Category Archives: discipleship

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

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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

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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

It takes a village

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In recent weeks, God has been seen in public or at least those who claim to represent the deity.  And there is this debate as to whether or not the name of God should be invoked at all.  With the needs of people politicized, it is hard to know when to speak for or against anyone.  These times, they are confusing because there are persons who are loving and hating each other in the name of God.

What shall we do then? God, give us the strength to love when we prefer our arguments over action, our perspectives over people.  Give us the strength to love as the temptation increases to be conformed to this world and its patterns.[i]  But, we cannot do it alone.  Dr. Maya Angelou wrote:

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

It takes a village to raise a child, to raise a community, to raise the consciousness of a nation.  It takes a village—not an individual or an ideology—to raise our awareness so that we can see each other apart from the categories that attempt to combine us, enshrine us against them.  Because God’s love is uncategorical and defies our descriptions, our color codes, our prejudicial treatment of agape.  It takes a village to push back against the normalizing of alternative realities.  Only God is real.

It takes a village for us to gain momentum, to ensure that we do not get tired of doing what is right.  It takes a village to keep us moving forward, less we backslide to our darker and more dangerous selves, our hidden and hurting selves, our fictional selves.  It takes a village to point us back less we slither into back room deals that only sell us out and sell us short.  Coming together “for us four and no more,” we come up short of the glory of God.  Because we will only get to holiness and to heaven together.

Still, we are so tempted to resort to our corners where we are encouraged to hide our light under a bushel—until our so- called enemy shows us theirs.  But, we are called to be the bigger person, to be a bigger people—not to be overshadowed by, overpowered by the powers that be—because these powers will not always be.  God’s kingdom is coming.  God’s kingdom is coming.  God’s kingdom is coming.

The Bible says, we are called together, to “be at peace with one another” (Mark 9.50), “devoted to one another” (John 13.35), “to live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12.16), to be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4.32), “to forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Colossians 3.13).  The Scriptures teach us, “Don’t grumble against each other” (James 5.9).  Be “patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4.2) and “make your love increase and overflow for each other” (First Thessalonians 3.12).  We gather not to sharpen our favorite scriptures to attack each other but to learn how to “love each other deeply,” “to live in harmony with each other” (First Peter3.8) and to lose the taste for our favorite hatreds.  Instead, we have gathered to eat from the table that the Lord prepares.

Do not be deceived.  This faith is one; but, it is for all.  It does not work without each another.  We have no testimony, no witness without one another.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is not individualized; this gospel is not a part of some government deal.  Christ’s gospel will not bear the seal of society’s approval.  And if we are looking to politicians for how we should practice our faith, then we are doing it wrong.   No, we are Christians together or not at all.

We need a village to move us beyond these divisions.  We need a village to move us beyond the cycles.  Because we have gone this way before.  We’ve had these fears before.  We’ve said these words before.  We’ve hated and judged like this before.

A nation and its people on edge, the psalmist was right, “The nations rage; the kingdoms totter.”[ii]  Who can find a virtuous people, a righteous equal?  Who can find their voice to speak truth to power, truth to the lies we face day in and day out?

In love with Caesar, help us to cut the ties, cut the puppet strings that pull us apart.  Let our relationship with God go deeper than our political party affiliations.  As they drive the wedge deeper, let us remember the nails that were driven deepest into Christ.  Because we are not blue and red Christians, conservative, moderate and liberal believers.  God can not be divided and God’s people must be undivided.  We pledge allegiance to “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”[iii]

Because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”[iv]  Because a faith divided against itself does not speak well of its leader.  Because where are we going, who are we following if our faith goes in political cycles, if every four years, we change directions.  Chaos or community, which way are we headed?  As people of faith, I call you to head off those who we lead us to the former, to cut off conversations that do not lend themselves to reconciliation, restoration and transformation.  But, you cannot do it alone.  Take your village.

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[i] Romans 12.2

[ii] Psalm 46.6

[iii] Ephesians 4.5

[iv] Matthew 12.25

Who is my neighbor?

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The early Church shared all things in common; but, the Church in North America remains stingy and divided, only willing to see our differences (Acts 2.44).  One community: in Christ.  One confession: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4.5).  Still, the divisions seem to intensify as the Bible is politicized and the people we have been called to serve are increasingly demonized. 

Questions like “What would Jesus do?” and “Who is my neighbor?” are harder to answer without starting an argument.  While Jesus’ story and subsequent record are clear, our explanations often are not.  It’s complicated by a national narrative that continues to keep its citizens in conflict.  But, living as Christ did and calls his disciples to doesn’t just lead us to church on Sunday mornings.

Instead, he leads us into places and among people we are called to love but whom the current administration of American government and its leaders prejudice as dangerous and a threat, who argue that their presence attacks and eats away at the very fabric of American life.  But, things seem to be unraveling.  It feels that we are hanging on by a thread and on the verge of chaos.

Chaos or community, these were the two options offered by civil rights leader and preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As the nations rage and the kingdoms totter, every tribe is for themselves.  Moving farther apart, we know the answer to the questions.  We know what Jesus would do because of what Jesus has done.  And in a nation that prides itself on individualism and independence, we know how to love ourselves if no one else.  The problem lies in seeing our neighbor as ourselves.

Because this would require the acceptance that we are all neighbors, all tenants and not the owners of the earth we pretend to be.