As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Praying for our Enemies, Really?

How ought I pray for them exactly, Jesus? 

I know what you said, but given our current situation, your words seem a bit absurd, Jesus.  You once said to us, Matthew 5:4“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Jesus, obviously you forgot to put the qualifications on that statement.  You should have been more specific.  At what point do our enemies become so dangerous, callous, brutal, and filled with evil that they are no longer candidates for prayer?  Could you help us with that?  I remember the guy that wanted you to put qualifications on “our neighbors,” and you messed him all up. 

But what about our enemy.  Could you be a bit more specific?

And what kind of prayers should we pray?  What did you have in mind exactly, Jesus?  Can we pray the words of Psalm 137, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”  Would that work?  Because that’s how we feel.  That’s the level of hate that seems to surge through our veins.  Should we pray that instead of the rain that you bring on the righteous and unrighteous alike, that our rain, the rain of our bombs finds their hideouts and holes?  Is that how we ought to pray, Jesus?  I’m just asking here, cause I’m not liking your idealism in the dark times in which we live.

We aren’t wired to pray for our enemies, Jesus.  We are wired for vengeance and wrath, fear and violence, vitriolic speech and contempt.  But prayer?  Prayer is dangerous Jesus, we’ve been down that road before.  That’s why we avoid it.  Once we start praying, you start aligning.  You start aligning our hearts with yours.  You begin to open our eyes to see those “others” the way you see them. 

Prayer is dangerous.  We know it, because stuff like broken-hearts, loves, and compassion happens as we pray.  This is not the time for that.  These are desperate times that call for desperate measures.  We can’t risk prayer if you are going to go trifling around in our emotions and ideas leaving us confused in a time when bold stances are required. 

No, not prayer.  We stand boldly and then ask you after the fact if we got it right. 

But pray for our enemies.  What good could come of that?  Isn’t this all a bit idealic, honestly?  Why pray, they’ve been hardened by the enemies lies.  They’ve sold their souls to the devil.  They are breathing out murderous threats…oh wait a minute.  I see what you just did there, Jesus.  That’s why we don’t pray.  We start praying and you go bringing up the Bible again.  Are you saying, Jesus, that it’s interesting that our enemies are located in the very space where another enemy to the gospel once stood breathing out murderous threats?  What was his name…Saul?  Yeah, that’s right, the enemy who was transformed by the very presence of Jesus, who became Paul. 

Enemies can become friends of the Gospel?  Really?  By praying for our enemy we are opening up the possibility that you seek to make our enemies, your friends?  But that’s scary, Lord.  That’s why we don’t pray.  If we go to praying you might pull an “Ananias” on us.  You might call us to embrace the risk of faith and go to our enemies in love and reconciliation.  No, that’s ok.

We won’t pray.  We’ll just stand boldly and ask you later if we got it right. 

But what if, what if, through prayer you were able to change hearts, reveal Christ, and breakthrough with the Kingdom of God in a God-forsaken place?  Now, I’m just talking crazy, Jesus.  See this is why I don’t want to pray, you get me sounding as foolish and absurd as you sound.  These are dark times, we need logic not idealism.   We need a course of action not disruptive movements of your Spirit. 

But what if, what if praying is a way of holding on the hope that you aren’t quite done yet?

What if praying for my enemies means that you might still break in and save?

You know, while we are at it, I’ll just let you know another reason why I don’t really care to pray right now Jesus.  Because in praying, I risk in aligning my heart with yours for you to reveal the places in which the enemy is already at work in me.  The enemy’s work that produces all kinds of hate, fear, and prejudice. 

I don’t want to get to praying, Jesus and you tell me that my hatred is not justified and in fact it is listed in Galatians 5 as an obvious sign of the sinful nature. 

I don’t want to get to praying, Jesus and feel rebuked for my willingness to sacrifice wholesale the lives of the innocent on the altar of my own protection.  I don’t want you to tell me it’s not ok to be afraid.

I don’t want you to tell me that I’ve ripped a few Bible verses out of context to justify my prejudice, suggesting that it’s destiny that the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael are forever locked in battle.  No, I cling to those verses, they are my out.  I don’t want to start praying, Jesus and you go to trifling with my reading of the Bible. 

What ought I pray exactly, Jesus?

“That we might all become sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven?”  Really, I’m not ok with my inability to make my eternal family.  Yet you love? 

What ought I pray exactly, Jesus?  Can’t I just stand boldly alongside the other non-praying people and ask you  later if we got it right? 

What’s that…no.  That’s not how this works.  We seek you first and your righteousness.  Can you make prayer a little less intrusive and dangerous?  No? 

What ought I pray exactly, Jesus?

Perhaps, something like this…
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come (not mine),
your will be done (not mine),
    on earth (right now and even in Syria and the Middle East) as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors (even our enemies).
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Ok, Jesus we will pray for our enemies.  Even if we are labeled absurd.  I guess you wore that label well, maybe it will fit us as well. 


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Crossing the Line: Settling the Jesus Question

“There’s a line and I’ve crossed it.  Some will say that I’ve lost it.”  These are the words of a song that I recently listened to that gripped me in a way few things have in recent years.
A line.

God has drawn a line in the sand and invited us to step across.  Will we, excuse me, will I heed that call? 

What’s the line?

The line is Jesus!  The line is the call to follow Jesus.  At the crux of this entire “being Christian thing” is Jesus.  Our belief about Jesus, who he is, His claim upon our lives, and what He’s calling us to is the single most pressing issue in our lives.  Have you settled the Jesus question? 

Jesus is the HINGE on which all of human history swings.  One of the earliest “line-crossing” statements made in the Scriptures regarding Jesus comes from the mouth of Peter in Acts 4, “…for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  This is what settling the Jesus question means.  Do you believe that?  This has been one of the most hotly contested statements throughout history and especially in our modern times.  Jesus is THE WAY to TRUTH, LIFE, WHOLENESS, and HOPE. 

This is not an exclusionary statement as though we are purposefully trying to keep people out.  No, the Jesus movement is the most inclusive movement in all of history.  Jesus didn’t differentiate amongst women or men, religious or sinner, poor or rich, alien or stranger, broken or self-righteous.  Jesus issues a call to all.

This is not a statement of pride as though I’ve figured something out that many in the world have missed.  No, I didn’t figure anything out.  In fact I wasn’t looking for Jesus at all.  I was a miserable wretch of a man who was one day accosted by Jesus at 25 years old in a chapel in Macedonia.  I wasn’t looking for Him, He came looking for me. 

This is not simply a Heaven/Hell question.  The minute someone says, “Jesus is the only way,” others will begin to ask, does that mean “so and so” won’t be in Heaven.  There is one thing in this world that I’m deeply thankful for and that’s not being in charge of who gets “in” Heaven or who ends up “in” hell, whatever that might mean.  What it does mean, however, is that if anyone gets “in” Heaven, no matter who they are (including me – wait, especially me) it’s because there was a cross on a hill on a Friday afternoon that became the altar on which both death and sin were defeated and an empty tomb on a Sunday that pointed Humanity to redemptive hope. 

Jesus is the line. 

He’s the line.  His call to follow is our call to cross the line.  That’s where things get difficult.  Oh, if it were only about getting “in” to Heaven.  If it were only about a magical prayer, once prayed, meant guaranteed bliss somewhere in the future.  But it’s the call to follow that gets us.  Because that means something now.  The call to follow is a costly call. 

We are wired for cost-benefit analysis.  How can I maximize the benefits for the absolute minimum in cost?  That doesn’t work with Jesus.

See on top of being the HINGE, the Bible seems to suggest that He is LORD.  To suggest that He is Lord means that to settle the Jesus questions means settling the Lordship question.  Does Jesus have full, unrestricted, unhindered reign in my life?  Is my life shaped by full allegiance to Jesus? 

Careful here…not so fast.  No flippant “Yes, of course he does” will work here!  If Jesus is Lord of your life, that means He is jacking up your life each and every day.  The Lordship question means we understand that we can’t serve two masters.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Greed.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Safety.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Prejudice and Pride.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Comfort.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our ____________ (you fill in the blank.)

No, stepping across the line affects everything.  Crossing the line will put you at odds with the side out which you just stepped.  It’s in the line of the song…”Some will say that we’ve lost it.”  Those that stay safe from Jesus on the other side of the line won’t get you.  They can’t, they are serving other masters.  Even some who seem to be of the same religious tribe will be confused.  Jesus is ok in our culture as long as He’s a privatized spiritual guru alongside Buddha that teaches us to behave well or the one who endorses and baptizes our agendas and political schemes, subservient to our Constitution and political parties.  But when Jesus becomes LORD!  Well, look out.  Some will think that you’ve lost it.

Because Jesus doesn’t seem to care all that much about…
Our constitutional rights
Our economic flourishing
Our comfort
Our American dream
Our privilege
and the list could go on…

No, Jesus appears to have a higher priority!  That priority is the coming of His Kingdom.  To cross the line is to step from this world and into His Kingdom and that will mess up everything.  It will mess up what you do with your checkbook, your political decisions, your aspirations and ambitions, your job, your family, and who you keep company with.  It will push you into places of deep compassion, sacrificial love, the anguish of forgiveness, silly generosity, time-consuming prayer, dangerous hospitality, and a myriad of other postures that aren't easy.  

It’s not comfortable.

It’s not safe.

Remember the One that calls us to cross the line spent 3 years hanging out with a bunch of hooligans, one of which was a terrorist (look up Judas the Zealot if you doubt me), made space at tables for all the wrong kinds of people, whose good work landed Him on a cross, and who even in His dying breath was blessing a scoundrel hanging next to Him. 
Some will say that we’ve lost it. 

If we cross the line I mean. 

See, here’s the tricky part.  You can’t hang out with Jesus long without at some point being confronted by the Jesus question.  You can avoid it, try to rationalize it away, attempt to diminish its impact, or try to get as close to the line and its blessings without crossing it.  But the line is still there. 

I’ve been guilty for two long of straddling that line.  But no longer. 

There’s a line, and by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit at work in me, I am crossing it.  I want nothing more than the Kingdom, I yield forever more to my Lord.  I long to align my life with the priorities of Jesus. 

For years, I pastorally and piously prayed, “Break our hearts for what breaks yours, God.”  Did I mean it?  I thought so.  But maybe what I meant is “Break our hearts for what is convenient and doesn’t cost much, what is safe and comfortable, what will give me the sense that I’m doing enough without actually pushing me over the line.”  Maybe that’s what I meant.  But no longer. 

I’m taking the risk.

I’m crossing the line.

Some will say that I’ve lost it. 


The next line of the song goes something like this, “Who cares what they say. I have found my joy, the joy of knowing You, Jesus.”  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nothing New Under the Sun: A Christian response to the senseless Evil in both Beirut and Paris

A Christian response to the senseless Evil in both Beirut and Paris

Once again the images of senseless violence and the tragic, unexplainable loss of life were imprinted on our minds after the scenes of last week’s terror in Beirut and Paris.  We were again confronted by the very real embodiment of evil.  Images of the horrific devastation caused by a few radicalized extremists aroused in us a myriad of different emotions; compassion for those that lost their lives and their families, anger at those that would perpetrate such violence, confusion as to how this could happen, and  fear about when this could land in our towns and cities.  It has many of us reeling.  There were quick responses, some good and some bad.  It was beautiful to see the call for #prayforparis.  There was support for the Parisian people and a willingness to stand alongside our long-time allies.  (Unfortunately this support didn’t translate to the people of Beirut --I’ll speak to this in a moment.)  There was the call to quick and immediate military response against the strongholds of ISIS.  There was also the fearful statements that appeared to lump all refugees fleeing from Syria with the extremists.  Of course there was the finger-wagging and the blame game as to whose fault this was.  When we are left reeling by evil, some good and some bad always seems to emerge.  But the crux of all of this is the word evil. 

In the Christian tradition, evil is a very real, pervasive force at work in this world that seeks to contradict, usurp, mitigate, push back, and ultimately destroy the work of God’s Kingdom-making here on earth.  Evil has been at work throughout the whole of human history (in the Christian tradition – after the fall in Genesis 3 and 4).  Evil has agendas: domination, destruction, depair, and ultimately death.  Evil can’t be ignored or wished away.  Evil rages.  It lashes out.  It wrecks lives.  It creates “reactions” that often trade evil for evil.  Evil evokes fear and turns sensible human beings into death-dealing brutes.  Here’s the tricky thing…evil wears many faces. 

In the Christian tradition, we will often talk about “powers and principalities.”  In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul states,  “12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  He seems to suggest that the faces evil wears will change, but the underlying force of evil is the unseen anti-Kingdom (of God) powers and principalities that threatens the live-giving, peace-establishing, hope-offering agenda of God.  It is against evil and the forces of darkness that we as Christians struggle.  Why might this be important?

The terror that we experienced last week was the latest iteration of an ancient problem.  There is nothing new under the sun.  When I say that I don’t mean we should just accept it as fact, become indifferent and complacent, or throw up our hands in despair and say, “what’s the use.”  No, that’s precisely what evil would have us do.  What I mean is that ISIS is the latest in the line of evil, barbaric, and savage forces of darkness.  We would do well to keep that in front of us so that we are less surprised, less reactionary, and more purposefully responsive. 

In just the 20th and 21st century evil has worn many faces.  This is not an exhaustive list. 
Evil has worn the faces of:
Hitler’s Nazi Regime
Stalin’s brutal and horrendous murderous campaigns
The hooded bodies of the Ku Klux Klan
Jim Crow Laws
The savagery of genocide in countries like Bosnia and Rwanda
The totalitarian dictatorships of Pol Pot, Pinochet, Idi Amin and many others
Timothy Mcveigh
Mass shootings at places like Columbine and Sandy Hook
Human Trafficking
Child Sex Trafficking
The Proliferation of Violence in the Inner Cities
Drug Cartels
The Terrorists in Mumbai
The Boston Marathon Bombers
etc., etc., etc., 
And yes…ISIS. 

Evil has been claiming the lives of the innocent, leaving in its path a wake of horror, tragedy, and destruction in all corners of the earth for a long time.  Until we recognize its tenacious force and refuse to be lulled to sleep by our sense of indifference and our illusion of safety, it will continue to jump up and bite us, leaving us surprised, scared, and reeling.

Evil demands that Christians take a proactive stance.  What might that stance look like?

1.)     Prayer:  I know this seems so churchy to start off with, but I really believe this to be true.  God, according to the Scriptures, has wired this world for co-participation with humans.  Part of that participation is prayer.  Prayer is the spiritual force of communities of faith that recognize the unseen dimensions of evil and call upon God to act and ask God for the discernment and wisdom to know what to do when it is encountered.  Prayer is the posture of the believing people that acknowledges that the authority to overcome evil is not found in human ingenuity or good intentions (those have often unwittingly contributed to evil).  No, overcoming evil is about a community of faith surrendered to God’s will and work in this world.  It is about a life shaped and sold out to the priorities of God for this world.  Prayer is about a life oriented to God and drawing its direction and strength from God.  Prayer wages war against evil through heavenly means.  It pushes back darkness and declares the power of God.
a.       Note:  We must also pray for those that wage physical battle against evil.  God has seemingly used violence to mitigate (not end) evil.  However, those thrust into those positions pay a terrible toll.  

2.)    Abandoning Ethnocentrism:  What does that mean, right?  Too often we are only shocked by the horrors of evil when those affected already look a lot like us or live like us.  For us Westerners, it means we are often only horrified when other Westerners are affected by evil.  This is the reason Beirut got little airplay last week.  We expect such brutality in certain parts of the world, so it doesn’t hit us as hard.  Unfortunately such ethnic bias does nothing but perpetuate evil through prejudice, hatred, and malice.  We must be equally broken-hearted over the loss of life of the innocent.  We mustn’t write off certain people groups because they aren’t like us.  We should be horrified by the countless thousands of innocent mothers, children, men, and elderly that have been killed in the Syrian battles.  Compassion should know no color, ethnic origin, or religious creed. 

3.)    Peace-making:  This is tricky for us Christians.  Too often this is seen as a passive “Liberal” response of the weak who don’t understand the gravity and weight of evil.  This couldn’t be any less true.  Peace-making is hard work, grueling work, painful work.  It is the work that costs some their lives.  It is about engagement, proactive engagement in the lives of others.  It’s about bridge-building, diplomacy, education, intervention, reconciliation, forgiveness, caring for the broken and needy, the poor and disenfranchised.  There is nothing passive about peace-making.  Making peace cost Jesus his life and may do the same for us.

4.)    Generosity:  Did you know there are agencies, missionaries, and mission works happening in these areas and countries that are seeking to do the hard work of making peace right now?  Did you know they would be able extend their reach if we’d be more faithful in the giving of our finances?  As Christians we are called to generosity.  Engagement means funding those Kingdom-oriented methods of engaging evil and pushing back darkness before it lashes out and takes the lives of others. 

5.)    Quit Feeding the Pundits and Fear-Mongering Voices:  Right now there are people making lots of money off Christians whose rhetoric is hateful, arrogant, prejudicial, malicious, deceitful, and sensationalistic.  They spout and spew out claims that can’t be substantiated and drum up business for their books, shows, and speaking engagements by keeping us frenzied with fear.  It is time to stop buying the junk they are selling.  It is time we begin to weigh the words of the loud-mouthed pundits against the words of Christ and the example established in His gospels.  When they don’t align we must be willing to call out their ridiculousness. 

6.)    Love:  This is my last one for right now, though I could go on.  Love is the primary orientation of Christians toward the world.  Love is a life lived outward, toward God and others in hopes of being ambassadors of God’s desire for reconciliation with a lost and broken world.  Love is the power of God, poured out through His people to bring hope and healing to our world.  This is not sentimental love.  This is a love that gets in the mix, gets our hands dirty, makes sacrifices, and willingly tackles the most difficult systemic evils that seem to perpetuate terror in this world.  Love is God’s counter-force to evil.  Evil steals life and Love gives life, even if it requires giving up life to give life. 

ISIS is without a doubt a face of evil in our world and must be engaged through a variety of different means.  However, if we aren’t aware of the proliferation of evil, we will miss the next iteration until it jumps up and bites us.  If we are not conscious of the many faces evil wears, we will again be lulled to our places of indifference.  The intensity of the moment will pass.  Our Facebook filters will be replaced by our funny poses.  Our prayers for Paris will be replaced by our Christmas wish lists.  We will struggle in a year to remember when that “bad thing in Paris happened.”  And yet, evil will rage on.  We must begin now!  We must be proactively engaged to bring peace and healing to a world under the sway of death and destruction.  We must sell out for the Gospel as God’s preferred means bring all of humanity under the life-giving, peace-making, hope-offering reign of God.