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I came across this and thought this to be a helpful piece in thinking about our children’s spiritual development. the good news of Jesus is a very dynamic thing that we must teach to our children but we cannot thrust it’s complexities upon children of a young age given their developmental stage. so where do we begin? this article is a good place to start.

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“to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

~titus 3:2

“there are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

~proverbs 6:16-19

it is true that the way in which one frames a question can have a significant impact to the answer of that question. our approach has consequences. when we define what it looks like to be an ambassador of reconciliation as follower of Jesus, it would seem that the same is also true. in discussing the topic of reconciliation with some of my imago Dei comrades, there were two perspectives that emerged that i found quite useful for thinking about the practice:

reactive

preventative

reactive

in my last post on reconciliation i made mention of the reactive approach to reconciliation. this type of peacemaking happens when Jesus followers insert themselves into situations to work for reconciliation between opposing sides. the obvious tell-tale sign is of a person attempting to diffuse a situation before things escalate to the point of violence. this of course is an extreme case.

however, i wonder if the heart of reconciliation is something more than simply trying to stop the bloodshed or to get those at odds to come to a compromise on an issue? i’m thinking so. the reason is that we can broker peace but if neither side cannot find the inherit value in the other than we have only delayed the fighting. the center of reconciliation resides in getting others to see the value of the other to the community and further to God. the church would call this the image of God in one another.

now it’s true that the stopping of bloodshed and the arrival of compromise are byproducts of achieving reconciliation, but helping others to see the value in the other, especially with those we are at odds with, is at the root of such lasting peace. for in it, we see the good news of Jesus who reconciles us back to the Father and then to each other. this is the message that we play the role of ambassador for. i don’t think its for temporary bandaid fixes.

preventative

admittedly, as i began to intentionally think about reconciliation and in being a peacemaker my mind seemed to naturally gravitate toward a more reactive lens. i became aware of this in my discussions with my community, where my eyes were widened to the nature of what i will call preventative reconciliation. this type of reconciliation effort revolves more so around my everyday actions that contribute to promoting peace by preventing discord.

it is likely that the reason my mind went to a more reactive lens in understanding reconciliation is because that form is easier to imagine myself living out as it places me in the role of neutral party like a hero standing between those who are feuding. but reconciliation from a preventative lens asks me about what role i’m playing to prevent the sowing of the seeds of divisiveness within my relationships.

so what about my everyday actions are promoting alienation within community?

how often am i using sarcasm or taking those supposedly “playful” shots at someone else’s expense so that i can have a good laugh? how quick am i to provide false witness against someone? or gossip? or encouraging others into unloving actions? how about withholding forgiveness? or repenting? what of my actions are contributing to communal discord?

i’m afraid that i’m guilty of not engaging in preventative reconciliation measures more than i would like to admit. and little sowed seeds of discord can go along way in promoting the ugliness of this world rather than the beauty of his kingdom. in the instances i catch myself doing this i’m probably more interested in protecting and promoting myself. of course this is easy to do when i’m able to dehumanize those with whom i’ve forgotten are made in the imago Dei. so how divisive am i being on a regular basis?

summary

at the heart of both lens of reconciliation is the forgotten imago Dei that is actually present in all party’s. if we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation than we need to be reminding others to embrace the imago Dei within the other. but we also need to be rooting out those bad habits that we contribute to causing discord and ugliness around us. the hard part is that those things are sometimes subtle and deeply rooted.

when we can see the beauty of the image of God within others, especially those that we are at odds with, we cannot only find compromise, but we can love one another. it’s not about necessarily finding agreement in issues but in finding mutual respect, which often leads to common ground.

i pray we weed out the seeds of discord in our lives and replace them with ones of life!

“blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
(that Jesus dude, as recorded in matthew 5:9, esv

Image

“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
(col. 1:20, esv)

so what does it mean to follow Jesus by practicing his ways of peacemaking?

imagethere may be an inclination to immediately think of peace advocates as those who try to stop the bloodshed of war. images of men and women standing between warring armies comes to mind. and for those who would think this, they’d be right to do so. but honestly, i think that when we think about this question, we can do better than offering answers that only paint a picture of the extreme cases of such Jesus-like practice.

the opportunity to practice peacemaking in the everyday fabric of our lives is much more prevalent.

as followers of Jesus, we need to be embracing the chances we have to promote reconciliation and forge peace. i know within my own family, there are instances of family members who’ve broken off all contact because of the inability to reconcile. there are examples of unresolved conflicts that have been passive-aggressively “swept under the rug,” that continue to strain relationships. it would seem, for whatever reasons, that folks within my family are not good at resolving our disagreements and have chosen isolation instead.

i’m willing to bet that all of us are experiencing this or are close to those who are living in this relational turmoil. as anger, resentment, and a lack of trust build, we begin to invest in a life of isolation. left unchecked, these feelings fester and they begin to have affects that can reverberate out beyond those initially damaged relationships. as our hearts calcify we build walls to protect ourselves from others. at least one of the reasons that we are able to say that we live in one place, work in another, and play still in another is that we have perfected the art of isolation.

broken relationships can act as a catalyst, giving us permission, so to speak, to disengage from the people around us, which in turn leads to broken communities as folks keep one another at bay so as not to be damaged further. we don’t want to trust anyone or invest in others because we look at the potential disappointment as a foregone conclusion. we surmise that the only option is to go it alone. does this resonate with you?

quite simply, we as members of our society are not equipped to engage in conflict in a way that leads to the shalom that we all desire. and generally speaking, christians are no different. we too are enculturated to embrace the same isolation rather than working out our differences, practicing with one another the act of freely giving and receiving forgiveness. if we are to have a shared future, we must learn forgiveness.

in the midst of such pain and loneliness, where are those who can arbitrate by being present in the pain and growing alienation and share with us another path?

“therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. the old has passed away; behold, the new has come. all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
(2 cor. 5:17-20, esv.)

we need followers of Jesus who can be ambassadors of reconciliation. we need followers who live out our calling to promote reconciliation that leads to healing between families, neighbors, and communities. faithfully following Jesus means joining him in his work to reconcile all things. it’s not an optional practice.

honestly, i wrestle with how to be a peacemaker in the midst of all the pain and separation that exists within my family and in my neighborhood. i don’t have all of the answers. frankly, i don’t feel like i have even a few of the answers. yet, i feel compelled to pursue Jesus’ everyday work of reconciliation. so what does it look like? this is the question that i want to explore in the coming weeks and months.

my lenten adventure

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“then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. and after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. and the tempter came and said to him, “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

but he answered, “it is written, “‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘he will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “again it is written, ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. and he said to him, “all these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

then Jesus said to him, “be gone, satan! for it is written, “‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”

(matthew 4:1-11, esv)

 

happy easter everyone! i pray that the joy found in his resurrection can be found overflowing in you leading you to place your hope in the God who is still at work in our world reconciling, redeeming, and restoring all things into what will be a magnificent future!

 

Jesus is risen!! praise the God that lives!!

 

to wrap up, so to speak, this portion of the church’s calendar, i wanted to share a few of my thoughts from the lenten season. while i don’t come from an extremely liturgically-oriented faith community, i have come to find this time of the year very meaningful. growing up, i was accustomed to only celebrating christmas and easter. in fact, i was so clueless about there even being any other events or holidays on the church calendar until i went to an e.l.c.a lutheran college.

my college years were seasoned by the aforementioned lutheran culture, which is rich in liturgy. it was here that i learned of lent. the last decade of my life has been quite the learning experience as i have allowed the richness of that lutheran heritage to find root in the expression of my faith, well past my involvement in the lutheran world.

imagesince college, i have (sometimes) participated in the lenten disciplines. this year was one such year. so as many do, i gave up something for the 40 days that precede easter. now, as i understand it (no claim to accuracy), this is where we remember, and join Jesus in his re-enactment of israel’s wandering in the desert. it is a time where we learn dependence upon God in the face of great temptation. Jesus was tempted by the devil, and he overcame. indoing so, he proves both his quality and demonstrates dependence upon God. thank God!

while it has never been my intention to prove my worth to God (at least in theory), it has been my intention to follow Jesus’ example of extreme dependence upon the Father for how to live. so for me, this discipline, like all disciplines, is about learning to attune our heart strings and mind’s eyes to the voice and face of God, the very being in which we ought to depend upon for all things.

 

so what was my experience like this lenten season? what did i learn?

for lent, i gave up all alcohol. no beer. no wine. no mixed drinks. nada. but to put in context my relationship with alcohol, i should probably briefly explain my history with it. as an adolescent, i really didn’t participate in the underage drinking thing. maybe once or twice. i had plenty of access to it, so that wasn’t the issue. i was just interested in other things like sports, girls, and being involved in my church youth program (where girls existed). in college, drinking wasn’t that big of a deal for me either. on rare occasions i would have a drink or two with some friends but once again, i was mostly busy with school, campus ministries, and with football.

i would probably sum up myself as the son who stayed home with the father while the prodigal son went off and lived irresponsibly. the story of the prodigal son has always been one that i have resonated with but during seminary i found it to take hold over me in a much deeper way. my father passed away while i was in seminary and one of the things that i mourned was that i felt disconnected from my own earthly father because i wasn’t like him. my own father was actually of the prodigal variety himself, much like my brother. i’ve always felt like i was different from both of them. in the event of my father’s death, i really felt that disconnection from him and wanted to find ways to connect with him, to be his son.

imageit just so happens that my father was a functional alcoholic. it seems to me that in the event of my father’s death, i took to drinking more than i had ever done in the past. i’m sure my version of “drinking” still looks more like the good son than that of the prodigal, but for me, it was rooted in something unhealthy. it has been about trying to find identity and connection to who i am. in part, alcohol has been a way to try and tap into (no pun intended) my family and to where i belong. i wanted people to see me as my father’s son.

i certainly could share with you other ways i’ve tried to make that connection with my father since his death, such as in trying to ride his dirt bike and discovering the hard way that i am not my father, but those are stories for another time.

so back to lent and no alcohol. i gave up alcohol because i think i’ve been realizing all that i’ve just been writing about. i was trying to secure my identity in my earthly father, rather than in my heavenly Father. i was depending upon alcohol to act as some sort of activity that would transport me to a place of fulfillment.

 

so for me, this lenten season has been about asking myself to whom does it really matter that i belong?

giving up alcohol for lent has been about reorienting myself to depend upon God for all things, including my identity. during that time, there were times where i wanted to have a cold one with members of my family. this urge of course being rooted in trying to get them to think of me as “joe’s boy” was very present and real. but because i was self-imposing this discipline upon myself i was forced to say no and to acknowledge to them why i wouldn’t be participating in a drink. it caused me to have to think about my identity when i was with them.

of course, there were also times where i was dealing with difficult situations and really wanted to have a drink to relax and distract me. instead i remembered my commitment and why i was doing this: to focus upon the God that is present in the ebb and flow of life. now, i would be lying if i told you that remembering why i was doing this made it easy. there were times when i was annoyed with my commitment. there were times when i really wanted to break it. but i hung in there and the more that i did so the easier it got. God was with me.

it got easier, not because it would have been a shame to come as far as i had before each temptation to then break it, but because i had experienced dependence upon God with each temptation which taught me how to overcome it. i was learning what it was like to depend upon God rather than in a libation.

 

so Jesus has conquered death by being raised from the dead. where do we go from here, post-easter?

at sun down yesterday, i had a glass of wine. it was a moment that i savored. but it was not because i was parched looking for something that would quench my thirst. it was simply because in Christ, i have the freedom to partake in it. it was a sweet glass of wine that very much was a celebration to what i had learned. it was about learning to be dependent upon God for all things.

as we march on toward the ascension and pentecost within the church calendar i take with me my experience of how to depend upon God. i’ve experienced what it looks like to depend upon God and how to say no to anything that tries to be a crutch and promise life and fulfillment and to simply get me through it all. while this lenten discipline cannot promise me that i will now forever more be able to conquer temptation, it has been a useful tool that will increase the likelihood that i will be able engage such temptation in the future by turning to God. indeed, engaging again in this lenten practice (no matter what i give up) can be a useful tool to recalibrate my mind to God and is one that i certainly will take up again in future lenten seasons.

imageit is in the death of my dependence upon alcohol that a resurrection and corresponding new life is possible within this life now and not just in the life to come. God is at work now and i should live as though that is the case. it is a life dependent upon God in everyday life as well as in the resurrection of the dead in the life to come.

 

May the God of all hope be whom we turn to to sustain us and keep us!

Happy Easter my friends!!

 

this is a confession of sorts by rachel held evans that resonates with me. it is quite prophetic in the sense that it is calling us to become what we are meant to be. may the Spirit of God speak to you as you read this and move you into action befit of his kingdom.

love him, love one another!

kathy escobar & church

this piece by kathy escobar was right in tune with much of where i believe my faith community, imago dei, is right now and is trying to become as it relates to things like being the church (opposed to playing church), practicing vulnerability (opposed to building facades), and to continue persevering in coming together as a community, despite how difficult it is at times because of our brokeness, because we long to reflect his image “and to be the bearers of beauty & hope & mercy & peace & justice & kindness & compassion & love here, [and] now.” my prayer is that we follow Jesus more and more into these things.

here is some solid wisdom from david fitch on justice, mercy, and being present with your neighbors in your community.

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