Category Archives: discipleship

Letting down our defenses

This morning, I led a conversation on the fights that form us as Christians– red versus blue carpet, choir versus praise team, contemporary music versus hymns, offering plate versus Apple pay, suits versus skinny jeans and a t- shirt, 8 a.m. versus 11 a.m. service.  You know, deeply transformative wars for righteousness.  And these fights seemingly go on forever, handed down to each generation because we will surrender NEVER!

But, I think these fights begin within, that they are not fighting words we hear but something more difficult to discern.  Consequently, I invited the group to pray and then to silently read a section of Walter Wangerin’s “In Mirrors,” where he focuses on what shows up of ourselves in the faces of others and especially in the face of Christ.  Afterwards, I invited them to journal about what they were fighting for, fighting about, who they were really fighting with and then to surrender.  I closed this part of our time together with words that I hope will help us discern the fight within and help us let down our defenses:

All that I am striving for, climbing up the ladder and back up the ladder again after getting kicked, shoved, tripped and tricked to go back down the ladder, all that I think I want to have and know I need, all that I should have done and could have done, all that I wanted to be and never was,

I release.

All that I am fighting for, all that I have and want to keep, all that I am afraid to lose, all that I fear is slipping through my fingers,

I surrender.

All that I think I am, all that I want to be, all that I am expected to become and do and say, all of me that gets in the way of God’s will,

I give up.

All that I have a grip on and need to get a grip on, that I hold tightly while it strangely squeezes the life out of me, all that I am afraid to give up, won’t give up on, won’t give an inch on, won’t budge, won’t move,

I let go.

Today, I let down my defenses.  I choose faith and to surrender, to give up, to let go of the fight.  And before I am tempted to reach for it again, take the fight out of me.  This is my prayer.  Amen.

We can’t leave the ministry of reconciliation

reconciliation

It is so tempting to close ourselves off after deep wounding, after failed attempts to come together as people of faith.  We might ask ourselves, “Why isn’t this working out?”  Still, we must believe that God is at work, that while we want to throw our hands up in despair, God’s hands are still in.  All in.

God has not pulled away.  God still believes that we can be reconciled, that we can pull off this fellowship.  Two feet in.  When we walk by faith, we don’t take any steps back.

Because our faith is not in us but in Christ and his bloody hands are still extended.  We don’t have the option of withdrawing as his cross is an open invitation and an ongoing reception.  It’s not over until Jesus gets a hold of the one that left all ninety- nine of us (Matthew 18.12).  Jesus is the gate so we must remain open… like the Lord’s Table (John 10.7, 9).

This is why the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion is so important.  Every month or each week, we are called to come back to the table– but not back to the drawing board.  All is not lost.  Still, “It is written…”

No matter what the newspapers print and despite all of our reporting on separations, splits, divisions and disagreements, there is still a report from the Lord.  Lean forward and listen out for it.  It won’t get as much attention.  God’s voice is still and small.  Still, we are called to “be still and know that God is God” (Psalm 46.10).

So we must keep our ears open, our eyes open, our hands open, our hearts open and our mouths open.  We must be ready to give and receive the blessing of belonging, to be reminded that we belong to and with each other, that we were all made for each other.  In the end, it will all, we will all come together.   Being reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, we are right where we need to be (Second Corinthians 5.18).

God’s still pulling it all together, still pulling us all together one heart string at a time.  Give it time because it is all in God’s time anyway.  God’s will be done.  All called and hearing the same command to love and hope and trust, we can’t leave the ministry of reconciliation.

 

A call for peace

Let there be peace. This is my solemn prayer.  That we need not die or assassinate each other’s character to experience it.  I don’t just want to rest in peace but to live in peace.

But, it is hard to find peace and quiet these days. It is an unlikely combination.  Albert Einstein said, “Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order— in short government.” Maybe this is why the American Empire keeps up a racket.  Its politicians make a fuss.

Old arguments rile us up and kick up dust. The breaking news is breaking us.  Another day, another insult, another mass shooting, another natural or human- made disaster, another scandal, another threat, another investigation.  Life has been reduced to litigation.

Our lives are littered with disputes. Who will clean this up?  As we dumpster dive into people’s lives, sifting through trashy details for treasures, for trophies, for the win in yet another argument.  But Jesus said that for all we might gain, we lose.  He challenges our capitalistic conclusions: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life[i],” “and lose their soul”?[ii]

And what are we fighting about now? What is he[iii] lying about now?  What are we trying to get out of now?  What I wouldn’t do for peace of mind, for a piece of time without digs, jabs, low blows and cheap shots.  What I wouldn’t give for relief from manipulations, plots, schemes and double- dealing.

We pick fights and then pick at the fights. America is one big sore spot, made worse by the backbiting, the gas lighting.  Hair is on fire while trying to tread lightly.  We walk on egg shells.  It is not safe for anyone to carry the truth of our pain, our sadness, our doubts.

Instead, we cry, “Peace, peace.”   Still, the weight of reality is crushing us, bearing down on us, smashing our faces against the window, weighting us down in our pews.  We hold our tongues and consequently, can’t move.

But, my elders would say, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.”

Because lies don’t really serve us; instead, they do the devil’s bidding. They are his children.  Lies are the adversary’s “native tongue.”[iv]  No believer should be fluent in this language.

At least that is what Jesus said to those in the temple, “He (that is the devil) was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”[v]

Jesus says that because he tells the truth, they doubt him. Because he tells the truth, Jesus will not make a believer out of them.  Instead, they pick up stones. Rest in peace, Jesus. Because they would rather kill the messenger than hear him out.

Regrettably, not much has changed from his time until now. Rather than hear the ugly truth, we pick up stones.  Shooing away “our better angels,” we let the devil come along.  “Deceiving and being deceived,”[vi] we think peace will come after just one more lie.

We say, “That’s not true. We’re okay.  Everything’s fine.”  With pieces of the sky in our hair, we tell each other, “There’s nothing to see here.  Please go back inside.  Go back to business as usual.  Peace, peace.”

Prophet- preachers find themselves in a familiar tough spot. Walter Brueggeman said there are three urgent prophetic tasks: to assert reality, that is truth- telling, to give voice to grief in spite of our denials and to proclaim hope less we fall into despair.[vii] Jeremiah warned us not to cry, “Peace, peace when there is no peace.”[viii]  Still, there are those who want us to fake it until we make it to heaven, to nod and smile, to go along to get along, to keep everyone comfortable, to maintain the status quo and to not get out of the boat.  But, “the rain drops keep falling on (our) heads.”

Malcolm Muggeridge teaches us, “People do not believe lies because they have to but because they want to.” They need to keep the argument going, keep the power of truth bogged down in tedious and unnecessary paperwork.  Friedrich Nietzsche was right, “The most common lie is that which one lies to himself; lying to others is relatively an exception.” Yet, the psalmist makes none but cried, “I kept my faith, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’  I said in my consternation, ‘Everyone is a liar.’”[ix]

Which is why it is essential that we know Jesus. Jesus said that if we know him, we know freedom.  He said, “… you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”[x]  How then are we so confined, so short of breath, so short- tempered?  Why do we seem unable to take another step—even if it is in the direction of understanding?  It is due to the growing anxiety in our world as the lies are piled on top of us.  Because as the saying goes, “If at first you’re not believed, lie, lie again.”

Still, it is hard to keep the world at arm’s length when it is constantly trying to pull you in, draw you in, bring you into the fight. It tells one lie, one half- truth at a time.  It offers illusions at half price and sells wholesale deceptions.  “Truth is whatever you want it to be,” they say.  But, as believers, we cannot make peace with that.

And I cannot make sense of that; still, there is a blessing in making peace no matter what becomes of us. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”[xi]  I receive his blessing and offer it to you.

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[i] Mark 8.36, NRSV

[ii] Mark 8.36, KJV

[iii] That is, Donald Trump

[iv] John 8.44, NIV

[v] John 8.44b-45, NRSV

[vi] Second Timothy 3.13

[vii] Walter Brueggeman, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, 2014), 2.

[viii] Jeremiah 6.14

[ix] Psalm 116.10-11, NRSV

[x] John 8.32, NRSV

[xi] Matthew 5.9

Not even close


“The work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross was not only to bring us back into fellowship with God, but also into fellowship with one another.  Indeed, it cannot do one without the other.  If we have not been brought into vital fellowship with our brother, it is proof to that extent we have not been brought into vital fellowship with God.”

| Roy Hession

Daily news is breaking, dashing my soul against stone cold faces.  Hardened heart, I am not moved by the words on the screen.  Another day, another insult.  It means nothing now; there’s nothing to it.  Everybody can do it.  Leaders and followers, there’s no need to bother with truth or integrity or kindness.

Just let it rip!  My heart falls out.  My heart cries out.  Love!  I need a pick me up.

He lies about the caravan, that the threat is approaching us.  Instead, the danger is on the inside of us, closer than we want to admit.  Because it is easier to point the finger than to point out our prejudices, fears and ploys for power.  Bait and switch the subject.  Now, what were we talking about?  What are we talking about Christians when we call people ‘invaders’ of God’s earth?

Because where does God draw the line?  How do we know who’s in and who’s out?  I guess the plan of salvation is mere lip service.  You said it.  You’re saved; now, go away.

Saved but you can’t stay.  Please don’t move next door to me.  No, go back to where you belong though we are all God’s children.  We are family, limb- siblings, fellow members of the body of Christ.

We’re saved not from each other but ourselves.  Praise God!  We are saved but not protected from those people on earth, who don’t talk like us, who speak in other tongues.  And if we can’t say this while professing to be in relationship with God, then we are not even close.

No enemy lines

See the source image

I hate you.  Three words that we do not expect to hear from a Christian and certainly not from the pulpit.  This is why we use other words to cover them up.  Because it doesn’t sound good.  And it’s not a good look for those who would profess to be in relationship with the God of love.

So, we say, “I don’t hate anyone.  I just dislike them strongly, wish I had never met them and would be glad if I never saw them again.  No, I don’t hate anyone; I just can’t be in the same room with them, have to bite my tongue when they come around, can’t think of one nice thing to say about them.  I don’t hate anyone.  Still, I won’t miss them when they’re gone, won’t sing a sad song because I am better off without them, wish they were never born and won’t shed a tear when they die.

But, I wouldn’t say I hate them—because that is such a strong word.

Actually, hate is defined as “a passionate dislike” and is a common occurrence in our vocabulary.  So, we may not hate the person, but we hate their guts.  So intense is the dislike that we hate the very sight of them.  For some relationships, there is a balance of devotion and hatred, described as a love- hate relationship.

And there are those we feel justified to hate.  It is a hatred that is long- standing and well- founded, well- grounded in points that have led us to this place.  There are hatreds we love and people we love to hate.  Villain and hero, they are in every story.  Strangely, we can only see ourselves riding in on a white horse.  So, we imagine ourselves saving the day and thus, loved by everyone.  We have no enemies.

***

But, even Jesus could not and would not make this claim.  While on earth, persons tried to stone him and throw him off a cliff.  He was run out of town on more than one occasion.  While we imagine Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts, I can see doors being closed in his face more often than not.  Jesus told a scribe who wanted to follow him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”[i]  Homeless, the creatures were living better than the Creator.

And please don’t choose the Jesus Way if you want to be well- liked.  I assure you that Jesus’ yearbook did not include him as the most popular or even class president.  The Lord’s Table was not the cool kid’s table.  No, our leader was the laughing stock of his community.  Jesus goes home to preach and people were offended that he presumed to know more than them when he had grown up with them.  Jesus says of the incident, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin, and in their own house.”[ii]  Jesus makes it pretty clear that this was a packaged deal: “You will be hated by all because of my name.”[iii]

Like those who lived during Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time, we pretend that we would have walked with Jesus, been found alongside him.  But, the truth remains, that all of the disciples left him.  “No not one” was at his side or would cross the line between crowd and crucifixion.  Instead, they stayed silent.  Because though they hated to see a good man die, they loved their lives more.

So, they turned their backs on him and his back is torn to pieces, whipped.  They hide behind closed doors as he cries out for help.  We hate to hear the truth but even those disciples Jesus hand- picked would not pick up a cross to follow him.  He taught them to turn the other cheek and they turned and walked away not long after Judas kissed his.  All seeking to save their own skin, there are no heroes here.  But, are they villains too, enemies of Christ and his cross?

If so, we don’t hate them.  And why is that?  Is it because we can identify with them?  We can see ourselves in them?  Because if the truth be told, our response would be the same, which is why we love Jesus so much.  Jesus knows that they don’t know any better: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”[iv]  Jesus does not hate us, but he loves us and forgive us, his enemies.

Perhaps this is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross, he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause, he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So, the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.  (Quoting Martin Luther, he continues,) ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’.”[v]

Jesus loved his enemies from the beginning and until the very end.  And he commands us to do the same: “Love your enemies.”[vi]  Described as a hard saying, love is often viewed as failure.  We think, “Where is the win in turning the other cheek,[vii] in suffering and forgiving, in serving someone who has wronged us?[viii]  From the cross, Jesus would point to all of us.  Jesus didn’t come to win a game but to win souls.

These days, it is hard to know whose side the Lord is on.  Perhaps, it is because Jesus takes no sides but desires to bring everyone to his pierced and bleeding side.  He died not to score political points but for our salvation.  And he did not die only for those we love and who love us, but Jesus lived and led, loved and died for our enemies.  For him, there was no difference.

Because in our sinful state, we were all behind enemy lines.

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[i] Matthew 8.20, NRSV

[ii] Mark 6.4, NRSV

[iii] Matthew 10.22a, NRSV

[iv] Luke 23.34

[v] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

[vi] Matthew 5.44

[vii] Matthew 5.39

[viii] Romans 12.20