Tag Archives: Neighbors

James Petticrew ~ Praying for Compassion Collisions

As a Scot, I am sort of unique.  I don’t drink whiskey and have never played a round of golf. However, my golf-obsessed friends tell me that there is such a thing as a mulligan: the chance to take a shot again because you didn’t like the first one. So I wonder: who do we ask for a mulligan for 2020? I don’t know about you, but I would really like a do-over of this year.

Here in Switzerland, over the last few months of our COVID lockdown, I’ve found myself constantly saying things to myself like, “I wasn’t trained for this,” “I have never ministered like this before,” “people have never had to handle stuff like this before,” “how will they cope?” and “how on earth can I respond to that?”   

As if COVID hasn’t been difficult enough for our churches to handle and navigate, the death of George Floyd exposed racism to still be a malignant and yet callously mundane force in many cultures worldwide. Social media exploded with reactions, from righteous indignation, to a great deal of malicious misinformation, to some not-so-righteous responses from people who feel under attack (or let’s face it, who are just unrepentant racists in denial). A couple of U.S. pastors told me privately that they were glad that their churches have been on lockdown and not meeting face to face – because the face to face interaction most likely to happen between some congregants was angry confrontation. Months of lockdown anxiety and politically potent issues have made some of our congregations powder kegs of pent-up frustration and barely concealed anger.

So how do we respond to all that we have gone through and all we are facing right now in our churches and cultures?

How should we respond to all the hurts, anxiety, and anger with which people are emerging from lockdown?  

What should be our response as disciples of Jesus? Because if we are not responding first and foremost as disciples, we are in trouble, and heading for more.

Now I know we can be too eisegetical when it comes to Jesus’ culture – reading our contemporary situation back into his. Nevertheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the culture in which Jesus ministered was riven with sectarian divisiveness and filled with enormous amounts of real and pressing human need. It struck me recently while reading the Gospels that Jesus was often confronted by angry people and needy people. What Jesus faced in Judea 2,000 years ago must have felt somewhat like 2020 does to us in many ways. (Though I am sure Jesus is happy to be spared “Zoom fatigue” and the frustrations of low bandwidth.)

All of this fills my mind and prayers as lockdown in Switzerland eases and people begin to meet again, with appropriate masks and social distance.  Recently, a song and a text came together in Holy Spirit serendipity, giving my answer on how I should respond as a disciple, and how we as a church should respond as a community. As I hit play on a video incorporated in our online service, I heard the voice of the Spirit through the words of the song: “everyone needs compassion.”

Those who are struggling with the physical, emotional, and relational impact of COVID need compassion. The victims of racism need compassion – and justice. Even racists need our compassion, if we are serious about that enemy-loving stuff that Jesus seems to have been serious about. People with whom I differ on politics need compassion. I need compassion. The politicians who frustrate me and have a talent for pushing my buttons need compassion.

Just in case I hadn’t got the message, God followed up with a verse from the Gospel of Luke. I’ve been preaching a series called “Overflow,” about how God’s character overflows into our lives and then overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us. I chose the texts weeks before, and as I heard the song, that Sunday I was due to preach about overflowing with -compassion. “Show mercy and compassion for others, just as your heavenly Father overflows with mercy and compassion for all.” (Luke 6:36)

In that moment, I could see the message of Luke 6:36. I could see what it meant for myself, for the church I pastor, and may I tentatively suggest, for the whole Church of Jesus Christ at the moment. Faced with everything that is happening to us, in us and around us, we are to be people and communities of indiscriminate, overflowing compassion.

Two words from this verse jump out at me: “just as,” drawing a direct parallel between God’s treatment of me and my posture towards others. Jesus is telling us that God’s compassion needs to be experienced and expressed: experienced by us as his people and expressed to the people around us. Just as our heavenly Father overflows with indiscriminate compassion for all, we are to allow that compassion to overflow without restriction or discrimination to those around us.

 Is there anything that our world needs more right now than people and communities of overflowing, indiscriminate compassion?

I’m now praying for what I’m calling compassion collisions. I am praying that God will fill me, fill us as a church, until we are brimming full of his compassion, and that God would make us bump into people, spilling his compassion all over them through us.

Maybe you would join me in praying for compassion collisions?

What if we pray for Holy Spirit-orchestrated compassion collisions in our families, in our churches, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods? What if God’s antidote for the anger and need swirling around us right now is his compassion administered through us?

Featured image courtesy Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Resolutions: The Problem of Shibboleth in 2018

It is the time of year when resolutions abound. Or if not resolutions, goals. Maybe goals are too weighty a burden: maybe wishes.

It is the time of year when wishes abound. Despite the popularity of making “New Year’s Resolutions” – and despite the popularity of articles detailing how to make resolutions “stick” – most people know that lasting life change isn’t found on the heels of New Year’s Day. Resolutions melt away along with the winter snow drifts, and if one thinks about resolutions at all mid-July, it is often accompanied by reflections on exactly when or how they crumbled and disappeared.

Yet “resolutions” are really a misnomer. If you are resolute, you are “single-minded,” “firm,” and “unswerving.” If a person resolves to do something, that person has decided to do it. The person has resolve. There is strength, and because of that, follow through. A resolution isn’t a goal; a resolution is a decision. In that sense, goals are mile-markers; resolution is the direction you are running.

It may be a short-lived New Year’s goal to drink less, but it takes real resolve to drive to an AA meeting and walk in the door. It may be a futile goal to go to the expensive gym you joined; but it takes real resolve to value your body, your health, and your future, and to examine why you may devalue any of those things.

Where goals may gather around what you want to do or quit doing, how you want to look or where you want to go, being resolute may have more to do with what kind of person you want to become.

And here we arrive at shibboleths. 

What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of culture and society would you like to take part in? Because right now, dear North America, we are addicted to shibboleths.

If the word sounds familiar but just out of memory’s reach, it is a cultural reference, yet originates – as so many cultural references do – from the Bible. In Judges 12, the Gileadites are aware that their enemies the Ephraimites may be trying to cross a stream, posing as Gileadites. But the Gileadites are also aware that the Ephraimites have a small verbal giveaway – a difference in pronunciation of a word. (Think of how the pronunciation of certain English words give away whether you’re from the North or the South of the United States.) So if an enemy is trying to sneak by, just have them say a word – one single word – that will betray their association. If said incorrectly, the speaker dies.

It was simple but effective. Long before taking off your shoes at airport security or full-body scanners, one man looked at another and said, “really? Then say shibboleth for me.”

Since then, as Rice University points out, if something is said to be a shibboleth, it is used in a way similar to a “litmus test” (a phrase lifted from one context – the science lab – into another context – a cultural standard applied for the use of making a judgment).

shibboleth is a kind of linguistic password: A way of speaking (a pronunciation, or the use of a particular expression) that is used by one set of people to identify another person as a member, or a non-member, of a particular group. The group making the identification has some kind of social power to set the standards for who belongs to their group: who is “in” and who is “out.”

The purpose of a shibboleth is exclusionary as much as inclusionary: A person whose way of speaking violates a shibboleth is identified as an outsider and thereby excluded by the group. This phenomenon is part of the universal use of language for distinguishing social groups. It is also one example of a general phenomenon of observing a superficial characteristic of members of a group, such as a way of speaking, and judging that characteristic as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, depending on how much the observers like the people who have that characteristic.

And as we sit down and pen our resolutions – or our goals – or our half-hearted dreams – it is worthwhile to take a moment and consider our addiction to shibboleths. How do we employ shibboleths to decide who we listen to on – anything?

Doing away with the usage of shibboleths doesn’t mean throwing away core principles or values: it does have to do with preserving personhood, no matter who is crossing whom’s river. Using a litmus test to decide whether or not to pay someone basic common respect isn’t a value of Jesus Christ.

So the problem isn’t an inherent issue with a system in which someone is “in” or “out” – that’s necessary, just like standards for making it to the big leagues or getting into Harvard or joining the local VFW. The problem isn’t with having group boundaries; the problem is how we treat people no matter which side of the boundary they’re on. And often, when we unconsciously use a shibboleth, we’re giving ourselves permission to treat people as less than. 

Every group has its favorite shibboleths. 

Did you just use a male pronoun to refer to God? Violation! Shibboleth. I don’t have to listen to the rest of your sermon now.

Did you just use the phrase “climate change” in a way that suggests you’re concerned about it? Violation! Shibboleth. I know all your other beliefs now and can dismiss you out of hand.

Did you just use the word “orthodox”? By that, didn’t you mean “power play by males to keep authority by ruling what everyone had to believe?” Violation! Shibboleth. Obviously, you’re stuck in a literal interpretation of faith and haven’t accepted it as myth yet.

Did you just say you’re “cisgender”? I don’t even know what that means but I know what everyone believes who says that kind of thing. Violation! Shibboleth. There’s no point getting to know you.

Did you just say you’re for women’s rights but you’re also pro-life? You can’t be, I say so. Violation! Shibboleth. We can’t ever work together for anything and I don’t have to think about your point now.

This is what happens when we employ shibboleths. We don’t engage in critical thinking, we don’t assume the value of the other person, and we don’t speak with kindness to or about those outside the boundaries of our groups. You have spoken a shibboleth: that, we say, is all we need to know. We reduce every complex particularity of a person made in the image of God to how they pronounce shibboleth, and if they say it wrong, we take their personhood from them and move on, leaving a bleeding corpse in our wake. They revealed themselves for what they were. It was a pity, but it had to be done. We were justified.

Do you have a goal to abstain from social media drive-by’s this year? Do you wish that other people weren’t so obnoxious about differences?

Or are you resolved to put shibboleths to death? To maintain your integrity, principles, and values, and yet not to give in to the wily notion that your integrity demands that you dehumanize the people on the other side of the boundary? On the contrary – your integrity demands that you raise up, elevate, and protect the humanity and value of the person across from you who is trembling as they utter the word, wondering if you will see them – the real them – or whether you will draw your sword?

Debate where it’s needed; argue when necessary. Stand confident in your principles. And yet, while you debate, while you argue, while you stand confident –

And yet I will show you a still more excellent way…

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

May 2018 find love shaping the sound of our every word.


Cole Bodkin ~ Helicopter Pilots or Farmers?

Hypermobility. Transience. Individualism. Consumerism. Nationalism.

Add to those descriptors the second half of the great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

And what do you get? Helicopter love.

Helicopter Love*

A helicopter love, or lifestyle, is one in which a person has a place to live (a safe haven), but they hop into a virtualhelicopter helicopter to fly to the various places they frequent. This lifestyle is characterized by multiple disconnected relationships, multiple personalities (for each individual), rootlessness, and restlessness.

This is living above place. It is a fragmented lifestyle. It is disembodied living. We can be everywhere all the time. We have the power to do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want.**

How has this helicopter lifestyle impacted the call to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Who is My Neighbor?**

“But wishing to justify himself, he [the lawyer] said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor’?”

If we pause for a moment, we realize that we, too, are asking the same question (or maybe we aren’t) to justify our existing neighboring. Who are our helicopter neighbors that we love?

Family, friends, co-workers…everyone, right?

When you live above place, in a fragmented, disembodied world, you do your best to love everyone, everywhere, all the time, and in many ways that is commendable; however, the folks who generally get left out are, wait for it, our actual neighbors: the people who literally live in the houses, apartment complexes, and duplexes around us. In our quest to aim our love at everyone, we often hit nothing.

The reason this happens is because they (those neighbors) also live helicopter lives (or for some, hermit lives), and therefore are strangers. We’ve been habitualized by the helicopter liturgy of our society: exit safe-haven, get into car, lock doors, open garage, reverse, shut garage, drive to destination (work) without interaction with others (except on the cell-phone), perform duties (work, shopping, eating), re-enter car, drive back to safe-haven, pull into garage, shut garage, enter safe-haven, repeat.

We’ve been conditioned to ignore those who live around us, because we’ve given into the rhythms and habits of our day.

Rooted in the Neighborhood: Neighboring 101 ***

Jesus’ response in Luke 10 is, of course, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which he challenges the lawyer with a PhD level kind of love—enemy love. That’s a high and lofty goal, but what is often neglected (and was already assumed) is that Samaritans and Jews were actual neighbors. Maybe before launching ourselves into loving our enemies, we should head back to the Kindergarten love beginning with loving our actual, literal neighbors.

This requires a radical reorientation of heart, mind, soul, and strength. A helpful starting place is to recover the idea of parish, in which Christians take stock (responsibility) in the spiritual vitality of the geographical area that they inhabit. Believe it or not, that’s how most churches were erected. They began in a geographical area where people could get there by foot.

Be royal priests in your hood.

So what are some practical steps?

Take a walk around your neighborhood. Pray for your neighborhood while you’re at it (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in ______ street as in heaven”). Be visible so that you can meet people. Be available at times when neighbors are most present (e.g., between 5-6 on weekdays; Saturday is a usual yard work day for folks).

Go to Neighborhood Association meetings. Get involved.

art-of-neighboringMore could be said, but one of the best launching pads is to fill out a Block Map. The Block Map (aka the Map of Shame) was developed by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon to give Christians tangible ways to love their literal neighbors. At the center of the map is your house, apartment, duplex, whatever you dwell. Surrounding your house are your eight closest neighbors. Now here’s the challenge: fill out the chart by getting to know your neighbors names (it’s hard to love someone if you don’t know their name), hopes, and hurts. This can create some awkwardness because most of us don’t know our neighbors, but we also need to extend ourselves some grace and remember that this is a process and a lifestyle, not a project, program or evangelism strategy. Of course, our highest hope is that our neighbors would dedicate their lives to Jesus, but we’re commanded to love them no matter how they respond to the gospel.

In It for the Long Haul

Neighboring isn’t a science but an art, and like many musicians it takes time, patience, and repetitious practice to become fluent and skilled in one’s craft. Much of this can’t be forced, and has to occur organically, but even organic fruit and veggies require laborious work from the farmer. If we are always on the go, never at home, what sort of fruit can we expect? The food we’ll partake of is fast-food, which reinforces the individualistic, consumeristic helicopter life.

I don’t think God is calling us to be helicopter pilots but rather farmers of his new creation. In order to help cultivate community_gardennew life, we must learn to slow down and observe the rhythms and patterns of the land (neighborhood), tending and tilling the soil, and willing to stay put. One of the most subversive, counter-cultural things Christians can do in these times is to stay put in one place for 30-40 years (which happens to coincide nicely with a mortgage). In doing so, we may begin to minister and regain trust that has been lost. We will be able to actually show people the way of Christ (instead of just talking about it). Maybe we, ourselves, will actually take root and flourish? If we are in it for the long haul like farmers, one sister may plant, another brother may water, but in the end we’ll be reminded that only God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 2).


* I adopted this idea from Tony Kruz at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cm7c2ytB-o

** See Sparks, Soerens, and Friesen’s The New Parish

*** Read Pathak and Runyon’s The Art of Neighboring

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Global Neighborhood: World Methodist Conference

What neighborhood, out of all the ones you’ve lived in, has been your favorite?

Was it a quiet small town street lined with tall trees?

Was it a bustling corner of a large, noisy city?

Was it a distant, rural farm, the air scratched with the clucking of chickens?

Was it a small cottage on the edge of the windy sea?

An entire generation of American schoolchildren have had their values formed by a quiet Presbyterian minister who operated a toy trolley: Mr. Rogers’ song was a distinct part of my graham cracker and milk years, the liturgy of the newly potty trained.

Would you be mine, could you be mine,

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?

The gentle cardigan-wearing man talked about what it meant to be a good neighbor; what it meant to be a good friend; what it meant to be helpful, to steer through fights, to be kind to people who are different than we are, to tell the truth – all in the context of community and family. And he never neglected the animals, ambling over for the end-of-show ritual of feeding the aquarium full of fish.

I’ve thought a lot about neighbors over the past few days. In a hotel teeming with guests, noises and laughter echo through closed doors, elevators spill with international visitors, the lobby full of global Methodists and American Paralympians on their way to Rio. In this building, we are neighbors. We eat together, we sleep on different sides of shared walls, we meet in common spaces set aside for our communal gathering. Many of the Wesleyan Methodists gathered from over 80 denominations and over 100 countries around the world speak English; not all, but many. For those who do not, a booth of translators was set up along a wall, headsets distributed, so that no one was left out. Songs were sung in multiple languages, and I heard but did not comprehend the words spoken over the communion elements.

Who is my neighbor? 

The elderly couple who lived next door when I was five, they were retired, and while I went on my first journey to visit my grandparents in Michigan by myself the old man died. I still think of that sometimes.

The nurse who worked nights; the only time we saw her was when she was in her backyard, watering plants and smoking or talking on her phone. She kept to herself.

The family who lived behind us when we moved into the parsonage at my first pastoral appointment, they were Baptist, and happily so. I became friends with the wife, she lent me DVD’s over the back fence.

Who is my neighbor?

The AME Zion pastor who waited for an elevator, telling me of his wife who died, of his prayer conference call that he hosts weekly, of his children, of the tears that came during the service.

The Kenyan pastor who works in the slums of Nairobi, desperate to help equip Christians called to ministry, frustrated by recent laws placing restrictions on who is qualified to work as preachers in the country.

The astrophysicist who lives in Maryland and spoke of star formation and Psalm 8, of the majesty of the universe and the glory of God.

The Irish pastor who has served in both Ireland and Northern Ireland – despite their histories and differences.

The bivocational Chinese Australian pastor considering seminary and dreaming about how to increase the impact of connectionalism.

The Nigerian Bishop who spoke of building relationships with area Muslims to work together to protect their children from malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

South Africans and Indians, Americans and Japanese, Brazilians and Irish, Germans and Koreans, Russians and Italians, Pakistanis and Caribbeans and so, so many more lined up to receive communion bread and dip it into blood-red juice. The Body of Christ, indeed.

Being neighbors occasionally means annoyance: it means reestablishing boundaries, asking someone to turn their music down, settling disputes. But while being neighbors isn’t trouble-free, it also doesn’t allow us to insist on isolation. We share this globe, this tilted rock that God called good, and our neighbors are not just those who remember when we were young, or who served with us on the PTA. You are a jet away from the other side of the world: in less than 24 hours you could be present with a friend in need.

Who is my neighbor?

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…

They won’t know we are Christians by how easy our relationships are; they won’t know we are Christians by our success; they won’t know we are Christians by our savvy investments; they won’t know we are Christians by our hipster-friendly music.

We are knit together fearfully and wonderfully in the womb of this galaxy, we neighbors, breathing the air of God’s breath as we blink and squall at the startling light of Triune love. We are still newborns learning to recognize the face of our Creator, learning to move through the example of Christ our brother.

How is it that we could refuse the gift of neighbors? Christians need the friendship of the faith.

Who is my neighbor?

Whoever is sitting beside you right now.

Who is my neighbor?

Whoever is part of your life as you walk through it on a daily basis.

Who is my neighbor?

Whoever shares this planet with you, who shares the same moon, the same oceans.

Wasn’t it John Wesley who said, “The world is my neighborhood”?

Carrie Carter ~ The Enemy Who Was Not an Enemy

Right before I turned 14, my narrow little view of the world was rocked. The U.S. had just declared war on Iraq.

I wasn’t so afraid of a war on the other side of the world as I was of the implications of this war.

“Armageddon,” “World War III, “and “Christ’s return,” were just a few of the words swirling around in the adults’ not-so-quiet whispers.

I went home and cried. I was devastated. I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet.

Through my teenage years, it was never a question who the enemies were. Anyone who looked like they could be from the Middle East was someone to be feared. Someone who mistreated not only their own, but would mistreat us as well, given the chance. While the Middle East conflict stretched into what seemed to be an endless amount of time, I got my license, went to college, got married, and had kids.

Our second ministry position took us to the suburbs of a large Midwestern city, where we were privileged to become part of a church whose diversity spanned over 20 different countries. It’s where Jesus used his love and grace to completely shift my small-town, American, white-girl worldview, and gave me the desire to embrace those from any culture. Trying to learn their language and tasting (and loving) their food, gave them cause for a lot of laughter—especially the language—and we loved each other.

Still, I admit I was a little surprised when my husband recently took me on our 20th Anniversary trip and I discovered we had a two-day layover in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Actually, the surprise I felt even surprised me. I thought I had long since moved past the group-think of my conservative circles in believing the generalities of Middle Eastern evil.

The voices buried deep in my 13-year-old self started whispering. Voices I didn’t even know were still there. Fortunately, I was able to rapidly silence them (and it helped that we had a 13-hour flight before arriving) and once we were there, I was able to enjoy this new-to-me culture as much as possible, while trying to remember what behavior was acceptable in this region.

**Sidenote—First day: unacceptable behavior was drawn attention to (loudly) when my husband put his arm around me for a mosque selfie. The selfie was fine, just not the arm around me. “No public displays of affection!”  the robed man chided. Oops. **

The second day ended on a desert tour with another family. A man, his wife, and two beautiful girls, all with caramel skin, jet hair, and decidedly English names. We sat down with them to share a traditional Arabic meal when, in an attempt to make conversation, my husband asked the man where they were from.

“Australia,” the man answered.

“No, where were you from originally?” he probed.

The man’s gaze dropped. Hesitantly, he spoke.

“We are from Iraq.”

I was ashamed at what I perceived to be the thoughts running through his head. Iraqis = American enemies. A generalization, sure, but there’s no telling what propaganda he had been exposed to. Would we recoil in fear? Would he see our eyes darken in suspicion? How awkward was this going to be?

My husband leaned forward and said, “Tell us your story.”

The man relaxed and began.

He was born in Syria, moved to Iraq during his childhood, and was immediately conscripted into Saddam Hussein’s army as soon as he graduated from high school.

He was in Saddam’s army for eight years, during which time he married his Iraqi wife, and was wounded in the line of duty three times. He stills carries the shrapnel.

Because of all that was happening, he decided he must get out. So, he left Saddam’s army, took his wife, fled Iraq, and headed for Greece. Five months later, the U.S. declared war on Iraq. I was 13.

Because they were Iraqi, Greece refused to allow them to stay and they were forced to go to a country that would accept people of their nationality. In this case, it was Australia. It took him five years to be able to get their parents and relatives out of Iraq, and he considered himself fortunate that he was able to get them out at all. That they had lived that long. Once they were safe in Australia, they were comfortable enough to start a family, which now is expanded to two girls, slightly younger than my own boys.

His story moved me like nothing else has.

Five months longer and he may have come face-to-face with any of the Gulf War veterans I know and love. He was a piece of military machinery that he wanted no part of.

The enemy who was not an enemy.

If you looked into his heavy-browed, deep-set eyes, you could see the love he had for his wife and his family. His face was free from malice towards us, and as we parted ways, there was a genuine gratitude that our paths had crossed.

When was the last time you looked past the appearance of the person walking by and recognized that he or she has a story?

Brown skin, black skin, tattooed skin, yellow skin, white skin, pierced skin.  While it may have never been said aloud, what skin have you been “told” is less-than, inferior, or maybe even superior? Maybe it’s a robe, or a dark hoodie, or a turban, or baggy jeans, or simply filthy and patched? Or maybe it’s a lifestyle that contradicts your beliefs? Who do you avert your gaze from? Refuse to make eye contact with?

Let’s word it this way: Who do you feel better than? Or maybe this way, as I paraphrase one pastor’s words:  *“If you were the man beaten and robbed on the side of the road, who is your Samaritan? Who would you NOT want to stop and help you?”

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Once you start viewing people as God’s creation, whom he loves and sent his Son to die for, and once you can see past their outward shell of flesh and blood, you will see into their heart and soul.

You will see that they have a story.

It’s worth listening to.


*Jon Middendorf, senior pastor at OKC First Nazarene http://olive.nowsprouting.com/oklahomacityfirstchurchofthenazarene/media.php?pageID=6

Wesleyan Accent ~ Neighbors in the Middle East

One month ago, an American couple herded three children into a men’s room in the Istanbul, Turkey airport. The wife visibly pregnant, they settled in for the night and texted to family members in the U.S., letting them know that their flight was being delayed indefinitely – keeping some of the details to themselves. All night the parents kept vigil as the children miraculously slept through the sound of explosions, reports of shooting, sonic booms from low-flying fighter jets and men coming in with blood-spattered clothing to wash their faces and hands for their ritual Muslim prayer time.

One of the protesters from a crowd of 5,000-10,000 men who, at the Turkish President’s command, had marched to the airport chanting in Turkish and protesting the military coup, saw the family camped in the bathroom and reassured them, “we are not here for you.”

Hours before, the couple had tried to get a taxi from the airport to the hotel after a long flight with young kids in tow when everything suddenly shut down: a tank quite literally blocked the way in and out of the large transportation hub. For a while, the family of five (and one on the way) was trapped in “arrivals” near the insecure glass doors that opened out onto the street, where people ran in for shelter from gunfire popping in the distance. Security officers and airport employees had disappeared from the airport at the news of a coup, leaving travelers to fend for themselves, helping themselves to bottled water and café food. A Frenchman volunteered to watch the family’s luggage. After hiding in a stairwell during a bomb scare (in which travelers nervously opened an abandoned bag), the family settled into the men’s room.

Throughout the entire night, as deep booms rumbled in the distance and the kids snored peacefully on, while the safety of team members spread throughout Istanbul was unknown and the promise of a flight out was evaporating, one Turkish man stayed steadfastly with the family of five Americans (and one on the way). He had seen them and given his promise: “I am going to stay with you until you’re safe. I am not going to leave you.”

And he didn’t. The man they had never met before stayed by their side throughout the long night hours.

Finally, at 5:30 in the morning airport workers began to return. By 7:00 a.m. the thousands of protesters began to empty from the airport. Roads opened and taxis arrived.

It would be another three days spent in an Istanbul hotel before they finally were able to board a flight out of Turkey to London, and from there, home. A few days after touching down on American soil, they were scheduled to speak at a church about life as missionaries in the Middle East. By the grace of God, they kept their appointment. I was privileged to hear their first-hand account.

Life in the country where they serve (not Turkey) does not usually hold the kind of danger and suspense they faced in the Istanbul airport, despite what many Americans would picture when they hear “the Middle East.” Even so, when I asked the missionary from a denomination based in North America what I needed to scrub from a piece covering their work, I got a wry smile.

“Either our names, or everything else.”

So here’s the “everything else.”

For this American missionary family working in a Middle Eastern region, the biggest change of the past few years is the arrival of refugees from areas taken over by ISIS. In the area in which they serve, NGOs and organizations are arriving to offer services to refugees. New shortages have emerged with the arrival of refugees – gasoline, the electric grid, on various components of the infrastructure, there is new strain from the ballooning number of people.

The new dynamic has affected people and their openness to Christ: for the local nominal Muslims, the Islamic State is causing secular Muslims to want nothing to do with Islam.This has nothing to do with real Islam, they think; we’re peaceful, obviously: so this is politics. The changing dynamic has led to openness to thinking critically about the loosely-held religion that has shaped their lives.

“If this is Islam, I don’t want it – so what is true?” One local young man began privately following Christ because of videos he’d found on YouTube. People who have begun to follow Jesus privately through the internet then quietly find a church and receive a Bible.

Compared to their first five years of missionary service in the Middle East, this missionary couple has witnessed more people come to Christ in the last two years than in the first five. Many of the young people choosing to follow Jesus aren’t accepting the faith through intentional relationships but rather are, in the words of the North American, “random people God drops in our laps simply because we’re there.”

One Arabic young man from a refugee family chose the Christian faith and was beat up and abandoned when his family members found out. Because of the ISIS conflict in his home region, and because of the anger of his family, he was kept from being able to take qualifying exams for university. In a new place, where he didn’t speak the local language, having moved away from his home because of explosions and violence, he eventually moved in with a pastor’s family, desperate for a way forward.

Yet many of the new Christians don’t quickly trust each other. Even in a culture of nominal Islam, they are cautious who and when they tell about their Christian faith. As that trust builds, they share with their friends; discipleship grows. In the region, there are now two local pastors in area cities, house churches of around 20 people – enough of a seed to start to have a small Christian subculture.

In a few months, the American missionary family will return to their place of service in the Middle East (though they will probably avoid flying through Istanbul – just in case). The family of five will be a family of six by that point. They’ll be going back to uncertain gasoline supply, unreliable electricity, strained infrastructure – and friendships and relationships with new Christ followers.

The family of five (and one on the way) asks for two things: first, that Americans will keep praying that people in their region will continue to have dreams of Christ (this is a recurring theme among people who seek out a church). And second, that Americans will consider that there are openings for single or married, young or retired missionaries that have remained unfilled; even missionally-minded Christians aren’t leaping at the chance to serve in the Middle East, and so this missionary couple asks fellow Christians to be open to follow where God leads.

Even if the path goes through a men’s room in the Istanbul airport.

Elizabeth Moyer ~ Easter’s Frayed Red Carpet

450px-2013_Golden_Globe_Awards_(8379844352)Resurrection Sunday was a couple weeks ago, and Christian congregations rolled out the red carpet to welcome all who would come. The “church” was on its best behavior: egg hunts, special music, sunrise services, breakfast, foot washing, and so much more as local churches gathered (mine included), all in the name of Jesus. On that holiest of Sundays I was tense.

I can now articulate the source of that tension.

I was frustrated with the fakeness demonstrated by the “church.” Yes, I, a seminarian, college and young adult pastor, called the actions of the church fake. Why?

Because we, the churched minority, rolled out the red carpet – the same red carpet we put away for this week – and we did not always mean it. On the day when we had the least amount of time to tend to the needs of others, we boldly said come join us. Our families were visiting, our special dinner needed to be prepared, we were in a hurry, or we had brunch reservations, but we still asked people join us. I spent most of Resurrection Sunday thinking about this week. What would we do this week? What face would the stranger see this week? No fancy banners, no breakfast, no foot washing, nope – nothing special going on here…this week.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31 (NRSV)

In the middle of my tension with the church, God inquired of my love for my neighbor.

I had the opportunity to see or ignore a stranger, a first-time visitor. I saw her tears as she bolted to the restroom at the end of worship. I saw her fighting back more tears as she sat in the lobby. Honestly, I was even tempted to ignore her: I was tired and frankly not in the mood to deal with someone else’s brokenness.

But truth, my love for God and my love for myself would not let me ignore my love for my neighbor. I asked one simple question: “would you like me to pray with you?” She said yes. I found a quiet space and we stood silently; I let her cry, and we prayed. I hope she knows that I was sincerely happy that she and her daughter chose to worship with us, and that I sincerely hoped they would join us again.

Here is the deal: the church should not be in the business of rolling out the red carpet if we do not have time to see people and meet them in their brokenness.

If I am not going to show you love, I should not invite you into my home, let alone the house of God.

Be intentional about seeing people; be intentional about meeting people in their brokenness…

Omar Rikabi ~ He Had a Name

I have an almost daily battle with my six-year-old daughter to get dressed for school.

This morning it was her sneakers. She calls them her happy shoes.  She can put them on herself, and even tie them. But she always wants “Daddy to do it.”

And I do. I always do.


She’s my firstborn. My princess… because that’s what we named her. The day we came home from the hospital, I called my dad on speakerphone so he could talk to her. He worked in Egypt and Syria, so this was how they would have to meet. Before I put the phone down by her head, he asked me, “What did you name her?”


“What does it mean, this Sadie?”


“In what language does it mean princess?”


There was a small pause, as his Iraqi culture of the father choosing an Arab name for his children tried to process this.

“Hebrew?…. Let me talk to her.”


After I got sneakers on her feet and her feet to school, I listened to NPR while eating breakfast and heard the story of a boy.

A small refugee boy who drowned fleeing Syria in a raft crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

He wasn’t the only one. Thousands have died like this… of the millions in Syria and Iraq driven from their homes by war.

But a photo of the boy went viral, and NPR interviewed Peter Boukhaert for Human Rights Watch:

“What really touched me in the photo was the little sneakers… One of my favorite moments each day is to dress my boys before they go to school. I saw those little sneakers and I realized that his parents had dressed him that morning for a very difficult journey.”

My wife and I have a policy of not listening to or watching stories of dead children. We can’t think about it.

But as I listened, I dared myself to look for the picture of this boy. And as I looked at him… facedown in the sand and surf, dressed in a red shirt, blue shorts, and his little velcro sneakers… Bouckhaert continued:

“Aylan was his name. He was age three.”

He had a name.

This was not a photo of a body. This was a photo of a boy.

And he had a name.


Against my wife’s better judgment, I’ve been looking at Aylan all day.

I can feel his parents putting on his shorts. His shirt. His shoes.

Did they fuss with him to stay still and get dressed, trying to stay calm for his sake, trying to hide the urgency in their voice?

Did he get all dressed up, only then needing to go potty?

Did they make up a story of an adventure so he wouldn’t be scared?

I can hear the mixture of love and frustration a parent has when dressing their child, calling his name over and over again to be still.

Because he had a name.


The first name given in creation was Adam. It means humanity.

The Scripture story tells us that God, through Jesus Christ, created all of humanity in his image and breathed into us the breath of life.

I thought of Adam when I saw the first hashtag given to Aylan’s story: Humanity Washed Ashore.

I’m a minister of the gospel that calls Jesus the new Adam: The Son of God who died and rose from the grave to rescue all of humanity. And though I’ve preached, written, and told countless stories about this gospel of peace for the Middle East, before this morning I’d grown numb: Why can I tell you more about the impact of Tom Brady’s reinstatement on my Dallas Cowboys in week 4 than I can about the backstory that led to Aylan’s death?

Later, NPR updated the piece and told the father’s story. I had to dare myself to read it:

“The Turk smuggler jumped into the sea, then a wave came and flipped us over. I grabbed my sons and wife and we held onto the boat,” Mr. Kurdi said, speaking slowly in Arabic and struggling at times for words.

“We stayed like that for an hour, then the first son died and I left him so I can help the other, then the second died, so I left him as well to help his mom and found her dead… What do I do… I spent three hours waiting for the coast guard to come. The life jackets we were wearing were all fake… I am choking, I cannot breathe. They died in my arms.” 


He had a name.

Why did his father choose Aylan? What does it mean, this Aylan?

His father’s name is Abdullah.

His big brother’s name was Ghalib.

His mother’s name was Rehan.

Abdullah was a barber. He cut hair. That was his honest day’s labor. But how did Abdullah and Rehan meet? When did they know they were in love? Where was their first kiss? What did they feel when she became pregnant for the first time? What happened when they brought their firstborn home?

Now we know their names. But what was their whole story?

Because they all have names.

They all have stories.

The same name and story as you and me.


I dare you to get to know them.

bless the little children


See more at www.omarrikabi.com

Talbot Davis ~ On the Up and Up: The Right Stuff

This post is the second in a sermon series by Rev. Talbot Davis on the Songs of Ascent. The first one can be read by clicking here.

Most people had some sort of celebration for the 4th of July. Talk about “on the up and up” – many of you set off or at least looked at sparklers and explosions as they headed … well, up and up. But really, the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence are only meaningful because of the Continental Congress, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights that followed it (well, that and the winning the Revolutionary War part!). Without the establishing of a government and the ensuring of freedom that followed, the Declaration of Independence was just that – a Declaration. It’s the rights that followed which gave teeth to what got declared.

If you grew up in the USA – and even more so if you didn’t and had to learn this by intention and not by osmosis – you have been immersed in your rights. Both the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments) and those that that have been added to it grant the right to free speech, freedom of and from religion, right to a trial by jury, and to keep and bear arms. Later came civil rights regarding race, voting rights regarding gender and property, and more recently the debated marriage rights regarding the make-up of the couple.

If you’ve ever traveled to a developing country with an incomplete infrastructure and no environmental policy, you’ll be really glad the USA has a de facto right to clean air and garbage collection! Everywhere you look in this culture, we have rights, written and assumed, articulated and internalized. And Lord knows, with most folks you don’t want to trample on their rights in the least or you will quickly discover another deeply held American right: the right to sue!

Most of you right now are welling up with gratitude for me and my middle school civics lesson, so you’re welcome. But you might also be wondering: why in church? Why today? What does this have to do with anything?

I’m glad you asked because the intersection of Psalm 122 – this biblical song – and this national celebration really has everything to do with our faith. The cultural reality of our rights influences how we understand the spiritual reality of this psalm.

Now, to remind you: Psalm 122 is part of what is called “The Songs of Ascent,” a collection of 15 folk songs (Psalms 120-134) that people would sing as they trekked from their farms, towns, and villages up to Jerusalem three times a year for religious feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They went those three times because the Jerusalem temple was the central religious location for all faithful Jews then. And Jerusalem was (and is) physically at one of the highest geographic places in all of Israel. So the journey from those towns, villages, and farms more literally was a climb. A gradual climb, but a relentless climb nonetheless. To go to Jerusalem with a crowd of fellow pilgrims was, literally, to go on the up and up.

And these 15 folk songs functioned almost like “We Shall Overcome” in the Civil Rights era or like “This Land Is Your Land” during the Dust Bowl era: folks actually sang them as they marched together on the up and up. It’s one of those sections of the Bible when you can see how vividly biblical writings had a life before they made it into the Bible. And Psalm 122, which appears to be sung when the journey is “up” and done is particularly enlightening in terms of rights – because of what goes on with the pronouns.

Yes, the pronouns.

Check it out in Psalm 122:1a:

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

Can we acknowledge that on the Sunday after July 4th, in churches all across “the fruited plain,” we preachers are simply glad when anyone comes to the house of the Lord? But note the “I” there, because you’re not going to see it again for a long time in this psalm.

And as the psalm writer begins his song, think of all his rights: it says it is “of David” which means either the king hisself wrote it or someone from his inner circle did. In either case, he is a VIP. He’s a Jew, a member of the chosen people. He’s travelled to Jerusalem, so he is religiously faithful if not all-the-way elite. And he has survived a long, hot, dangerous hike and so as the psalm begins it seems as if he has every right to put up his feet, pour himself a cold one, and, if he goes to church at all, at least have a service he likes!

But that’s not really what happens. Look at Psalm 122:1b-2:

“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
 Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

“I” has quickly become “our.” In the face of God, his individuality has been swallowed up into his community. The self has become merged into the whole. And then 122:3 is so interesting:

Jerusalem is built like a city
    that is closely compacted together.

It seems as the though the city was designed and built in such a way as to maximize community. The architecture and the urban planning reinforce the theology that the faith is teaching: me comes to life only as it is part of we. Architecture is shaping life, shaping religion.

And then look at 122:4:

That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.

Tribes. Notice? It’s all about the group and not at all about the individual. It’s we who ultimately go up to Jerusalem, who head to church, not just a collection of me’s.

So let’s take stock of where we are and where we’re headed. Here’s a guy, either a king or a king’s assistant – in a time when they spoke of the divine rights of kings – who, after a long trek to Jerusalem, finds his me overwhelmed by the we of the community.

The “I” pronoun has disappeared in favor of “us” and “we.” Instead of asserting his rights – rights he was born into and rights he earned – the disappearing “I” pronoun shows he is instead relinquishing them. A psalm that could be about his personal religion instead becomes a song about our collective faith.

So here’s what we take from a king taking that approach.

Having the right doesn’t give you the right. 

Just because you have the right legally or even morally doesn’t mean you have to use it. Especially when it comes to worship and church and faith and relationships.  Having the right doesn’t give you the right.

Psalm 122 is the greatest example of how regular, consistent worship is the best preparation for life as a whole because in this collective experience of “having the right doesn’t give you the right” we actually learn how life beyond church works the best.

Because you could assert your me – which is the kind of thing in America we are brought up to do – but when you do that, God answers back with we. Let me show you what I mean and how it radiates out from this experience to all of life.

On a Sunday morning, for example, you have preferences. Some of you would prefer more gospel or urban gospel music. Others would prefer more classical, church-y music. Some prefer an edgier, louder, more churning sound (if you’re my age or older, for example, and you think we’re almost over the edge, we’re not. There are a lot of churches a lot louder and a lot darker than us). Some of you would prefer a pastor who preached verse-by-verse or wore a suit or even a clergy collar. But what I’m saying is that in the Good Shepherd community most of you who call Good Shepherd home are essentially “at home” – but only because you’re willing to sacrifice an area or two of your preferences. More of your taste.

For the vast majority of you, the me has surrendered to the we. You have the right to insist on everything done the way you like, but because of Christ’s blood and the ethos of Psalm 122, that doesn’t give you the right to assert everything you have.

It’s funny: sometimes people will tell me they chose Good Shepherd because it “fit” or it felt “comfortable.” That’s great. I love it. We don’t want to be difficult. But know what I’d love? If people told me, “I’m looking for a church where I will be uncomfortable. Stretched, poked, prodded.”

That’s the spirit of Psalm 122 – where those of us living in a me world are part of a we church. Having the right doesn’t give you the right. That’s why our mission talks about a living relationship with Jesus Christ and not a personal one. Now: you have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it can never stay personal. That means it’s private. Faith is lived on the up and up and together.

Having the right doesn’t give you the right.

Some years ago a man’s parting words to me as he left the church were, “I’m not getting fed.” That’s devastating for a simmering cauldron of insecurity like me. But you know what I’ve learned since? There have been five subsequent churches where, apparently, the same guy wasn’t “getting fed.” Oh. Sometimes the problem is not with the food; it’s with the eater. It’s an endless quest for a me church; a loop of my rights.

Having the right doesn’t give you the right. (And just once, someone should leave because “you’re not leading enough people to Christ!”)

Look at 122:5 again:

There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.

That means that we gather at this time and in this place to focus on the decisions that God has already made. We don’t come here so much for affirmation as for reformation. We celebrate God’s decisions that – even if they cramp our style – nevertheless save our lives.

It’s like this: picture a kid’s car seat. I remember those days: kids objecting, squirming, screaming, hating you for putting them in. And yet putting them in that car seat is the most loving thing you can do. It’s the same with the Commandments! We buck, we squirm, we question, we even hate God for them. But they are the ultimate act of protecting, preserving love. We have the right as Americans to post these or not, to follow these or not, but that doesn’t give us the right as Jesus’ people to do any of that.

Having the right in the USA doesn’t give you the right in the kingdom.

Having the right doesn’t give you the right.

All that is why worship is such preparation for life. If you realize we is bigger than me in your marriage – think you’d be a better mate? If you realize it’s not about your preferences but his purposes, think you might have more patience with your spouse? Your kids? Your co-workers? Speaking of work, what would it be like if that space was free of “right-asserting”? If no one said, “what gives you the right?!” Less infighting and backbiting and more kingdom building, no doubt.

Being glad that you’ve come to the house of the Lord (122:1) isn’t about generating phony enthusiasm for a Sunday morning; it’s about a deep satisfaction that in worship you get a weekly reminder that your preferences are secondary to his purposes, that even though you could doesn’t mean you will; that me is secondary to we, that the phrase “my rights” is seldom if ever on the lips of a Christian. You could say Psalm 122 is one of the least America-focused psalms ever…and one of the most kingdom-centered of them all.

Do you remember in May, in Garland Texas, a Mohammed cartoon art contest was held? And it was attacked by terrorists who were killed by security? No one shed many tears for those deaths. And Christians rightly pointed out that Jesus is ridiculed and blasphemed and cartoonized every day in religion classes across our land but no one protests via mass murder. So they pointed out a double standard and we were grateful that terrorists and not “artists” got killed. It was the kind of thing that as an American you could feel okay about. We can make cartoons of Mohammed if we want to – we have the right.

But what about as a member of the Kingdom? What does Colossians 4:5-6 say about purposely antagonizing a billion Muslims?

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

How can you invite people into a living relationship with your Savior when you first ridicule their prophet? Might those words, along with Psalm 122, say that having the right doesn’t give you the right?

And where better to experience that week after week than in the place and among the people where your preferences are submitted to his purposes and where your me turns into his we?

Visiting the Sick: How We Participate in Our Own Salvation

Around the time the Methodist revival in England completed its first decade, John Wesley penned an essay called A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists. His aim is to explain the Methodist movement to the larger world, which he does by describing the various internal components of the revival that had developed during Methodism’s first ten years.

One of the components Wesley focuses upon is the prominent place of lay leadership within Methodism. He makes it clear that the revival is not a clergy-driven enterprise. As Wesley tells it, Methodism has many roles for laity that allow them to serve in active ministry. He describes the roles of Lay Preachers and Stewards. He documents the contributions of Class Leaders and Visitors of the Sick. Each of these “offices” has a set of responsibilities attached to it. Each of them is also empowered to do ministry—shepherding the members of the local Methodist societies in ways designed to care for them, nurture their discipleship, and push them forward in mission.

The role of the group that Wesley calls “Visitors of the Sick” is particularly remarkable. As he describes their work, Wesley makes it clear that Methodists understand pastoral care to be something that all people should do. In other words, pastoral care is not just a responsibility of the ordained pastors!

The kinds of caring activities that Visitors of the Sick take on are aimed toward assisting sick people in both spiritual and practical ways. Wesley reports that when Visitors call on the sick, they “inquire into the state of their souls” as well as “inquire into their disorders.” They also give advice in both spiritual and physical areas, and they are responsible for obtaining any practical support or goods that the sick may need.

Wesley believes that the fruits of this part of Methodist practice will be obvious to any who care to take a look. He first describes the benefit that the ministry of visitation has had for the sick themselves: “Many lives have been saved, many sicknesses healed, much pain and want prevented or removed. Many heavy hearts have been made glad, many mourners comforted.” Then he adds a little coda: “And the visitors have found from him whom they serve a present reward for all their labour.”

It’s an intriguing comment, and one so brief you might skim over it. Wesley seems to be saying that something happens beyond an act of charity when a visitor spends time in conversation and prayer with someone who is ill. The benefits to the sick person are obvious enough. He receives support—emotional or practical—and is reminded of the love that both God and his neighbor bear toward him. But Wesley is suggesting that something else happens as well. The visitor herself receives a “present reward” from God through the work of visitation.

Visiting the Sick as a Means of Grace

Though he doesn’t elaborate on what he means by the “present reward” in the Plain Account, Wesley does go into more detail elsewhere. His sermon, “On Visiting the Sick,” is written to encourage Christians to embrace the calling to care for the broken and ill amongst them. As the sermon begins, Wesley notes that there are certain activities that all people agree are means of grace—the Lord’s Supper, prayer, hearing and reading the Scripture, and fasting. We all know that these practices of worship and devotion “convey the grace of God to the souls of men,” Wesley says. Then he stops us in our tracks with a question: “But are they the only means of grace?” Indeed, Wesley asks, are there not certain works of mercy that can serve as true means of grace as well?

At this point, Wesley presses the theology of the means of grace in a truly creative direction. Sure, we may not have detailed instruction from Jesus Christ about the works of mercy the way we do about those “instituted” means of grace like prayer and the Lord’s Supper. But we do have the general command from Jesus to care for the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the imprisoned, and the sick—in short, the teaching that is found in Matthew 25:31-41. By the exercise of our prudence (i.e., practical wisdom gained by experience), Wesley claims, we can find that such activities are also real means of grace.

As one of these “prudential” means of grace, visiting the sick increases our thankfulness to God. Being present with the suffering reminds us of the suffering of Jesus Christ for us; thusly, we are reminded of the promise of salvation both for the afflicted person and for ourselves. At the same time, our care of the sick increases our sense of sympathy and benevolence as well as “all social affections,” Wesley says.

Participating in Our Own Salvation

John Wesley’s counsel on visitation of the sick provides insight into a number of core Wesleyan convictions about both ministry and theology. We can draw out a number of them here. The first has to do with pastoral care. If all Christians are called to care for the sick and wounded, then pastoral care is a communal ministry. It isn’t just about the pastor individually going around and tending to the needy in one-on-one fashion.

Instead, the care of the community must be undertaken by all baptized Christians for one another. And this is more than a duty; it is a way to empower laymen and women for ministry. (While we have focused on the example of Visitors of the Sick here, we could make similar arguments for the other forms of lay ministry that Wesley cites, such as Class Leaders, Stewards, etc.)

Secondly, Wesley is expanding the concept of what a means of grace can be. The conventional understanding of the means of grace in Wesley’s context included what Wesley himself typically called the “works of piety.” These consisted of activities like prayer, hearing the Scriptures preached, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and public worship. Such things have always been understood (by people then and now) to draw us closer to God. By including the works of mercy as means of grace—as Wesley does with visiting the sick—he is saying that these, too, will draw us closer to God. So caring for the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden is not just about dispensing charity. It is a vital means for receiving God’s grace in our own lives. Loving our neighbor, in other words, increases our love of God.

Thirdly, Wesley is very subtly suggesting to us a point about what it means to participate in our own salvation. This connection may seem surprising at first, but it can be illuminated by comparing the Wesleyan view of salvation with the way Wesleyans have always understood the Calvinist alternative. The Calvinist tradition would have us believe that, in the final analysis, we have no meaningful part to play in salvation. We are counted among the elect or the reprobate according to God’s eternal decrees. If we have been predestined for salvation, there is nothing we can do to lose God’s blessing. If we have been chosen for damnation, on the other hand, there is nothing we can do to escape God’s wrath. Grace is irresistible according to this view, and therefore salvation is ultimately a passive experience.

The Wesleyan view of grace and salvation is decidedly different. To understand it, we must consider first the way God created human beings in the beginning. We were created in God’s image, with minds capable of understanding and hearts capable of self-giving love. As God is a being of ultimate freedom, God’s intention for us as his image-bearers has always been to enjoy freedom as well. But because we have been debilitated by sin, we’ve lost all these good gifts: our understanding is clouded, our hearts are broken, and our freedom is lost.

Grace is given to us both to forgive our guilt and to heal our brokenness. Grace, in other words, restores the image of God within us. As we receive grace through Jesus Christ, we find ourselves born again—a transformation that gives us new life. Now, here’s the rub: God’s desire is that our capacity for understanding and love be fully restored. But because real understanding and love are not constrained but rather free, we must freely receive them in order to receive them at all. In other words, we participate in our own salvation.

The word “salvation” means health. To be saved means to be made healthy in body, mind, and spirit. The first outpouring of grace into our lives comes to us unawares, and it begins to restore us just to the point that we can respond to God in faith. When we start making that faith response, we continue to receive grace upon grace. And so through an intimate relationship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit, we come to know what it means to be made whole.

Fine, you might say, but what does this process look like in an actual human life?

Here’s what it looks like: A forgiven sinner who knows how much Christ has done for her responds in faith by going to care for the sick and downtrodden. She prays for them, speaks with them, cares for them—in short, she visits them. And by doing these very active things her faith is increased all the more and she comes to have a greater share in God’s grace. By visiting the sick, she participates in her own salvation.

Wesleyan teaching affirms that all aspects of salvation come by the gift of God’s grace. Because grace conveys power to us, though, it gives us the ability—the freedom—to join in the very work God is doing for us. Ecclesiastes 11:1 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” It’s a verse often interpreted to mean that the good we do will be returned to us, even if it is at some unknown point in the future.

The Wesleyan conviction about loving our neighbor is similar, but the time frame is different. For if loving our neighbor is a real means of grace, we will have the reward for it in that moment. As we bear God’s love to another, we receive that love back again. And by this process, God shows to us the mystery of salvation.