Archive for July, 2012

Give Peace a Chance


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9 NRSV)

Early last Friday morning a heavily-armed gunman in full battle dress killed twelve innocent people and wounded 59 more at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Shock waves from his senseless violence rocked families and friends of the victims, that community, our nation, and other nations. Many have spoken out as we’ve struggled to come to terms with this obscene slaughter. We’ve heard helpful and healing words. We’ve also heard insensitive, thoughtless, and just plain cruel words.

One word I haven’t heard is “peace”. Perhaps we no longer believe peace is possible. Aurora is the latest in a string of more than twenty mass killings since Columbine High in 1999. During that approximate time period, we’ve lived through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve seen continued   violence in the nation’s inner cities. Movies, video games, and popular music have reaped enormous profits from their glorification of killing and brutality. Our public political and religious conversations have grown increasingly hostile and polarized. Back in 1995 President Clinton worried that public political speech seemed to indicate that “violence is acceptable”. If anything, the climate of our public discourse has deteriorated even further.  In all these ways and more you could name, our world is anything but a peace-full place today.

The Aurora shooting reminds us that we’re caught in a “peace drought” every bit as serious as the meteorological drought gripping much of this country. I believe this “peace drought” offers the Church of Jesus Christ an unprecedented missional and evangelistic opportunity. For too long our response to the church’s declining membership and influence has been Olympic-level blame games and world-class pity parties. We’ve steadfastly ignored the justifiable criticism that many Christians don’t look and act much like Christ. One of the most pointed examples comes from Mohandas Gandhi’s  experience in South Africa early in the last century. Gandhi had left his native India to study in officially-Christian South Africa. The young Hindu eagerly accepted invitations to visit Christian churches. He was captivated by the teachings of Jesus. In fact, he seriously considered becoming a Christian. But he experienced religious and racial prejudice that he found clearly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. “I like your Christ,” he explained. “I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi saw no family resemblance between his acquaintances who called themselves “children of God” and Jesus their Elder Brother.

The “peace drought” gripping our nation, in fact our whole world, presents us who follow the Prince of Peace with an unprecedented missional and evangelistic opportunity. Imagine if your church became known in its community as an authentically peace-full place. Imagine if you became known as a place where people who couldn’t come together anywhere else could come together as family. Imagine if you became known as a place where individuals could learn to live peacefully in a noisy, warring world; where individuals and groups could learn constructive ways to resolve conflict; where families could learn how to live peacefully together, how to embed in their children the countercultural values of the Sermon on the Mount, how to work together to build more peace-full neighborhoods, schools, families, communities, and nations. Imagine if your church became known for supporting people who felt called to be “peacemakers” by taking political and social action, whether or not everyone agreed with every specific action. Imagine if your church became known as a community with a strong family resemblance to Jesus, the Son of God. That church would become a very different place. The community around it would become a very different place.

American Christians won’t recover our calling as “peacemakers” because a denominational leader decrees every congregation must do it. It won’t happen because some Christian publisher puts out a foolproof “magic box” that can transform your church for only $99.95. It will happen as two or three or a half-dozen gather together around Jesus and invite him to shape their lives in his image. It will happen as small groups of folks, with or without a pastor’s leadership, seek to let that “family resemblance” to Jesus form both their individual lives and their life together. It will happen as folks commit to being peacemakers together in small ways and find themselves led into bigger ways. It will happen the way the song says: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”


The Word of the Lord–from the Sports Page!

Frank Deford may be my favorite secular “preacher”. He’s a sportswriter with a keen sense of moral and yes, even spiritual, issues in the sports world. [Please bear with me, non-sports-fans. We’ll get to those issues soon.] Deford’s latest commentary on NPR addressed the recent doping scandal in baseball and the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame election. This is the first year that Barry Bonds and Roger Clements, the two most prominent players implicated in the scandal, are eligible for election. Some baseball writers have expressed their intent to vote for Bonds and Clements. Don’t do that, Deford warned—loudly! He insists (and I agree) that athletes using illegal drugs are cheaters plain and simple and their cheating should never be rewarded.

It’s not just that they helped themselves. The unfair advantage that Bonds, Clements, and other ballplayers gained disadvantaged other players: “…the dopers did not just pad their own statistics,” Deford wrote. “They keep score in games; by definition, sports are zero sum. By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.” Deford recalled the doping scandal at the 1976 Olympics. He named eleven US runners and swimmers who finished just behind medal-winning East German athletes in their events. The East German athletes were later proven to have used performance-enhancing drugs. “By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.”

The case is clear when we see US runner and silver medalist  Frank Shorter stand by as his illegally-juiced East German competitor receives the gold medal.  It’s harder to identify the victims of drug cheating in a team sport like baseball. Would a drug-free Bonds have set the record for most career home runs? Or would it still belong to Henry Aaron? Would Clements have pitched as powerfully? Would his New York Yankees have been as successful? Obviously we can’t “do-over” all the games in which Bonds, Clements, and other illegal drug users played. But we can at least refuse to reward their bad behavior and in that small way affirm the vast majority of players who play by the rules.

NOW HERE’S THE MESSAGE FOR FANS AND NON-FANS ALIKE: My actions reach far beyond myself. When I cheat my way to victory in baseball, bicycling, horse racing, or Life, I hurt everyone else involved. Those relatively few illegal drug users hurt all the other players, the fans, and the whole baseball community. Playing–or living–by a lower standard is never just about me. It lowers the bar for all involved. It’s easy to lower the bar—and much harder to raise it back to that higher level. Politicians, are you listening? Parents, are you listening? Pastors and church leaders looking for quick fixes, are you listening?

The good news is that the reverse is equally true. One person who steps up and lives at that higher level raises the bar for everyone on the team, in the business, the family, the neighborhood, the church. Abraham, Moses, Esther, and David did that.  Jesus did that supremely—and paid the supreme price. Countless followers of Jesus have dared to follow him in that high-level life the Bible calls “abundant life” (John 10:10). Most have paid a steep price for their faithfulness—Luther, Wesley, King, Mandela, Mother Teresa. Make your own list. Let’s share them through this blog. We’ll be amazed and inspired.

As the message draws to a close, I suspect that Brother Deford, like every good preacher, would call for a decision Will we settle for Lowest-Common-Denominator living on the baseball field or anywhere else in life? Or will we be that “one person” who steps up and lives at a higher level? Will we be the one who raises the bar and lifts those whose lives touch ours to higher, fuller, deeper life?

This morning we heard the news of the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. One man, James Holmes, devastated the life of dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands.  I’m waiting to hear stories of people who stepped up to help others in the aftermath of the tragedy. I’m also wondering if some of the people in Holmes’ life over the years—family, teachers, friends, etc.—are asking themselves if they missed opportunities to make a life-changing difference with him. We don’t get do-overs. We do get all the forgiveness we need and can accept. We do get new opportunities to live at the highest level we know.

Paul sometimes used sports metaphors to make his point. Once he compared following Jesus to a long-distance race(Philippians 3:12-14). A little later he described  the focus that empowers that high level abundant life: “…keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 CEV)

Giving God the Silent Treatment

Recently I asked for feedback about topics I wanted to address in this space. My firend Lois spoke up first. She wanted to hear abou the woman who prayed her way through a tough time. Actually, she wanted to hear how little I knew about how a woman prayed. But I don’t presume to know how a woman, or any person, prays beyond what they share publicly.

In fact, I don’t claim any special knowledge of the workings of the female species. If I claimed any expertise in the field of Mars-Venus relations, I might point to nearly 45 years of marriage to the same woman. But my greatest learning from this lifetime of experience has been this–Any man who claims authoritative knowledge in this field simply doesn’t know what he doesn’t know!

Now about this woman who gave God the silent treatment: Celeste Peterson’s daughter Erin was one of 32 people killed in the April 16. 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University. Losing one’s child is always excruciatingly painful. Having it happen because of such senseless violence must be nearly unbearable.

That unbearable pain struck Celeste Peterson and her husband on April 16, 2007. They were solid, well-grounded lifetime Christians. Erin had caught their contagious faith at an early age and continued to mature in Christ. When she went off to college, Mom and Dad watched and prayed eagerly to see what God would do in their daughter’s life–until it ended suddenly and tragically.

Celeste’s honest and frequent conversation with God shriveled to grudging acknowledgment of God’s presence: “Thank you for this day. I’m not talking to you. Amen.” We talk about experiencing the silence of God in our prayer life. But Celeste says, “I know you’re there–and I’m not talking to you.” She turned the tables. It’s God’s turn to wait on her silence. The Good News is that God waits as long as necessary.

One day the Silent Treatment ended. Celeste was ready to talk. No, I don’t know how long it took. Celeste says that when she reopened divine-human relations, “I never felt like I had missed a beat. He knew how I was feeling at the time.” God’s first words weren’t “It’s about time, young lady” or “How do you think I feel being ignored?” God said simply, “Welcome back. I’ve missed our talks.” Recently we visited with friends we hadn’t seen in years. We were able to pick up right where we’d left off. We were immediately comfortable with each other. What a great gift! Celeste’s experience suggests that such a welcome waits for all of God’s estranged friends.

“I told [God] that I thought he left me high and dry,” Celeste says, “And he told me that he had a plan.” Gotta love these two friends’ honesty! I doubt that God offered an explanation for the tragedy. We wouldn’t understand this side of heaven. I don’t think the “plan” God had was a detailed blueprint going back to the beginning of time. I suspect the plan was more like, “Yes, what happened to your daughter and all those other people was an unspeakable tragedy. But human freedom is also part of my plan. Now, use your freedom to work with me and we’ll bring great good out of this terrible event.”

That’s God’s Godness. God’s power brings great good out of monstrous evil–a way where there is no way; light in the darkness; life out of death. God’s plan included Erin’s parents forming the Erin Peterson Fund. This non-profit organization provides college scholarships to deserving high school students. God’s plan included the “jubilant gospel concert” the Petersons and their church held on the first anniversary of the shooting and every year since. The concert celebrates Erin’s life and her commitment to helping others. The plan also includes the Petersons’ active involvement in the community of those impacted by the Virginia Tech shooting. Their hopeful presence must have opened up some dialog, perhaps even helped some folks resume–or begin–conversations with God.

Sometimes life hits us so hard that we don’t want to talk–to God or anyone else. Just this morning I heard that a friend may have fallen into that category. When it happens–not “if”, but “when”–go ahead and give God the silent treatment if that’s where you are. Know that God waits with us through our silence and waits for us on the other side of our silence. Know that all God asks is that we be ourselves–the ones God already knows and loves more than we comprehend.

But don’t think that’s the end of it. God waits with you through the silence. God has much more for you on the other side of your silence. Expect God to take the worst moments in life and bring out of them more good than we dare to imagine.


Too Much of a Good Thing

I’m going to try to take a tiny bite of a huge issue—our relationship with food. Food is good for us. We can’t live without it! Food is a gift given by God in the process of Creation (Genesis 1, especially vss. 26-30). God’s repeated affirmation of Creation as “good” and finally “very good” includes all forms of food–and also us humans. We are made in God’s image (Genesis  1:26) and God provides all we need to fulfill God’s purposes for us—including the food necessary to maintain our physical selves.

Before Jesus taught us to pray for it, God had already provided the raw material for “our daily bread”. But our relationship with food has mushroomed into so much more. Food has acquired multiple layers of social, spiritual, and emotional meaning in our culture. Social occasions, family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and religious ceremonies all revolve around the centerpiece of food. (Consider sacrificial offerings, Holy Communion, and potluck dinners.)

The “daily bread” for which Jesus taught us to pray is still far from a sure thing. “Daily bread” is a daily crisis for hundreds of millions of our fellow passengers on Planet Earth. Even in the developed world, the disturbing (and frequently-denied) truth is that “daily bread” is very precarious for very many people. You probably didn’t notice it at the 4th of July picnic. But millions of our fellow Americans didn’t get sufficient nourishment that day—or any other day.  

Now consider all this in the context of our nation’s obesity epidemic. We are caught in a massive disconnect  between our diets and our lifestyles. If you’re not sure what this “disconnect” looks like, here are some snapshots:  

  1. Our sedentary lifestyles are incompatible with the high-calorie, high-carb diets of an earlier time when people burned more calories in daily life—walking, chopping wood, working on the farm or in the garden, not logging hours of screen-time, etc.
  2.  Much of the food we learned to choose from childhood or family associations has strong emotional attachments. Unfortunately that “comfort food” isn’t usually the healthiest  choice.
  3. Processed foods and fast foods add mountains of sodium, sugar, and fat and relatively little nutritional value. Soda and other sugary drinks represent 7% of the nation’s caloric intake, and those are mostly empty calories.
  4. As a nation we are eating out more and being served portions fit for a crowd—or at least a small group! As good obedient children we strive to clean our plates so a nameless child in India or Africa won’t starve because we wasted food—as our (grand)mothers warned us!
  5. Fill in your own examples and share with the rest of us!

Now here’s today’s tiny piece of this super-sized  issue: How and where  does the church address this disconnect? How and where can individual Christians and local congregations get involved? Let’s start with “Why”. Let’s set the answer in the context of Creation care: How do we care for God’s gift of food? (Note this also includes global hunger issues)? How do we care for ourselves, we humans made in the image of God who are a key feature of Creation?

Let’s add one more piece: “You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own.God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20 CEV) Paul’s addressing Christians in a culture where orgies and fertility cults are common. Don’t treat yourself that way, he says. You’re too good for taht. You’re created in God’s image, endowed with a “spark of God”. When God entered our history, he did so—as one of us! Your body is too precious to waste. “…Use your body to honor God.“

What would “honoring God” with our bodies look like in your church’s day-to-day life? Not as another program or activity on an already overstuffed calendar, but as an understanding that permeates every aspect of its life. “Use your body to honro God” might mean

  • We’ll have fruit or veggies as well as sugar-snacks at fellowship times.
  • We’ll feed the youth something besides high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium pizza.
  • We’ll make sure healthy choices are available at potlucks so our fellowship doesn’t expand everybody’s “pots”. 
  • We’ll address developing a healthy body image and resisting unhealthy cultural pressures in our children’s and youth ministry.
  • We’ll still (or maybe for the first time) address sexuality with adolescents and their parents.
  • We’ll help families develop healthy, balanced lifestyles so that all can “use your body to honor God”.
  • We’ll work with folks labeled “disabled” to help them find ways to honor God with their sometimes uncooperative bodies.
  • We’ll address ways to cope with high-stress commuting lifestyles, including transitioning to something different.
  • We’ll work with folks battling various addictions. We’ll reject a shame- or guilt-based model in favor of a Creation-care model that invites folks to overcome addiction so we can be free to “use your body to honor God”. 

Too much of a good thing can make us sick–even God’s gift of food. The right amount of food, exercise, and all the other elements of a full life can help us lead the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that Jesus insists is God’s will for every one of his precious children.

If you want to know more–check out these articles:

“Soda, Supply, and Demand: Can We Share a Taste for Change?”, Dr. David Katz

“Former Coke Executive Slams ‘Share of Stomach’ Marketing Campaign”

“Weighing in on Sugary Beverages and Obesity”, Susan Blumenthal, M.D.