The Be-Attitudes: Challenged Or Beaten Down (Sunday’s Sermon Today)

Sometimes, I think that the Church has a persecution complex. We can convince ourselves in the holy huddle, the protective bubble of family and friends who think like we do, that ‘the world’ (whatever that is) is out to get us. And all of the misfortune and struggle we have is because we’re right and everyone else is wrong.

I’ve seen it happen with Christian movies and music. “Well, no one will play our CD because it’s too Christian to be on the radio,” or “no one will go to the movie because it says Jesus Christ is the only way.”

What if they didn’t go to the movie because it just wasn’t entertaining?

What if the DJs couldn’t play that song of the CD because it just wasn’t any good?

The other place I see it is in our national pride: I hear people say that we’re a Christian nation. Really? I believe there are Christians in leadership positions, and I believe that many of the Founding Fathers believed in God. But I’m not ready to say “America = God’s Chosen People.” Maybe that’s because I wonder about how well even the Church (big C) gets the Beatitudes, gets the way God wants us to live and interact with each other.

Re-read the final Be-Attitude with me today.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.–Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus doesn’t say that simply wearing the shirt or claiming the name or sticking a fish sticker on it causes your persecution or struggle or hard ache to blessed. Jesus doesn’t say that going to church or saying grace before meals causes persecution.

Jesus is talking about people who will be beaten, killed, disenfranchised, disowned, and ignored because they follow him. Jesus is talking about the kinds of persecution that people are experiencing in the Middle East or in China today, just for saying that they believe that Jesus died for them.

Jesus says that it’s blessed when we are insulted or persecuted for righteousness’ sake. A few weeks ago, we looked at righteousness from God’s perspective, and saw that righteousness was about seeking more and more of God, and less of us.

That means the persecution isn’t about us so much as it is about God! We’re not being evaluated by critics if we’re up there being judged or persecuted, but the way God does things is being critiqued through us. That means that these people being imprisoned or killed for Jesus’ sake abroad are dying for what they believe.

Can you imagine being so like God or so much like Jesus that people thought critiquing you was like critiquing God?

Can you imagine giving up your life for something you believed in that much?

That’s a lot of responsibility. But today, I hope we can take a hard look at the writings of Paul, a man whose conversion to Christianity caused him to cross the aisle from Christian-murdering Pharisee to Christian-in-chains-for-the-sake-of-the-gospel. Paul, shipwrecked, snake-bitten, betrayed, nearly-let-go, and yet willfully stubborn to proclaim the gospel wrote a few things about life’s challenges.

In our Scripture today, from II Corinthians 4, Paul talked about the struggle with being persecuted. First, he said that he would not lose heart because he could see where God had shown up in the past. Can you see the places where God has blessed your life? That’s one of the tests about persecution for God: too often we only blame God for what is going wrong and we fail to recognize that nothing would actually go right without him!

Second, Paul says here that the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, that he has shared is the truth, not something he fabricated or made up. That what he has shared with people is not something he came up with on his own but the story and teachings of God through Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying that the problems they are having are because they love Jesus that much. He admits (third thing) that their lives are fleeting [have you seen the space/time model they showed in Cosmos? All of human history is a mere speck on the actual timeline of the world.] But because he sees the big picture he says that “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Darrell Evans wrote the song, “Trading My Sorrows,” about this set of verses:

I’m trading my sorrow
I’m trading my shame
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord

And we say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord Amen

I’m pressed but not crushed persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed
I’m blessed beyond the curse for his promise will endure
And his joy’s gonna be my strength

Though the sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning

Paul knew that the promise of Jesus’ resurrection in and through us was greater than anything he could experience, even death. Think about his set of opposites from before: “hard pressed… but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

We all know someone who has experienced the slightest bit of friction, one small oil spot, and gone skidding off the rode. But we also know people who have encountered job loss, death of a loved one, financial instability, cancer, betrayal, war… and still stood strong.

Paul is one of those people, and he’s back at it in Romans 5:3-5: “But we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.”

We’ve gone from persecution and struggle to finding joy there, to glorifying God because of the struggle.

I want us to stop and think about that for a minute. What’s the biggest struggle you’ve ever had in your life? Do you thank God for it? I’ll tell you that I have a hard time wrapping my mind and my heart around that.

It’s not easy to find joy in suffering because none of us wants to suffer.

But Paul sees that in these moments of struggle, that this is when he sees God the clearest. Maybe because he’s completely abandoned to God; maybe because when he’s locked up in a dark, cold prison cell on death row for years, God is all he’s got left.

It had to be lonely, and scary, and sad. To be guilty of something that you’d never give up, and to know that the law of the land wasn’t just, because your beliefs were true.

Paul keeps coming back to that though, that the inheritance of being in God’s family, of having been embraced by Jesus, is eternal glory! In Romans 8, Paul goes on to say that the suffering is something God can use for kingdom building. “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” reads Romans 8:28.

Now, let’s be careful here: it does not say that God causes suffering or that God is pleased by suffering or that God wants people to suffer. It says that God works good in the midst of the bad; that God can use even the darkest moments of the soul to make the light shine.

Some of you have heard me raving about Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken, based on the life of a young man who became an Olympic athlete, a Navy airman, and finally a prisoner of war in the midst of World War II. [This is also coming to theaters as a movie directed by Angelina Jolie on Christmas.] Louie Zamperini was attacked by sharks while shipwrecked, shot down over hostile territory, deprived of his ability to eat, drink, or sleep, and saw the worst in humanity. But it’s this experience that finally drove him back to the arms of God because he recognized that God was with him to stay alive in the midst of it, not causing it to happen.

Sharks. Crashed plane. Shot at. Beaten. Made captive.

Paul and Louie have a lot in common! (Well, except for the plane…)

Paul wrote in Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…. NO! in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Can I get an Amen?

The things you’ve had done to you because someone else decided to use their free will as a weapon, the things you’ve had done to you because you spoke up for what was right or you did something because it’s what Jesus would have you to do, the times you felt beaten down by a thousand little paper cuts or one giant paper cutter, Jesus was right there with you.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.

Not addiction. Or our past. Not suicide, or our doubt. Not our sins or our mistakes or our bad attitudes.

We are all still loved by Jesus.

Speaking of Jesus’ love, I want to get back to that whole “us” versus “the world” thing from the opening.

In John 3:16, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” and he keeps encouraging us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Is there any room there for us against them? Or are we all in this together?

If we recognize that we can be and potentially will be persecuted for telling people about how much they’re loved or for doing things that run counter to the culture, then don’t we need to recognize that those who will do the persecuting are just neighbors who don’t realize they’re loved yet? That we might recognize that our sins are what caused Jesus to be nailed to the cross so that we’re not better than anyone else, but what we do since we met Jesus is what really matters?

I read a story about Will Muschamp, the football coach at the University of Florida. When he was younger, he broke his tibia and fibula, and doctors put a steel rod (temporarily) in his leg. When the rod was taken out, his mother had it put in a shadow box and gave it to him as a reminder of what he’d been through. In every office since he became a coach, it’s sat on a shelf for his players to see, as a reminder that everyone gets knocked down sooner or later, but it’s how they respond that shows their character.

What would it look like if we recognized that rather than being martyrs and throwing pity parties, or taking joy in how great we are compared to someone else, if we recognized that it’s our job to present the righteousness, the peace, the purity of heart by living out the Be-Attitudes, so that someone else can embrace it too?

That to be a disciple means we’ve got to stop complaining about problems, stop checking off the ‘been to church’ box, and do something proactive to show others how they’re loved by Jesus. That we might be God’s conduit of grace to them, that we might be the ones to introduce them to this whole notion of an omnipotent creator God who loved them enough to want to get to know them.

I think that means we better make sure that we are really, actually, truly, being loving, and about peace, and about kindness, and about being like Jesus.

Because it would really be unfortunate to be persecuted for just being yourself, and not for the right reasons.

Paul thought he was getting a bum deal when his name was Saul and the Christians were blowing smoke on his Pharisaical laws. Then he became a Christian and realized that with all Jesus had given up for him, there was really no room to complain.

So know this today: you are more than a conqueror when you follow in the dusty footprints of Jesus. You can be more than a conqueror in how you deal with the mundane and the massive, the grind and the struggle, the joy and the pain.

This week, when trouble comes, and we can be assured that great or small there will be trouble, how will you respond?

Will you be beaten down or find a challenge to be beaten?

You and God, not you alone?

Because nothing you or anyone else could ever do can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

That in itself is the blessing. And it’s time we used that blessing so that ‘the world’ would know it is loved by God, too.

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Blue Lights In The Mirror (A Mustard Seed Musing)

Driving home on the interstate one night, I was passed by an SUV doing well over the speed limit. No innocent to speeding myself, I looked down at my speedometer and recognized that the other vehicle was doing twenty to thirty miles over the speed limit.

The car was well ahead of me a few miles later when I noticed the state police car with its lights off roll out from behind a patch of brush and enter the highway. It too peeled off in a hurry, and I wondered if the officer would catch the speeding SUV.

A few minutes later, I came across the two vehicles… just as the SUV pulled away! There was no way that the officer had time to write up a ticket or even pass out a warning. What could possibly have caused him to release the vehicle that he’d caught dead to rights?

Was the driver on the way to the hospital with a woman in labor?

Was there a fire, and the speeding SUV was full of firefighters?

(Was the motor vehicle driven by the family member of a police officer?… Had to ask.)

I’ll never know. But it did make me reflect on my own journey of faith, and what salvation looks like on a really simple scale.

Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden by disobeying God, and were expelled from perfect paradise. Because of that, I’m dealing with “original sin,” or sin that impacts us all.

Let’s face it: I’m human, I make mistakes I don’t know about and I do things I shouldn’t, compounding my wrestling match with sin.

Because of all that, I’m dead to rights guilty. I’m well over the speed limit, I’m guilty of more than just speeding but I’ve been reckless in the way I lived my life.

Based on the laws of the Old Testament, I should die and be stuck in my situation. I should have no hope of anything better than that.

But then God sends Jesus, and Jesus dies on the cross. He pays the price for all of my mistakes and my sin, and for yours too even if you don’t ‘get’ it, and because of God’s great love for him and for us, he raises Jesus from the dead.

So when the law comes up beside me, knocks on the window, and shines the flashlight in my face, the only card I need to show is printed clear as day: “Loved. Redeemed. Forgiven, signed, Jesus.”

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FF Rant: #Winning (2014)

Here’s my dream draft in a ten-team league for this year, drum roll please…

Quarterback: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints ($35). Consistency, consistency, consistency. Brees just keeps chucking it, even while the NO brass keeps saying they’ll take more running reps.

Running Back: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles ($45); Ryan Matthews, San Diego Chargers ($18). McCoy is running behind the best line of the top three running backs (McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and Adrian Peterson). Matthews proved he could stay (pretty) healthy and is playing with a still-relevant quarterback in a wide open offense.

Wide Receiver: Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers ($27); Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins ($20); Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals ($14). I play mostly PPR and all three of these guys make sense. Cobb is the number two (or number one) in Green Bay, while Garcon is the one completely picking up the tough yards that let DeSean Jackson go over the top in Washington. Floyd is a little bit of a sleeper, but he mostly eclipsed Larry Fitzgerald last year.

Tight End: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints ($25). If you’ve never played, he’s simply the best. If you have, no words are necessary.

Kicker: Who cares ($1). Last pick.

Defense: NFC West? ($2). Second or third to last pick.

That leaves $13 left in a $200 budget for $7 spots. Obviously, I’ll be digging for some cheapies, like Jarrett BoykinKhiry RobinsonMarkus Wheaton, and Dwayne Allen.

But more than likely, I’ll get cold feet and refuse to pay that much for a top-3 quarterback or one of the top-3 running backs for 2014.

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Tawni O’Dell’s One Of Us: Shadows Of Home (Book Review)

Psychologist Danny Doyle returns home to his coal-mining roots in Pennsylvania to check on his ailing grandfather, and finds himself embroiled in a serial killer’s machinations to avenge old wrongs in Tawni O’Dell’s fifth novel, One of Us. Eerily similar in tone to the recent Christian Bale/Woody Harrelson flick Out of the Furnace (or the older Winter’s Bone), we see the internal power struggle that occurs for those who leave their backwoods beginnings seeking something better but are forced to return.

Doyle tells much of the story in the first person, and we feel his internal reflection (and shudders) as he thinks back to a broken childhood, bullied at home and at school. Bullying could easily be one of the main targets here for O’Dell, as she takes aim at a society divided between those who own the mines and those who slave away in the dark below. But there’s a sense of history here that shows that the dynamics aren’t immediate or cyclic, but as ingrained in the community as the dirt in their lungs or the alcohol they drink to numb their pain. All of this makes it even more painful for the intellectually-liberated, world-traveled expert in how the mind works, who realizes that he’s still stuck in his own painful childhood even as he works to help others work through their own.

O’Dell has fashioned a murder mystery, the motivations of which you may guess at by halfway through the book. But you can’t guess exactly how this will work out, or how the community will find healing for a century’s old pain. In the end of the narrative, it’s almost as if a prophecy has come true, but along the way, we’ve seen nuances in how family, community, and growth work, like taking a Harlan Coben/John Connolly narrative and injecting it with the sort of personal feeling that we’d expect from a homecoming like… Hope Floats.

All of this leaves me asking questions like: which is more important, nature or nurture? Can you go home again? Do people change? Are family structures irrevocably broken? O’Dell asks those questions but she does it through the narrative, sneakily forcing us to consider the interpersonal dynamics while keeping us hooked by the desire to know more about Doyle and his family, and the resolution of the murders. This is a thriller, but it’s one intent on gripping your heart as well as your head.

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The Be-Attitudes: Peacemaking or Keeping the Peace? (Sunday’s Sermon Today)

Blessed are the peacemakers,for they will be called children of God.–Matthew 5:9

I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. Whether it was Superman or Luke Skywalker, I wanted to be the person who would defeat evil and make it so that everyone else would be safe. These were some of the figures of my childhood who embodied “peace and justice,” who seemed to be the kinds of heroes that made peace happen. The world was black and white, and everything ultimately looked good, with no hints of grey, as a child.

I’ll never forget where I was on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Just months from graduating from seminary, I ran around the halls of the classroom building with everyone else trying to catch bits and pieces of the information that were coming in about the attack on the World Trade Center. This was unlike anything my generation had ever experienced: this was the destruction of security, and safety, and peace as we knew it. Innocence for me, naiveté of the world around us, that was now a thing of the past. The truth is, for the most part, America had lived in a seemingly safe bubble for years, with the Cuban Missile Crisis and Pearl Harbor decades behind us.

The world around us has been dealing with the lack of real peace for years. The world of the Old and New Testaments is ripe with the sense of fear and unrest from the time of Noah through the days of Jesus. But in the midst of all of it, there was hope.

In our scripture today, from the Prophet Isaiah, with words later echoed by Jesus in Matthew:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

For the people of Israel, Isaiah’s prophecy was one of a future hope; in Jesus’ words, the same scripture becomes a promise of a kingdom that Jesus brought, even though no one knew it yet. A kingdom that we live in but which is not yet fulfilled or complete.

These words of Isaiah are the stuff of Christmas! Whether you’ve grown up in the church and heard the words over and over again during Advent, or you’re a fan of Handel’s the Messiah, the words roll out a litany of who Jesus is and what he represents:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

I have to admit: that sounds great! I believe that Jesus is all of those things: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. But a world where justice and righteousness exist forever? That sounds almost too good to be true when I watch the news today, when I see the headlines:

-Teen fatally shot by cops

-Suspect in Starbucks attack unfit to stand trial

-Woman gets fifteen years for child porn

-More bombing in the Gaza strip

-Family robbed in own driveway

None of these things fill me with hope. But we’re called to this kingdom, to this following Jesus, to being the children of God. We’re straining toward something different, but the violence is all we seem to know.

We think if the other guy has a gun, then we should have one, too. And if the other guy has a bigger gun, then we better get one, too. We take it nationally to the point where we think the only way to end a war is to blow them away first, to act proactively. But is that real peace or merely ending a conflict by being a bigger bully?

What if it’s supposed to look different?

Rick Love tells of a story that took place during the ongoing wars between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades, St. Francis of Assisi chose to seek out an interview with the sultan of Egypt, to share his faith in Jesus Christ with this Muslim. Recognizing that he was going as a sheep among wolves, he was soundly beaten and captured by the sultan’s men and dragged before the sultan himself.

“Why are you here?” the sultan demanded, knowing full well that it was foolishness for a Christian to make his way into Muslim territories alone.

“Muslims we shall never become,” Francis replied, “but we are messengers from God and we have come to share our faith with you.”

The sultan proved to be taken by their courage and straightforwardness, and gathered the Muslim advisors to hear Francis’ message. Francis focused on the good news of Jesus Christ and begged for the fighting to end; the advisors urged the sultan to behead Francis.

“These men want me to kill you,” the sultan said, “because that’s what our law demands. But I will ignore the law because it would hardly be fitting to respond that way given that you have come here to risk your lives in order to save my soul.”

The good monk was fed and hosted, and freed to come and go as he pleased within in Muslim territories. His freely offered kindness defused a situation that would have otherwise ended bloodily.

But one story won’t turn our hearts around, will it?

What about the story from World War I, told beautifully in the narrative film Joyeux Noel about the ceasefire between the Germans and the Allied forces? About the Germans, French, and Scottish soldiers who defied their superiors and declared that no guns would be fired on Christmas Eve, just because it was Christmas?

What about the mosque in Bon Air that extended its love toward the United Methodist church there on the anniversary of 9/11 by gathering at the UM church with flowers and attending that service? What about the UM response to the mosque by extending the same act of peace and love when various Muslim businesses were targeted several years later?

We understand what ‘not peace’ looks like, but too often we settle for avoiding conflict, or separating ourselves from situations where conflict might occur, or faking our happiness and peace, or simply preventing conflict by “conflict management” instead of actually making peace.

Maybe none of us will immediately impact the world for peace; maybe we’ll never lead a rally that actually changes political decision making.

But what if we would actually experience peace for ourselves? Maybe we should pursue it individually first, then corporately second, and maybe, just maybe, it will begin to run upstream to our community, to our nation, to the world.

Jesus urges his followers to pursue peace by taking the plank out of their own eye first and then working to help the person they are in conflict with to remove their speck (Matthew 7:3-5). Cornelius Plantinga says that this peace is not peace made but God-given shalom: “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight; the way things out to be.”

It’s that kind of peace that makes us the children of God, and yet we can rarely wrap our minds around it, even for our individual relationships.

I’m reminded of my dad’s swimming coach mottos when I think about being peaceful. More often than not, when it’s about peace, I want the other person to act peaceful, and then (maybe) I’ll do what Jesus might do. That’s when the words come floating back from the pre-swim meet pep talks: “You can’t do anything about the person in the other lane, you can only control what happens in your lane, so do your best.”

But that requires me, you, us, to look at peace differently. To see peace differently before it ever gets to ‘not peace.’

There’s a parable about a town that relied on the tears of a very old dragon to make the crops grow, to renew the spring from which the the town’s water came. Each year on the day set aside as the town ‘celebration,’ a group of the strongest warriors would be gathered and feasted about town. Armed to the teeth and wearing the best armor they could afford, the group would venture into the forest to the dragon’s cave.

Down, down, down into the dragon’s lair, the men would go each year, and each year they would battle the dragon. Each year, they would harvest the dragon’s tears, and each year the dragon sent them back to their village broken and battered, a few warriors less than they had begun. The crops grew meager food and the well gave just enough to get by, but the means of the dragon’s tears allowed them to survive.

When the year had nearly been up, one young warrior-to-be stole away the night before, full of the town’s stories and jokes. Arriving by himself, he stole his way down to the dragon’s lair and softly began to speak from a cleft in a rock. The dragon rose up as if to strike quickly, but listened to the words of the young man. The humor and wit were evident, and the dragon settled back to listen.

Soon, the dragon was laughing, his belly shaking, and a lone tear stole its way to the corner of his eye. Shortly after, the ground began to be pelted by the giant tears of laughter rolling down the dragon’s cheeks, and the little vial that the young man had brought couldn’t hold all of the dragon’s tears.

That year, the crops grew bountifully, and the spring welled up with the purest water.

There were still tears, but this time, they were tears of joy.

I wonder if would see peace differently if we saw ourselves differently. If we saw each other differently.

Too often, we make a major mistake about peace: we think that we’re going to be able to accomplish it by ourselves. 

Let’s be real: I’m not peaceful. I’m not wired to be peaceful. I want to lash out, strike first, make sure that I’m taken care of. 

If I am peaceful AT ALL, it is because I recognize that I can’t do it on my own but have to trust God to help me grow into peace. 

Paul writes to the church in Phillipi:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)

Do not be anxious? … Think about what is true, and noble, and right, and pure. And peace will be with you.

God’s peace, not your peace or my peace. Because we would be covered in prayer and like-minded with Jesus. Because we would focus on the good and the right and the pure. 

What would that look like in your life?

What would happen if you banished the need to be justified? If you failed to show anger or irritation when someone slighted you? If you made the decision not to be that customer?

This week I found myself tempted twice to speak, and shockingly, chose silence. The first time, I was standing in line at Panera- the only one standing in line- and a woman walked up out of the blue and took her place… in front of me! There was no explanation that I could find to justify her ‘cutting’ me in line, and my first reaction was to say, “Um, excuse me, but I was here first.”

The second time, we were told to speak to a different worker at Walmart, then passed off to wait for a manager at Walmart, only to be told that she couldn’t help us at all! A key was with another manager, no it wasn’t, maybe it was… and finally, after ten or so minutes of watching my children try not to turn the checkout line of Walmart into a gymnasium, the first manager came back with the key. My growing frustration was only egged on by my children’s agitated state… I wanted to comment.

Neither situation is a big deal, right? Neither moment is earth shattering or terrible, but we have an expectation of how the world works: you don’t cut in line and the customer matters most of all!

There’s another story from war that Love tells, this time about a Turkish officer who led the attack on a village, and personally took over an Armenian home. He saw to it that the parents were killed and that the daughters were abused, even participating himself. Finally, the eldest daughter escaped and trained as a nurse. After a time, she found herself nursing in a recovery unit for Turkish officers, and recognized that officer in the midst of her responsibilities. He was dying, and over time, he was nursed back to health by that same woman. Upon hearing a doctor announce that he would’ve died without her care, the officer asked her, “We have met before, haven’t we?” 

“Yes, we’ve met,” she replied.

“Why didn’t you kill me?” 

“Because I am a follower of him who said, ‘Love your enemies.'”

The truth is that we take an attitude of vengeance into the way we drive our cars, the way we vote, and the way we interact with people all the time. And most of us have never faced a situation like that young woman.

But we long to be justified in all aspects of our lives, to be vindicated when we think we’re right, at great cost- including to our families, and our friends, and our coworkers.

We’re pretty selfish- we expect that other people recognize how special we are. We fail to see the way that our words and our actions hurt other people; we see the punch but don’t remember the words that ground the other person down for years that lead up to that fist flying. We say we’d never shoot someone else, but we cut the people we love down with our words all of the time. They’re the ones we know the best, and the ones we feel the least amount of fear from, so why not hang them out to dry?

If we take a good look at the Bible, we recognize that the first conflict occurred when Cain killed Abel. Family first, right? But it’s not actually the first ‘non-peace’ or violence in the Bible. No, that occurred when God showed up to inquire of Adam what had happened with the tree of knowledge, and he replied,

“What had happened was… she made me do it.”

Good work, Adam. You just set the bar for what male-female, husband-wife, confrontations will look like until Jesus comes a second time. But most of us skip right over Adam’s verbal blame because at least he didn’t kill someone.

And somehow, we’ve let not-peace, the aggression toward another person into the room because it’s “not that bad.”

Paul, beaten down and held captive for the sake of the gospel, wrote about peace over and over again. This is a guy who went after other people, Christians, to see them punished because he was so sure he was right in being Jewish! Imagine that apology: “I’m, like, um, terribly sorry I beat you up and arrested your brothers and sisters because, I, like, thought I knew everything. Actually, uh, God is like, way, bigger than I ever could’ve expected…”

You can almost hear him trying to get through to other people who are likeminded to what he used to be in Romans 12:16-18: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Paul is writing this two thousand years ago for this guy (pointing at self)!

There’s nothing there that says that just because you’re peaceful, that the other person will respond peacefully, too.

There’s nothing in Paul’s experience that says that if you do the right thing, that other people will treat you correctly. In fact, Paul told slaves to do their best work and be honorable toward their masters even when there was no hope of freedom.

But the ideal here is that we’re living into a peace that will absolutely exist in the future because God has promised it. The words of the Christmas song we’ll sing after the sermon, “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” lay out a framework for the building blocks of how we can live into real peace.

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

We’re supposed to practice it but we have to admit that it exists first- we probably have to experience someone else showing us that kind of love and not-peace before we actually get our ‘aha’ moment, or at least a strong experience of God’s overpowering love for us.

The author of the song, Jill Jackson-Miller told how she came to the words of the song in an interview with NPR on Humankind:

“When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”

Jackson wrote the lyrics in 1955 and her husband Sy Miller wrote the melody as they experienced a group of nearly two hundred teens, gathered to explore friendship and understanding each other. Representing a diversity of nations and races, they sang the song together, living it out in their community as they reflected over the words of the song.

The song urges us to remember that we are not “other” but brothers and sisters, that we are not competitors or opponents but strangers who have not become friends yet. The song echoes the teachings of Jesus and Paul, who lay out the way that God expects us to act toward peace:

Love your enemies. 

Turn the other cheek. 

Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Pray for those who hurt you.

Do good for those who mistreat you.

Bless those who curse you. 

Peacemaking means that we can’t sit on the sidelines; we can’t hide our eyes and act like the injustices in our families and communities will go away. It doesn’t mean that we feel peaceful or that we necessarily fully understand what loving people who don’t love us back looks like. It doesn’t mean that we’re in a court of law where someone is right or someone is wrong like Judge Judy.

Peacemaking doesn’t even mean that we are necessarily going to create peace. It just means that we are choosing to control what we can control: that as far as it is possible with us, we will live in peace.

That wwill be the good guys, by following the best Guy, that we will do what’s right, that in that moment, we will be who we’ve always wanted to be.

Peace is not easy; peace is complicated, and sometimes painful, and always a journey. 

So what attitude about life do you need to change this week?

Who do you need to love peacefully even if they don’t offer peace back?

Who do you need to intercede for that they may experience peace from the hurt they receive?

How can you model your life after Jesus, who chose to take the beatings that weren’t his to receive, to suffer the pain that he didn’t deserve for you and me?

I leave you today with one last (real life) example of freedom from not peace and the embrace of real peace, from one of my favorite movies of all time that no one has seen: To End All Wars. The screenplay is by Brian Godawa, but it’s the real-life story of Ernest Gordon, a Scot who became the chaplain at Princeton University after World War II. Abused and beaten down by the Japanese soldiers who controlled the prisoner of war camp, and forced to help build the Burmese Railway, Gordon makes the decision to not seek justice and violence on those who had mistreated him. Instead, he cares for their wounded and puts his life on the line so that even the head of the camp will be spared. Gordon recognizes that if he acts in violence and anger, he is no better than those who hurt him. As he wrote in his memoir:

What is the final destination of hatred? When you look in the eyes of the enemy and you see yourself… at what price, mercy? Who is my neighbor? What does it mean to love ones enemies? What can a man give in exchange for his soul? These are the questions I asked during my time in the camps… the answers changed my life forever.

Peace will win. What we can control is whether we will be part of it or not.

 

I found Rick Love’s book, Peace Catalysts, to be quite helpful as I prepared for this sermon, thanks to his take on peace theologically and his experiences in working toward peace in real life. Check it out here.

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FF Rant: Hit The Alarm Clock (Sleepers & Bounceback Candidates 2014)

For this year’s sleepers write-up, I’m ignoring the top fifty players on my draft board. For the record, I had the rough draft of the list done by July 20 and have updated it with preseason games and additional information available. But these are not your top picks… just ones that could give you the edge.

Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans running back. The first running back taken in the 2014 draft (at number 54), Sankey steps into a running situation where Shonn Greene is the only incumbent (Chris Johnson is a Jet now), the offensive line is strong, the Titans don’t want Jake Locker throwing thirty times a game, and Ken Whisenhunt still likes Pittsburgh Steelers football. Opportunities are everything…but down the line, we might care more about Tre Mason or Carlos Hyde. [Production-wise, see also: Toby Gerhart]

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver. Seriously?! This guy is in a top 5/8 offense, with another top-15 wideout and a top-15 quarterback. Besides the injury, what was there to complain about with his effort or output last year? [Injury bounce back, see also: Roddy White]

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants running back. The whole NYG offense could be a bounce back candidate, but no one seems to be talking about Jennings, who was fine as a Raider and now moves to a real organization. Eli Manning will throw for his, but someone has to run the ball, and they really don’t want to turn to Peyton Hillis again. [New guy in a good spot, see also: Emmanuel Sanders]

Aaron Dobson, Justin Hunter or Markus Wheaton. This trio of wide receivers, from the Patriots, Titans, and Steelers, all have me thinking that they’re worth a shot because someone on those teams has to catch the ball (especially as a second banana to Julius Edelman and Antonio Brown, respectively, for the Pats and Steelers). [Someone has to step up, see also: Rueben RandleJarret Boykin]

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings tight end. If I’m in a deep league, or someone wants to show off with several TE picks, I’m looking at Rudolph, the surest handed pass-catcher the Vikings have. (Seriously, you’re going to guess on Greg Jennings or Cordelle Patterson?) Enter Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator behind Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron’s rise(s). [Old guy, new system, see also: Jordan Reed]

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Gregg Hurwitz’s Don’t Look Back: Face Your Fear (Book Review)

Familiar with Gregg Hurwitz’s work on Batman: The Dark Knight (nineteen issues), I dove into his latest thriller, Don’t Look Back, and knocked it out in one sitting. Reading like a movie script, or a Harlan Coben/Linwood Barclay “normal person in an abnormal situation” placed ‘afar,’ the novel follows recently separated Eve Hardaway to southern Mexico, where she goes to clear her head over her husband’s infidelity and to capitalize on their already-paid-for romantic vacation. But what awaits Eve in the jungles is far from Eden, as she finds herself locked in a battle to ever see her son again.

Readers should be aware that this isn’t some goofy, environmentalist drivel with sentient vegetation like The Ruins; there is a very bad man who cowers the locals and has already committed murder lurking in the jungle, along with jaguars, killer ants, and crocodiles. This California nurse finds herself clutching her knowledge of science (physics and chemistry mostly) to stay one step ahead of this killer as he picks off the other participants in her expedition one by one like Ten Little Indians. Sure, this might be categorized in “horror,” but this Lord of the Flies deathmatch has more of a psychological feel.

Eve went to the jungle, but if she’s going to go home, she can’t leave the same.

I’m sure this could be Hurwitz’s use of a name he liked, but calling his main character “Eve” screams of a first woman or, at least, a new creation. The elements of the struggle once the enemy is identified and the fight has begun do include some banter, philosophical arguments, and the usual betrayal by some who should be on her side. There’s even a cautionary tale about those who have become so ruthlessly fanatic about their belief system that they hold no hope for others, and their justifications for damnable behavior becomes absolute.

But more importantly, there’s the internal monologue about fear, about family, about standing up and fighting back against an evil that others have allowed. This is a new birth for Eve Hardaway, from pressed-upon, regret-filled cuckolded wife, to proud, strong, hear-me-roar woman with a future. (In a strange, “this is how my brain works,” I found myself thinking about Demi Moore in G.I. Jane.)

Hurwitz has created an emotionally-charged thriller, grounded in reality, and we believe in Eve Hardaway, even as she comes to believe in herself.

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