Words Have Power

Part of the reason why we fail as Christians to communicate the message of Christ is that most people (this includes Christians) have a distorted view of Christianity due to how brothers and sisters in our faith have distorted it in the past, and continue to do so in the present. An inaccurate view of Jesus, and his words have done a lot to hurt those around us and it’s from those wounds they speak.

How did Jesus speak with the Pharisees when they were questioning His Father’s purposes, or his? He simply said here is who I am, here is why, and no matter what you say, I am going to continue doing what I’m doing. Jesus didn’t play nice at times, yet he was always truthful. If that truth, regardless of the methodology that it arrived in burned like boiling oil on the flesh of humanity, he didn’t sooth the burn with the aloe of pleasantries before the sting had time to reach their hearts. If he had, then what would be the point of saying anything at all? All to often for the sake of softening the blow we are too cautious with our words; not going through our convictions, but avoiding them all together to maintain pleasantries.

At times it feels that fear: fear of being overpowered, fear of not having the last word, fear of being hurt, fear of being persecuted, and the fear of being alienated; keeps us from responding in healthy ways…ways that benefit ourselves, our agendas, opinions, causes, beliefs, or religion we profess, instead of the God we serve.

It’s easy for us, as Christians to get defensive first, while neglecting to ever speak the truth that gets at the heart of issue. Sometimes we say a lot without really saying anything at all. All of humanity, especially those who profess Christ have to learn how to use there words strategically, lovingly, courageously, and wisely or our efforts at diplomacy of any kind will fail. If only we learned how to speak more from our heart…from God’s heart, we’d all be better off. The words we use, and the way in which we use them are weighty.

“Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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If Diplomacy Failed?

If Diplomacy Always Failed

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 ESV)

In Paul’s blog Who is to blame for the “Jihad Generation”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2014/09/who-is-to-blame-for-the-jihad-generation/

he references this quote. “Someone recently told me that “Diplomacy always fails; military confrontation alone is able to solve problems. As I reflected upon this quote; I realized that although diplomacy at times may fail it should be our first resort. If indeed, diplomacy always failed, and military confrontation alone were able to solve our problems we would’ve all become casualties of war. War is what happens when all attempts to be diplomatic fail, or one or both parties are unwilling to be diplomatic. When engaging in war there is no real winner. Yes, one may have fewer casualties, and ultimately one gets the outcome they desired, but at what cost…and was that cost necessary. War brings pain, and trauma…it separates mothers and fathers from their children, leaving them orphaned, wounded, and afraid. As we fight (go to war) for freedom, more freedoms are seemingly diminished. As we fight to give a voice to those voices that have gone unheard; there are many causalities…casualties of the heart, mind, and soul.

Some would argue that war is inevitable, and there are times when I would agree. However, war, and the casualties that are caused by war are only necessary when men’s hearts are totally hard, and all attempts to reason with the unreasonable have failed. When I reflect upon the wars that our country has participated in, and the wars of the Old Testament, especially those between man (obstinate toward God) and God (gracious and merciful towards man), these conflicts/war generally due to the pride or fear felt by humanity. Both pride and fear seem to leave us/humanity unwilling to submit to God call to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I see both the diplomatic side of God, and his willingness to go to war for peace and justice reflected in the war God waged against Pharaoh when he wouldn’t let the Israelites go. God was at first very diplomatic, and allowed Pharaoh the space, and grace needed to make a reasonable decision. However, Pharaoh overlooked reason, and diplomacy, trading it in for man made power, which ultimately lead to his plunder.

In several parts of our world right now war seems to be unending in several parts of the world, and the results continuing to be devastating. This past week in Pakistan 132 children were savagely killed by the Taliban. “The Taliban said they targeted a school that mostly admits soldiers’ children because the students aspired to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and target militants.”

http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/17/world/asia/pakistan-peshawar-school-attack/index.html?hpt=hp_inthenews

Its hard to imagine God being diplomatic with the murderers of the innocent, but he is…and he calls those who follow him to seek diplomacy as well. To seek solutions that value life, and reflect accurately the character of God: just, merciful, gracious, righteous, and loving. Its hard for me being conditional with my love, mercy, and grace to fathom such a response, but as a disciple of Christ, one who has been commanded to go forth and make other disciples I feel that being diplomatic should be my first response, and when all else fails…and war is inevitable I must trust that God in His infinite wisdom and faithfulness will redeem every aspect of it’s tragic effects ushering in redemption for his people; allowing the Gospel to continue to go forward.

Rioting: the language of those with muted voices

In light of what’s been going on in Ferguson, and other parts of our country. I’ve been at a loss for words. It seems like people are crying out for justice, mercy, peace, diplomacy, change…the right to be heard. Diplomacy has become one of the battle cries of the unheard. How do those who have been hurt, who’ve had the volume of their voices turned down, and tuned out remain diplomatic? The frustration alone is enough to insight even the most peaceful of souls to riot.

A riot is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a violent public disorder; specifically: a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent. With that being said rioting has been a form of protest for the oppressed for decades. For those out there who may not understand why those with muted voices riot, let me explain. Rioting although violent from inception is a way that those who have had their voices muted…justice deferred, and power and opportunity that was rightfully theirs denied, to fight back. Typically used as a last resort, it’s a way to regain a temporary sense of power that’s been forcefully stripped away, as well as punish the system that the oppressor has used to unfairly target the oppressed.

Although, the motive behind rioting maybe justice; in partaking in this form of violent protest those with muted voices don’t realize the harm they bring upon themselves and others like them. Rioting is a temporary fix for releasing anger and frustration caused by the injustices and failures of the system, but it does nothing to supply a long term remedy to the cancer within that system. It does however feed the cancer growing inside of those with muted voices; allowing bitterness, inferiority, and futility to set in their minds and hearts; eroding away at their hope. Hope for change, and hope that those with un-muted voices would stand up and use their voice to take a stand for the oppressed.

Rioting does little to help un-mute our voices to those possessing power and privilege. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says this “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, that is surely followed by a sense of futility.” Al though Dr. King had an understanding of why people rioted, he was also well aware of the negative consequences of rioting. Like Dr.King I do not intend to condemn those who decide to riot. However, I do want us to consider the consequences; both the consequences of our silence,and that of the noise we choose to make. Justice, and solutions that lead to justice require diplomacy from all. Justice requires acknowledging that there is an issue of injustice that needs to be stopped, and in order to acknowledge that a greater conversation that addresses tough questions is needed. What is the message of those with muted voices, and how do we teach those with power & privilege to listen to those voices?

Evangelism & Discipleship

Recently I listened to a sermon given by Dallas Willard on spiritual disciplines and discipleship. http://youtu.be/uBh8Kz9uqG8 in his sermon he mentioned that the church does not have a good theology of discipleship which is essentially effecting how we present the gospel.

As I take into consideration Dallas Willard’s words, Paul’s blog and the great commission ” And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20

I can’t help but think that the reason our evangelistic efforts sometimes fail; stopping short of relationship, is because we no longer no what it means to create disciples. Sharing the gospel; the good news of Christ and the salvation and life that his death and resurrection bring is but one part of our mission. But to be a disciple and to create disciples requires more that a conversation or a track, or a drive by turn and burn message. Creating disciples and becoming disciples ourselves requires that we do life with people. Not to win them for Christ as if their some pawn to moved in the game of life. But to ensure that they become a lifetime follower, not merely for themselves but the kingdom of God.

Our belief in discipleship effects how we communicate the gospel. When Jesus called the disciples he said come follow me. Essentially what Jesus was saying here, was live life with me, and I will make you fishers of men. He did not say turn or your will go to hell. He allowed us to make a choice. He allowed us to live life with him before we had all of our ducks in a row. He wasn’t just focused on the when, but the how as well. Jesus cared about methodology. He knew that way in which he approached people mattered. These are things that we often forget about when discipleship is not in our evangelical framework.

Evangelism can not be used as a scare tactic, but it must ultimately have relationship as its end goal. Relationships that lead to life long disciples. It is only through being a disciple of Christ that we realize the beauty of the Gospel message. It was only after following Christ that Peter was able to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16

As Paul said we must be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in our relationships, so that through relationships the fullest picture of the Gospel message can be shared. This message will lead to life long disciples creating other life long disciples. Not of themselves, but of Christ.

Colliding & Connecting

True diplomacy doesn’t happen without extending intentional efforts to connect. The world is made up of opportunities to collide and make grace filled connections. When different worlds can move beyond mere collisions, no longer leading to division and dissension; those very same collisions can be made in to meaningful connections with one another that allow for both parties to be heard as well as experience each other’s world. This is when diplomacy is most present. Worlds that collide and connect can be a very beautiful thing.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

The above quote speaks to what kind of mentality we should have in our approach to diplomacy.

I just watched a remarkable movie over the weekend called The Hundred Foot Journey (the title is symbolic of the distance they have to cross to be a part of each other’s worlds). The movie is about an Indian family from Mumbai who moves to a small village in France in search of place to plant roots and open an Indian restaurant (Yes, in France). The family ends up purchasing a restaurant/home right across from a very famous French restaurant. At first these two families are colliding vehemently, and sometimes violently; their only connection is their dislike for other. However, by midway through the movie they’ve realized their need for each other, that whatever affected one affected them all; their businesses, and their families.

So often we don’t realize our need for others in our diplomacy efforts. We often don’t acknowledge what someone else has to offer us. We approach matters as educators only and not people in need of an education. Our lack of humility will be our downfall. Admitting ignorance is essential to diplomacy, and reflects humility. It says that we are willing to put ourselves in a position to follow, and to be taught (their culture, their way of life; to be Christ incarnate among them). When we follow, allowing ourselves to be taught by someone who may or may not have the same belief system, it changes our perspective. We are no longer enslaved to a single story. In our willingness to follow and be taught; listening and learning opportunities will arise. I’m not saying that we abandon our own beliefs, but that we look for opportunities to listen, and share our beliefs in a way that keeps the conversation going. Of course collisions will happen along the way, but any relationship that’s built on a foundation of mutual respect…where we value the other person as much as we value ourselves and our need to be right, will ultimately end in grace filled connections.

Once we’ve followed, then we’ll earn the right to be teachers, to be diplomats, to go to every nation creating Disciples of Christ, not ourselves. True Diplomacy for Christians stems from a realization that Christ has created us all in his image, and values us all greatly. We know this because he sent his son Jesus to die for all, while we were still soaking in our sins. We all have a value that’s been pre-determined no matter our belief system. Our diplomacy efforts must reflect the value that God has placed on every life. It must take in to account that whatever injustice or hardship that affects the one, does affect all indirectly. We are all connected.

Love Before Tolerance

Tolerance can be just as dangerous as intolerance. I don’t think Jesus was tolerant at all. He was just loving. Sometimes today’s Christians confuse tolerance with love. We have a really bad habit of being tolerant; while at he same time not showing love. We’ve forgotten that wherever there is love, there will be tolerance, and tolerance brought about by the correct motives will always lead us to the love of our brothers, sisters, and enemies as we love ourselves thus fulfilling one of God’s greatest commandments.

Love has to be the backbone of all we do. Love for the father and love for us is what motivated Christ to move beyond tolerance, dying on the cross. He thought of us as worthy of more than just being tolerated.

I think of how Jesus lovingly restored Peter. After Peter had so unlovingly denied Him 3 times. Peter sounds like the kind of guy, as do all the disciples at times that deserve just to be tolerated. Sometimes in our approach with others whether that be Christians or not, we seek just to be tolerant instead of being loving. Jesus sought to love Peter first, not to tolerate him. Jesus never settled for mere tolerance….tolerance is never enough. It misses the point, and he knew it. Tolerance will never motivate us to go the extra mile. In the sermon on the mount Jesus reminds us of this by saying the following: “and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Tolerance would never allow for us to love the homeless drug addicted beggar for exactly he is, tolerance never allow for us to sit in silence and just listen as our atheist friends deny the existence of God…to walk the extra mile. Our tolerance is partially the reason why we find ourselves defending God with our words, instead of reflecting him with our actions; loving others just as he did.

As Paul so aptly stated “Tolerance can sometimes be confused with indifference. Tolerance must give way to tenacious love that overwhelms the forces of indifference, intolerance, and hate. Only then can we live into Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community and the common good, which for him was bound up with his faith in Jesus his uncommon Lord.” God in his tenacious love for us sent his son to live life with us, ultimately dying for us. The end goal was never tolerance, but love, restoration, redemption, salvation. Our action plans, methods and conversations must be reflective of the love of Christ…His love them.

In Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham jail he writes this ” in some not to distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” This kind of love frees us from fear, and move us beyond the duty of tolerance. This kind of love is what I want to lavish upon others. I want this kind of love to be my first response…innate to my everyday life and visible to those that share the faith as I do, and those that don’t. God lavishes his blessing on the just and unjust, and he loves us all beyond measure.

Jonah & Diplomacy

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster”. Jonah 4:1-2

It’s ironic that what we love about God, is the same thing that angers us about him; his compassion, his mercy, his grace. When Jonah was asked to go to Nineveh, he knew that he was really being asked to be compassionate, merciful, and gracious to a people that was not deserving. However, Jonah instead of being the gracious, compassionate, and merciful diplomat the he was asked to be chose to flee to Tarshish.

Just like Jonah, often times in our diplomacy we chose to disseminate judgment or flee when God is asking us to show compassion. God’s love and compassion have to be foundational to our diplomacy. The very definition of diplomacy speaks to the idea of having tact: being sensitive to others, taking the necessary measures to express yourself in such a way that doesn’t cause harm or dissension unnecessarily. This kind of diplomacy requires compassion, and compassion for those who we disagree with, or find detestable is easier to talk about than to live out.

As Christ followers our diplomacy first requires our obedience. When God tells us to go and deliver a message to people, our first response should always be to do so no questions asked. It is not for us to question God’s judgement, or to become the judge of others. Secondly, diplomacy requires compassion, grace, and mercy. These things allow us to deliver the message of the Gospel without bias and judgement. It was these three things that Jonah was reminded of in the belly of the whale.

“At the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” Jonah 2:6-9

In the midst of diplomacy it is important for us to realize who Christ is and who we are called to be as his followers, and ambassadors. All power is his, and salvation is His. We must never try to control who the message goes out to, because the message is for all. Our diplomacy must make accommodations for the culture and the context in which we are called to, no matter what our opinions of those to whom we are called may be.

Just like Jonah it’s easy for us to be compassionate and diplomatic with those who we think are worthy of compassion, mercy, grace, and diplomacy, but its ever so difficult for us to do so with people who are culturally different, or we don’t see eye to eye with; or have done awful things to us or our loved ones.

Sometimes our anger and hunger for justice; mixed with the realization that the Lord’s compassion goes far beyond our understanding makes us judge and jury, when we’re actually called to be diplomatic ambassadors of Christ. Never going around the truth, or avoiding his call, but discussing the message of Christ compassionately and prayerfully, showing His mercy and grace to all those we encounter.

Forgiveness & Diplomacy

“As the Bible and Kyogen have shown me, it is easy to pass judgment; it is not so easy to pass over judgment and even undergo people’s judgment by seeking to build reconciling bridges through apologies, forgiveness, and understanding.” Paul Louis Metzger

In the past few weeks…in several different ways I’ve been challenged to think about the role forgiveness plays in our cultural engagement and diplomacy efforts.

With the hope of expanding my thinking I was asked by co-worker to read A Human Being Died that night, by Pumla Gobodo Madikizela. In A Human Being Died that night, Pumla articulates very vividly here experiences with Apartheid as a black South African Woman.

In the opening pages of the book I found Pumla journeying to a South African prison to visit one of South Africa’s most notorious convicts: Eugene de Kock. Convicted of crimes against humanity Mr. de Kock was found guilty of killing hundreds, maybe even thousands of black South Africans. Upon meeting de Kock Pumla describes him as prime evil: “Prime Evil, the name that marked him as the surest evidence of all that had happened under apartheid. de Kock had not just given apartheid’s murderous evil a name. He had become that evil. The embodiment of evil stood there politely smiling at me” –Madikizela

Madikizela encounter with de Kock and Dr. Metzger’s words on building reconciling bridges through apologies, forgiveness, and understanding. As ambassadors of Christ what role does forgiveness play in our diplomatic efforts? Is Christ forgiveness limited? Ever since reading Madikizela’s statement “he had become that evil. The embodiment of evil” I’ve been wondering what would be response if I were to encounter the embodiment of evil. I’d like to think that I would be able to forgive, so that I could communicate the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that Christ has to offer, but that is definitely not a natural reaction. The ability to truly forgive, and pass no judgment it is only because of the Holy Spirit. I cannot see the humanity of someone who has done heinous things unless it’s through the image of Christ on the cross. I cannot lovingly engage, the members of ISIS, the jihadist, the white supremacists, or members of different religious organizations or my own with judgment or a un-willingness to forgive in my heart.

Forgiveness, grace, and mercy must be at the foundation of our diplomacy. In light of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus was instructing us to turn the other check, “if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Matthew 5:41) Jesus urges us in the verses that make up the sermon of the mount to see past sin and judgment, not that sin doesn’t deserve punishment, but sometimes, but sometimes in our quest as Christians to eradicate the sin we lean heavily on punishing the sinner; forgetting to acknowledge each other’s humanity, especially when it comes to acknowledging the humanity; that this person, in spite of their beliefs, or crimes was still created in the image of the God…the same image that we were created in.

In the beginning there was Unity.

Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26

Since God, being triune in form from the beginning of our inception we should come to the realization that we were created in unity; The Father, son and Holy Spirit together creating this world and then creating us together…unified. We find what we have in common, what unifies in within the trinity. With Genesis 1:26 in mind, how can we being created in his likeness…the likeness of the triune God not be called to live in unity? It doesn’t make sense. In fact not living out of unity is denying part of our part of our divine design. When we forget that unity was intended to be a part of our divine design it is then that we allow ourselves to escape the reality of unity, and its repercussions on our life. It is then that isolation from one another and our communities becomes a viable option, thus causing a great chasm. Looking back on the creation story as well as the bible in its entirety, it can be stated the one can never truly experience unity apart from community. These two things should never be separated.

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:11

Joni Erickson Tadi once said that “Believers are never told to become one; we’re already are one, and are expected to act like it. After reading the high priestly prayer I’d have to agree with Joni. We are never told to become one; however Jesus does prayer that we may become one. “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:23. What Jesus means when he says become really mortifies this idea that somehow unity is not achievable this side of heaven. It voids the notion that we have no obligation or any duty to strive for a unified body of believers here on earth. When Jesus prayers that we may be one as they are one He exemplifies that kind of unity that should be norm for those that profess to be genuine believers…and yet in our everyday lives we find that this isn’t the case. Why? We’ve forgotten who are and lost perspective. In the biblical narrative, the people of God are always urged to look forward, imagining their future not simply as a way of ameliorating the pain of their present circumstances, but to help them understand what kind of people they were called to be in the present. Not shallow in their thinking, or bogged down by troublesome circumstances, but always meditating on the things to come.

The Church is not an island

When I look at Vincent van Gogh’s The Church in Auvers, I gripped by two questions: How do those that want to get in do so, and how do those that want to get out escape. Either way a church without way for entry or escape is frightening.

A church without way for entry or escape is frightening because it separates those within the church from those that help to make up their body. It also allows for those within the church to disregard the pain of those outside the church that may not be like them. If we are to be the visible church we will have to leave the buildings behind at different points in the week… in other words we’ll have to “get off the island”. We’ll also have to invite those who we wouldn’t normally have a propensity to invite in, into our sanctuaries and down to alter. As Paul stated in his post “we need to make visible in our church contexts the invisible reality of our transformed hears by faith through God’s love in our church contexts. Such invisible transformations of relationships, where we include rather that exclude people of diverse backgrounds.”

When churches begin excluding others, it takes on an island like mentality. Moreover it begins to become controlled by fear and ignorance, instead of Gospel truth. In order to overcome our fear and ignorance we must choose to live life with people; amongst the poor, the orphaned, the widow, and those that are different than us. We’ve created so many divisions out of fear that we’re no longer aware of the different cultures around us that we’ve alienated; forcing them to live in isolation, while allowing our churches to become islands of their on, only maintaining visibility with other churches like their own, and not necessarily their communities.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
-John Donne

John Donne’s poem: No man is island reflects how some Christians have been doing church. No church is an island and yet we live as if we were many different islands, without connection to other churches or the people that make up the communities that surround them. We’ve become protectors of our islands instead of people who are seeking the greater good that can only be found in seeking after the heart of God. His heart is not concerned with protecting our man made structures that nurture oppression. His heart is always grieved for the outcast, the poor, the orphaned, and widowed, as well as those that have been scared by the whip of injustice. Jesus never lived his life as if he were an island, and goes against his very nature, and since we are the church…his bride we cannot live our lives in such a way either. But realizing that every man, women, and child; no matter their race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc. is part of our greater whole.