Blog Banner

Archive for cross – Page 2

This Wall Is Coming Down. Which Side Are You On?

This Wall Is Coming Down. Which Side Are You On?
This is a sermon that I preached at the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering on 10/9/2016, near Washington, DC. The scripture readings for this sermon were: John 16:29-33 and Zechariah 4:6

You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon is significantly different from the written text.)

Listen Now On SoundCloud

As the Second World War was nearing its end, the Nazi order was falling apart, and the Allied powers raced to carve up Europe and establish the conditions of the peace.

At war’s end, Germany was divided into four military jurisdictions. The Russians controlled the east, while the US, Britain, and France controlled the west. The German capital of Berlin was divided the same way, despite the fact that it lay deep within the Soviet jurisdiction of East Germany.

As you can imagine, tensions were running high from the beginning. Having a western military enclave in the midst of Soviet East Germany was deeply frustrating for the Russians, and the Soviet leaders did everything they could to push the western Allies out. Probably the high water mark of these tensions came in 1947 and 1948, when the Soviets closed off the roads to the city, hoping to starve the western powers out. In what became known as the Berlin Airlift, the US and its allies succeeded in holding out for almost a year, supplying the city with around-the-clock air deliveries of food and other vital supplies. By the summer of 1948, it was clear that West Berlin would remain under Allied control.

Still, West Berlin represented an ongoing problem for the Soviet-aligned authorities in East Germany. The western powers worked hard to make West Berlin a showcase of democratic governance and capitalist economics. With its shining buildings, modern jobs, and free markets flourished, many East Germans weren’t satisfied to watch from across the line. By 1961, about 20% of East Germany’s population had defected to the West – most of them passing through West Berlin.

That year, the East German government finally had enough. They decided to close the “West Berlin loophole” and end the massive brain drain out of East Germany.

It started as check points and barbed wire around the whole of West Berlin – 91 miles. Soon, they erected concrete barriers, walling West Berlin off like a city under siege. Over time, the East German government kept developing taller walls. They installed a broad “death strip” in the middle, where those trying to flee across the barrier could be shot on sight. By the time the wall was fully developed, it was massive – with concrete sections twelve feet high and four feet thick. Barbed wire, observation towers, and regular canine patrols sought to ward off any who would dare attempt entry into the forbidden city.

It wasn’t until 1989 that the standoff began to fall apart. In the face of widespread protests and a weakening Soviet grip, the repressive East German government was teetering on the edge of collapse. Even in this environment, it was a huge surprise for ordinary Germans and people around the world when the East German government announced that the wall would be opened for free movement of people, effective immediately!

In response to this dramatic news, the people of both East and West Berlin were out in the streets that very night, celebrating. That weekend, more than 2 million East Berliners crossed over to the west, holding one of the greatest street parties in human history. Ordinary people began to physically dismantle the wall with hammers and chisels. Berlin was free, and very soon all the rest of Germany would be, too.

And the whole world was left wondering – how did this happen? How do you go from shoot-on-sight, concrete barriers, and razor-wire bunkers to free movement, literally overnight? How could the Soviet-backed regime in East Germany that seemed so powerful, collapse under its own weight in a matter of months? In January of 1989, the long-time leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker had predicted that the Berlin wall would easily stand for another 50 to 100 years. How could he have been so wrong?

It makes you wonder what kinds of nonsense we’re taking for granted today. Think of some of the institutions, authorities, and economic forces that seem so invincible right now. Will they last another 50 to 100 years? Could it be that they’ll collapse in the next few months?

One of the things that made Jesus so special to his first disciples was the way that he could see beyond appearances. Jesus saw through the veneer of holiness and authority of the priests and religious leaders in his society. He saw beyond the bristling power and raw brutality of the Roman occupiers and their puppet dictator. While most everyone around him imagined the future as an extension of the past, Jesus saw that the past, present, and future have one sovereign author.

When the priests insisted that their systems of power and social control would last forever, Jesus predicted a day not too far off when the Temple would be laid waste. And when the Roman rulers threatened him with terrible torture and death, Jesus could see to the end of them, too. He saw past the pomp, grandeur, and violence of human ambition. He bore witness to the truth – to a kingdom that has overcome the power of death.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Take courage. I have conquered the world!” Crucified by the powers and raised from the dead, Jesus Christ has unmasked the rulers and authorities of this world who claim their own self-sovereignty and deny the power of love. Jesus has revealed the bankruptcy of the powers, the emptiness of their threats in the face of the all-powerful, never-ending, fearsome love of his Father. Our Father.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but the spirit of this wall is alive and at work in the world today. There are millions of us in our country right now whose primary solution for the very real fear and grief we feel is to “build the wall!” How much we’ve forgotten. It wasn’t so long ago that building walls was recognized as a signature mark of authoritarian regimes and oppressive dictatorships.

And yet, this idea of building walls is nothing new. How many of you have actually seen the wall that divides the United States from Mexico? You wouldn’t forget it. It’s taller than the Berlin wall, for one thing – 21 feet tall, and six feet deep. On the US/Mexico border – today, before we “build the wall” – right now there are 580 miles of border fence. That’s six times longer than the Berlin wall.

There are many other walls throughout the world – walls dividing Gaza and the West Bank from the rest of Israel/Palestine. Barriers separating eastern parts of Ukraine from the rest of the country. Border fences holding back a tidal wave of desperate refugees who are seeking refuge in Europe. We live in the age of the high wall and guard tower.

But I don’t want to dwell here, reciting a litany of injustice. Because Jesus didn’t. Jesus was perfectly capable of delivering a stunning critique of the powers that be – both the local ones, and the big powers like the Roman Empire. Yet his most important message was not a criticism of the dying world of greed, selfishness, and human ambition. Rather than wallowing in the propaganda of Empire – reflecting on the apparent strength of the darkness that binds us and separates us from one another – Jesus offers us peace. Jesus offers us victory. Jesus offers us a kingdom that is right now, here in our midst. Jesus tells us, “Take courage. I have conquered the world!”

In preparing to speak to y’all tonight, I have felt very clear that the heart of the message is this: We don’t need to be afraid.

We live in an age of fear. Have you noticed? All the television channels are dialed up for maximum terror. Every news item, every advertisement, every weather alert, practically every piece of media that we commonly encounter is designed to tap right into our most base instincts – our lizard brains that know very little beyond fight, flight, and… another f-word.

We need to be real about this. I know that we know this. Intellectually, I think that every one of us in this room realizes that we live in a culture of fear and manipulation. But do you enter your day prepared? We are in a spiritual warfare here. The powers of evil – Wall Street, the Pentagon, cable news, Facebook ads – this whole culture is busy seeking to pull their false world over our eyes.

Don’t be afraid. Have courage. Jesus has conquered the world.

But stay awake. Stay awake with Jesus, and don’t be fooled by the siren-song lullaby of marketers and politicians. Stay awake and keep watch, because the Holy Spirit is on the move.

The Holy Spirit is here tonight. The same power that overcame the Berlin Wall is right here with us, ready to break down the walls that separate us from one another. From love. From the truth.

We can’t do this on our own. We can’t stay awake without help. We can’t see like Jesus sees unless he guides us. But the good news for those of us gathered here tonight is that Jesus can. He will guide us. “Take courage! He has overcome the world.” And we can, too.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” – those are Zechariah’s words to us. The Lord of Hosts – that means, the “Lord of Armies” – he’s a conquering God. In Jesus we worship a conquering God. Not a conquerer like the world understands it – not a bloody tyrant of guns, germs, and steel – but a loving God who overcomes the darkness with light, hatred with love.

Still, I have to ask myself: Why did the Berlin wall fall when it did? How could it be that the rulers and authorities of East Germany were so confident in the oppressive order they had established? How could the leader of East Germany, the very year that his government would collapse, how could he predict that the wall would stand for another 50 or 100 years? And why did most of the world believe him?

We live in an age of wall and guard tower. We live in a time when there are so many Berlin walls that remain standing, seem invincible. Here in this city where we meet. Our nation. Our world stands divided on so many levels. Our friends and family – we ourselves – have been deceived. We have traded the truth for a lie. We’ve chosen to live in darkness and despair, rather than dwelling in the victory and power that Jesus promises. In this age of walls, barbed wire, vampire capitalism, and ecological catastrophe, it feels like the powers of death and oppression are eternal.

We are here tonight to declare that these powers have already been defeated. Jesus has conquered them. They stand naked and empty. Their authority has been stripped away by the blood of Jesus. Think of the Berlin wall the day before its gates were opened. Judging by outward appearances, it was as solid and fearsome as ever. But the Spirit of Jesus could see deeper. He saw to the heart of the matter. He knew with infallible, loving justice that that wall would fall tomorrow.

The injustice we see in the world today has already been conquered by the sacrifice and Spirit of Jesus. As his friends and disciples, it is our great privilege to walk with him in revealing the spiritual nakedness of Empire, and the spiritual emptiness of its walls. Each one of us is invited to take up a hammer and begin chipping away at the dead edifice that stands so fearsomely before us.

And, like the people of Berlin, we are called to the greatest street party the world has ever known. Even when it hurts. Even when it seems like we can never win. The Holy Spirit gives us confidence to be like Jesus in this world of walls, bombs, and guns. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”

Take courage. Jesus has conquered the world!

Related Posts:

Shake Off the Deadness and Embrace the Challenge

So You Want a Revolution?

So You Want a Revolution?

So You Want a Revolution?
When I became a Christian, following Jesus seemed like the most revolutionary thing I could do. The teachings of Jesus are radical. The way the early church lived out the gospel inspires me to go deeper, give more of myself, and nurture a grander vision for what human community could be like.

The more I read the New Testament, I more I find myself pushed towards a lifestyle that challenges our present society to its foundations. In contrast to the radical individualism of consumer capitalism or the enforced conformity of most religious communities, the way of Jesus demands both radical openness and profound submission to the guidance of the Spirit.

This revolutionary new reality plays out in love for enemies. We find it when we choose relationship and trust rather than money and self-interest. It comes alive in the healing power of forgiveness and the daily practice of justice.

The freedom of the gospel looks like insanity to middle-class, safety-conscious America. For those of us who are a wrapped up in the world’s priorities, the simple act of forgiveness looks like weakness. The Christian’s refusal to take refuge in wealth and privilege seems like adolescent silliness at best. At worst, the humble-yet-prophetic way of Jesus can activate the defense response of those in power. Violence. The emperor does not like being told he’s stark naked.

My years as a Christian have been filled with a sense of longing. I’ve yearned for the revolutionary days of the early church. I’ve looked back to the fiery, apocalyptic campaigns of the early Quaker movement with admiration. And I’ve wondered: What must we do to ignite this kind of movement in our own time and place? What must I do to be part of God’s continuing revolution?  

I know a lot of other people are experiencing this same yearning. We live in frustrating times. Stuck times. Times in which we all find ourselves longing for upheaval and change.

I hear words like “revolution” being thrown around a lot. In Christian circles, the word “revival” is often a popular choice. Heck, even I’ve used this word once or twice. Quakers and Christians of all stripes throughout the world are longing for revival – the restoration of that movement-church fire, the Holy Ghost power of a people gathered by God to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.

It’s a beautiful vision. It’s the right vision. And it’s a vision that we are completely unprepared for.

I’ll be completely honest: For a long time, I’ve blamed God for the lack of transformation in my own life and in the communities where I’ve served. I’ve been baffled at the lack of forward momentum, Spirit-led change and healing despite how much I and many others have prayed for it. Looking back to the miracles of the early church and the prophetic Quaker movement, I’ve been perplexed. If God could do that in the first century and the sixteenth century, why won’t he do it now? Why doesn’t Jesus send the Holy Spirit like he used to?

I’m seeing now that I’ve been wrong to blame God. The Holy Spirit is alive and ready for action any time we call on her. God isn’t the problem. I am. We are.

We’re not ready for the spiritual revolution we dream about, precisely because it is a dream. Far too often, our ideas of revival are a fantasy of spiritual highs, supportive community, and connection with God. But when’s the last time you fantasized about losing your home, your bank account, your sense of security? Does your imagined revival include beatings, persecution, and social ostracism? Does your vision of the beloved community involve sacrificing career, enduring hardship, becoming a community that our culture laughs at and punishes?

Mine neither.

Lots of Christians talk a big game about revolution and revival. (I myself talk about both.) But it’s all a delusion if we aren’t ready to embrace the cross, the sacrifice that comes when we choose to be friends of Jesus. I’m weary of all our talk of revival – I’ve gotten fed up with my own words! You and I have no business talking about revolutionary transformation of our society when we have yet to take seriously Jesus’ call to repentance. 

The whole Christian movement is founded on the idea that we must profoundly change our way of life. If we think that we can follow Jesus but keep our toys, our security, our status, and our noble conceptions of ourselves, we’re going to be very disappointed. I know I have been.

How much longer will we chose to wander in the wilderness of conformity to the 21st-century capitalism, self-centeredness, and the world’s conception of what’s important? How long will we refuse to let go of our dreams about community and embrace the real relationships that make the church a revolution – not a club? When will the numbing effects of our opiate religion make us so nauseous that we resolve to sober up rather than choking on our own vomit?

Jesus has told us time and again that the way to life is narrow. The passion and beauty that we admire in the early church and other Spirit-filled movements has always emerged from sacrifice and struggle. Until we repent – until we turn away from our involvement in the consumer-capitalist war machine and all its false promises – we will never be that community we dream of. But if we do embrace this challenge, Jesus has promised us life, real life. Gathered in his victorious and comforting Spirit, revival is possible. 

Related Posts:

Are You Sleepwalking Towards Death?

Do You Have the Courage to Face the Horizon?

What Would You Do If ISIS Killed Your Child?

What Would You Do If ISIS Killed Your Child?
I recently read a blog post by a US Army chaplain, who talks about his struggle with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In a military context, he regularly finds himself asked some version of the question: “If ISIS killed your child, would you pray for them?” His answer? “Yes, while I am on my way to kill them.”

I understand this answer. It’s my natural answer, too. When others wrong me, I want to strike back. I want revenge. There’s something deeply human in the idea that we can somehow restore a measure of order, balance, and justice to the world through violent retribution.

But for people like that army chaplain, and for any of us who claim Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Teacher, this is not an answer that we can ultimately accept. Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. The meaning of Jesus’ words are clear, unambiguous. If we take the Bible seriously – and, more importantly, if we take Jesus seriously – we must embrace the way of love for enemies.

Jesus’ actions are even clearer. Through his saving death on the cross, he demonstrates for us the way that God handles the sin, darkness, and horrible injustice that has spread like a cancer in our world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, apart from God. Jesus died for us when we were his sworn enemies. Jesus’ death was no accident. We killed him.

Yet God in Jesus demonstrates a reaction that is so foreign to our broken human nature. Where we rush to seek bloody vengeance, Jesus allows his death to become a doorway to forgiveness, healing, and transformation for we who have been the murderers.

In Jesus, we discover that our own rush to judgment and violence is a reflection of the fallen order – the darkness that God would free us from. When we become friends of Jesus, when we choose to follow him, we are led inevitably into an encounter with the cross – and that cross disarms us forever.

Nevertheless, we are called to a certain kind of warfare. The life of a disciple is full of struggle, since we are called to go against the grain of the surrounding society. History has shown time and again that many who choose to follow the way of Jesus will be subject to trouble, persecution, even death. In the midst of this challenge, our war is one of selfless love that stands firm in the face of hatred, evil, and darkness – exposing it to the light for all to see.

Violence, oppression, and all sorts of evil hide behind a veneer of respectability and authority. The role of the prophetic church is to issue an invitation to see what’s really happening behind the curtain. As disciples of Jesus, we are given authority to unveil Empire, challenging all the powers and principalities that twist our society and harm our communities.

And when they come for us, when they slander and attack us, we have only one defense: prayer for enemies, and the courage to continue our powerful witness in the face of social pressure, threats, and violence.

Is that the kind of church you belong to? Do you want to? I’d like to invite you to join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering (October 7-10). We’ll be exploring how we can actively, imaginatively, and faithfully follow Jesus in a chaotic and broken world. Registration is open now. I hope you’ll consider attending. Together, we can live more deeply into the way of courage, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus.

Related Posts:

There is a Spirit which I Feel: The Cloud of Witnesses

How We Can Wage Peace Amidst the Chaos

There is a Spirit which I Feel: The Cloud of Witnesses

There is a Spirit which I Feel: The Cloud of Witnesses
This is a sermon that I preached this Sunday (8/14/16), at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56

You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon deviates a fair amount from the written text.)

Sermon Audio


Listen to the sermon on SoundCloud

Sermon Text:

This passage from Hebrews that we just heard: It’s got to be one of the most frequently referenced parts of the Bible. I’ve heard it preached from the pulpit many times. It’s been the theme Scripture for church conferences and events. And it’s been the subtext for so much of church life.

This idea that we are surrounded by this “cloud of witnesses,” that we are a part of a long line of spiritual family. That the struggles we engage in today are part of a bigger picture. It’s a powerful, comforting image.

Back in 2010, Faith and I helped to organize a gathering of young adult Quakers in Wichita, Kansas. It was a gathering that would bring together Quakers from across North America, and across many of the theological and cultural barriers that divide modern-day Friends (and, as I understand it, modern-day Brethren, too).

Most of the gathering took place in a large church sanctuary. The space was ornate and cathedral-like, at least by plain Quaker standards, and it was far bigger than either we in the gathering or the local congregation had need of. In addition to the ample seating in ground level pews, there was also a large, wrap-around balcony – a gallery filled with empty seats.

I remember standing in the sanctuary with one of the members of the pastoral care team for the gathering, and older woman from New England. It was a quiet moment in the church building, before most of the participants had arrived. We were taking a deep breath before the heavy spiritual lifting that would come in the next few days. She looked up into the balcony level and said very seriously. “I can feel them. I can feel the cloud of witnesses.”

It was a comforting idea, but also a challenging one. That cloud of witnesses wasn’t just there to affirm whatever we decided to do. They had an agenda. If those Quaker saints who had gone before us were indeed present, they would be watching to see whether we could bridge the divisions that had developed over the last two centuries. They would be present to encourage us – but also to spur us towards hard conversations and spiritual risk-taking.

I think that this passage from Hebrews is easy to take out of context. We often stretch and bend the idea of the “cloud of witnesses” until it becomes something that is primarily about our own comfort. I don’t know if any of you remember that movie from the mid-90s – Angels in the Outfield? Honestly, don’t really either. I think I saw it once back in 1994, and I don’t remember a lot of detail. But here’s the basic idea of the film:

In the movie, the Los Angeles Angels are the worst team in Major League Baseball. But there’s a little boy who loves the team, and he wants them to win so badly that he prays and asks God to help them win the championship. To his surprise and amazement, God sends angels to miraculously catapult the team into first place. Only the little boy can see the angels, but the effects of their work is clear to the whole world as the Los Angeles Angels go from being the worst in the league, to the best.

It’d be nice to have a cloud of witnesses like that, wouldn’t it? A group of angelic figures that could carry us to glory, even if we’re not at all ready for it. If the “cloud of witnesses” were like the angels in the outfield, we’d always have these invisible cheerleaders – spiritual support for us when times are tough and victory seems impossible. The cloud of witnesses would become an angel army. They’d exist to reinforce our own dreams, our own wishes, our lives as they are. They’d give us strength to make our dreams come true.

And sometimes this might be the right idea. If we’re experiencing hard times, if we’re suffering for our faith and paying the consequences for following Jesus, we need the presence of this encouraging cloud of witnesses more than anything. We need to know that we stand in a line of courage, endurance, and victory in the cross of Jesus. Knowing that, by the grace of God, many others have run this race and been faithful, we’re encouraged to persevere, even when it feels impossible.

But most of the time, at least for me, I experience the cloud of witnesses as a challenging presence in my life. These are people who, as the scripture says:

“…were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”

This cloud of witnesses are no “angels in the outfield.” They’re not here to give me victory without suffering or pain. They are witnesses to the full cost of discipleship. They demonstrate the kind of hope that is only possible through bearing the cross of Jesus in this world. These are people who inspire us, people who challenge us, whose lives confront our own compromises and give us courage to do what is right.

I think we all have our favorite members of the cloud of witnesses, our own personal gallery of saints that have come before, who spur us to greater faithfulness. One of these witnesses for me is a man named James Nayler. James was one of the most visible leaders of the early Quaker movement in the 1650s. He was a gifted evangelist, spreading the gospel across England. His campaign of preaching in London had a powerful impact, growing and solidifying the Quaker community there.

The 1650s were a time of tumult and upheaval in England, and Quakers were often arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for their faith. James Nayler had a rougher time than many. He was charged with blasphemy by Parliament, and he narrowly escaped the death penalty. But honestly, he might have been better off if they had hung him. His punishment was grotesque: He was given a public flogging of hundreds of lashes. After that, they branded his forehead with “B” for “blasphemer” and bored his tongue through with a hot iron, so that he could never preach again with his renowned eloquence. After that, he was imprisoned until he was physically ruined.

When he finally did get out of prison, he tried to make his way back to Yorkshire, to see his family for the first time in years. On his way, he was robbed and beaten severely. He was found by passersby and died the next day in the home of a Quaker physician.

I mention James Nayler this morning, because I believe he is a prime example of what the author of Hebrews referred to when he spoke of the cloud of witnesses – this heritage of saints who have run the race and endured the cross as an example and encouragement to us.

And I think that Hebrews 11 and 12 were on James Nayler’s mind, as he lay dying in the north of England. Those who attended him recorded his final words, which included this description of what it meant for James to be a living member of that cloud of witnesses – to find himself in communion with them through his own suffering and martyrdom:

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God.

Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.”

The cloud of witnesses that James experienced were no “angels in the outfield.” They did not save him from suffering, nor give him victory in the eyes of the world. Rather, he encountered a spirit that walked with him through that dark valley of shame and defeat. This spirit gave him the power to love, even those who flayed the skin off his back, branded his face, and mutilated his tongue. Through his suffering and baptism into “love unfeigned,” James Nayler found fellowship with the lost and forgotten saints of God – who through death, obtained resurrection and eternal holy life.

Our gospel reading today reminds us that the kingdom of God comes through challenge. It causes division wherever it emerges, because it challenges our basic ideas about what is right and fair. The truth is, none of us want to experience the cross. Not even Jesus did! The most natural thing in the world that we could do is seek to avoid death, suffering, and shame.

But what Jesus reveals and the cloud of witnesses repeats, is that beyond the cross lies resurrection. On the other side of suffering, and torture, and shame lies the eternal holy life and love unfeigned that James Nayler and so many saints before him discovered. The cloud of witnesses bears testimony to each one us through the Holy Spirit, spurring us on to greater courage in the face of heartbreak, death, and loss of identity.

Unlike the angels in the outfield, this cloud of witnesses is not about helping us win the “game” of this world. Instead, they walk beside us, encouraging us as we learn how to lose in such a way that we experience the resurrection life in the midst of struggle, so that we ourselves become part of that cloud of witnesses, reflecting Christ’s self-giving love to others who need it.

Before I close, I want to take us back to that church sanctuary in Wichita, Kansas. I want you to stand with me on that lower level, amidst the pews. Look up with me into the gallery. Who are the witnesses that you see there? Who are the saints who have gone before you that encourage you even in the midst of confusion and pain? Can you see the faces of the people who have carried their cross with courage and joy? Can you see them smiling on you with love?

Where are they calling you? What parts of your life need to change so that you can embrace the kind of courageous living that they did? Even in the face of resistance and division, where are we being called to change so that we can bear the cross of Jesus, and become a cloud of witnesses to the world around us?

Related Posts:

What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus in the Age of Trump?

Will the Real Church of Jesus Please Stand Up?

How We Can Wage Peace Amid the Chaos

How We Can Wage Peace Amid the Chaos
We’re living in a time when it feels like everything is ready to fly apart. Our political process is bursting at the seams. There’s violence in our streets, and fear in our living rooms. As if all this weren’t enough, we are faced with an ecological crisis beyond any human experience. The challenges of our age are at least as great as those of any other generation – and that’s saying a lot.

In the midst of all this tumult, it’s hard not to get swept up in reflex and reaction. We see problems and want to fix them. We see injustice and want to denounce it. Yet it seems that the increasing volume of our bitter arguments is only leading us on a path to greater destruction. We watch the dismemberment of our civil society, the arena in which we had hoped for cooperative solutions. Our emotional temperature is so high, it’s hard to imagine finding any unity.

Make no mistake, there are battles worth fighting. But as followers of the risen Jesus, the weapons of our warfare are different from those of the world. Our armor is the humble-yet-confident poise that comes from walking in intimacy with God. Our armaments are love unfeigned, a genuine concern for the well-being of even our enemies. This is no abstraction; it’s very a concrete, ethical concern that moves us to take great risks for the sake of love. Despite the cost, we are commissioned to answer the witness of God in those who seek to destroy us.

In these days of hatred and violence, the Holy Spirit invites us into a new, creative path. It’s a path that goes toe to toe with the powers of selfishness and fear that reign so openly in our society today. It’s a path that penetrates the lies and confusion. It’s the way of Jesus, who confronted the rulers and authorities once and for all, giving us power to become children of light.

There is a quiet voice in our hearts that says, “another way is possible.” Despite all the horror that this young century has offered us, there is a presence deep within us that cries out, “even so, come Lord Jesus!” It’s a fearsome voice, one that calls us into the midst of danger with no protection but the power of love.

Are you and I ready to respond to this invitation? What does it mean to participate in Jesus’ way of love, which overcomes hatred and division through the blood of his cross? How can we prepare ourselves to return good for evil – to speak the truth, even if our voice shakes?

Related Posts:

You Can’t Escape What You Were Made For

Discovering the Hidden Power of Slow Time

Who Are the Heroes of Faith?

Who Are the Heroes of Faith?
Today is Memorial Day, a holiday of rest and celebration. It’s a day when we in the United States remember those who have suffered and sacrificed so that we might enjoy freedom and wholeness. Memorial Day is often given over to displays of nationalism and militarism, but for those following in the way of The Lamb Who Was Slain, there is another story to tell.

This Memorial Day, I’m calling to remembrance that faithful cloud of witnesses whom the author of Hebrews points me to. I’m giving thanks for the women and men who provide me with examples of courage and faith. I’m honoring those who have shown me how to walk in the challenging and beautiful way of Jesus.

Today I’m invited to examine my own life. Do I have the courage to follow the example of those heroes of faith who have passed before me on this journey? Everything I have that is of any value, I’ve received it from the hands of these faithful witnesses of the Lamb. Am I willing to pay it forward? Am I prepared to take up the cross of Jesus, to bless the lives of others just as his love has transformed my own?

This holiday presents an opportunity to pay special attention to the trail that has been blazed by our mothers and fathers in the faith. We remember their lives, their deeds, their love – not for the purpose of deadening nostalgia, but as an invitation into bold action. Participating in the life they have shown us, we find a faith that transforms us into the image of Jesus.

How are you celebrating this Memorial Day? Who are you remembering? How will those you remember shape your life in the days to come?

Thank God for the lives of the faithful and true witnesses, who have inspired and nurtured us thus far. Let’s re-commit ourselves to embodying the love, power, and compassion that God has already poured out on us through his saints. In the name of Jesus. Amen!

Related Posts:

Will You Become What They Call You?

I Will Remember

Do You Love Me?

Do You Love Me?
The culture we live in tells us a story about love. It’s a story about passionate feelings, the drama of fiery relationships. Ultimately, it’s a story about our own ego. It’s the satisfaction of getting what we want, when we want it.

Our world runs on consumerism, so it’s not surprising that the vision of love it sells us is a self-centered one. But as friends of Jesus, we are invited to a much deeper story, one in which personal satisfaction takes a back seat to serving others.

Jesus points to this kind of love with the way that he lived, and the way that he died. He shows us what true love is when he disrupted his culture’s financial system, flipping over tables in the Temple marketplace. He shows us this alternative path when he called out the greed and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He preaches a vision of hope for the poor. He invites us to embrace it for ourselves.

Above all, Jesus shows us what love looks like. We see it in the way he treated his closest friends, the original disciples. Jesus loved them in the way that God loves all of us. He laid down his life for them. He protected and cared for his friends, watching out for them rather than defending his own interests. Even when they weren’t ready to follow him, he was willing to die so that they could see the truth. No one has greater love than what Jesus showed us when he laid down his life for his friends.

Love isn’t a question of feelings. It’s about relationships of care and service. It’s about doing justice and caring for those who are most vulnerable. When we put the well-being of others before our own desires and passions, we demonstrate the love that Jesus teaches.

In a world that teaches us that love is about our own happiness and gratification, Jesus opens a window into an entirely different story. True love is about mercy and justice. It’s about service to others, even when that means hardship and suffering – or even death.

This isn’t the love of Hollywood movies. It’s not even romantic. But despite all the challenge and pain, this is the kind of love that heals the world.

What does real love look like? There’s only one way to find out. Are you ready?

Related Posts:

You Don’t Have to Earn It

Life is Absurd. So is God.