitement for the unexpected adventure, and you’ll be amazed at how you…can stir up your church to become a more spiritually dynamic and contagious place.”

Christ’s mission is ours. I see and feel it in the lives of six seminary students. I personally hear it anew in “the Voice that echoes across the eons.”