Tag Archives: life in these united states

Do we need to take global warming seriously?

18 Nov

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This weekend we finish our series about Life in These United States.  We have been talking about what everyone is talking about.  I’ve enjoyed this series, though it has made me squirm from time to time!  But  as we conclude this series, we look forward to Advent.  Yes, Advent begins next week.  And during Advent we will be studying five passages in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah.  Five passages that talk about the mission of the Messiah.  Then after the new year, we will begin a series through the book of 1st Timothy.

This weekend, though?  Creation care.  Creation care is just theological code for “environmentalism.”  But creation care is different from environmentalism, and I think you’ll see why.

As I was preparing this week, I came across this amazing headline:  “China delegate hits back at Trump’s climate change hoax claims.”

What is that all about?  Four years ago, the article reports, President-elect Trump said “China had created the concept of climate change to make America’s manufacturing sector less competitive, dubbing the global phenomenon…’non-existent’.”

Now this week, the article goes on to say, “Beijing has turned the tables on US President-elect Donald Trump over his accusation that climate change is a Chinese hoax, claiming that it was the Republican’s own party that initiated global warming negotiations.”

Really?  The Republicans?  Can’t be.  Well, it turns out it can be: “Climate change negotiations began with the UN’s International Panel for Climate Change in the 1980s, supported by the US Republican-led administrations under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.”  Reagan and Bush?  Did you know that?

Furthermore, “China and the US are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases that are causing the earth’s temperatures to rise, according to UN data.”

How many of you watch the weather reports on the news that list the record high and low for each day?  How many of you see how often the high for that day was recorded way back in 1894 or 1927 and think “Global warming is a crock.”?  How many of you hear the reports that world-wide the last year few years have been the warmest on record?  What should we think about global warming?  Is it a hoax?

The article above notes that “scientists say a 2-degree Celsius rise would be dangerous for the planet.  The US and China signed the Paris agreement in climate change talks last year, which involves both developed and developing countries. It aims to keep the world’s rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to create a carbon-neutral world by 2100.”  But you have probably heard what President-elect Trump has said about it:  “He plans to dump the agreement, which he described as a ‘bad deal’.”

Why am I bringing this up?   I don’t want this to be a political sermon.  I’m not trying to prove to you what science says about environment.  But the environment is something that is often in the news.  So how should Christians think about it?

Doesn’t the book of Revelation predict that God going to destroy the world?  So what should we care about global warming?  What is the big deal?

Perhaps it is a bigger deal that some people think.

Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday 11/20/16 as we seek out biblical passages and theological principles that we could apply to our world, teaching us how we should view this planet.

How to respond to people struggling with gender

14 Nov

transgenderIn our Life in These United States Series, we are talking about what everyone is talking about.  This week we look at the topic of gender distress.  Months ago Bruce Jenner announced that for years he struggled with gender and was now Caitlin, changing his gender from male to female.  Then Target stores said that their customers of one gender could use their restrooms for another gender, if those customers identified with the opposite gender.  The result has been a divisive and at times bitter national conversation.  So today I ask, what is a Christian response to people who are struggling with gender?

First, have compassion.  I urge you to work on ridding your heart of anger and disgust.  Instead be filled with compassion and seek to understand, seeing people as people, loved by God and made in his image. Transgender people can draw up within us lots of strong feelings.  When anger or disgust rises up inside of you, instead of assuming that it is righteous anger, ask yourself, why is that anger there?  Perhaps the situation is not the problem, but the solution to the problem.  Perhaps the problem is really that your heart is filled with anger and disgust.

When I was in college, a group of students would lead worship services from time to time at Water Street Rescue Mission.  Or we would just attend worship there.  One evening I remember walking out of the chapel, headed to our vehicle to return to campus.  As we stepped into the parking lot a man to our right was there.  He was older than us, maybe in his 60s, and he was dressed in women’s clothing.  A feeling of disgust raged inside me.  All I wanted to do was get out of there.  Yet he was clearly hurting, possibly drunk.  He turned, heaved, and vomited.  He needed help.  We kept walking.  It was a grand failure on my part.

When we respond to people who are different from us, we first need to be honest about our inner short-comings like prejudice, disgust, anger and rage.  All people are created by God, loved by God, just as we are.

Then avoid condemnation.  Take yourself to the stories of Jesus.  Remember the story when the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus?  They wanted Jesus to condemn her.  His response?  In John 8:1-11, he said, “Is anyone left to condemn you?”

“No” she said.

Amazing, the words of Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you.  So go and sin no more.”

He chose not to condemn, but in the same breath he says what “Go and sin no more.”  Jesus was always for truth and righteousness.  He called sin “sin”.  And we should do the same.

But I want you to notice something else about Jesus here. Jesus’ pattern was that he was harsh with the Pharisees who thought they had God figured out and were not gracious about their relationship with God.  Jesus was also sometimes harsh with the disciples who should have been further along than they already were.  But Jesus was compassionate to those who were struggling with sin.

What we learn from Jesus is this: no matter what view you hold, hold it with grace and humility.  Lancaster County has a heritage of definitive thinking.  We don’t want to be wishy-washy, but we need to express love to toward those who disagree.

Encourage contentment.  Once you have assessed your own heart, and you are filled with loving compassion, the third way we can respond is to apply the biblical principle of contentment to gender distress.

We need to be content with how God made us.   He made us in his image, and said “it is good!”  He loves us.  Therefore followers of Jesus should be exceedingly cautious about allowing thoughts of discontentment with ourselves to creep in.   This could relate to much more than just gender distress.  There are many ways in which we can grow discontent and have distress about our bodies. Think of plastic surgery, excessive working out, excessive dieting, pills, trying to get a perfect body, constantly purchasing the newest trends in clothing.  Even curating our Facebook and social media accounts so that we look better than we really are.

That is not to say that we can let our bodies go.  The principle of 1 Corinthians 6, that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, enters here.  Paul said, “Honor God with your body.”  That means caring for it in a healthy way.  Healthy eating, exercise and healthy medicine are important, but as with all things, they must be done in moderation.

I would urge anyone who wants to change anything about their body and life, to take that before the Lord and examine the motivation of your heart.  If God is enough for us, that means he made us this way, and he can be sufficient for us, despite the very real struggle that we feel inside.  I would encourage anyone who feels distress about their gender, about their body, to first ask the question, “Is God really enough for me?”  Do you remember that God loves you so deeply?

Finally, practice community.  All people need community, and our final response should be one of welcoming all.

Here in the Family of Faith Church we want to be a community where anyone will feel they belong, for the church is, after all, a community of broken people saved by grace.

Mark Yarhouse in a wonderful article in Christianity Today mentions that “A few years ago, my research team at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity conducted the first study of its kind on transgender Christians. We collected information on 32 biological males who to varying degrees had transitioned to or presented as women. We asked many questions about issues they faced in their home, workplace, and church, such as, “What kind of support would you have liked from the church?” One person answered, “Someone to cry with me rather than just denounce me. Hey, it is scary to see God not rescue someone from cancer or schizophrenia or [gender dysphoria]…but learn to allow your compassion to overcome your fear and repulsion.”

He goes on to talk about the Gospel in his article, and I think this is important for us to here, so I’m going to quote his words at length.  He says, “Most centrally, the Christian community is a witness to the message of redemption. We are witnesses to redemption through Jesus’ presence in our lives. Redemption is not found by measuring how well a person’s gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but by drawing them to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into his image.

“As Christians speak to this redemption, we will be tempted to join in the culture wars about sex and gender that fall closely on the heels of the wars about sexual behavior and marriage. But in most cases, the church is called to rise above those wars and present a witness to redemption.

“Let’s say Sara walks into your church. She looks like a man dressed as a woman. One question she will be asking is, “Am I welcome here?” In the spirit of a redemptive witness, I hope to communicate to her through my actions: “Yes, you are in the right place. We want you here.”

“If I am drawn to a conversation or relationship with her, I hope to approach her not as a project, but as a person seeking real and sustained relationship, which is characterized by empathy as well as encouragement to walk faithfully with Christ. But I should not try to “fix” her, because unless I’m her professional therapist, I’m not privy to the best way to resolve her gender dysphoria. Rather, Christians are to foster the kinds of relationships that will help us know and love and obey Jesus better than we did yesterday. That is redemption.”

So how are you responding?  Do you have people in your life that have some kind of gender distress?  Will you respond to them like Jesus would?

Why I’m talking about the election this Sunday

20 Oct

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This may be the most stupid preaching decision I’ve ever made.  This coming Sunday as we continue our series, Life in These United States, I’m talking about government.  And with only a few weeks left until our general election, I need to talk about politics.  My tag line for the sermon series has been “We’re talking about what everyone’s talking about.”  I have heard over the years, though, that we preachers need to keep politics out of the pulpit.  While I think that church should be the one place where people can talk about anything, there is certainly the feeling out there that we should not talk about politics.  But why?

For one thing, it is so controversial, and that is true within a church family.  Perhaps you go to a church that is politically uniform.  Faith Church is not.  If I talk about politics in a sermon, I face a high risk of offending someone.  So maybe I should just avoid it. I am not a fan of offending people.

Also, talking about politics might give some the impression that the church is in cahoots with the government.  And there is a feeling out there that the church should be neutral.  “Separation of Church and State,” is the cry.  No doubt, when the church has gotten involved in governmental affairs throughout history, it is pretty easy to see that it hasn’t gone so well.  Again, maybe I should avoid it.

But I can’t.

This might really be stupid, but I am going to talk about the election.  It seems to me that not only is most everyone already talking about it, but more importantly what they say is that they are very confused about it.  “Who should we vote for?” is the big question, and the answer is extremely unclear.  No matter what political party you align with, the chances are you aren’t happy about the candidate your party has nominated.  And that goes for the third parties too.  John Oliver recently remarked that this election is not a frustrating choice between the lesser of two evils, but a choice between the lesser of four evils!

Are you frustrated by this election?  What should a population do when they feel they have no good choices to vote for?  Do you feel like choices for president are being forced on you, and you don’t like the options?  Maybe you feel like this guy:

What are we to do?  Can the Bible be of any help?  The newest books in the Bible are nearly 2000 years old, and they were written in a time and place that did not include a national election for that country’s top leader, and those New Testament biblical writers were not living in a country that had a Christian majority.  No, civic life was quite different then.  Is it possible that we can learn principles from this old ancient book that might help us figure out what do to with this election?  I think so.

For starters, I would like to suggest that the question “Who should we vote for?” is the wrong beginning point.  Instead we should ask “How should we vote?”  Well, on a voting machine on November 8th at our polling place, of course!  Yes, obviously.  But I don’t mean “How?” in that logistical sense.  I mean “How?” in the sense of “What principles should we use when we vote?”  And when we start with that question, the Bible is an excellent guide.

Please join us at Faith Church on Sunday October 23, as we continue looking at life in these United States, talking about what everyone is talking about: the election!

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?


[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-l-briggs/racism-and-the-bible_b_3683157.html
[2] http://latriceingram.com/toallmywhitechristianfriendsregardingrecentevents/

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.

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?