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Holy Dissatisfaction

On this day of the Inauguration of America’s new President, I’m reminded that despair and dissatisfaction are opposites. Despair is the enemy of justice for despair is rooted in hopelessness. In contrast, dissatisfaction fuels work for justice for it is rooted in hope–the confidence that life can and will be made right. And our hope is rooted in God, the One who will indeed bring justice–setting all things right. Therefore, dissatisfaction is a vibrant expression of faith, hope, and love. May the Spirit of God nourish our resolute dissatisfaction and our participation in God’s right-making work.

Martin Luther King, Jr. profoundly expressed this in his 1967 speech “Where do we go from here?” given to the Southern Christian Leadership Assembly Convention in Atlanta:

“I’ve decided to stick with love, for love is the only answer to humankind’s problems…I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. I’ve seen too much hate…hate is too great a burden to bear. I’ve decided to love. So, I conclude by saying again today that we have a task and let us go out with a “divine dissatisfaction.”

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.

Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality, integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.

Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. (Micah 6:8)

Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24)

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. (Isaiah 11:6)

Let us be dissatisfied. And men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. (Acts 17:26)

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout “White Power!” – when nobody will shout “Black Power!” – but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”

With truthful realism, Dr. King goes on to say,

“I must confess, my friends that the road ahead will not always be smooth…There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted…But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future…Let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows…This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, ‘We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.’”

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where do we go from Here?” Delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention, Atlanta, GA, Aug 12, 1967.


Praying for Healing of Fear on Good Friday

Three years ago, I posted reflections on praying for healing during Holy Week. They seem very pertinent today amidst the escalation of fear and anxiety in our world. Somehow, the life and world transforming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection seems suppressed by and even subordinated to the assault of enmity and collapse of old structures of order and safety that plague our society and world. The voices of fear-mongers and enmity-provokers seem louder than the voices of God’s faithfulness and love.

Yet we know that by Jesus’ wounds we are healed. He took upon himself who we are, so that we can share in who he is. He took our fear to give us his trustworthy love; our loneliness for his communion; our anxiety for his peace; our humiliation for his humility; our brokenness for his wholeness.So we do indeed pray for healing of the wounds of our hearts, families, communities, and world this Holy Week.

Here’s what I wrote three years ago: “This Holy Week I’m reflecting on the wonder of Christ’s healing life. For how much healing dare we pray, dare we hope? This week points us to the healing of our wounded souls, hearts, homes, neighborhoods and world. “By his wounds we are healed”  (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24).

Yet so much feels so unhealed. We know some wounds in our hearts, bodies and world only heaven will heal. So for how much healing today dare we hope? Jesus calls us to pray for heaven to invade earth now: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done–on earth as it is in heaven”. We live in eager anticipation of the day when all nations will walk by the light of the Lamb (Revelation 21:23-24). Planted beside the river of life that flows from the throne of the Lamb are the trees of life. “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (22:2). 

In the midst of our wounds, we live and pray for healing with confidence and eager anticipation.

Anglican Bishop Stephen Neill summarizes the confidence in which the Christian movement has engaged the world, saying, “In Jesus, the one thing that needed to happen has happened in such a way that it need never happen again in the same way. The universe has been reconciled to its God…For the human sickness there is one specific remedy, and this is it. There is no other.”[i]

The gospel audaciously proclaims that the Holy God became embodied on our planet and lived a perfect human life on our behalf. In his human flesh Jesus defeated all personal, social and demonic darkness. He bore all sin and evil. He carried the full consequences of this into death and life eternal.

Jesus bore our brokenness so we could receive the gift of his wholeness. He became what we are, sinful and broken, so that we could become what he is, holy and glorious.

[i] Stephen Neill, The Christian Faith and Other Faiths (Oxford University Press, 1970) p. 17.

This Holy Week, may we taste–and offer to others–some appetizers made from those healing leaves. Our hope is based in the conviction that the Spirit isn’t merely offering appetizers–but banquets. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done–on earth–now–as it is in heaven!”


Do Preaching and Politics Ever Mix?

As we are immersed in the tensions and trials of another Presidential campaign season, with evangelicals identified in the media as supporting particular candidates, I wonder about the relationship of preaching and politics.

The Unavoidable Reality that Christian Faith is Political

We are participants in a faith with strong, unavoidable political implications. The early church was well aware of this as they grew and suffered under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. What are the implications for us today of the ways in which the (pre-Constantine) early church addressed political realities? We can get some clues in the clandestinely confrontational ways the church co-opted Greco-Roman political terms to describe their own movement. They took common, ordinary political terms and filled them with a radical, new meaning. Their use of these terms to describe life in Christ’s Kingdom was a direct challenge to identifying biblical faith with a particular candidate and particular government.[1] Consider for example:

Basilea (kingdom): the term used to describe the Roman Empire—andthe reign of God on earth

Evangelion (gospel): a pronouncement by the Roman Empire that a battle had been won or an heir to Caesar had been born—and—the news that Christ has triumphed over sin and evil

Ekklesia (church): the public assembly of all the citizens of the Empire in a region to discuss local political concerns—and the gathering of Christians to conduct the affairs of God’s Kingdom.

Koinonia (fellowship): a homogenous gathering of like-minded people of the same gender and socio-economic status around common interests—and—the heterogeneous gathering of Christian men and women of all ethnicities, social classes, and economic backgrounds

Sacramentum (sacrament): the oath of loyalty taken by a soldier upon enlisting in the Roman military, declaring there was no higher authority in his life than Caesar, and no greater loyalty than to the empire—and—the visible signs of God’s commitment to us and our commitment to God

Proskynesis (worship): bowing in submission before the ruler or emperor—and—worshiping the triune God of truth, grace, and love

Parousia (presence, or coming): the coming of Caesar to a town, and especially his return to Rome—and—the return of Lord Jesus to usher in the Kingdom in all its fullness.

Soter (savior): the title of Caesar Augustus whose rule ended chaos in Rome—and—the role of Jesus as the liberator, redeemer, and healer of the world

Kyrios (lord): ruler or supreme leader—and—Jesus as the one who reigns over heaven and earth.

Since in the biblical faith we are dealing directly with issues of power, community, justice, authority, allegiance, identity, and citizenship—we are unavoidably interacting with concerns of politicians. Add to this that the biblical faith compels concern for people who are without power, excluded from community, victims of injustice, abused by those in authority, and identified as unworthy or undesirable—and the tensions between the life of the people of God and their life as citizens of the state are inescapable. Loyalty to Jesus as Lord and Savior required insisting that society care for the marginalized, the oppressed, the aliens and strangers–welcoming them into the fellowship of the kingdom of God.

A professor at a Christian University recently asked students in a  class who they thought had said the following words: “He has scattered the proud…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The students debated back and forth for a few minutes, trying to place the words with some revolutionary in history. They were dumbfounded when the professor put up on the screen the rest of the passage from Luke 1:46-55—Mary’s Magnificat, as she praised God for the birth of her Son.

Common Approaches to Preaching and Politics

In spite of the unavoidable, political implications of Christian faith, most of us are confused about how to address public policy and political issues from the pulpit. There seem to be four prevailing approaches:

One: Silent Pulpit: Avoid mentioning anything that might seem political


Little risk of criticism

Avoid dispute and controversy among members

Avoid imposing ideology or preacher’s own view on members


Fail to offer biblical/theological insights on pressing issues

Risk reinforces sacred/secular, spiritual/world dichotomy

Miss opportunity to help members work for justice in society

Two: Civic Pulpit: Encourage members to engage in politics, voting


Promote Christian engagement in public policy issues, elections

Affirm that biblical faith includes public engagement in the common good


Risk of preacher implicitly expressing endorsement of a candidate or public policy position through nuance and the preacher’s personal position

Miss opportunity to reflect biblically and theologically about current issues

Three: Principled Pulpit: Proclaim preacher’s understanding of biblical principles that should undergird voting on candidates and public policy issues


Concentrate on clear biblical teaching regarding justice, racism, corruption, poverty, marriage, medical ethics, economics

Encourage members to think “biblically” about issues

Not endorse particular legislation, candidates


Risk of preacher speaking from own social location and personal convictions

Risk of preacher being uninformed, or perceived as a speaking for God

Risk of provoking disputes, controversies within the congregation

Risk people leave because disagree with the preacher becoming “political”

Four: Partisan Pulpit: Advocate for specific public policy issues and even candidates the preacher believes are consistent with biblical values and commitments


Clear guidance to congregants about how to vote


Illegal in the United States

Imposition by preacher on congregation of his/her own convictions

Risk of furthering division within a congregation

May God guide us in our longing to be empowered, wise preachers who live and lead at the convergence of proskynesis (worship) of the One Kyrios (Lord), preaching the evangelion (gospel) of the one Christos (messiah), and participating in the justice of God’s basilea (kingdom).


[1] For more on this see: John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1994); N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress, 2003); Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire (Augburg Fortress, 2002); Ekkehard Stegman and Wolfgang Stegman, The Jesus Movement: A Social History of its First Century (Augsburg Fortress, 1999); and more recently, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haaw, Jesus for President (Zondervan, 2008).

Praying the Lord’s Prayer with those who are homeless

IMG_0660We confess today our faith in you, and that we know your will and way for us—but don’t necessarily want to live it:

“If anyone among you becomes poor, and falls into poverty, then you shall help them, like a resident alien…Fear your God, that they may live with you (Leviticus 25:35-36).

When we ask you, “What shall we do?”—we are uncomfortable with your answer:

“He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise’ (Luke 3:10-11).

We know your description of who is blessed, but struggle to understand it:

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled (Luke 6:20-21).

We do not want to be counted among those who only love you with our words. We want to love you “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18),

Therefore, hear us as we pray with those who are homeless:

“Our Father”

Draw those who feel abandoned, orphaned, and alone into the embrace of your welcoming love.

Embolden us to live as brothers and sisters with all people, especially those among whom we may feel threatened and out of control.

“Give us this day, our daily bread.”

Provide through us the resources and new structures, so that no one seeks their daily bread in garbage bins, and no one goes to sleep hungry.

“Forgive us our trespasses.”

Liberate us from the paralysis of being overwhelmed by needs.

Pour your mercy into all hearts so that we may experience your healing and transforming love.

“Lead us not into temptation.”

May your love bar the way to indifference and self-preoccupation.

May your truth overcome prejudice and racism.

May your mercy bring order to emotional and mental confusion.

May your power bring deliverance from our addictions.

May your Spirit lead us into your light.

“Deliver us from evil.”

Protect us from walling ourselves off from others through fear and greed.

Protect those on the streets from being attacked tonight.

“For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.”

Bless this day all who struggle to survive.

We name before you those we know who struggle today:

Bless this day all who have dedicated their lives to bring hope to those who feel marginalized.

We name before you those people and organizations we know who are bearers of hope:

Bless this day all people, pouring into us your kindness and hope.

Give us the courage this day to live the truth we know.

Give us the commitment so to live that all people flourish in your great love.

Now and forever, Amen.


Yes, The Name of God is Mercy

This week I read Pope Francis’ new book The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016), in which he reminds us that God is 51zqYF24+iL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_“rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), for that’s God’s name. Aspects of our current national and even international mood (whether in the church, in society, or in political debates) seem anything but merciful—harsh, anxious, divisive, name-calling, fear-mongering—but not merciful. Thus, the Pope’s reminder is urgent.

We walk with the God who is “merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). This verse uses the two great Hebrew words for mercy. The first word, “merciful,” bears the same Hebrew root as the word “womb.” The relationship is striking. Like a womb, to be merciful is to create a safe place in which life can be nourished. As the Psalmist continually reminds us, God is our strong tower, our defense, the One who stoops down and rescues us from the pit. Also like a womb, mercy involves sacrifice, hospitality, discomfort, and even risk. Jesus stooped down and took the risk, so to speak, of bearing our wounded human flesh. He carried it into his own “womb of mercy” where it could be healed, redeemed, and recreated. His cries on the Cross were like labor pains, and in the resurrection, he gave birth to new humanity.

The second word in Exodus 34 is translated as “steadfast love and faithfulness.” This is the great Hebrew word, hesed, one of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible to describe God. God is steadfastly faithful to God’s commitment to love creation. Hesed is the word translated in Micah 6:8 as mercy or kindness. What does God require of us—“to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” God calls us to participate in God’s unconditional, relentless, unwavering, steadfast determination to heal the wounds of humanity in God’s love. When we walk the way of justice, mercy, and humility, we courageously participate in God’s work to create safe places in which people’s lives can be made right by mercy.

In this book, the Pope describes the basis of his call for A Year of Mercy and a A Revolution of Tenderness.

“God forgives not with a decree but with a caress” for “Jesus goes beyond the law and forgives by caressing the wounds of our sins.”

Only the person “who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord. For this reason I have often said that the place where my encounter with the mercy of Jesus takes place is my sin. When you feel his merciful embrace…that’s when life can change.”

 He laments for the person who doesn’t feel their own need for mercy. Francis calls this the fruit of a tragic form of corruption in which,

“We no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy…The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help…The corrupt man often doesn’t realize his own condition, much as a person with bad breath does not know they have it.”

He notes that it usually takes for such people a great fall to,

“crack open the shell that he has gradually built up, thus allowing the Grace of God to enter.”

“To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called on to pour its mercy over all those who recognize themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy. I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the church and its parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.”

In our Micah Groups, the Spirit is at work to deepen our transformation in the womb of God’s mercy so that we can lead the Church in this great “revolution of tenderness.” All around the world there are 1,000s of daily acts of kindness in this revolution of tenderness. Our world hungers to experience the caress of mercy and justice.

As we commemorate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, Bill Haley, one of our Micah Group facilitators in Washington, DC provides a wonderful example of just mercy. His ministry, Coracle, has been engaged in clearing an unmarked grave of former slaves in the Shenandoah Valley. They refer to their word at the Corhaven Slave Cemetery as a RepentL1050152M-copy2ance Project. Before beginning the work clearing the brush from hundreds of unmarked graves, they took off their shoes and joined hands in prayer. In the mud and brambles beneath them, they realized they were standing on holy ground. As a gentle rain began to fall on them, Bill’s 10-year-old daughter named what they were all feeling, “God’s crying.” Bill reminds us of the words of Dr. King, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

I needn’t end by asking, “May God have mercy on us,” for that’s God’s name. It would be like saying, “May God be God.” God can’t be other than that. Therefore I end, in the name of the God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.


Advent Declaration on Gun Violence

Advent Declaration on Gun Violence Advent 2015

Preamble. Pastors and leaders in the Church from throughout the US met on December 10, 2015 to express grief that we need to lead our congregations over and over in worship services of lament for senseless deaths from guns. We recognize that this is a particular cultural issue woven into our American society. A spirit of fear, enmity, racial prejudice, distrust, and violence is tragically normal in our way of life. We believe this is contrary to the gospel, and so we say, “Enough of this. No more.” There is something seriously wrong with our way of life if we tolerate violence in our society. We believe God is calling us to stop this accelerating, downward spiral of destruction. There is an urgent need for followers of the Prince of Peace to challenge the easy use of guns in our society.

Therefore, this Advent, we commit ourselves to the following implications of the call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as we understand it:

1. We advocate for greater restraint and stricter controls on the private use of guns. “O Lord, in you we take refuge” (Ps 7:1). “Alas for those who trust in chariots…but do not look to the Holy One of Israel” (Is 31:1). “All who take the sword will perish by the sword (Mt 26:52). Therefore,

We renounce the advocacy by Christians for civilians’ use of deadly force against people.

We confess, repent of, and work to surmount the tragedy of daily terrorism inflicted upon victims of discrimination, racism, and prejudice in our society.

We call for restraint by our police in their use of lethal weapons.

We call for gun practice ranges to end the use of human shaped targets.

We call on our governments to implement the comprehensive prohibition of civilian ownership of assault-type guns.

We commit to exercise pastoral care toward all who have been emotionally harmed by guns as victims, or by their own use of deadly force against others as civilians, police, or military.

2. We accept the way of the cross. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Mt 16:24-26). Therefore,

We renounce the use of guns for self-defense, not because to do so is practical or because God guarantees our safety, but because we believe it’s right and it’s the call of Jesus.

We accept that the way of non-violent resistance to evil involves danger and risk, but also accept that the way of the cross is the path to the joy and peace of the Kingdom.

We follow the way of the cross because all authority belongs to Jesus, God will never leave or forsake us, and God will reconcile all things in Christ.

3. We take up the armor of the Spirit. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech 4:6). “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:10). Therefore,

We trust in the truth of God’s faithfulness—and stand in prayer against the powers of darkness in our society, homes, and even places of worship that feed fear, hostility, and violence.

We clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ—and refuse to see ourselves as more virtuous or worthy than others who equally share in the image of God.

We put on the shoes of peace—and walk into places of conflict and fear as ambassadors of the gospel of peace.

We take up the shield of faith—and defend ourselves by the trustworthiness of God.

We wear the helmet of salvation—and refuse to entertain thoughts that distract us from Jesus’ life of unconditional love.

We bear the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God—and proclaim to all God’s steadfast love.

4. We seek the justice that makes for peace. “The fruit of justice will be peace; the result of justice will be quietness and trust forever” (Is 32:17). Therefore,

We repent of ways our ancestors and we have exploited, abused, or demeaned others—and commit ourselves to make life right as steps toward reparations.

We engage in actions of focused deterrence—and work with law enforcement and civic organizations to diminish gun violence.

We reject the notion that reconciling peace comes through violence—and work for all people to experience the relational, educational, and economic opportunities necessary to flourish.

5. We pursue love for our enemies. “I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27). Therefore,

We recognize the full weight of this command—Jesus spoke it to people whose nation was occupied by an oppressive, tyrannical foreign power who mocked their faith.

We refuse to demonize anyone—whether those who inflict violence, or those who, even in the name of Christian faith, advocate for it. We are all children in the image of God.

We obey Jesus’ simple strategies of love: refusing to hate in return, unilaterally forgiving those who harm us, doing good to people who oppose us, and continually praying for God to bless all people, even those who treat us as enemies.

6. We are confident that the goodness of God defeats evil and injustice. “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.’ So, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:18-21). Therefore,

We reject the personal use of deadly force.

Relying on God’s grace, we commit to lead our faith communities in acts that do good toward enemies, for they are the strongest witness to God’s love and defeat of evil, the most compelling contributor to the transformation of our enemies, the best way to de-escalate violence, and the path to build communities of peace where all can flourish as beloved children of God.

If you would like to add your name to this declaration, send your name and city to

To see the names of those who have signed the Declaration, go to:


An Advent Lament of Tears and Joy

An Advent Lament of Tears and Joy

O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Deliver us from captivity. Be born in us today.

We mourn the enmity, violence, and fear that flood our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you the victims of violence about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to strife.

You took upon yourself a life of enmity and danger.

You carried all conflict into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us courage to move toward conflict. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

We mourn the devastation of homes and families in our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you the homeless and refugees about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to homelessness.

You took upon yourself a life without a home, living as a refugee.

You carried all homelessness into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us compassion to welcome the homeless. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

We mourn the prejudice, racism, and hatred that fill our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you the victims of prejudice about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to prejudice.

You took upon yourself a life of rejection, living as an outcast, killed as a heretic.

You carried all prejudice into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us community with all who are despised. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

We mourn the greed and inequity that divide our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you those trapped in poverty about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to being poor.

You took upon yourself a life of poverty, living in utter dependency.

You carried all inequity into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us overflowing generosity. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

May your joy come to our world.

By how we live and love, may the world see that the Lord has indeed come.

May we live today in joyous confidence for nothing can separate us from your love.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, whose love never ends. Amen.


Advent in Wartime

Advent in Wartime—Angels Rejoice, Jesus Weeps

The angels announced at Christ’s birth good news of great joy. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14.17). Yet how do we rejoice as we prepare for Christmas amidst a season of rancor and war? Shrill political speeches fill the media. Pain laden protests over racism march on our streets. Fear of terrorism floods our homelands. Millions of homeless seek refuge, shunned as unwanted.

Actually, this sounds just like the first Christmas, doesn’t it? We preach about the Son of God being born into an outcaste community of Galileans, to a couple shrouded by suspicion as to the legitimacy of his birth. He was poor, homeless, and unwelcome, and shortly after his birth fled political tyranny as a refugee. He lived in a militarily occupied country, burdened by exploitation and war.

Christmas calls us to remember that the joy about which the angels sang and Paul proclaimed is not preserved by guarding ourselves against the harsh realities of our world. In fact, because of Christmas, the more we watch the news and grieve over global events, the more we work for racial justice, the more we welcome those whom others reject—the more we are drawn into the heart of God.

My wife Kerry and I returned again this September to the so-called “Holy Land.” It feels increasingly less holy, as enmity, fear, and injustice desecrate the land. One of my favorite places is a little church on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, Dominus Flevit. It’s built where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “As Jesus came nearDominus Flevit and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Lk 19:41-42). Today, the Holy Land has returned in too many ways to the divided, conflicted, oppressive state it was on that first Christmas. Amidst the tears, we were challenged and encouraged by the courage, faithfulness, and even laughter expressed by Palestinian Christians who are resolute in their determination to be bearers of God’s peace to the Holy Land.

 Pope Francis recently gave a challenging homily on this passage from Luke. “We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. What shall remain in the wake of this war…? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters:  either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him who would serve wealth: ‘Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests…When all the world, as it is today, is at war…there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps. It will do us well to ask the grace of tears for ourselves, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart…Let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”

So how do we prepare our congregations this Advent so our celebration of Christmas isn’t a charade? A charade is to pretend something is true when it isn’t. What’s at stake isn’t the truth of Christmas. That truth is secure in the faithful love of God. What’s at stake is the truth of our lives as followers of Christ.

The week before Thanksgiving, Kerry and I worshiped at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Sunday bulletin included the following ideas to guide our preparation for Advent. “Advent is a time for reflection on our lives and hopes, our actions during the current year and our commitments for the year to come. Most particularly, we have this opportunity to see what have we done to bring about justice for all people, both as individuals and as a church. What have we done in taking seriously the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, not just in arguing about should these youths be in the streets, but what have we done to support them and to encourage them?…What have we done to put pressure on [the government]…to expand Medicaid and get health care for all? It is a time for us to reflect on what have we done individually and collectively to address gun violence in our communities and to address overcrowding and defunding of our public schools. What have we done individually and collectively to decry the demonizing of our Muslim sisters and brothers and the craziness of…governors saying they didn’t want Syrian refugees in this state? What has all this to do with Christmas?…Our understanding of Jesus as a political revolutionary who was trying to free his people from Roman oppression, says that, as followers of Jesus, we also are committed to resisting oppression. As our fore-parents sang, ‘Glory, glory, to the newborn king!’ They understood that Jesus was political, and political language about him and his ministry should not be overshadowed by personal piety. So, as his followers, we are following Jesus in addressing the social problems of our day…” Rev. Dr. Randall Bailey. Retired Professor, ITC, Atlanta

To the cynics and skeptics, to the disheartened and despondent—we say again, “Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.” So I pray, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).



When Hurting Helps

I live much of my life either avoiding or being controlled by emotional pain. I’m an expert at fleeing, denying, or being overwhelmed by it.

I know in theory the truth of Romans 5:  suffering can produce endurance and endurance produces proven character, and proven character leads to hope.  I’ve had opportunities to learn this through physical experience, such as through a near fatal accident that left my body bearing  a 6 inch scar (the remnants of a splenectomy).  Yet more typically, when pain–especially emotional pain–assaults me, I either flee or drown. My amygdala trumps my prefrontal cortex. And when pain is only a distant memory, I all too quickly lapse back into my old ways of living. I may be able to write the truth about hurting sometimes helping, but living it is another deal.

“There comes a time in our following Christ where our own hurts may actually help us. Well I know how my own personal hurts have helped me—a near fatal accident, a near fatal illness, failures in ministry and in relationships, and confrontations with my own flawed ambitions, pride and sin—have been invitations to admit my weakness and poverty, to find my life literally in Christ, and to rely more fully on God’s powerful grace and steadfast love. The scalpels of surgeons hurt, but their wounds are for our healing not for our harm. Our hurts can be invitations to allow the Spirit to heal us of our imprisoning pride, our foolish dependency on our own abilities, and our vain efforts to prove our own significance and worth.”  (Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission. Dynamis Resources, 2013: 121)

Suffering and all other confrontations with our own weakness and inadequacy can be rivers we ride into the presence of God. There we encounter God’s healing and restoring embrace. Our we can let them be walls that cut us off both from God and others–and from admitting our own fundamental humility and humanity. Knowing hurting may help…helps, but that’s not necessarily enough for me to, as Paul says,  “boast in my suffering” (Romans 5:3). Flee or fight suffering yes, but boast…?

The turning point comes when I stop turning away from suffering, and instead slow down, even stop and stand. But stand where? We’re not called (nor wise) simply to stand in our suffering. Otherwise, it can overwhelm us. Rather, “We stand in the grace of God” (Romans 5:1-2). We stand in God’s goodness, presence, and love.

Suffering reveals our frailty, weakness, and vulnerability–and this can serve as a loud reminder not to trust in our selves, but to “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”.   When suffering strikes–rather than flee it, God’s invitation is for us to ride it into God’s gracious presence. Suffering can serve as a call to prayer–a tangible, undeniable, visceral invitation to draw close to God. Our fragility is surrounded by God’s solidity, our weakness by God’s strength, and our frailty by the beauty of God’s goodness.

When pain comes (and even when I cause pain to others), I am wise to stop rather than flee, pray rather than avoid, admit rather than deny, and ask for the Spirit to pour out God’s love into my shaky, quivering heart. After conversations with people about this for 30 years, a common theme is emerging. The most powerful vehicle to drive God’s grace from our heads (as a nice spiritual concept), into our hearts (as a life-shaping embrace)–is some form of suffering. Hurting can indeed help.

It shouldn’t be a difficult choice, should it?

The options are clear–proven character shaped by love–or a life of avoidance squandered in fleeing and fighting. Every morning in the shower I’m reminded of this by that 6 inch scar. All of us bear scars of some sort. The Spirit works to transform them into signs of God’s powerful, solid-making, glory-creating love.

Leading Courageous Conversations about tough issues in our Churches

How do we help our churches become safe and courageous places to engage harmoniously with tough issues about which we disagree? Neither of the two common options is working:

  1. Avoid tough issues entirely. This may make our churches “safe,” but they don’t help us reflect together on the tough issues of justice facing our society. As a result, our members get their convictions about these issues from their favorite media source, rather than from careful biblical and theological reflection; or
  2. Choose our churches by their positions on tough issues. Increasingly the church is adding on top of our divisions over ethnicity, socio-economics, worship style, and points of doctrine—divisions over positions on ethical and justice issues. Congregations are splintering, and people are changing churches over ethics, and not just ethnicity, economics, ethos, and theology.

We are experiencing through the Micah Groups Movement at the Ogilvie Institute of Fuller Theological Seminary a third way (see There are several keys to effective communication that are integral to this (and that require a bit of retraining for some of us):

  1. Keep asking the “who” questions before we get to questions of “what.” We’ll divide if we begin by discussing what we believe is the right position on a particular issue. First, we begin by asking “Who is God?” What is God’s nature and character? What is God doing in response to the pressing needs in society? Second, we ask the “who” questions pertaining to ourselves. “Who are we?” We recognize our frailty. We accept our essential humility. We discern ways in which our own life experience and social location shape our attitudes and even our ethics. We also receive the gift of our own belovedness in Christ. Third, we ask “Who are our neighbors? Who has God called us to love? Who are the people we exclude from that circle?” In asking who is our neighbor, we then include the same responses to others as we do in understanding ourselves.
  1. Guard our curiosity, rather than defend our convictions. When people voice perspectives that differ from our own, we cultivate the discipline of diving in, rather than either backing off or building defenses (responses 1 and 2 above). Rather than seeking to convince someone of the error of their point of view and the rightness of our own, our first response is to seek to understand. We ask questions such as: “Can you tell me more?” “What is about your life experience, and about your social location that have led you to this position?” “Describe how your reading of Scripture and understanding of God, God’s will, and God’s ways leads you to this point of view?” “What are the implications of your position for how you treat others who hold different values?”
  1. Ask the most important “what” questions first. Rather than focusing on what we believe, or what we are supposed to do—the most important “what” questions are: “What are you doing in this situation God?” “What are you saying to us?” and  “What is your will for our participation in your purposes?”
  1. Invite issues of justice naturally into our worship. Rather than only providing classes or forums to discuss sensitive and divisive issues, include them in our normal conversation with God in worship. In worship we have the opportunity to bring the needs of the world before the heart of God. When we pray personal prayers and petitions, it’s natural to include structural and systemic prayers. As we pray for someone’s health—pray for the health care system, someone’s job—pray for our economy and for the debates about wages and income inequality, someone’s housing—pray also for the homeless and the immigration debates, someone’s relational difficulties—pray for the church to embody God’s reconciliation of our lives in Christ.

This isn’t to politicize worship.

It’s to guide our congregations more fully into the heart of God who is at work to make life right.

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