Archive | September, 2016

How I found out I am prejudiced (how you might be too…and what we can do about it)

26 Sep

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I don’t think that I am prejudiced.  At all.

How about you? Do you think you are prejudiced?

This week in my research for my sermon on race, ethnicity and diversity, I came across a fascinating study and book called Blind Spot.

In the book, the authors say that:

“To better understand the roots of racial division in America, think about this: the human brain seems to be wired so that it categorizes people by race in the first one-fifth of a second after seeing a face. Brain scans show that even when people are told to sort people by gender, the brain still groups people by race. … [But] we can resist the legacy that evolution has bequeathed us. [Biases] are learned, so they can be unlearned.”

So they created a test you can take for free online to see if your brain automatically favors one race over another.  On the website, you’ll see that there are many tests.  To find the test about prejudice, I signed in as a guest under the left column titled “Project Implicit Social Attitudes”.  The next screen is a standard “I agree” release form that will take you to the test selection page.  Scroll down the page and you’ll see they have numerous options.  I chose the test entitled “Race (‘Black – White’ IAT).” Basically the test reveals if you have an unknown preference for white people over black people.  I took the test and here are my results:

“Your data suggests a moderate automatic preference for European American compared to African American.”

I was a bit taken aback.  I don’t think I’m prejudiced, but this test told me that I have within me an automatic response to favor white over black.  So I need to be aware of this, be teachable and self-reflective and admit the truth about myself.  As the authors state, “Biases are learned, so they can be unlearned.”

But how?

A major way we can unlearn our biases is to learn to see people like God sees them.

In Genesis 1:26-27 we read this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

All human beings have within them the same image of God.  That means we are all of equal value in God’s eyes, thus we need to see people that way.

The problem is that, like the test indicated, we can become accustomed to categorizing people.

Do you remember the story of when the famous Israelite King David in the Old Testament was first anointed to be king?  We’re talking about the King David who killed the giant Goliath before David became king.  That guy.  Well he was anointed to be King even before that, while he was still a boy, while he had the job of tending his family’s sheep.  There was a prophet in the land, a man named Samuel, and God told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to Jesse’s house, because there Samuel would anoint a new king.  Samuel shows up, and starts sizing up Jesse’s sons.  He had 8 sons.  Samuel looked at the eldest and thought for sure he was the one.  But at that moment God said something amazing to Samuel:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

We need to learn to see people that way.  We need to stop judging them outwardly.

So I encourage you to work hard at being humble and teachable.  Ask God to convict you if there is even a hint of prejudice in you.  Ask God to wipe it from you.  Then follow through and you yourself work on erasing it from your heart and mind.

One practical way to do this is to develop relationships with people of different ethnicity. Interact with refugees, experience different cultures.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Philippians 2 says “Think of others as better than yourselves.”

When Michelle, Connor and I went to Cambodia in June, we also spent one weekend in Malaysia where Michelle’s sister and brother-in-law live, as he is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Kuala Lumpur.  Their church is an international church, and very unique.  I never experienced anything like it.  Diversity galore.  30+ nationalities.  There in Malaysia we were worshiping with people from nearly every continent, people that looked very different.   Africans, Asians, Americans, Middle Easterners.

In my sermon intro post, I pointed out that unlike my relatives’ church in KL, here 86% of American churches are comprised of one ethnicity, and we are okay with that.  Should we be?  My own congregation is located in a community with 33% diversity, but our Family of Faith is only 5% diverse. Do we have a problem?

When we worshiped at Harvest KL, we saw a picture of the Kingdom of God as it will be in heaven!  In the book of Revelation we read about amazing worship services in heaven with every tribe, tongue and nation.  We will one day be worshiping arm in arm with all peoples, so let us seek to build God’s Kingdom like that here and now!

How do we do that?

We need to be a people who go out of our comfort zone to reach out to the stranger among us to give them a home.  God often reminded the Israelites how to treat the strangers among them, reminding Israel that they once were the strangers, the foreigners.  They were once slaves in Egypt, so they should know not to treat foreigners badly.  Welcome them!  Treat people how you want to be treated.

Refugees are coming into Lancaster in droves.  People of color, of different ethnicity are here in our area.  Welcome them, open your homes and churches to them, love them.

Finally, God is deeply concerned about reconciliation between people.

One author says “The cure for racism is humility and compassion. The wounds of racism will only begin to heal as people, of all races, seek to understand one another.”[1]

To understand we must listen to one another.  The Bible has a few things to say about that!

 “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Let us be a people that are willing to listen to those of other ethnicities!  Let us see them, and hear them.

Do you remember the amazing story of the Good Samaritan?  That was a story about racial conflict.  The Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  The Jews considered the Samaritans to be terrorists.  And the Samaritans considered the Jews the same way.  Why?  Because they committed acts of terror against one another.  Very similar to the terrorist acts in our world today.  Attacking and destroying buildings.  They didn’t have bombs, airplanes or drones loaded with missiles, but they could still attack one another and they did.  Their hatred for one another ran deep.

So what does Jesus say when he wants to answer a question from some Jews about who we should treat as our neighbor?  He uses a Samaritan.   Here is a contemporary version:

A person was walking south on Prince Street (ghetto area of Lancaster City) to get to Willow Street (suburbs south of the city).  He is attacked, robbed and beaten by a gang.  Then a local pastor walks by and does nothing, he’s late for a meeting at his church, sees the guy struggling, but pulls out his phone and checks his Facebook.  Then a church leader drives by.  He sees the man, but he too is headed to a work appointment, is already running behind schedule, so in his head he prays for the man and keeps going.  Then a Muslim wearing a head covering comes along.  He sees the man, helps him into his car, and takes him to the urgent care center, pays the bill and leaves his cell phone number to make sure the guy is well cared for.

How will you be a neighbor to the people of a different race, a different ethnicity around you?  How will you see them and listen to them?

There was a blog post this week written by a black Christian mom.  In the post she describes her life in middle class suburban America, just like you and me.  Her conclusion is something that I think would be very instructive to us as we interact with people of color, trying to be a loving neighbor.

Here is what she said:

“Tell me you don’t understand what it’s like to be black. Tell me you don’t understand what it’s like to fear the things I fear. Tell me you don’t have all the answers but you want to know more, you want to help, you want to see change. Don’t argue with me about why I’m hurting. Don’t argue with me about why I’m angry. Don’t try to be right. And please don’t try to make me responsible for why these things are happening.

And after all that, maybe ask to meet me for coffee and listen to my stories and my family’s stories.

Maybe try to hear me. Try to hear us. And pray.”[2]

So let me ask again.  Do you have biases?  Prejudice?  What are you going to do about it?  Who do you need to love, to hear, to pray for?



What does God say about race and diversity?

22 Sep

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This weekend my sermon is about race.  Our sermon series is called Life in These United States, and we’re talking about what everyone is talking about.  Race relations have been in the news a lot in recent years, and again this week there have been two shootings of black men by police officers.  These shootings have been highlighted by the National Anthem protest that some professional athletes are enacting.  These athletes are not standing during the playing of the Anthem in order to draw attention to the plight of shooting victims across the country.

The ensuing conversation has been difficult and divisive.  There are so many questions.

Can we support the playing of the Anthem while at the same time still supporting those who choose not to stand and their cause?

Can we support the mission of police officers to provide law and order while at the same time supporting the reality of racial profiling and needless killings?

What can we do to bring peace and justice?  What is a proper Christian response?  It would seem the answers should be easy to conceptualize and apply, so why are we having such a hard time?

What is it about race and ethnicity and diversity and our innermost prejudices that makes this situation so difficult?

And bringing it closer to home, what about the church?  Do we have racial tension and prejudice in our Christian fellowships?  Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963,

“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.”

Is this still true today? A recent Lifeway study indicated that 86% of churches are primarily comprised of one racial group.  And that is the case 50 years after King made that statement!  Again I ask, is something wrong?  The same study also suggests that most churchgoers find this segregation in worship to be OK.  The school district in which my family lives and in which our church is located, is comprised of about one-third ethnic minorities.  The congregation of Faith Church is closer to 5%.  Is this OK?

What does the Bible have to say about this?  What can we do?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church, as we seek to faithfully discuss race and the Bible.

The surprising thing God says about sex

19 Sep

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You fill in the blank: “Sex is ________”.

Too often we Christians have responded to our culture in negative, hurtful ways that have led people to conclude that we hate sex, that we think sex is bad.  Our young people have heard so often “don’t have sex”, that many Christians teens are scared of it, and they know very little about how God thinks of it.

I remember as a kid reading the biblical book Song of Solomon and thinking, “Woah, I cannot believe this is in the Bible.”  And yet there it is.  A husband and a wife expressing their sexual desire for one another in colorful language that leaves little to the imagination.  Some of the figures of speech seemed really kooky because in our culture we generally don’t use animals like gazelles to describe one another’s bodies.  But in Song of Solomon, as we read this racy story about marital sexual expression, we get it.  Their longing for one another, their description of one another is very real, very much like our own experience of sexuality.

And yet, it can be kind of embarrassing to read Song of Solomon.  Have you ever heard a sermon about Song of Solomon?  Mostly likely not.  Why?  Because we tend to think of sexual expression as deeply private.

We Americans need to realize, though, that not all cultures think about sexuality quite like we do.  Though we live in a sexualized culture, and that aspect of our culture has become a lot more open, we still are more cautious than many other places around the world.

So we read Song of Solomon and can question whoever decided to put this R-rated book in the Bible.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because the Bible says a lot about sex.  I mean, really.  A lot.

Additionally, we live in a culture very much like the culture in which the New Testament was written. Through most of 2014, I taught through the book of 1st Corinthians.  Paul talks about sex a lot in 1 Corinthians because sexuality was a part of their city.  It was even a part of pagan worship.  The local temple had hundreds of prostitutes, and one element of worship was to pay to sleep with a prostitute.  So when he was writing a letter to people living in a sexualized culture, Paul knew he had to talk about it.  And so do we.

Sexual expression is all over the place.  Commercials, TV shows, and even news programs are cluttered with it.  With the rise of the internet in the last 20 years, the sex industry has exploded.  We are bombarded with messages that say to us that we should express our sexuality however we want.

Unrestricted sexual expression has become commonplace.

I mentioned a favorite show a few weeks ago: Running Wild with Bear Grylls.  He recently had Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn as his guest traipsing through the wilderness.  She told Bear that she was married at 22, called it wrong decision, and got divorced.  Then she dated Tiger Woods, but with crazy schedules, they couldn’t manage a relationship.  Bear asked “What about kids, do you see them in your future?”  She said “Yes, but no more of this marriage stuff.  I don’t want to go through all that.  If you want to be with someone, just be with them.”  That’s pretty normal to hear these days in our culture.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to the surprising thing God says about sex.  What do you think?  If God were to fill in the blank, just like you did above, what word would he use to describe sex?  Sex is ________.

One college art professor says “Nothing reduces a collegiate art classroom into nervous giggles quite like the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. As an art teacher for 13 years, I have seen reactions to David that have varied from amazement — “Wow! What an amazing work of art!” — to embarrassment and even outright anger — “How dare you show this in class?! He is… well, he is… you know…. Naked!”

She goes on to say that “Culture sends us many messages about the human body, nudity and sex. Unfortunately, these messages can taint our views of sexuality, causing us to feel shame about our bodies and the act of sex. For many, the word “sex” is synonymous with the words “dirty”, “shame,” and “guilt.”  Shame is not from Jesus. God created our bodies, including our sexuality, for good.  Our bodies reflect God’s image, and God created sexuality as a fundamental part of life.”

What that means is that the surprising thing God says about sex is that it is good!  Because God created us as sexual beings with sexual desires, and that means his plan for sex is good!  Here is a key principle: God designed sexuality to be the way a man and woman can become one. I brought this up a few weeks ago when I talked about marriage. In Genesis 2:24 we read “The two shall become one flesh.”  Marriage, then, the proper place for sexual expression, and it is so good.

Because of that, consider the amazing gift of your purity, your virginity.  You get to give that gift one time.  Imagine that you wait and give that to your spouse after you are wedding!  There are few gifts that you give them that are so exquisite at that.  By waiting your are saying “I saved this incredibly precious part of me for you and for you only.”  Isn’t that wonderfully romantic?

This gift is so important because the expression of your sexuality is much more than just a physical act.  The act of sex is also very emotional and relational.  When you make connection of becoming one with another person, the two becoming one flesh, you are connecting much more than physically.  We need to see sex as a deep connection in all these ways.  This is why it is such a powerful gift.  When you give the gift of your sexuality, you are giving your entire self to that person.  It is, therefore, genius of God to reserve sexual expression for marriage, for that one lifelong partner.  Your spouse is only person you are to go that deep with.

As a result, the writers of the NT have a lot to say about purity.  Here are few examples:

1 Cor. 6:12-20 “That is what you were,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “You used to indulge in an openly free sexuality, but no more.”  He goes on to teach that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so it is to be treated that way.  What you see, what you eat, what you touch, all of it.  Strive for purity.

Eph. 4:17-5:20 is a long passage, but a very good one to read. One comment Paul makes in this passage is that “There should not be a hint of sexual immorality among you.”  Not a hint.  In other words, strive for purity.

But what if you haven’t been pure?  Are you ruined in God’s eyes?

I recently learned of an interview of a woman in 40s who was physically intimate with a number of men in college days.  20 years later in her 40s she was still reliving, with great pain, all the brokenness of those relationships, emotionally and physically.

That is not to say that if you mess up, if you have premarital sex, that you will be in pain for the rest of your life.  God is a God of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  He can restore.  He is a God of making things new.   Many people have experienced the transformation that God has brought to their lives.

You can be restored.  You can say “from this day forward I am practiced God’s way.”  You can be a virgin from that point on.  One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is where he says in Revelation 21:5 that he is making all things new.  In Christ we are made new.  No sin from our past is held against us!

We can be pure, and we can remain pure.  Do pursue ongoing purity, we need to talk about the roots of sexual purity.  If God is in the business of making us new, how do we have purity in our very sensual society?  We may desire purity, but we live in a society that makes purity difficult.  So what do we do about that?

Practicing purity starts in the mind, with our desire.  Jesus notes in Matt 5:27-30 that if you look at a woman lustfully, you have done the same thing as committing adultery with her.  Jesus wants us to take lust seriously.

But when he says “if you look at a woman lustfully, gouge out your eye!” he is speaking in hyperbole.  Or making an argument from the absurd.  What do I mean by hyperbole and absurd?  Let’s look at each one.

Hyperbole is exaggeration.  Jesus didn’t want us to literally gouge out our eyes if we lust, as just about every Christian would then be blind on their first day of being a follower of Jesus.  Instead, one way to understand Jesus’ teaching is that he wants us to take serious action to eradicate lust from our lives.

Then there is the argument from absurdity.  He and everyone else in the crowd listening to him that day knows, obviously, that gouging out your eye, won’t stop you from lust.  In fact, when he said “gouge out your eye,” there may have been laughter in the crowd.  Why?  Removal of your eyes clearly won’t stop lust!  You can still lust in your mind.  Lust is a problem of the inner life.  What really needs to change is your heart.

How, then, do we apply Jesus’ teaching to help us live with purity in a sexualized culture?

Someone has said that you can’t help it if a bird poops on your head.  But you can prevent them from a building a nest there.  Some of you know that you cannot handle certain forms of sexual expression or encounter.  And you may need to get help.  Stop allowing sexualized music, movies, TV shows, books, etc. into your life.

If you are allowing pornography into your life, even in light forms, like looking at pictures of scantily clad people on Google Image search, then you need to take action. Use both the argument from hyperbole and absurdity.  Take action.  Admit what you are doing, first to yourself, that it is wrong and confess to God as well.  Then confess to someone you can trust.  You simply must get the truth out.  Invite accountability, take the initiative to be held accountable.  Put the filtering and accountability software on your computer. And if you addiction is controlling you, seek professional help.  Locally here in the Central PA area, you can contact Day Seven as they specializing in helping get free from sexual addiction.

In addition to taking action to remove sexualized content and encounters from your life, seek to fill your life with pure, wholesome content and encounters.

In Psalm 119:9-11 we read some excellent advice: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

One way to do this is to fill your mind with God’s good things.  Read, study and memorize passages from the Bible.  Get an accountability partner to work with you.  Fill your mind with good things, and that is what you will think about.

When considering purity, know this: God’s vision of human sexuality is not to impose rules on us.  God is not saying that if we express our sexuality in a way that is disobedient to him, we have committed an unpardonable sin.  God’s vision of sexuality is with our best interest in mind, and when we don’t live up to that best, know that there is grace, there is hope, and there is new life in Christ.  God is a merciful, forgiving God!  He loves you, and he continues to want what is best for you.

What does the Bible say about Sex?

16 Sep

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I feel a bit like the parent who knows they ought and need to talk with their pubescent child about the birds and the bees, but because it is so awkward they procrastinate.

Except this time, I’m talking to the church, an entire congregation, on a Sunday morning, about the birds and bees.

Yeah, we are really going to talk about it.  Human sexuality.

It’s not just the awkward, private nature of the topic that has me shuffling my feet, but also the fact that in our society it has become an extremely broad topic.  And a very divisive one.  Christians themselves have many divergent viewpoints on sexual ethics.  I started a topical preaching series called Life In These United States, and my goal has been to talk about the things that everyone is talking about, but to do so in such a way that invites conversation, shares principles, and hopefully avoids cornering people.  The topic of sexuality could easily offend.

A few years ago I preached on homosexuality and I was nervous about that sermon too.  You can read all about it here.  So I won’t be spending much time on same-sex concerns.   A few weeks ago, I also preached on marriage, so likewise, I will most talk about other areas related to sexuality.

Namely, how should Christians think about the expression of their sexuality in a hypersexualized culture?  What does the Bible teach?  We Christians have come across to the world as prudes, as anti-sex, to the point where teenagers growing up in a conservative Christian context can come to believe that sex is an awful thing.

But this confuses them because the culture around them seems to celebrate sexual expression.  No doubt the changing hormones in their bodies and the influence of friends and media can work together to make exploration of sexual expression nearly unavoidable.  What should Christians do about these forces at work within them and outside them?  Succumb?  Enjoy?  Run away?  Build walls?  Most importantly of all, what does God say about sex?  He created it, didn’t he?  So do we know what he says about sex in the Bible?

So I approach this sermon with some hesitation.  The answer are not easy.  Christians through the ages have had many disagreements about sexuality.  Some Christians have made sexuality a kind of litmus test for faith.  They can give the impression that if you are not sexually pure and self-controlled, you are a second-class Christian and perhaps not even a Christian at all.  But is that true?

And what about participating in sex before marriage?  Is it wrong?

What about cohabitation before marriage?  Can a couple live together first?  What if they live together but don’t have sex?

How much media should a Christian consume?  Is it sinful to look at any media depicting expressions of sex?

Finally, is it possible for Christians hold to a traditional sexual ethic of purity in a gracious way?

So if you want to learn more about sexuality, we welcome you to join us at Faith Church on Sunday September 18.

FOLLOW-UP POST – Click here to find out how we answered the questions above when we talked about the Scriptures and Sex on 9/18/16.

War and Peace and Christians

15 Sep

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Last week I asked, “What should Christians do about War and Peace?”  Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, so we talked about these two important responses.  Just War and Pacifism.  There are other ways to approach the response to evil in the world, but just war and pacifism tend to be the two primary choices.  Does the Bible say it is okay for one nation to make war on another?  Or should we be a people of peace?  Or can the Bible be used to make a case for each side?

Let’s start with Just War.  That is the theory that the large majority of people at Faith Church hold to.  We turn to Romans 13 and read about God ordaining government to respond to evil, and we surmise that there are ways to practice just war.

Just war theorists suggest that there are principles we should apply as we decided to go to war, and there are principles we should apply when we wage war.  So we should have a just cause and use just means for war.

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To me one of the most clear examples of Just War is the Allied response to the Axis powers in World War 2.  Germany, Italy and Japan were aggressively annihilating people, and Allied powers needed to step in.  In other words it was just to go to war.

But wars have been fought that have not used this criteria.  I once heard a Christian scholar give a serious presentation saying that the United States Revolutionary War did not meet the criteria to qualify as a just war.  Was taxation without representation a just cause?  Did the Colonies really exhaust all other methods for peace, did they go to war as a last resort?  Maybe not.  Maye the Boston Tea Party was actually unjust and Britain had a right to clamp down.But not nearly all war has been just.  Here’s another view on that debate.

And yet while we’re on the topic of what Jesus taught, he says in Matthew 5:38-48, that people should love their enemies.

Remember one of the names the prophet Isaiah gave to the Messiah?  Prince of Peace.

Remember what the angels said when Jesus, the Messiah, was born?  Peace on earth.

Remember what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was arrested?  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.


The Apostle Paul would go on to talk about it quite a lot.  One of the most compelling instances was when he said this in 1 Timothy 2:2, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Who was emperor when Paul wrote this?  Nero!  A tyrant!  One who persecuted Christians.  And Paul is saying to pray for that guy?  “Pray for your enemies,” Jesus said, and now Paul is saying it too.  Here the enemy is a guy who brutally slaughtered the Christians.  Nero looked a lot like ISIS.  He was crazy.  He looked a lot like Adolf Hitler.

And so we have this teaching about peace.  I live in a place that has a long, long heritage with Anabaptist faiths.  The Amish, Mennonites, Brethren churches all hold to the doctrine of pacifism.  Pacifism means they believe in peace rather than war and violence.  They do not believe that Christians should participate in the military.

If you support Christians in the military, and you are reading this starting to dismiss pacifists, please take a moment to hear them out.  I am not a pacifist, so in order to present pacifism to you accurately, I got some help from Mennonite pastor friends in my local Ministerium, and I asked them to explain pacifism for me from a biblical perspective.

One pastor mentioned this quote, and I want you to see if you can guess who said it: “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.”

Who said this?  Guesses?

Adolf Hitler.   So the Mennonite pastor responds, “it’s helpful to understand that during World War II, nearly all American and European combatants, both Axis and Allied powers, invoked Christian faith as a rationale to justify their use of violence. We try to paint Hitler as an atheist to get Christians off the hook, but history won’t let us do that.

“Our civil religion has been quite effective at indoctrinating us into a “one right interpretation” of history, politics, and current events, and surprise, surprise, in American civil religion, it turns out that God hates all the same people we do! To put it mildly, this a big problem. If we agree with Hitler and see Jesus as “greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter,” we’re in danger of missing the point of the Gospel: that God extends love to us when we are enemies (through the love of his Suffering Servant, Jesus), and God invites us to, in turn, extend love to our enemies.”

But what about the claim that pacifists will be overrun by bullies?  It was clear that Hitler wasn’t stopping until he achieved world domination.  Again the pacifist response is interesting.

“Now, pacifism certainly opens one up to charges of naiveté. Who wouldn’t kill one man in order to save thousands?  I think the easy mistake we make is assuming that effectiveness is more important than faithfulness. The early church fathers understood this.  Clement of Alexandria made it clear that “Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sin.”

Very, very interesting thoughts, aren’t they?  I would submit to you that most of us who have not studied pacifism have just assumed that it is a weak-minded kind of theology that doesn’t deal with the reality of life.  But as you can read, my Mennonite pastor friends have deep substance to what they believe.  Let’s not write them off.  It very well could be that one day in heaven Jesus will tell us that Christian use of and support for military was wrong.  Instead let’s ask ourselves if we have exchanged effectiveness for faithfulness.

In this debate between effectiveness and faithfulness, my friend shared a wonderful story by Wil Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, from their book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony:

The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross.

Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing of Libya. Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral.

At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, “Well, preacher, what do you think?”

I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.

“That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. “That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.”

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

“You know, you have a point,” I said. “What would be a Christian response to this?” Then I answered, right off the top of my head, “A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.”

“You can’t do that,” said my adversary.

“Why?” I asked. “You tell me why.”

“Because it’s illegal to travel in Libya. President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there.”

“No! That’s not right,” I said. “I’ll admit that we can’t go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan. We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold. But we once did.”

We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.

I think a similar case could be made regarding ISIS. The historically Christian response would be overwhelming love expressed through a willingness to sacrifice our status, comfort, and even our lives on their behalf. But we don’t seem to currently have a church—even a Mennonite church—that produces Christians who can do something that bold.”  Check the astounding work being done by Mennonite peacemakers in Iraq.  There are other organizations doing radical work like this as well.

Where does this leave us?

When thinking about War and Peace consider these principles:
1. Pursue peace in all relationships.
2. Consider peace even in war.
3. If war is waged, it should be just.

Do you have a relationship that is not peaceful not right?  What will it look like for you to be a peacemaker?

What should Christians do about War and Peace? – On the 15th anniversary of 9/11

9 Sep

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On September 11th, 2001, Michelle and I were in Kingston, Jamaica.  We had been there for a year as church-planting missionaries.  That morning I was down the road at our co-workers house feeding their rabbits.  Our co-workers, the Kay family, were out of town, and we were taking care of things for them.  Michelle called me on my cell phone.  She said, “Go inside and turn on the Kay’s TV, there’s been an incident in New York City.”

I urgently finished feeding the bunnies, ran inside and switched on our co-workers’ TV.  In Kingston, normal cable packages had plenty of American TV, so coverage of 9/11 was easy to find.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  What was going on?  I realized I was alone, and I didn’t like that feeling at all.  What I was seeing on the TV was momentous, and I needed to be with my family.  I finished up at my co-workers and headed up the hill to our house, where Michelle and I watched the TV the rest of the day in shock.

We also had a very strange feeling of disconnectedness, being away from our country when it was going through something so awful.  While none of us knew what the future held, as there could easily have been more attacks coming, we still wanted to get home.

Do you remember how you felt on 9/11?

In the days and weeks before 9/11, we were finishing up our time in Jamaica.  We had actually  purchased our airline tickets home before 9/11 happened, scheduled to fly home two weeks after 9/11.  It was sketchy there for a few days whether or not we’d be able to fly, or if we would have to wait a while.  But we didn’t have to wait.  I remember, however, as news coverage about 9/11 was nonstop for a long time, that there as another feeling growing inside me.  Anger.  Frustration.  My country had been attacked.  Thousands of innocent people had lost their lives.  It was a horrible injustice, and I wanted to see it righted.  I daydreamed about signing up for the CIA to work on combating global terrorism.

But was that the right response?  Was I just angry and getting aggressive?

This Sunday is the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, now called Patriot Day.  To prepare I watched a couple YouTube videos showing network news coverage of that day.  I was thinking that it would be good to show a short video summarizing the events of 9/11 so at the outset of our worship service we could remember and pray.  I clicked through videos, and it was like reliving that morning all over again.  I was doing exactly what many of us were doing 15 years ago, eyes glued to the TV.  It was raw.  There’s no way I could show that in a worship service.  Huge jet planes ramming into the Twin Towers, massive fireball explosions, and finally, the towers imploding on themselves in giant clouds of dust and debris.  First responders covered in soot, rushing into piles of rubble.  Not to mention the tragedies at the Pentagon and Shanksville.  When you see those images you don’t immediately see the lives lost.  But those lives are the greatest tragedy of 9/11 and the war that followed, a war that still continues to this day.  Watching those videos, thinking about lost lives, I started feeling very upset again.

On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we would do well to ask “What does the Bible say about war and peace?”  It is not so clear-cut as you might think.  How should Christians think about war and peace?  In Lancaster County we have a long heritage of religious traditions that advocate for non-violent peaceful resistance.  We also have many Christians that ardently support the military.  Both support their cause from Biblical teaching.

Who is right?  Who is wrong?

We’re going to talk about that this Sunday at Faith Church, as we continue our series on Life in These United States.  We welcome you to join us!

Babies in the Water (or what is broken in society and how to fix it?)

2 Sep

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You don’t have to search far and wide to come across preachers of doom and gloom.  Especially in an election year.  Especially in this election year.  Listen to the news and speeches from candidates and you can get the idea that our country is teetering on the precipice of total implosion.

Personally, I don’t believe it.  I’m concerned that the fear-mongering is possibly used to engender political gain.  I suspect that our nation is better off than what we so often hear.

But I also try to be a realist, and I see that there are systems and structures which are broken.   We need to identify them and seek to fix them.  When a group from Faith Church visited our sister church Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, we heard an insightful story that I call “Babies in the Water”.  You may have heard a version of it before.  It is a story about seeing what is broken and how to fix it.  It goes like this:

Imagine you are spending a wonderfully cool late summer day (like today is, at least in Lancaster County), enjoying a picnic alongside a small river.  Your family has a blanket spread out, and you’re eating sandwiches and chips while your kids, standing on the riverbank, attempt to skip stones across to the other side.

Suddenly, one of your kids starts yelling frantically.  You snap to attention, heart immediately pounding, fearing one of your little ones has fallen in.  Quickly counting bodies, you breathe easier, they’re all running toward you.  Then you make out what they’re saying.  “There’s a baby in the water!”  You think to yourself, Can’t be…kids mistakenly identify things all the time.  But your children are beside themselves, and you see it too.  The distinct form of a baby, arms and legs flailing a bit, floating on its back down the river.  Then comes the unmistakable cry of an infant.  You and your spouse spring into action and rush out to save the baby.  Astoundingly, though sputtering a bit and cold, the baby is going to be okay. Image result for babies floating in water

You walk it back to shore to wrap it in the picnic blanket.  At the riverbank, your spouse is looking up and down the river for boats, for any sign of people looking for their missing baby.  There is nothing.

A few more minutes go by, and now you and your spouse are making calls to figure out what to do next, when your kids, back down at the river, starting yelling again.  “There’s another baby coming!”  And the same process you just shakily went through happens all over again.  Now you have two babies.

Over the course of the next few hours the babies keep coming and they don’t stop.  Your desperate phone calls lead to an emergency baby rescue committee from your church haphazardly taking shape.  People bring portable tents, baby food, diapers, blankets, and start a process for getting the infants to Child Services and foster homes.

And the babies just keep coming.  Soon your emergency committee graduates into a standing committee at your church.  People sign up to staff the river 24/7.  And the babies keep coming.

You recognize that the tents are not suitable for poor weather, so your committee raises money for a permanent shelter and over the course of a week, you put up a building.  And the babies keep coming.

This goes on for months, and there is no end in sight, so you put together a board, hire some part-time staff and a fundraising director.  And the babies keep coming.

We do this kind of ministry in many ways.  It is called mercy ministry.  Providing for needs.  Just as the babies absolutely needed to be rescued in this far-fetched story, there are many other real needs in our society that we need to address.  It honors God’s heart when his disciples share the Good News by providing mercy ministry for those in need in our society.

But mercy is only half of the solution to the situation, because, like the babies, the needs just keep coming.  There is a very important question that mercy doesn’t ask.   Mercy asks the question, “How can I help those in need?”  That is vital.  But there is another question that needs to be asked.  Do you know what it is?

Think about those babies floating down the river.  Mercy asks “how can I help them?” and the answer is clear.  Rescue them from the river or they will die.  Get them safe.  But there is another question, a very important question that someone should ask about those babies.

Where did they come from?  How did they get in the water?  Babies aren’t supposed to be in a river.  Who did this?  Why do they keep on coming?  And most importantly of all, what do we need to do to stop them from throwing babies in the water?

If mercy asks “How can I help those in need?”, justice asks “why are they in need in the first place, and what can we do to make right the situation that is broken?”  I tend to think that mercy is easier than justice.  People are missing meals, so we give them meals.  People need clothes, we give them clothes.  Homeless?  We help them get homes.  This is mercy, and it is right and good.  But what about justice?  Why are these social situations happening?  Well, the answer to the justice question is much harder to come by.

Over the last 8 years since I have become senior pastor at Faith Church, and especially in the past 5 years since our family moved to the Conestoga Valley school district in which the church is located, I’ve gotten to learn more and more about some of those broken systems and structures in our local community.   Through connections in the school district like the CV social worker, who reports to our local Ministerium, I’ve heard a lot about students in crisis.  We have a number of people in our church family who work for the school district, and they have talked about the brokenness.  For the last two years I’ve been on the Board of our local social services organization, Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, and I’ve heard stories.  Also, I’ve had the chance to interact with East Lampeter Township police officers, and I’ve asked them the question “We live in a very nice school district.  A great community.  Lots of affluence.  Beautiful farmland.  Solid.  But there is another side, a broken side.  Poverty.  Homelessness.  School bus stops at the motels.  Why?  What is going on?  What is the cause?”

You know what these brave first-responders have said?  All of them.  Same answer.  No hesitation.  I think theirs is at least one answer or the beginning of an answer to the justice question about why there is so much ongoing brokenness in our community.

Join us on Sunday morning at Faith Church as we talk about what appears to be the reason for the brokenness in our community, and how we can start to address it.