Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, and focuses their attention on the vital relationship between God and His people: “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” That relationship is central to prayer and could make one believe that the life of a Christian is one that is lived out “just between me and God.”
However, the prayer goes on to highlight another relationship, and directly links the vertical aspect of faith in God with the horizontal aspect of faith in relation to others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The link is made between faith and real human relationships. Faith is lived our not just with those who are kind and loving toward us, but also to those who have sinned against us. How we treat others, especially our enemies, is a large part of living as a follower of Jesus.
On the cross Jesus poured out forgiveness. The whole world receives his love. He carried the sin of individuals like the thief, the soldiers, and even those who gave the command to have him killed. For God so loved the world that he sent Jesus. With that mindset the followers of Jesus live out their faith by looking for opportunities to forgive. In the midst of real, human, and broken relationships God works to bring about restoration through forgiveness.
Don’t fall into the misunderstanding that Faith is just between you and God. Keep your eyes open for those in your life who are also in need of God’s love. Then speak it, show it, and live it.
We confess that our belief in God is not limited to a vertical relationship, but also includes a horizontal dimension relating to human relationships. The Creed is a document designed to describe God, yet it points out the fact that God is not the only one that matters in living out our faith.
Read Luther’s explanation to the First Article on creation. A spouse and children are listed as created gifts by God for support in this life. For human relationships it is our duty to thank and praise God. It’s not just about me and God, but about me and my family too!
Even more clearly is the Third article which names the Holy Christian Church and the Communion of Saints. The message is that we’re not in this alone! God has created the Church and put us into human relationships in which we live out our faith in this world. It’s not just me and God, but me and God and the entire Body of Christ!
There is great comfort and joy to be found when we lift our eyes off our own faith walk to see others walking alongside us. There is support, encouragement, and strength to be found in the human relationships that God has gifted us with in this world. Family and the Church are blessings by God that enhance our life and faith.
What does God expect of His people? Jesus summed it up simply: Love God. Love others. Take a look at the Ten Commandments, and Luther’s wonderful explanations of each. You’ll see the commandments pointing to how a person can live out their faith in two directions. First, in love for God, a Christian directs their respect, honor, love, and trust upward toward our Heavenly Father. Second, in love for others, a Christian directs their love, trust, and honor for God horizontally toward their neighbors.
Notice how Luther phrases it: “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor… We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor…We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents…” Love for God is directed and lived out in earthly relationships. In other words, my daily life is the field on which my faith plays out.
My relationship with my parents and all in authority reflects how I look at God. My relationship to a person in need is shaped by how I perceive God at work in my life. My relationship to a person who looks different than me is shaped by my understanding of God’s universal love for all people given in Jesus.
The cross is the place where Jesus ultimately fulfilled this law to love God and love others perfectly. Jesus trusted His Father AND cared for others on the cross. He placed his life in His Father’s hands. He forgave his enemies. He respected his mother. He gave for his friends. He cared for the thief next to him. Jesus fulfilled this law perfectly, not just vertically by honoring His Father, but also horizontally by loving His neighbor as himself.
Looking at the Ten Commandments reminds us that Faith makes its way into all human relationships. Tomorrow we’ll look at the Apostle’s Creed to see how a doctrinal statement about God shapes our interaction with others.
Just between me and God? Not so fast…
One of the biggest fallacies in the Christian Church in the United States is the idea that faith is an individual thing that takes place just between me and God. It’s a prevalent idea, but it’s not biblical and it’s not healthy.
American individualism has its place and its strengths. There’s nothing wrong with pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. There’s nothing wrong with looking out for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with living a unique life because there’s only one you. The problem arises when we begin to look at FAITH as an individual pursuit.
Faith is not only about what takes place in the quiet moments of life, in prayer and devotion, and in the depths of my soul. Faith isn’t only about the conversations that I have with God, but faith is also about the conversations I have with others. Faith is also about how I use my body, my role in the family and workplace, and the busyness of life. My personal faith in God plays itself out in the context of daily life.
Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.” James said, “Faith without works is dead.” Paul gave many instructions to the Church in the vein of, “keep on meeting together.” The consensus of the writings of the New Testament Church is clear that Faith is not an individual, but a team sport.
Over the next few days we’ll look at the communal nature of the Christian Faith from different angles. Each day we’ll look at one of the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism and see how it informs our view of the Faith as Life in Community. Tomorrow we’ll start with the Ten Commandments. Grab your catechism, dust it off, and look through the Ten Commandments to see how they point to living out the Faith in community.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m an introvert. I’m not just a little introverted. I’m not in any middle ground. I’m about a 19/20 on the scale when I take those inventories. You pick the word and I’m it: shy, reserved, quiet, hard to read, aloof, weird, etc. I’ve been called them all. It’s not totally my fault either. I’m wired this way by my Creator. I must have been wired this way for a reason. (Maybe I’ll write some more someday about ministry by/for/through introverts, but today is really about the Comfort Dog)
For me the challenge of being introverted has to do with finding a reason to talk to someone. A quiet guy like me doesn’t usually approach someone on the street for a chat unless there is a clear reason. Every conversation for an introvert needs a purpose. Small talk is not our gig especially with people we don’t know. Give me a reason to talk, and I’ll do it. It’s not that I can’t talk to people, or even that I’m not interested in talking to people. It’s that I like to know that my conversation serves a purpose otherwise it really feels forced.
This makes evangelism a little tricky for a quiet guy like me. Generally the conversation needs to build from some kind of common ground to an opportunity to share Jesus. Having a clear reason to start a conversation can make it easier for an introvert to take the first step. Comfort Dogs make great conversation starters! And their purpose in bringing Comfort makes a nice transition to our ultimate purpose of sharing God’s love in Jesus. Thanks for helping me do my job better Comfort Dogs! (Btw, I hear Comfort Dogs can help my extroverted friends slow down and be better listeners too, but I’ll let them speak for themselves)
Please help us start conversations that lead to Jesus. Here’s the link.
There are times when I don’t know what to do or say. Oh, I know the right answer is always Jesus. I was trained theologically by some of the best Lutheran minds in the world so I know the answers to a lot of questions. However, there are times when answers are not to be given. There are times when it’s best not to lecture. There are plenty of times when I just don’t know what would be best.
I’m thinking of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus and the conversation he has with Mary and Martha. There is some teaching going on, but in the end Jesus does something remarkable. He cries with them. He didn’t rush to take away their pain, solve their problem, and make their issues go away. He wept.
We see that living the faith isn’t just a rational exercise of getting the answers right. In fact, if we have the right answer, but apply it incorrectly we’re just as wrong, right? There are times when my mind knows the right answer, but the timing is all wrong. Times when I shouldn’t be band-aiding with Bible verses and Christian platitudes. There are times when it’s best to be present and shed some tears with a person in pain. The time for talking will come, but we can sometimes be too quick to speak.
The Comfort Dogs know this, or at least were created in such a way that they naturally DO this. No lectures. No right answers. No quizzes. Just unconditional love through their presence.
It’s 24 hours after Newtown’s horrific shooting. It’s 36 hours after runners had their legs blown off by a terrorist’s bomb. It’s two days after a devastating tornado wiped away an entire block, and people are just getting to OK to go back and find their belongings scattered across the county. Do you have all the answers?
The time for words will come, and because you were there with the presence of a Comfort Dog you’ll get to share them. Help us make this vision happen. Support us here!
We’re not going into this experience blind. We’re not adding a dog to our ministry because we think it’s a cute gimmick that will draw attention. We’re not looking for advertising potential. We’re looking to bring the Comfort of Jesus, and these dogs do just that. We’ve looked at how the Comfort Dog ministry has been used across the country over the past several years, and we’re confident that it’s working.
The Comfort Dog vision began in the midst of sorrow on the campus of Northern Illinois University after one of the horrific school shootings that seem to have plagued our country recently. A couple of trained dogs known to the Lutheran Church Charities staff were brought in to be with students on the campus to help them process. They were invited back. This is the usual reaction to the Comfort Dogs in areas of the worst devastation. They are invited back.
We first came to know the Comfort Dogs personally through their work at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. Who knows what to do in response to that tragic event? A Comfort Dog does. People recognize that, and invite them back. Day after day Maggie Comfort Dog continues to be welcomed into the public school system in Newtown because of her work in those first days when few people really knew what to do except the dogs.
We saw them even closer up in Boston where crowds of people returned to find the dogs whenever they were in town. Grown adults curled up on the sidewalk to get some comfort and pray with the handlers. In Boston!
We’ve been following dogs on facebook, talking with handlers, and discussing how to do ministry with a dog with Rich and Dona Martin and the Comfort Dog leaders at Lutheran Church Charities. We’re confident that the ministry works.
We’re confident that this ministry is working, and we’re excited to use it in our area just as successfully as the ministry is being used in towns all across the United States. We need your help to make it happen. Please click here to help.