Tag Archives: Christ

Preparation

The Christmas season is now upon us and we can see decorations and other signs all around.  Our holiday to-do lists have heated up as various deadlines close in and we often find ourselves swept along by the hustle and bustle of the season.  There are gifts to buy, Christmas cards to mail, meals to prepare for, travel arrangements to be made, and many other things.  There have also been some changes at church as we have turned the corner into the end of the calendar year.  Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent and we have begun to anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth as well as his eventual second coming.  In the spirit of this anticipation, Advent is also a time of preparation.  As we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth, we also prepare ourselves and look to Christ’s return.

One of the ways that we prepare during Advent is by taking time for self-examination.  In many ways Communion is a good analogy to help us wrap our minds around the Advent season.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul admonishes the Corinthian church and us to examine ourselves so that we may eat the bread and drink the cup in a worthy manner.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-34)  Are we receiving communion with a heart that respects it for what it is or do we take it for granted?  This self-examination involves both repentance and thanksgiving as we ultimately seek to be spiritually realigned.

This is the same idea that guides us as we prepare during the Advent season.  One of the benefits of Advent being at the end of the calendar year is that we are able to look back upon the last 11 months and take stock of our lives and how we have been living for Christ.  We can reflect on the trials and the blessings we’ve experienced during the last year with the benefit of hindsight.  We are also able to see more of the big picture of our lives than we do when looking at it from day to day.  Both of these considerations help us as we ponder the question of whether we’ve been living our lives in line with the new life we have in Christ.

With all of the preparations we are making for the celebration of Christmas, it is easy for Advent to get lost in the shuffle between Sundays.  This is why having our daily time set aside for devotion is so important:  it protects and maintains a time in our regular schedule for God.  During these times we can offer prayers to God to guide us in our self-examinations and to give us clarity of vision to see where we have fallen short and to show us the ways in which we have been blessed.  It is also during these times that we converse with God and lay before him the contents of our hearts.  For we do not prepare ourselves solely through our force of will, but ultimately come to God so that He may continue to grow us and increase our faith.  Our self-examination is a cooperative process that we engage in with God and our improvement as Christians is a grace we receive from Him.

Just as we prepare a Christmas tree for gifts to be placed under it, we also, during Advent, prepare ourselves to receive the gifts of God’s grace.

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On Having a Positive Attitude

When we are told to have a positive attitude, we often consider it either a wishy-washy platitude or an apathetic dismissal.  While it is true that such an admonition is used in both of these ways, I would like to submit that there is more substance in a positive attitude than what these common uses would indicate.  What is it that makes a positive attitude more than just a nice thought or saccharine shtick?

Firstly, our attitude colors our outlook on everything.  It is a psychological lens through which information passes as it is formed into our perceptions.  As such, it can sharpen or distort our perceptions, either allowing them to be more accurate or skewing them (sometimes drastically) away from reality.  Our attitude is the difference between taking a passing comment as a passing comment and taking it as an insult; the difference between having an open or closed mind.  It is also key to the phenomenon known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy”.  Our attitude affects how we treat people, which, in turn, affects how they treat us.

Second, our attitude makes a very real impact on the people around us.  As noted in the self-fulfilling prophecy example above, our attitude really is contagious.  It can be what helps someone else to, themselves, have a positive attitude which goes on to affect the people they come into contact with and who we may never see.  In this way, our attitude has a subtle effect on actions and interactions beyond our little sphere.  This wide-ranging influence is why the kind of attitude we have is a very important decision.

Third, in addition to having an effect on our perceptions and on others, our attitudes have an effect on our own lives and how we live them.  Paul touches on this idea in his letter to the Philippians:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

-Philippians 4:11-13

Paul says that he is content no matter his circumstance.  This speaks to his attitude not as a passing feeling, but as a persistent disposition.  It is interesting to note the ideas Paul uses to convey his point.  He says that he has learned “how to” be abased, abound, etc.  This suggests that there is a better and worse way to undergo these things.  To bring this into better focus, consider the more mundane example of having a cold.  There seem to be two general categories into which people fall when dealing with this kind of disturbance.  One group accepts the cold for what it is and proceeds forward with life in anticipation that the annoyingly runny nose will eventually go away with the aid of proper care and rest.  The other group allows the discomfort and disturbance of the cold to take over their lives and dominate their attitude, inflicting undue strain and stress not only on themselves, but also on those around them.  Chances are that we’ve encountered both of these approaches to the problem of being sick.  In this case, it is clear that the first is a better way of addressing our cold and the second worse.  They do not change the fact that a cold is a bad thing to deal with.  Rather they speak to our disposition in a bad circumstance.  We can apply the same reasoning to a good circumstance; noting that we can have better and worse mindsets as we move through it.  This is the line of reasoning that Paul sets out as he addresses the Philippian Christians:  he has learned how to have a positive attitude in both good and bad circumstances.

As we unpack this further, we come to the foundation upon which Paul grounds his attitude.  He says that he can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Paul’s positive mindset is not based on his force of will when particular circumstances arise.  He’s not forcing himself to be happy or humble.  Instead, his mindset stems from a larger perspective in which circumstance forms a transient part.  This perspective is cultivated as we grow in our relationship with God and learn to live our lives with Him.  God, rather than being forgotten or relegated to a particular corner of our lives, is allowed to be a part of all that we say, think, and do.  We allow Him to provide comfort, to provide guidance, or to provide insight in the innumerable situations we find ourselves in.  Rather than being an escapist mentality, living our lives with God helps us to engage the people and situations around us in a healthy and constructive way.  Paul does not say that his positive attitude is based on ignoring his problems.  Instead, he says that he relies on Christ, who casts a light on the situation and helps him to proceed well.  Above all else, Paul (and we as Christians) has an unquenchable hope in the new life we have in Christ which surpasses anything that this world or Hell itself can throw at us.  It is this hope that strengthens us against the despair and cynicism inherent in having a bad attitude.

Although we often take having a positive attitude as a fluffy platitude anymore, I hope that the writing above has shown or at least helped you consider the idea that a positive attitude is something with substance that is worth taking the trouble to maintain.  It would be foolish to claim that it is easy to keep a positive attitude, especially when we are surrounded by a world bursting at the seams with negativity.  Nonetheless there is real value in this endeavor, for our attitude affects our perceptions and interactions with others as well as how we address ourselves to all manner of situations.  We make a difference in the world every day, whether we like it or not.  What kind of difference we make is very often the product of the attitude we have in life.


Afterword

With the election drawing to a close this week with heightened emotion and intensity for many, we now find ourselves pondering what the future holds from here.  It has oft been observed that this election in particular has been especially polarizing and, in affirmation of this, it has also weighed heavily upon many of our hearts and minds for some time now.  However, as the dust begins to settle, our attention must turn to the matter of how we are going to proceed.  For, though the presidential election is one of the most important events in the United States, which greatly affects and shapes the future course of the nation, it does not negate the numerous other moving parts of our lives.

As Christians, we must not lose sight of the fact that even something as big as the presidential election is ultimately a piece in the bigger picture.  It is a piece that we, as part of the stewardship given to us in our lives, are required to speak to through casting our vote.  Nonetheless, after the election is done, the votes tallied, and speeches made, there will still be evils such as hunger, poverty, corruption, and injustice in our world just as there were before.  Our Adversary, the devil, will still be tirelessly pursuing our spiritual ruin and the spiritual ruin of all humanity.

For these reasons, as we return our focus to our more routine cycles, it is paramount that we remain mindful of the eternal aspects of our temporal lives.  The words of Paul to the church in Colosse are poignant to us following the election:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

-Colossians 3:12-17

Paul’s words provide a gut-check that makes us look at who we are called to be as Christians.  It seems that this last campaign, perhaps more so than those previous, has tended to incline our hearts to hate and wish ill for others depending on who they did or didn’t support.  However, our devotion and obedience to Christ demands that we put off such wickedness and instead give grace and love just as we have received grace and love from Christ.  We are called to support and look out for one another for the greater glory of God, rather than give in to bitterness and hysteria.  This is an admittedly difficult task, given that our political views may not have won the election and that we are faced with sentiments all too eager to stir us to anger and fear whenever we do things like turn on the TV or log on to Facebook.  Sometimes we must take a deep breath and clear our minds of the clutter that so easily accumulates in it and distorts our perceptions.  We must not let fear or resentment govern our lives, for then we and we alone have robbed ourselves of faith, hope, and love.

Life goes on after this election, and so does our goal of living our lives with and for God.  As we move forward in our lives, we must keep our hearts and minds set on what is truly important and not lose sight of the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that, while we were still enemies to Him, we might be reconciled to Him.  Let us then, in keeping with His love, continue, as ever, to aim at and uphold the heart and spirit expressed in the greatest commandments:

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ this is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:37-40


Square One

There are times and stretches of time in our lives when it seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope of something better.  Or, even if we can envision something better, it appears to be forever out of our reach.  God seems distant and disinterested as we view our faith as more of a nice thought than anything of substance.  What do we do when everything seems so messed up and out of joint with both ourselves and the world in general?

What I wish to offer here is not any sort of quick-fix solution to magically solve all problems or a list of platitudes that just tell us to feel better, for hope is not built upon such things.  Instead, what I aim to do is present starting points, a series of “square-ones” as it were.  These are facts that help us to take our next step in the right direction and, just as important, help us to not give up.

1)  Jesus Christ is in Heaven.

 Yes, this seems like a rather vanilla statement, but we ought not to lose sight of what it entails.   Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven:  He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and was elevated to the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1).  There, having returned to His place at the Father’s side and opened the way for us to be reconciled to our God, Christ makes intercession for us to the end that we share in the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Hebrews 7:25, John 17:20-26).  We are never so far removed from God that we cannot reach Him and He cannot reach us.  When we come to God and throw ourselves upon His mercy, we have Jesus Christ as our Advocate, to speak for us and support us.

2)  The Spirit dwells in us.

 Though Christ is in Heaven interceding for us, we have not been left alone.  He, Himself, promised that a Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come to us and abide with us (John 14:15-18).  Through the Spirit’s indwelling, God dwells in our hearts so that He is always near.  The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in life to help and to guide us.  He is our advocate as we live on earth, reminding us of our true North and directing us closer to God.  In the midst of our weakness, in our hours of darkness, He also helps us by speaking on our behalf when we do not know what to say (Romans 8:26).  God is near to us even in the thick of the fray and is active in our lives even when we feel far from Him.  The Spirit helps us, speaks to us, and makes God known to us (John 16:13-15).

3)  We have the power to choose.

Because of what God has done for us, we are no longer slaves to sin or ignorance.  Instead, we have the help and tools before us to make meaningful decisions in our lives.  We can choose what kind of person we are going to be and what we are going to make of our current circumstances.  We can choose to remain faithful even when we feel so distant.  Even when we feel powerless, we are still able to make choices of eternal significance.  When we stumble and fall or are plain knocked down, there are always at least two options:  to stay down, or to get back up.  This is a choice that we and we alone can make.  We make it countless times throughout our lives and we make it especially often when we are struggling with sin or facing a difficult life situation.  No matter how many times we have to make it, it is always ours to make.

The points above remain constant, regardless of where we find ourselves in our Christian walk.  The worst thing that we can do is give up and succumb to despair, for then we have shut out hope ourselves.  However, if we can keep the above in mind, it will help us to remember the eternal hope we have and, in light of that hope, continue to put one foot in front of the other in our current situation.  This may be seeking out the help we need, it may be continuing in prayer despite being pressed by desolation, it may even be as simple as choosing to smile.

In spite of the darkness that may surround us and give us a bleak outlook on life, there is a light and power within us of great and eternal significance.  It is a light and power that is cared about by God and that He wishes to nurture and grow.  He has given us a key role in this process.  We can choose what to do with it at any given time and the hope that is thereby placed before us is a solid footing.


Sharing Faith

When we think of outreach, evangelism, and the like, we very often come up with thoughts of shiny new programs at church, awkward conversations, or those little track books.  In many cases it seems to be accompanied by a great amount of production and fanfare.  For some, it may raise a note of pride as they reflect on how many people they’ve “led to Christ.”  Others may experience a sense of shame or regret at opportunities missed or avoided.  Indeed, the Great Commission given by Christ Himself speaks to this very topic:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

However, I believe a question we often wrestle with is how we go about doing this:  how we share our faith with others.  When we talk about this topic, we usually end up talking about marketing Christianity.  More to the point, we talk about how to convince people to join church and the result is that our evangelism is more akin to a sales pitch than any sort of witness or sharing of Christ’s message.  It is no accident that Christianity is treated and perceived as merely a club when it is presented as such by Christians themselves.

So what is the alternative?  If not convincing others to become Christians, what are we to do?  To begin, let’s take a moment to consider exactly what it is that makes a Christian a Christian, namely, our relationship with God.  We have accepted God’s free-standing offer of grace and thereby been reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.  Through this reconciliation, our relationship with God becomes one in which, rather than resisting or being indifferent towards His love, we are free to receive and return that love.  Our obedience in following Jesus’ example is an act of love, not an attempt to earn love.  This mechanic of God’s love filling us and being manifested in our attitudes and actions lies at the heart of our lives as Christians.  It is also this love that binds the Church together and makes it what it is:  the body of believers across time and space.  So at both the individual and group level, our relationship with God is what moves and sustains us; it is the beating heart of our faith.  Thus, when we share our faith, the core of what we are sharing is this relationship.

With that in mind, we turn again to the question of how we go about sharing our faith.  The introduction to 1 John provides us with some perspective and guidance:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”

-1 John 1:1-4

John’s aim is that the reader should join in the fellowship of believers, which is the fellowship shared with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit.  He grounds his appeal not on clever arguments or flashy displays, but on the declaration of what he has witnessed.  John and the other Apostles testified to the reality of Christ’s resurrection through their eyewitness accounts and first-hand experience.  Anyone who is a believer has a testimony to give of their experience with God, for we all have witnessed Him working in our lives.

The abstract ideas and concepts utilized in arguments are useful for understanding what we know about our relationship with God.  However, they cannot, of themselves, show God to others.  They can speak to and convince the mind, but they have no power to move the heart.  At best, we can reach a kind of deism through these arguments, choosing to accept that God exists but remaining agnostic about His personal and ongoing involvement with His creation.  In order to share our faith, we must speak from our personal experience with God, declaring what we, ourselves, have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, and what our hands have handled.  In so doing, we let God speak through our lives.

As stated earlier, everyone who is a believer has a testimony to share and a relationship with God from which to draw.  We should be prepared to speak of what we believe and why, but we need not be professional nor even gifted orators to speak from the heart.  Christ does not call upon us to be salespeople or spokespersons, He calls upon us to be witnesses.


The Choice

In many ways, our Christian walk consists primarily of remaining mindful of God.  Put differently, it consists of remaining conscious of our relationship with God throughout the day.  This may take many different forms depending on the situations we find ourselves in.  It may be responding to an opportunity to serve another in a seemingly small way, or resisting the temptation to say something we’re better off not saying, or being willing to see someone in a different light than that of our own presumption, and so on.  This frequently amounts to being conscious of the choice that is regularly placed before us.  So often we respond to life in a reactionary way, especially in the course of our day-to-day activities.  Having a rhythm and routine to life is good and healthy, but it can also prove dangerous if we become passive and complacent in it.

Many times, we find ourselves falling short of the ideals we pursue for no other reason than we are not thinking about them at the time.  Sin sneaks in when we aren’t on the lookout for it.  It isn’t that we are going out of our way to deviate from Christ’s example, it’s more the case that we drift off the path.  Rather than turning opposite the way we want to go, it’s more like following traffic off of the highway without thinking about whether it’s the right exit or not.  The choices that are spiritually harmful to us often stem from sinful habit rather than sinful motive.  The situations that provide us with these choices are typically more subtle than being presented with two options obviously marked as right and wrong.  They tend to be more concerned with things like the type of attitude we maintain throughout the day, what we are going to let our mind linger on, and so forth.

As we ponder this, there is a very real possibility of going to the other extreme and going out of our way to shoehorn everything into a choice format.  The fact is that we don’t need to go out and find choices to make, we simply need to be aware of the choices already before us.

It may help to consider things from a different angle.  Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in which the Old Testament Law is laid out for the Israelites, Moses speaks to the assembly and says the following:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

-Deuteronomy 30:19-20

In short, the Israelites have been plainly told the way to life and the way to death.  Given this knowledge, they are implored to choose the way to life.

Moving closer to home, in the context of the New Testament and New Covenant we are under, Jesus sets down the foundation upon which all of the instruction in the Old Testament hangs.  When asked what the greatest commandment is, Christ replies with the following:

“Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Here, Christ sets down for us the heart of what it means to be obedient to God in simple terms.  As the Way, He shows us what it looks like to follow the Way which leads to life.

Returning to being mindful of the choices that come before us, being conscious of these choices and responding appropriately does not require that we constantly unfold a massive flow chart to identify them and decide what to do.  Nor does it require that we set ourselves on-edge as if we are taking history’s most dire multiple-choice test.  What it calls for is shining a light, plain and simple.  This light is the light of God’s word and by it, we can see to stay on the right path as well as catch anything unsavory that would try to sneak in under the cover of darkness.  One way we may go about it is simply keeping the two greatest commandments in mind as we go about our business.  Is my attitude one that loves God?  By saying x, am I loving my neighbor as myself?  These are some of the questions that sprout from such a mindset.  As they do, they cast light upon the choices we are making and allow us to see more clearly so that we may choose life.


Living Art

It seems that many times our spiritual life falls into one of two extremes.  On one hand, we may shove it to the outskirts of our mind and hope that as long as we keep it happy with the weekly trip to church or Bible study it won’t bother us.  On the other, we may hold visions of using it to ascend to a veritable Christian utopia in which we have reached the pinnacle of spirituality and can at last bask in the warm glow of victory.  This utopic vision of our faith both drives and haunts us.  We feverishly pursue the glittering image of having the perfect spiritual life while also rebuking ourselves for not having already attained it.  Though this pursuit may have the appearance of being good and beneficial, its gently sloping path threatens to lead us to a very different destination than we expect.

But why?  Aren’t we supposed to seek to grow closer to God?  Aren’t we supposed to imitate Christ?  Yes, we are.  However, we must pause to reflect on whether that is truly what we are seeking to do.  This isn’t a question of checking our motives as much as checking our goals.  If our chief aim is to draw closer to God and live out the Gospel message, then we will find ourselves on the right track.  However, if we are seeking to achieve a state of spiritual utopia, we’ll find ourselves going nowhere fast.  In fact, the word “utopia” literally means “nowhere”.

The images we chase are just that:  images.  They do not exist in substance as something for us to grab and possess.  Rather, just like light streaming through a window, the more we attempt to hold them, the more they evade our grasp.  The more we try to be the person we are imitating, the more we find ourselves drifting from God.  This is because our relationship with God is between us and God, not this other person and God.  As we are shaped into Christ’s likeness, we grow into a unique reflection of Christ.  In trying to be someone else, we are fighting against God’s shaping of us.  He created us to be us, with our own personality, talents, and gifts.

Let’s use Ignatius of Loyola to construct an example:  he developed a spirituality that has influenced and helped countless people grow closer to God.  Following the path of Ignatian spirituality provides a way of proceeding that helps us to be shaped into Christ’s image.  It does not provide a way of proceeding that aims us at being Ignatius of Loyola.

In Christ’s example, we see how to live our lives with God.  He showed us what it looks like to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind as well as to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This example is given to us to the end that we grow towards Christ-likeness and that we become able to show others who Christ is, not that we should become Christ.  After all, we must remember that Jesus was fully God and fully human, living a sinless life to the end that He might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for all.

It will be helpful to reflect on the words of Paul as we wrap our minds around this:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  -Galatians 2:20

Paul is writing about the new life he has in Christ, being justified by faith and not by works of the Law.  It is interesting to note the phraseology that he uses here, stating that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ lives in him.  Christ is the vivifying power which guides and directs his life.  When we were dead in our sins, there was no life in us and we were compelled as undead minions to serve our whims under the direction of our sinful nature.  In Christ, we have life and have it abundantly:  we are made free from the dictatorship of sin and are able to live and to grow and to give our lives, not as compulsory tribute, but as love offerings to God in a renewing, life-giving relationship.  Through this relationship we are shaped by God as His love works in and through us, forming us into the unique person we were created to be.

Consider an artist and painting as a metaphor:  a painting is given life and meaning by the artist acting through their brush and each painting is a unique expression of the artist’s heart, so that no two are the same.  Each life is a masterpiece which God has a vision for, a unique expression of love and beauty that He wishes to create.  What’s more, He includes us in the creative process so that we are not a passive canvas which is acted upon, but rather a fellow artist who works in cooperation with the divine maestro upon the canvas.  The end result is that the person we are is a unique work of art:  an expression of the heart of God that is unlike any other.  In attempting to be someone else, we try to become nothing more than a copy.  A copy is a lifeless duplicate of the original work:  the artist is unable to put any heart or expression into it because it is simply a retracing of lines.  Similarly, when we set out to live a utopic vision of picturesque Christianity, we are doing nothing more than sitting down to copy an image.  Because we are tracing lines, our focus is on attempting to recreate each stroke and we have no time for interaction or relationship with the artist Himself.  We do not allow God to have any input or to help us put any of ourselves into the work, and so our copy remains lifeless no matter how well we trace.  That enlivening and animating power of Christ which Paul wrote of is absent.

Rather than an empty duplication, our life and relationship with God is a vibrant work-in-progress during our time on earth.  It will only reach its completion when it becomes a part of the glorious mosaic in Heaven.  The life of Christ is a foundation to us.  The lives of our fellow Christians, both those who have gone before and our contemporaries, serve as influences and inspirations to us.  We work with God to have ourselves formed into a portrait of Christ that is uniquely ours, one in which our heart beats with God’s as they are both poured out onto the canvas.