A Time for Peace

I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks when I wake up in the morning and hear about violence in the streets. It seems to be all to common, especially with the 24/7 news cycle that pervades our society today. It is a tragedy of the brokenness that we find ourselves within. It is no different than what has happened in the past in the sense that what is going on has truly changed, the only real difference that can be seen is that it is being put in front of us and we are more aware of what is going on in our world.

Keith Bruce - Breaking News Graphic
© Keith Bruce | Dreamstime.com

I could only imagine what it would have looked like if we would have had the news cycle and the media in the centuries past when we have an oppressed people rise up. When we honestly look at this much of what we see is the direct result of oppression, whether perceived or real (that is not a debate I wish to enter into with this because I know that we have a variety of views prevalent in our society and I will say that there is merit on all the views, though, in my opinion, they are all flawed). The formula is odd when we think of things rationally, but an oppressed mind does not think rationally. This is seen within the destruction of property, looting, and the shuttering of businesses and services that are, in the eyes of the oppressed symbols of their oppressor, the means that may be used to help elevate the position of people.

Oppression occurs when one set of people put themselves above another. Historically, we see this happening cyclically and it is always a symbol of our fallen nature. It is also often the goal of the oppressor to destroy a group of people that they see as being less than them. In the Old Testament we see it with the Egyptians versus other cultures in Exodus through Deuteronomy, then in Joshua as they enter the Promised Land and the Canaanites, and other nations in Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, through to the New Testament. Of course, we see this seed placed at the Fall with Cain feeling anger and jealousy of his brother, Abel, and taking his life up through the flood. Even after the flood with the Tower of Babel. The center of sin arises when one finds themselves above another and begin to worship gods of their own creation. God desired to protect his chosen people, the Israel, from being influenced by these gods and desired to destroy those that were idol worshipers from the land that he desired to give to his people, but we see the failure there as these groups are spared yet put under the Israelite people – creating an oppressed group. The Bible is full of this sin of the people and we are created with a sense of value given to us by our creator and it drives us to find death a better alternative to being oppressed. That’s why there are those that will do extreme acts when they feel oppressed.

Jesus entered into this oppressed world with his birth. At his birth we find that he challenges the oppressor and his parents flee to avoid the persecution as the leader, Herod, has all male children two and under in Bethlehem killed. Herod felt his power challenged and did what he saw as right to keep it. Just as the oppressed are not rational, those who hunger for power are equally irrational when they feel their power threatened. We saw this with Pharoah when Moses called for the release of his people and Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who feels the need to appear more powerful than his father, and others throughout history. From the beginning Jesus came with a different message. Throughout the Gospels as he walks with his disciples he teaches a different message. His disciples and those who hear about him think he is going to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her glory they recall under King David. Yet, we know, that Jesus presented something greater, a promise of restoration to having things the way God intended for us from the beginning. The people of history that are arguably the most oppressed are the people of Israel. Prior to the coming of Jesus we can find that they had historically risen up against oppression only to fall back again. The historical books of 1 -4 Maccabees are an account of an uprising against Greek oppression, that is where Hannukah has its roots. Genocide has been attempted against the Jewish people throughout history with the creation of Ghettos, to pogroms throughout Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust (which all of us should be familiar) yet God’s promise has been maintained and their are more people of Jewish heritage today than in any other time in history. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations and the hope is that all of creation, including his chosen people Israel, would be restored. That is the difficulty of Jesus’ words in Luke 12, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51, ESV) These words as well as those that surround them are troubling, especially when put in context of what is said surrounding these words. Family divisions, we know, arise in our world today as well as struggles when we desire to share our faith. Sometimes a hard word is to be spoken, in order for the truth to break through.

Engraver - Jewish holocaust.jpg
© Engraver | Dreamstime.com – Jewish holocaust

The greatest truth is that we are sinners, all of us, in need of a savior. That savior is Jesus Christ who came not only to save, but to redeem, to make things right. In accepting this reality it does require a strong sense of humility and acceptance of the sinful self.

Sin is the ultimate oppressor. It causes division in relationships and within cultures. It causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we should and we forget the neighbor. During the Holocaust it was not a great secret that Jews were being gathered up and being taken to the concentration camps. Those cities in the shadow of these camps were confronted with the smell of bodies being burned which is a smell unlike any other. The reality of what was going on was undeniable, yet many ignored and denied any knowledge. Churches near the tracks where people were being transported in response to the sounds from the rail cars responded by playing the music louder and calling the people to sing louder. It is sometimes easier to feign ignorance than to face the issues that are before us. We can argue the same today. In Christ Jesus, we can find opportunities to speak. The deep question is how do we overcome the irrational violence and be voices of peace? It is hard, but necessary. Unfortunately, more than fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” our nation seems more divided in this racial divide and Sunday mornings are still very segregated. A general distrust continues to pervade those that are darker skinned and those that are lighter skinned, my wording is thoughtful of an excellent program of Ken Ham. As Christians, we can come along science that came out in the beginning of the 21st century which deconstructs this concept of race and shows the history of its creation as well as tying it to our biblical understanding which we find beginning with Babel.

As we begin to see one another as brothers and sisters wonderfully created by God and equal in honor given us as those created in the image of God we will see the spirit of oppression break down. As we trust and follow the words of Jesus Christ we will see a breakdown of these oppressive tendencies that continue to divide. Our faith is not naturally an oppressive faith, though there are those that would argue differently. Our faith has, historically, done more to fight oppression. Yes, we have examples in history where the Christian faith was misused and abused to oppress another culture. This, however, is more of an anomaly and not analogous of the faith as given us through Scripture. There are many, I know, that will take umbrage with this statement and will cite the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the forced conversion of indigenous peoples by the taking of children to private schools, and the oppression of women. Knowing these things, I will still say that they are not the norms. Our faith has a great heritage of giving oppressed people hope and releasing them from oppression as the culture around them became Christian. Women, in many cultures, found greater freedom and respect by their families and the cultures also. Hospitals and medical care were brought to areas that did not have it because of Christians. Christians have taken in those that were rejected by the people of an area and given them dignity and life. Jesus gave us that example in John 4 and John 8, just to name a couple though I can think of more I could write now. When Christianity is practiced as presented in Scripture we can find great opportunities for transformation of culture. Dignity is central to our faith.

In humility, we will find peace through faith in Jesus Christ. When fellow followers of Christ feel oppressed, we all are called to suffer with them and come together in prayer for them. Peace comes when we put ourselves in the life of the other and do not discredit their pain. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, blessed to be a blessing. Our skin color does not speak of our character in Christ, but it is the depth of where our Lord ranks in our living. If those who hate us come after us, we are called not to respond in hate, but in love. We are to pray for those that persecute us. Brothers and sisters in Christ united in prayer is powerful. Let our faith dictate how we look upon the other. For those of darker skin, it is undeniable that they are often viewed and treated differently in communities and for those of us that are lighter skinned should stand against that and speak out about it. They are our brothers and sisters and it is only right that we do so. When we truly center our lives and our faith in Christ Jesus our hearts are called to turn to caring for the other and setting aside our own suffering. We could learn something, too, from what he did as he was beaten and mocked and ultimately nailed to the cross. He did not curse the persecutors, but prayed for them. Sadly, we don’t do that enough either. I pray for those that feel that they are being oppressed and I pray for those that they believe are oppressing them. I pray for a stop of this violence and I pray that more hearts no the love that Jesus Christ has for them. Violence will only breed violence. Hatred only breeds more hatred. Peace comes not from our own will but looking to the Prince of Peace and praying that he first transform my heart and then praying for others to know that transformation too.

I pray for the day that the Breaking News be about a community coming together and how one person saved another from a natural disaster or some other danger. I pray for the Prince of Peace to reside in all hearts and that we, together, as brothers and sisters regardless of the tint of our skin, see each other as God sees us, his most beautiful creation.

 

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The Selfie Generation

I love language. I know that may sound different, but I truly love the written word as well as listening to good speakers, and understanding language and language history. It is fascinating to watch trends and understand how words shape our thinking lightstock_80960_full_revcbyars.jpgand how we view the world around us. I remember when first learning grammar learning the proper use if pronouns it is important when using your personal pronoun alongside others to make sure that the personal pronouns of I and me would be the last listed, i.e. my wife and I went out to dinner or when I was little there were three in my home – my mom, my dad, and me. This was the proper use.

As I was growing up I noticed a trend in which the use of me in lists started to more commonly placed first. In this trend, the language of people also began to change. The idea of political correctness began to grow. In this trend words began to change and have meaning that at one time was not known. Offense began to dictated as an objective reality instead of subjective. The “me” became of utmost importance.  How it makes me feel was of utmost important and to have people understand how the reality of me should be a part of their reality also. Unfortunately, with this the tolerance of ideas started to be challenged. Most recently I have noticed a new trend, the use of me is being moved to myself.

I guess one could argue that it is a part of the new “selfie” movement. Selfies are everywhere. They even entered a funeral service for a major dignitary as our President Barack Obama did it during the funeral of Nelson Mandela. This is not a commentary of the appropriateness of that action, but about how prevalent it is in our society. Selfies and selfie-sticks have had to be banned at various places because of how many people have not been thoughtful of where they are and have had issues because of insensitivity in the use of selfie-sticks and the inappropriate timing of taking a selfie. Now selfies aren’t all bad, so don’t believe that that is necessarily what I am criticizing. It is nice to have pictures for posterity, for the memories. It is good to show the high points in life.

The issue isn’t selfies, but the elevation of self above all else. It is an unfortunate reality that we face and we struggle against in our world. It is in direct relation to how we have stepped away in society from being grounded in the faith of Christ our Lord and how far the Word of God has moved from being the guiding force in our lives. The problem of this elevation of self is that often times we elevate ourselves into the place of God and our neighbors are kicked to the wayside. Language shapes how we act, how we think, and how we worship. As we have moved from the me-first to myself we have seen how worship has changed from an upward focus to a focus on how it makes me or myself feel. If someone says something that offends me or myself I no longer seek to understand, but focus on the offense. God gave us commandments,

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 20:1–21, ESV

When we fail at the first, “You shall have no other gods before me,” all the others easily fall like dominoes. Worship is no longer seen as a worshiping of God it is about self-betterment, feeling valued, and a focus on future success. If it feels good, it must be OK, and I will listen and follow those that tell me what I want to hear is true. As these things fall away and our treatment and honoring of God is no longer in the center next fall relationships. Honoring father and mother, the first figures of authority, becomes less of a way of life. As the respect for parents have declined and the families structures falter, life holds less value, the concept of fidelity in marriage is no longer important and the institution of marriage is lessened, why not take what you want, talk about people not worrying if it is true or false or how it may damage them, and then comes the looking at what people have in their homes, property, and relationships quickly fall behind. The idea, “I should have that,” is a reality and the next thing you know the thought of breaking into a home is no longer an issue.

Now I’m not a social scientist, just a theologian, but I look at the correlation between our ever evolving language and our treatment of God seems to affect our treatment of our neighbor. Offense is easily found by those who seek it and it increases division. When we put limitations on the exchange of ideas because it might offend limits our opportunities to gain understanding and share the truth that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. Quite honestly, the Gospel is offensive. It is meant to offend because it shines a light on all that is off and all that is wrong within us. It is offensive to think that for us to be redeemed would require that God would enter his own creation in his Son, Jesus Christ, and allow for his crucifixion and death in order that he would take on himself all that is wrong in us, in order to be resurrected and further lead us into the righteousness. It is offensive to submit to something outside of yourself and be called to serve the neighbor and look out for the other. It is offensive to place those that are looked down upon in society above us and serve them. That is the reality of our faith. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are not first. I would argue against the “I am Second” campaign that was well-intentioned but missed a vital Scriptural truth. We are to see ourselves last in the reality that our call is to serve as Christ came to serve. We are not to just put Christ as the number one in our life, but in putting him first we are placing our neighbor ahead and seeking to serve all of creation. As Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, ESV) We are free in Christ and in that great freedom we have been given the gift and the opportunity to serve.

 

Holy Encounters

Christ Over Coffee is a growing concept and one thing that I have found that is for certain is that each time I find holy encounters. People are always there for some conversation and each one is interesting and fruitful. It is fun to have these opportunities and the fact that I am open to them makes that all the more affirming when they come. How often do we miss these opportunities, these holy encounters, just because we are not open for them? I wonder that in my life. I know there are days and times that I am just not in the mood or have other things to attend to, so I may not be paying attention. There are also times when I just observe people. It is interesting how isolated we are as a people. It seems that in public the rule is to not make eye contact. Isn’t that interesting?

Unfortunately, that is how we have developed because we often don’t want to encourage interaction with the “wrong” people. I understand this since I have had some interesting encounters in my life. I have a man sing “El Shaddai” on the beach and kiss both my wife’s and my hands and feet after he talked to us and found out I was going into the ministry. I have had an uncomfortable encounter with a woman my wife spoke to in a restroom who then followed her and her friend to our table and inserted herself in our group at the table. I have had some very rich discussions in lines at the grocery store and the Wal-Mart. It is always a risk though. Sometimes people will go in directions that may make one uncomfortable and it will be tricky in trying to extricate onesself from the conversation. Isn’t that what it’s all about, though?

As I look in Scripture, I see in both the Old and New Testaments encounters between prophets, Jesus, the Disciples, and the Apostles that I would have to believe were not the most comfortable for them, but they were necessary. Sharing the Gospel with anyone is not a comfortable task, but it is something we are all called to do. Jesus began this when he sent out the disciples and the 72. It was the beginning training ground and I am sure they didn’t go out relishing the idea of being out and not knowing what they may encounter. God gave them many opportunities to heal, to cast out demons, and share the Good News. We also see our Lord doing his work with those that were without hope.

As I sit and write this I am have taken moments to look away and reflect and as I have done that I have been able to observe. Sitting here I see the other way of avoidance as I watch people sit down and stare at a screen either on their phone or a tablet. I know I have been guilty of this and in my awareness as I type I see to see if I can make eye contact and greet. Admittedly the opportunities have been few and the greetings have been short. It is sometimes hard to find something to maybe use as a starter and even then some will quietly defer from having any type of conversation. It is our age. We often are more open to share our lives (sometimes overshare) on some form of Social Media or in a blog but not in a face to face interaction. Sometimes strangers far away know more about our neighbors than we do. It is an interesting age that we live in, full of wonders and opportunities.

I still believe that there is nothing better than to sit over a cup of coffee and talk. That is why I choose to go and seek out these opportunities while sitting at a local coffee house. Social Media shows us the hunger for connection and the need to be understood. It can be healthy or unhealthy, my hope is that more of these connections are made in healthy ways. My favorite healthy way is sitting across from another face to face over a nice cup of coffee enjoying the conversation and the sharing of life. It is these moments that are truly holy and I am ever thankful for every holy encounter that our Lord offers up. May you find some holy encounters in your life. If you are ever up for it and close by give me a call or drop me a line, let’s have some coffee and talk about those things that are holy.