INTO THE FIGHT

 

The stories coming out of Manchester, England are horrific. Scenes of children and young teens mutilated, bleeding, and dying because of irreconcilable hated are printed indelibly on our hearts and minds. Amidst the death and destruction however are also the stories and images of those daring individuals who ran into the fray; gathering children and helping them to find their parents, first responders who ran headlong into the chaos with the purpose of saving lives. I was recently reminded of a quote from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

In this scene of hate-filled destruction there is a message for those of us who dare to call ourselves Christian. The message is that we are called to go into the fight not run away. It is the role of those who claim the call of Christ to be the helpers who run into the melee, not away from it.

To put it into more theological terms we are called to be bearers of light. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do we light a lamp and cover it. Rather, we boldly step into the madness with words of hope and actions of grace and mercy.

There is absolutely no excuse for the hatred that breeds random violence. Someone must stand for peace with justice. Someone needs to run into the fight and declare, “no more!” Of course, it is much more complicated than simply shouting “stop!” But the children of God are called to be bearers of light in the darkness of brutal hatred. To bear the name of Christ is much more than a title or a statement of church membership. We call Lord the one who claimed to be the light of the world. It is impossible to claim Jesus as Lord and hide behind a veneer of pious, meaningless platitudes.

The Prologue to the Gospel of John states: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John1:5). The only way to overcome the darkness that surrounds us is to run into the fight, not only proclaiming peace with justice; but practicing peace with justice.

One is forced to ask the question, “how?” How do we bear the light of Christ’s presence in the midst of mindless brutality? What does it mean to practice peace with justice?

Luke 10 may be helpful. Having been asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns the interrogator’s question back on him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus commends the response: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
This begs the unspoken question, “If you know this why aren’t you doing it?” Hence, the lawyer feels the need to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”

The answer is well known as the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story requires little retelling. Briefly, a traveler is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Passing by the scene both a priest and a Levite hurriedly rush by the injured traveler. It is a Samaritan, an outcast and outsider, who crosses the road, applies first aid, and transports the victim to a safe place.

This well known story addresses the “how?” The answer is both simple and complex. Simply put, it means crossing to the other side of the road and doing the practical acts that save lives. It becomes difficult when we are faced with the reality of stepping into harm’s way to help a stranger. We find it easy to support and love those who are like us, but the parable is about an age-old enemy who dares to step into unfamiliar territory and offer aid and comfort to a potential aggressor. We don’t excuse the atrocity. We rise above it.

Boldly crossing into the enemy’s camp is incarnating what Jesus meant when he proclaimed, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27). We would like to be able to spiritualize that saying away. It isn’t practical. It isn’t safe. No, it isn’t practical and it isn’t safe. It is however the way of the cross. Sorry folks, but it is time to stop memorizing scripture without living it. It is time to examine the life of Jesus as it was actually lived; not as we wish it could be. If we can do this honestly, we find a teacher who was unafraid of his enemies and in fact, put himself in harm’s way when it could easily have been avoided. To bear the “light” is to walk into harm’s way to practice love for an enemy. Again, we do not excuse the atrocity. We rise above it.

This speaks to the phrase used above “peace with justice”. A form of peace can be enforced. It is possible to legislate or impose peace. The “Pax Romana,” the peace of Rome, is an example. The peace of Rome was enforced by the sword. As long as one obeyed the laws, paid taxes, and worshipped the emperor all was well. This may be peace, but it is not peace with justice.

Peace with justice is the peace that comes from loving God and neighbor. Peace with justice has to do with treating others better than they deserve. It is a far cry from the peace of Rome which is brutally enforced by martial law. Peace with justice is daring to cross to the other side of the road when the safe thing to do is keep moving. Peace with justice is comforting a frightened child or dressing an enemy’s wounds. Peace with justice rejects revenge in favor of reconciliation.

I would not presume to have the answer to the violence that plagues the world in which we live. Far better minds than mine have failed horribly at the task. One can however, be assured that violence begets violence, vengeance opens the door to greater atrocities. How naïve to proclaim, “all we need is love” but we need the light that overcomes the darkness. The light is found in running into the fight, not away from it. We run into the fight incarnating patience, justice, and mercy.

“In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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COME, LET US REASON

I was recently in a denominational meeting where a major decision was to be made involving leadership and direction. The process leading to this conference had lasted for two years and at times been controversial and conflicted. During the meeting difficult, pointed questions were asked. The committee making the recommendation was challenged at various points as to process and outcome. At the end of the day a vote was taken and a decision was made.

Here’s the point I want to share with you. During this five hour meeting, there were no raised voices, no accusatory statements, no name calling, or derogatory remarks. In short, it was a difficult decision reached through prayer, compassion, and genuine love for one another. As I traveled home I reflected on the dynamics of that meeting and celebrated the fact that all though the decision ultimately reached was not unanimous; it was accepted and affirmed by all present.

I have a colleague who is a pastor in a conflicted and difficult parish. She has made every effort to resolve the issues and attempt to be a loving shepherd amid overt hostility. Ultimately, spiritually, emotionally, and physically exhausted she chose to resign. Quietly stating that she will probably never pastor again.

My heart breaks for communities of faith that sacrifice the love of Christ on the altar of selfishness and parochialism. I shed genuine tears for pastors who are caught up in loveless churches, who cannot see beyond themselves to recognize the kingdom of God in their midst.

Seminary enrollments are down, more churches close each year than open. Across many denominations there is a shortage of pastors. But still we choose to fight, hanging on to what we determine to be our “rights” rather than the kingdom principles of love, compassion, and grace. I wonder if God weeps over our brokenness, stubbornness, and just plain sinfulness. We should weep over the destruction we wreak on the kingdom of God.

As the first example indicates we can love, respect, and treat each other with dignity even when we disagree. We can reason it out in grace, not anger.

“Come, let us reason together” that’s what God says.

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WHEN I REMEMBER YOU

In writing to the church at Philippi Paul begins with a prayer for the congregation, “I thank my God,” the prayer opens, “every time I remember you…” (3:1).

I want to take a moment and affirm to each one of you that I thank God for you every time you come to mind. It is difficult to be a leader in the church today. The church no longer holds a position of prestige in the community. In fact, it seems that more often than not the church is the scapegoat for all of peoples’ disappointments and frustrations.

Declining attendance, the closing of many houses of worship, and the failure of many new church starts to succeed makes it difficult to cast vision and dream the dreams of God.

However, I want to say, “thank you.” Thank you to all of you who freely offer your time to serve the church, often in unseen roles of quiet service. “Thank you” to those who continually lift your pastor and church staff up in prayer. “Thank you” to all of you who teach Sunday school, lead a small group, set up tables and chairs for special events, serve in the food pantry, provide special music, usher, make coffee, unlock the doors, take care of the building and grounds, prepare meals for children on Sunday evening, drive the van, pick up the trash, or any one of the myriad other tasks that are required to keep the ministries of the church functioning.

It is easy to sit back and criticize those who lead the church. The ugly words “clique” and “elite” get bandied about freely by those who do not step up and share in the tasks of ministry. To those who hide behind these words I want to challenge you to take a risk and actively join one of the “cliques” that you so gleefully condemn. When you make that effort, you will quickly discover that there are no such things as “cliques”. Ministry is open to everyone who chooses to be engaged. It is only a “clique” because we have refused to be involved.

This is an outstanding church! You need to know that. Many churches and pastors are suffering terribly because Christian people have forgotten whose church it is. Churches split; pastors are sacrificed because we have taken our eyes off Jesus and determined that it is “my” church. Guess what? It’s not your church. It’s not my church. It is Christ’s church. Anything that takes the focus away from Christ and places it on human endeavor is heresy.

You need to know something else. Your pastor loves you! Your pastor walks with feet of clay and thus is vulnerable to the same temptations and failures that plague you. Your pastor falls, makes mistakes, gets frustrated, and sometimes lets you down. But know this, your pastor loves you! “I thank my God every time I remember you…”

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For You I am Praying

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone (1 Timothy 2:1).

There are sound reasons why I constantly remind you to pray for one another. The first of those reasons is that it is a biblical mandate. Prayer is not an optional task that we perform only on special occasions. Prayer is a fact of spiritual life. We cannot remain in Christ without the discipline of prayer. Jesus reminded his disciples that they cannot survive without being connected to him. The connecting tissue is the practice of prayer.

The second reason that I continue to push you in the practice of prayer is for the health of Christ’s body, the church. Before he went to the cross Jesus prayed for the unity of those he was leaving behind: protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one (John 17:11). When the people of God pray for one another there is unity and spiritual maturity in the body of Christ. The lack of prayer is equally obvious.

The words of Paul to Timothy call us to make supplications, intercessions and thanksgivings for everyone. The work of intercession is crucial to our personal spiritual development. It is critical to the life of the body of Christ.

In his book, Life Together Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes concerning intercession: “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession . . .Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day.”

As a first step in intercessory prayer I want to renew the challenge to each of you to find a prayer partner. When you establish a relationship with a prayer partner you will begin the practice of intercessory prayer. You will intercede for specific requests and in turn your prayer partner will intercede for you. It is a practical method of learning this form of prayer which will strengthen your personal relationship with God and with at least one other person.

Intercession is often defined as representing another person to God. It may be better understood as seeing the other person as God sees them. When we learn to see one another through God’s eyes we will find ourselves much less judgmental, a great deal more patient and understanding. When we see the other as God sees them forgiveness will be a matter of fact, not a legalistic task that we simply must perform.

When we pray in community we will experience both personal and corporate growth. It cannot be otherwise. We neglect the discipline of intercessory prayer to the detriment of our spiritual growth and the demise of the Christ’s body.

The old hymn states it quite simply: “For you I am praying, For you I am praying, For you I am praying, I’m praying for you.”

Below are five suggestions for establishing a prayer partner relationship.

1. Invite someone to join you in a mutual prayer journey.
2. Meet regularly. Once per week is preferable. You may meet in person or by phone.
3. Share what is happening in your life, at work or at home. Joys and concerns.
4. Maintain absolute confidentiality.
5. At the close of each session ask the question, “How can I pray for you?” As you become comfortable pray aloud for each other.

Prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes me. As I am transformed each day more fully into the image of Christ, my relationships are transformed, my thoughts become more fully the thoughts of Christ. Home life, work challenges, and social interactions are all transformed because of the practice of prayer. Ultimately, the body of Christ is transformed as each of us take seriously the requirement to pray daily for one another.

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Shhhh! God’s Talking

“Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by”

This morning I read a devotional taken from James 1:2-3 which declares: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;

This thought is echoed in 1 Peter 1:6-7: for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire.

If we are honest few of us would agree with James that we consider it joy to go through trials; or with Peter that we enjoy our faith being tested by fire. However, we must admit that testing is part of the human experience and try as we might cannot be avoided.

When we walk through the storm it is easy to forget the promises and presence of God. The storms often seem overwhelming; the problems insurmountable; the outcome despair and failure.

The prophet Elijah became so discouraged that he asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4). Rather than take his life God provided him with food, water, and rest to face the next challenge. Elijah’s work was not done. The current crisis would pass and Elijah would continue to do the work that God had called him to complete.

When the prophet arrived at his destination he was met with a physical storm of cataclysmic proportions; wind, earthquake and fire shook the place where he stood with a force so powerful even rocks were violently broken apart. But the Lord was not in the violence of the storm. It was when the storm passed by that the prophet heard the voice of God in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings 19:12).

The wisdom and beauty of the contemplative life is that the contemplative waits in silence for the voice of God. The meditative life is one in which one is not intimidated by the sound and fury of the storm, but rather waits in silence for the voice of God. Sometimes the storm is so loud, so furious that God’s voice is drowned out by the cacophony of angry words and volatile tempers. In those explosive encounters the contemplative heart relies on the peace and presence of God regardless of the violence of the raging storm.

Those of quiet spirit and gentle heart understand the words of Isaiah: For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you (41:13).

Storms may be intense, frightening; they may challenge the very faith we profess. But they don’t last forever. When the storm passes by. . .be still and listen. . .God is speaking.

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Prayers for You

Jesus’ words to his disciples on the evening of the Resurrection Day were, “Peace be with you.” As you read this my prayer for each of you is that the peace of God be with you. As you receive God’s peace I trust that you will pass God’s peace to another person.

A second time Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” But this time he followed it with the command, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When we have received the peace of God it is a requirement that we go forward to share that peace.

I pray that each of you will experience the peace of God, that your lives will be blessed by the presence of God and guided by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is my honor to pray for each of you.

The Lord bless you and keep you the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

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Ash Wednesday

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . .

I need to call your attention to the last phrase of this passage, renewing of your minds. Accepting the call to discipleship is much more than an emotional response to Christ. Discipleship moves us beyond the emotional experience of conversion and on to an intentional decision to apprentice ourselves to Christ. As apprentices to Jesus we choose to get out of the boat of complacency and enter the arena of life in the concrete presence of Christ. Note, Paul declares, the renewing of your minds, not the affirmation of your emotions. Accepting Christ as Savior is the easy, first step; renewing one’s mind is the life-consuming march of obedience and devotion. Discipleship is an act of the will.

It is no accident that we are pursuing the Transformed campaign during the season of Lent. Lent is the forty-day period prior to Easter that is set aside to recall the temptation of the Lord in the wilderness, and to prepare our hearts and minds for the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which this year is March 1. The smear of ash on our foreheads reminds us of our need for penitence and God’s willingness to offer pardon and forgiveness. Penitence is the first step in the process of growing up into Christ. As we move into transformation you are challenged to begin your journey by participating in the Ash Wednesday service on March 1. Services will be conducted at 6:30 am, 12 noon, and 6:30 pm.

Let’s take discipleship seriously. Let’s be serious about committing our lives to Christ and the church. If you have absented yourself from the body of Christ, Lent is a wonderful time to renew your commitment to be present with your sisters and brothers in Christ. We need the church, we need one another.

Transformation is possible for us as individuals and consequently for the body of Christ. You are challenged to begin the process of renewing your mind; by humbling yourself before God, with a bit of ash on your forehead, and a willful choice to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You have a place in this family.

Ash Wednesday services: March 1, 2017, 6:30 am, 12 noon, and 6:30 pm.

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A New Church?

Recently I conducted my first small group session of the Transformed church-wide campaign. Transformed is a fifty-day study written by Rick Warren and produced by Saddleback Church. Based on Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds;
Transformed challenges Christians to experience transformation in seven key areas of their lives.
At the end of fifty days participants will be equipped to live transformed spiritual lives.

In the introductory video Pastor Rick promotes church-wide campaigns as an effective method of growing the local church in terms of discipleship, number of participants, financial stewardship,
mission and ministry.
In the introduction, Pastor Rick describes using the program as “just add water and stir.” While there is some truth to that statement, the reality is that discipleship is never that simple; nor is it meant to be.

I’m confident that Rick Warren understands the cost of discipleship, and equally sure that he does not intend to diminish the requirements of following Christ. It is however, crucial to acknowledge that the call of Christ on our lives is all-inclusive. Discipleship involves the totality of our lives: spiritual, family, vocational, educational, financial, and so on. Discipleship is all-demanding. When we choose to deny Christ entre into any area of our lives we reject discipleship in favor of cheap grace. Anything that we allow to occupy the rightful place of Christ on the throne of our lives denies our claim to discipleship.

At the end of fifty days I am confident that we will see a new church. Bold statement? Absolutely! Arrogant? Naive? Not at all. At the end of fifty days some of us will be transformed. A few of us will have accepted the call to be transformed in all spheres of our lives. It takes only a pinch of yeast to leaven the whole batch. Those of us who dare to take the call of Christ seriously are the salt, light, and leaven in a world covered in darkness.

At the conclusion of this program people will take seriously the call of Jesus, “follow me.” Those people will follow Jesus in all areas of their lives. Those folks will be called “disciples.” Not all Christians are disciples. Some Christians are mere spectators; sitting in the stands, watching and cheering when their team is winning; whining and complaining when things don’t go their way. Alas, there are far more spectators than participants.

Not so with us. We not only claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, we live Jesus as Lord and Savior. We will see a new church in terms of her spirit; her service; her love. We claim discipleship! We live discipleship!!
A new church is emerging from the detritus of the past. God is doing a new thing.

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Welcome

Welcome to Jim’s Coffee Corner,
It’s been some time since I’ve written, but my hope is to maintain a current stream of communication with anyone who cares to follow and comment on my rather random thoughts.
Primarily, this blog is written for members of First Baptist Church of Pontiac, IL although I welcome and encourage anyone to comment at any time and I will happily respond to your posts.

 

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