Charlotte. Tulsa. New York. Ferguson. Cleveland. Baltimore. North Charleston.

What these cities mean to you depends on a lot of factors. What they all have in common is a similar headline: “[Insert Name] Killed By [Insert Name].” If you’re like me, you live a very safe distance away from all these places which have experienced turmoil in recent days. Midland County, Michigan, has been far removed from scenes of police shootings and race-related protests. So it’s easy for people like me to form our own opinions without having to engage with actual people, on all sides of these issues, who are suffering. Continue reading

Racially-motivated shootings. The legalization of same-sex marriages. The fear of Islam encroaching on our religious and personal freedoms. A sixteen-month-long presidential election cycle that will divide the nation into two broad camps.

We have many reasons to distance ourselves from other people, reasons which have had a lot of air time in recent days.

But from a Christian perspective – and from my inherited perspective of white, male privilege – I wonder what our response to these things should be. If you are involved in social media at all, you have likely seen more than enough responses to any or all of these topics in the past week or so. Many of these have been so angry and dismissive that it grieves my heart.

Let me offer an alternative response: the example of Jesus in John 4. Continue reading

We have read some troubling stories lately in our Chronological Bible readings. In the past month, we have worked our way through the books of Joshua and Judges, which contain no small amount of violence and bloodshed. Some of these biblical stories can make your stomach turn with disgust!

One such story is the death by gang rape of an unnamed young woman in Judges 19. So much of this story is unspeakably disturbing. Continue reading

Pursuing Peace

Jesus said some challenging words in the Sermon on the Mount, found in our New Testament in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.  Today I’d like you to take a few moments to find and read Matthew 5:38-48.  Do that, if you would, before reading the rest of this article.

There is something counter-cultural about the way Jesus calls us to live.  In the first-century world, the relatively young Roman Empire controlled Palestine, the area in which Jesus lived and ministered.  Jews such as Jesus could have been forced to assist Roman soldiers in carrying supplies and materials for certain distances.  Walking “the second mile” thus became something counter-cultural, almost revolutionary:  it broke down the difference in power between a Jew and a Roman.

In the first-century world, if someone slapped you (with his right hand) on your right cheek, this was a power-building maneuver:  the aggressor states his dominance over you with this action.  Turning the other cheek (to receive another slap), as Jesus instructs, leaves the aggressor with an uncomfortable choice.  Either he must use his left hand, which was considered unclean, or he must use his right hand again – but this time using the front of his hand, not the back of his hand, to strike your left cheek.  Slapping with the front of the hand was understood as a challenge between equals; you might expect the aggressor to say “I challenge you to a duel!” at this point.  Again, this is counter-cultural, almost revolutionary:  Jesus tears down expectations of power-based relationships between people.

One year ago, a teenage girl stood up for the right of girls like her to receive an education.  As a result, in October 2012 she was targeted by aggressors who wished to silence her message by eliminating the messenger.  She and several others were shot, many of them killed, but she survived the gunshot wounds to her face.  This girl spent the next year recovering and continuing to speak out against the injustices in her world.  She became so well-known and beloved for her positions supporting justice and peace that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.  Her name?  Malala Yousafzai, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl.

photo by United Nations Information Centres
photo by United Nations Information Centres

In a recent television interview, Malala said something truly astounding.  When asked what went through her mind when she realized the Taliban (her eventual attackers) wanted her dead, she said:

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’  But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’

Malala Yousafzai is a practicing Muslim.  Jesus is seen as a prophet within Islam, and in many ways I see Malala’s words above echoing Jesus’s thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount.  What she said is counter-cultural, both in Pakistan and in the western world.  Her stance toward her aggressors breaks down power dynamics and asserts the ultimate value that each person in the world has in God’s eyes.

What if we were to pursue peace as strongly in our own lives?  What if we loved and prayed for our enemies?  What if this is what it means to be “perfect” or “complete” or “mature,” as Jesus commanded us to be, in imitation of our heavenly Father?

Pastor David

Good News

By now, you probably have heard the story of Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school bookkeeper who this week helped to prevent a tragic school shooting by talking with the 20-year-old man who entered the school armed with an AK-47.  Many people are talking about, writing about, and celebrating the heroic actions and bravery of this woman.  Ms. Tuff kept the potential shooter talking while he decided what to do: whether to attack students and staff, injure himself, or surrender to the police.  For half an hour, she kept calm and spoke wisdom to this young man until, ultimately, he laid down his gun without having injured or killed a single person.

photo by Br3nda
photo by Br3nda

This is a tremendous story of love and compassion in action.  I want to highlight a few principles for us to consider:

  • This threat was met with the love of Christ.  As I listened to the recording of Ms. Tuff’s 911 call, I was amazed by how she spoke kindly to him, treated him with compassion, and even told him that she loved him.  She spoke openly of pain in her past that led her to consider suicide, but she reassured him that this was not the best answer.  She told him that she was proud of him for giving up without hurting anyone.  The love of Christ is powerful, because even in tense and dangerous situations, this love empowers us to treat other people as human beings with real needs.  “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
  • This threat was met with nonviolence.  This story should be a powerful reminder to us that dangerous situations can be handled appropriately with nonviolence.  Historically, the Church of God is a peace-loving organization.  We believe that the way of Jesus is one of peace, not violence; hope, not fear; love, not anger.  Jesus instructed a disciple to sheathe his sword when the Lord was arrested (Matthew 26:50-52).  Jesus himself, while being beaten and ridiculed, did not fight back against his assailants (Luke 22:63-66).  Even when the end result was his own death, Jesus was never violent – and his disciples carried on that tradition at his instruction.
  • This threat was met with preparation.  School employees undergo regular training on what to do in exactly this scenario.  Ms. Tuff gave witness to that after the fact; the training helped her handle the situation with her instincts.  Put differently, the training formed her into the kind of person that could appropriately handle this potential shooting.  Jesus was tempted by the devil before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus invested heavily in his disciples so they would know how to behave after his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Later, Paul instructed young Timothy to persist in his spiritual practices so that his life would be transformed, along with the lives of those around him (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

What would our lives look like if we were to live by the love of Christ, an attitude of nonviolence, and daily spiritual preparation?  How would we – and our culture – be transformed?

–Pastor David

The Hunger Games

Yesterday, I finished reading Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  These are new fiction books that have become very popular in the past few years.  In fact, the first book has already been made into a movie.  The series portrays a distopian society in which violence and bloodshed are used by the government to keep the population controlled and obedient.  The books tend to be fairly graphic, especially later in the series, so I suggest that you use sensitivity and discernment when choosing to read The Hunger Games.

What I find fascinating is a theme that persists throughout all three books.  The main character, a teenage girl named Katniss Everdeen, frequently faces situations in which she must observe, confront, or even participate in violence – often directed against innocent people like herself.  Yet from beginning to end, she is never comfortable with the violence that runs rampant in her society.  She always desires peace and considers it a virtue worth pursuing as long as possible.  Here is a quote that illustrates this theme, taken from the end of the final book:

…something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.  You can spin it any way you like.  [One government leader] thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control.  [Another] thought [a bombing campaign] would expedite the war.  But in the end, who does it benefit?  No one.  The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen. (Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, p. 377)

The above image is part of a photograph of the old “tabernacle” meeting house on the Church of God campgrounds in Anderson, Indiana.  The building hosted multiple worship services every day at the Church of God’s annual week-long campmeeting.  Over 5,000 people packed into the tabernacle to worship together and to hear preachers from around the movement.  And where everyone could see them, banners printed with various scriptural phrases were hung around the building.  One of these, which you see here, was printed with a quote from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (KJV):  “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.”  Notice how the words “God of peace” are much more prominent than the other words on the banner.

As followers of Christ, we are to be in the business of bringing about peace in our world.  We serve the God of peace – even Jesus the Messiah, who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  We strive for peace between God and us, a peace that comes from the God who forgives our sins.  We strive for peace between human beings, among family members, and in neighborhoods, because we value human life and understand that God (who is love) calls us to love him wholeheartedly and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We strive for peace among people groups and nations so that the kingdom of God, which the angels heralded as “peace on earth” at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14), might grow throughout the world.

What The Hunger Games lacks is an understanding that peace is only available through reconciliation with God.  Katniss Everdeen ultimately desires peace but must live in a world of violence.  If you are interested, check out a copy of The Hunger Games (that’s the title of the first book) and listen carefully for its cry for peace in the real world.

–Pastor David