Turn

I’ve spent all of last week and will spend all of this week working in an area with a television.  That allows me to watch the news and the morning talk shows. In the midst of this election season, it is not always a good thing.

I’m tired of the bickering, the scandals, the email leaks and name calling. I’m tired of listening to both parties fighting like school kids on a playground.

As annoying as it gets, conflict has defined this world recently more than ever before. We have terrorist violence in Europe, opposing groups here ready to step up in an instant.  Even when we know there are good and honorable police officers, the headlines seem filled with ones that cannot do their job without issues.

In one of the more challenging passages in the Bible (Matt 5:39), Jesus gives us a valuable statement on violence.

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

This doesn’t fly with America.  We’re fighters! We stand up to evil and sniff it out wherever we find it. We’re the big dogs ready to police the world.

Yet, Jesus tells us differently.

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In that sentence, he’s speaking on the street to an oppressed people. Violence was a fact of life. The Roman Empire ruled over Jerusalem. They could take, and do, what they wanted.

Jesus tells the crowd not to resist.

See, violence gives us a few choices: Counter punch.  Bob and weave.  Hit them first before they can hit us. All of these are responses in fear.

Jesus tells us to not be afraid.

Stand firm. Turn the other cheek.

It takes more strength to stand your ground.  Jesus knew this.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. Anyone who has faced down opposition and held to what they believed, they’ve known this.

Every martyr living in the midst of a hostile country and serving in love. Every mother sitting up late for her son when she has to work in the morning because she refuses to give up on him.

Every teacher reaching out to the kid sitting alone at the lunch table.  Every coworker speaking out against harassment.

Every hero in the midst of the city understanding that the norm is not acceptable.

All of these know about turning the other cheek.

The key isn’t fighting back.

It is rising above.

~Matt

 

Love, Water, Death, Peace

“What’s baptism?”

The question came from Carter in the back seat. We had just driven by the front of our church where a pool was set up for the annual outdoor summer baptism service.

I thought about the handful of linguistic avenues to answer the question and which ones could be handled at his age, staring off into the setting sun.

The world is moving towards death.

We have individuals sold out on belief systems that allow them to drive a truck through a crowd of people in France and kill almost a hundred men, women, and children. The tensions of difference are felt more now than ever.

People are angry.

There are voices for peace and yet, as this nation looks towards an election, the loudest voice cries and prods our implicit fears of the other, that somehow we are losing a war to get back what was never ours in the first place.

There’s a Flannery O’Connor short story called The River. Her main character is a little boy who is taken to see a pastor baptize people in their local river one day.  The boy, in the midst of a chaotic  and horrid existence, returns to the river and ends up drowning in his attempt to get to heaven.

Philip, we read in the book of Acts, meets an Ethiopian eunuch on the side of the road attempting to read the scriptures.  He explains what he can about Jesus and the eunuch, the classic “outsider,” states that he must be baptized right away as they are seated next to a body of water.  Philip complies and his action leads to Ethiopia being the first Christianized country in the ancient world

Baptism is about death. It is about being the outsider.

It is about love.

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In Pastor Erwin McManus’s recent podcast about the Last Supper, he mentions the point  in the Upper Room where we are told that “all power returns to Jesus.”

All power.

Snap your fingers and form a universe.

And what does Jesus do with it?  He grabs a bowl of water and washes the feet of the disciples.

He could have, in a moment, taken apart that room atom by atom and rearranged it anywhere in the entirety of space and time.  He could have vanished Judas on the spot, sending him to hell in punishment of the betrayal that hadn’t happened yet.

Yet Jesus, God and man, serves in love.

Imagine if our leaders followed the same example?

In Malcom Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, he mentions a study of crime and policing in major cities.  Know what made a difference?  Not the might of authority.  Not the threat of a bigger punishment.

Cities and towns turned around when they realized that the police department cared. When officers went the extra mile and reached out to provide for basic needs, when they showed that they were invested in their territories beyond their badges. When they talked to parents and friends of teens and made a point to tell them they were worth it.

Service in love.

We kept driving to our destination as Carter waited for my answer.  Just what was baptism about?  I swallowed.

Well, I said, let me tell you a story…

 

Matt

 

 

How You Leave

Last night I took Carter to restart some baseball lessons in preparation for the season.  Basketball ended in February and this is the downtime between the two, not that Carter knows anything about downtime.  If there is a ball and a sport available, he will play it.

My dad had come up to visit and we watched him hit in the cage, ball after ball cracking off his wooden bat.

By the end of the session, he was getting tired.  His technique slipped.  His arms were dropping.  I could see it in his face  His coach, my friend Dan Clouser, told him he had ten baseballs left.

He went through the first five and slowly set up for the end.  A word came to me that was meant, I believe, for me as well as him.  God will often interject these moments of learning in our lives if we are open to listen. I said:

It’s not about what you do when you arrive. It’s about how you leave.

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We can’t measure ourselves in the easy times.  When we are humming on all cylinders, experiencing success at work and life, finances and relationships it is way too easy to get complacent.  When every day feels like a vacation, we can settle and get trapped.

The key is the point of pain. The moment when we are too tired to go on. When physically and spiritually, we are ready to quit and we feel like our time is up.

Those moments are the learning points. They are where we expand and grow.  They lead our faith to greater heights and depths.

Carter looked at me, set himself up, and hit the last few baseballs.  I prayed the lesson took root and he would remember it the next time he was tired or a conflict emerged. That night, as I was in bed reading, God told me the same thing.

Remember it is not about the easy times, no matter how far away they feel.

Worship and prayer in a crowd at church is easier than when you are alone on your knees fighting a sickness or addiction. Prayer is different walking the streets of a city shining light in the midst of drugs and violence.

Scripture comes easy from a pastor with three points and some cool slides or media presentations.  It is different in the middle of the night when your teen hasn’t come home yet and your heart is frozen with worry.

Faith is easy in times of provision.  It is different when you’ve thrown your last $10.00 in the offering basket.

Let us make the most of our opportunities, appreciate the hard times and understand that with each victory we will get stronger.  Every struggle is strength, every heartache increases our capacity for empathy, every fear makes us conquerors and every anxiety can lead new hearts to Jesus and impact eternity.

It is not about how we arrive, it is about how we leave and what we do when we are stretched to the limit.  If that is you tonight, know that God is close and you will come out of this better than you’ve ever imagined.

~Matt

The New Deal

Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. His novel, The End of the Affair, was the first to introduce me to the power of writing.  I read it in college, as Val and I were in the younger stages of our relationship, and Greene’s depiction of love spoke to my feelings.

The main character in the novel is novelist Maurice Bendrix.  He carries on an affair in the midst of WW2 that is ended when he survives a bombing in London.  He finds out that his married lover, Sarah Miles, had made a deal with God.  If Bendrix survived his injuries, she would break off the relationship.

The novel ends with Bendrix stating he has had enough of God.

Sitting in my dining room on this night hinting of winter to come, my thoughts drift over the shooting in California. We, as a country, are on the backs of our own deal with God. We’ve co-opted sorrow and grief, victim and violence. We are in the dark determined to find evil and destroy it.

We point fingers.

The religious establishment grasps hold of antiquated practices and wonders why it finds itself at the end of accusations and irrelevancy. Law enforcement officers are just as likely to be assaulted or killed as they are to be praised for their efforts.

Good people are lost in the noise.

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In the Bible, while Jesus hangs on the cross, he sees Roman soldiers dividing up his clothes.  He makes this statement:

Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

The soldiers didn’t know.

The government of the time didn’t know.

The disciples didn’t know.

The world didn’t know.

We’d taken perfect, selfless love and grace and punished it with death. The Truth had fallen against the weight of everyone too scared to listen. Those oppressed turned their back on freedom.

There are arguments to be made and conversations to be had. Violence is too easy. Guns are too easy. The intensity of faith and cause drives the lost to extreme measures to satisfy a far-off radical religious and political system destroying innocent lives in Syria and beyond.

The answer is not with Bendrix, turning away from our creator. The answer is changing the deal.

No more trading the world for authenticity.  No more chasing after things of impermanence.

The American Way has failed.

Generations are adrift in a sea of debt, anger, frustration, doubt, and sorrow for the past they never had and the future that seems to be no more than a figment of their imagination. This is solved by shorting vision to a microscopic level (If I get the next new thing, I’m good).

The new deal is hope. It is grace and service.  It is taking responsibility as parents to redefine value, to show our kids the meaning of friendship, love, choice and respect. It is understanding the power of a gun and the greater power of faith.

The new deal is peace. Taking time in silence and stillness. Turning off the screen and stopping the hustle for a moment.  It is getting back to nature and standing in the midst of a quiet forest while snow falls.

The new deal is life. It is embracing the small moments, holding doors and shoveling sidewalks. It is giving when we are spent. It is reaching out and inspiring someone lost in the depths. It is change found by a new fire deep inside.

The mass shootings can stop. Society can change. Hope is not lost and the journey has just started.

I believe.  As a writer, husband, father and follower of Jesus.  I believe.

~Matt

The Hardest Lesson

We are both human and works in progress.

Yesterday the horrific terror attacks in Paris have opened up old wounds for many in this country.  We watch in sadness and shock.  We understand, not so far removed from 9/11. We pray and we offer support in any way possible.

Thinking about these things led me to the most challenging instruction Jesus ever delivered in the Bible.

One day, as he gathered on a mountainside, a crowd formed.  He delivered the greatest sermon ever recorded and systematically tore down every societal construct of the day.  He spoke of the meek, the hated, hungry and thirsty being blessed.  He warned of false prophets gaining money and following by corrupting the Word.

He then said this:

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The exact lines read (Luke 6:27-36):

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These paragraphs fly in the face of everything we stand for, every human emotion, all the rage and tears.  The concept exists in stark contrast to how we act and feel as believers, a government and society.

We scream for justice, for bloodshed and retaliation. Our guts want those guilty to get everything they deserve.

We want war.

And the cycle keeps spinning.

Today I’m praying for those involved in this tragedy and for wisdom and security. Something needs to change at the heart of this world.  There is a void and only one way to fill it.

The cross still stands, in the moments we choose to heed the message and the moments we ignore in our humanity, fueled by rage in the face of unquestionable evil. The cross stands to tell us there is justice, victory, sacrificial love that heals all wounds.

The cross stands to tell us it will be there in the wake of every terrorist bomb and bullet, every life taken.

It is a challenge to this world ready for the day we are prepared to answer the call.

~Matt