Rethinking Heavenly Rewards

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” -James 1:12

“…from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:24

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” -2 John 8

Throughout the New Testament there is talk of crowns, rewards, and other such things that God has in store for his people.

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I’ll be honest, I’ve always had a little bit of a hard time with that concept, or at least with the way that we often talk about it in church world.

How do rewards work? 

Because often in the past I’ve heard heavenly rewards talked about like they are some sort of payback for good behavior or exceptional service.

I like to joke with our junior high pastor and say that he will get more crowns in heaven because, well, he’s a junior high pastor. But when I do that I’m kidding (or am I?). 

But when we’re not joking it quickly becomes not so funny.

And teaching about heavenly rewards can easily turn into manipulation:

“Give more money, after all, don’t you want to have treasure in heaven?”

“Go on that missions trip, after all, don’t you want a bigger reward in heaven?”

This sort of conception of heavenly rewards flies in the face of the notion of salvation by grace through faith. Worse than that, it teaches people to live in obedience not for its own sake, but rather for the sake of earning a payback.

And if someone is paying you back, they are, by definition, in your debt- which is, of course, ridiculous when that “someone” is God.

When these sorts of tactics are used they are essentially attempts to leverage human self-interest for Kingdom purposes, when the purpose of Kingdom living is heart transformation that gives us something more to live for than self-interest.

Recently I read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (a phenomenal book, by the way), and he talks about heavenly rewards, and he addresses the concerns shared by me and so many others head on:

“There are several passages in the New Testament, not least in the words of Jesus himself, that speak of God’s future blessings in terms of reward. Many Christians find this uncomfortable. We have been taught that we are justified by faith, not works, and, somehow, the very idea of being a Christian for what we will get out of it is distasteful.

But the image of reward in the New Testament doesn’t work like that. It isn’t a matter of calculation, of doing a difficult job in order to be paid a wage. It is much more like working at a friendship or a marriage in order to enjoy the other person’s company more fully. It is more like practicing golf in order that we can go out on the course and hit the ball in the right direction. It is more like learning German or Greek so that we can read some of the great poets and philosophers who wrote in those languages. The “reward” is organically connected to the activity, not some kind of arbitrary pat on the back, otherwise unrelated to the work that was done. And it is always far in abundance beyond any sense of direct or equivalent payment.”

Now that’s a perspective I can get behind!

Obedience isn’t work we put in so we can get “paid”.  It’s time spent on the driving range that prepares us to enjoy our time on the course even more. It’s time spent seeking to understand someone else so we can deepen our relationship.

Thus, the crowns of heaven are not carrots to be dangled in front of us the way a paycheck or a pension might be. They are, instead, the natural result of a life of obedience. They are the ability to enjoy the classics for a lifetime because we made the effort to learn Greek.

We don’t do things to earn God’s reward, and we surely don’t manipulate people into doing things with the promise of a heavenly reward. Ironically, doing this deprives people of what is most necessary to appreciate God’s real rewards, that being a transformed heart.

Instead, we are called to be transformed by God’s love. And when that transformation takes place it is our joy to “spend time on the driving range”, so to speak, so when it comes time to step onto the “course” we can enjoy it to its fullest.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

 

Looking for Hope in the Only Right Place

What follows is loosely based off of a devotional thought I had the privilege of sharing at a recent all-church worship night at Bridgeway.

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When Christians gather to worship God through music, or through the teaching of His Word, or through prayer, hope is a common theme.

There is hope in the cross, we say.

We can hope in Christ, hope in heaven, hope in the promises of God.

And yet we live in a world where we are constantly encouraged to place our hope in other things, things that ultimately prove wanting.

What we have experienced in the global economy over the last decade has shown us that perhaps the apostle Paul was on to something when he told Timothy to warn the rich not to “set their hope on the uncertainty of riches.” (1 Tim. 6:17)

We can’t put our hopes in our jobs, because a day will come when we either quit, retire or are laid off.

We can’t put our hope in our marriages, our kids, or our other relationships. No matter how wonderful the people who fill those roles in our lives are, they simply are not able to be our ultimate source of hope.

We can’t put our hope in our possessions because they break. Or get old. Or get boring. Or get replaced.

We can’t put our hope in our sports teams because they lose (if not this year, then next), our politicians because they disappoint us (same), or our physical health because it eventually goes away (but keep eating that kale).

But what is fascinating to me is that if there was one person in the Bible who could say with some legitimacy, “I’ve accomplished so much in my life that I don’t think I really need God, I can place my hope in all of my success,” it was David.

He had everything.

And that makes what he said in Psalm 33 starting in verse 16 all the more fascinating:

“The king is not saved by his great army;”

And David would know, seeing as how he was a king with a heck of an army.

“a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.”

And David would know, seeing as how he was a warrior with great strength.

“The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

And David would know, seeing as how he had a bajillion war horses.

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.

Even David- with all the stuff, all the wealth, all the strength, all the resources, and all the power- knew where it all came from. And he knew who to place his hope in, as shown by the beautiful prayer in the last verse of the psalm:

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in our wealth, our families, our good looks, our power you.

So then the question for each of us is,

Where is your hope?

Because while it good and right and beautiful to enjoy God’s gifts, it is a tragic thing to place our hope in them. True, lasting hope can only be found in one place.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Why Brokenness is Essential

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We may ask why brokenness is so often a prelude to the surrender that God seeks, and for the answer, we need to go back again to the Garden. It was there that our human nature was forged. Our natural tendency is always to assert our independence, and seek to determine our own destiny. As we have seen, the consequences of this are grave. God in his wisdom will allow events that will curb our headlong dash for independence. Inevitably, the failure and disappointment of these events will lead to personal brokenness. God chooses not to leave us there, but to draw us back into his presence with his loving kindness, so that he might remake and start to really use us.

The above quote comes from Covenant and Kingdom: The DNA of the Bible by Mike Breen. Several of us on staff here at Bridgeway recently read the book, and it’s a really helpful overview of some of the grand themes of Scripture.

I appreciate Breen’s perspective on brokenness, in large part because of my own tendency to want to minimize brokenness rather than grow through it. Let’s face it- when faced with pain, hurt, brokenness, trials, or anything else of the sort, we react much like we do when we walk into a spider web.

Get. Rid. Of. It.

At best, we regard brokenness like the vegetables we hate the most- as a necessary evil.

But the truth is that brokenness plays an absolutely vital role in our spiritual formation.

It is seasons of pain and brokenness that can open us most to God’s activity in our lives- if we are willing. These seasons can also expose the folly of our own efforts towards independence. And while God’s precise role in causing these events and seasons is a matter of some debate (and is far outside the scope of a 400-word blog post!), the important point Breen makes is that God can redeem these times. He can use these times to “draw us back into his presence with his loving kindness”.

So while brokenness is unpleasant and undesirable, it is essential. It is essential because it prods us to dig up parts of our soul that are easy to neglect in “good” times. It is essential because it drives us to deeper self-awareness and self-reflection.  It is essential because it forces us to acknowledge our own frailty and weakness. It is essential because it is the garden where empathy grows.

I’ve known pastors who have said they will not hire someone to a high-level staff position who has not experienced great personal brokenness. Whatever you think of that policy, it’s easy to understand the reasoning.

And ultimately it is essential because God redeems it by using it to make us soft, so he might mold us and shape us into more effective representatives of his kingdom. So in our rush to make the pain stop, it is critical that we not waste our brokenness.

Because there is grace in it that might not be recognizable without it.

photo credit: flickr via compfight

Effectiveness is not Most Important

There are times in your life and mine when we will have to choose between faithfulness and effectiveness. 

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Times when we have to choose between faithfulness to Jesus and worldly effectiveness. Times when valuing a life of faithfulness will get in the way of getting things done as quickly as they otherwise could.

It’s not that pursuing effectiveness is bad.

It’s not.

Usually it’s good.

Whether it’s at home or at work, I’m all about using the input I have in a way that maximizes output. I read books that will help me get better at work/marriage/parenting/Jesus-following. I analyze aspects of my work and personal life looking for ways I can use my time better. In short, in every area of my life I want to pursue excellence and effectiveness.

It’s all part of stewarding the resources God has entrusted to my care.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of that.

In fact, most of the time pursuing effectiveness is an important part of being faithful with God’s gifts.

But there are times when maximizing effectiveness will mean reducing faithfulness, and maximizing faithfulness will mean reducing effectiveness. 

And in those moments we have to choose.

Because Jesus said some things that don’t really “work” all that well.

He said to build up treasures in heaven, and that might make us less effective at building treasures on earth.

He said to turn the other cheek, and sometimes it feels like it would be more effective to hit back.

He said whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done for me, when it’s easier to get noticed if you’re doing things for movers and shakers .

He said to love your enemies, and that makes us less effective at degrading, destroying, or defeating them.

He said you’ve got to die to yourself, and that just might make us less effective at making a name for ourselves.

He said if you want to be the greatest you’ve got to be the servant of all, and when you’re the servant of all it’s hard to look impressive.

And I could go on for quite some time.

So it’s not that effectiveness is bad.

I’m all for getting results and setting goals and creating accountability.

But there will inevitably come times when the path of faithfulness to Jesus is clear, and our initial response will be, “But that just won’t work. Not today. Not in the 21st century. Not is this situation.”

And it’s in those moments that we have to choose.

Faithfulness or effectiveness.

Everything in our being wants to choose one.

Jesus calls us to the other.

 

 

 

When Self-Promotion is OK

I want to write more often. I really do.

And there are several reasons, of varying quality, why I don’t.

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There’s the lack of prioritization. Note I didn’t say lack of time. I have the same amount of time as people who write every day, I just prioritize different activities.

There’s “market” saturation. Does the Internet really need someone else like me sharing their thoughts about how the world should be? Hardly.

There are the subjects I’m drawn to. My wife doesn’t believe me, but I really don’t like stirring up controversy. But the fact remains I enjoy thinking about subjects that, to quote Jen Hatmaker, “best (belong) in true relationships, around dinner tables, over coffee, in real life.” I like to reflect on nuanced ideas, subjects that can’t quite be nailed down in a bumper sticker slogan or a 30-second sound bite, subjects that don’t fit neatly into categories like “for” and “against”. It is borderline irresponsible to post these sorts of thoughts in blogs, where they are read outside of the context of relationship and understanding.

There is also the way I want to write. I don’t want to give advice, and it seems much of blogging today is advice-giving. I don’t have the “7 Things You Simply Must Do” if you want to retire early, have a better quiet time, make your family vacation the most super-duper awesomest ever, prevent your children from becoming godless monsters, or grow a better vegetable garden. I have also not yet mastered the art of getting people to click your links by writing misleading headlines (nor do I care to).

But the biggest reason I don’t write more than I do is because getting people to read your stuff requires tons of self-promotion.

And I hate promoting myself.

And I hate the idea of promoting myself in a social media space where seemingly everyone has something for you to buy, read, support, oppose, listen to, reject, boycott, or fundraise for.

To be clear, it’s not that I’m remarkably humble (but could I be if I thought I were?). If anything it’s the opposite. But it’s always been something I’m uncomfortable with.

But as I wrestle with my desire to write and my aversion to self-promotion, I remember a conversation I had with my dad many years ago.

At the time I was the college pastor at a great church in Southern California that was foolish trusting enough to hire 24 year-old me as their college pastor. A team I assembled and I had started a college ministry, and it was going really well.

But I felt a ton of pressure to build the group larger.

Of course, I wanted the group to grow, but I felt the primary means by which I would be evaluated was how many people were attending our services (it probably wasn’t the case, but I’d convinced myself it was). Needless to say, I was uncomfortable.

I didn’t like the idea of making it sound like all we cared about were numbers. I didn’t like the idea of making it sound like we only cared about being the biggest.

And as I shared all of this with my dad, he asked me one simple question:

“Well, do you believe what you’re doing is helping people?”

I didn’t have to think about it for more than a second.

“Of course I do!”

“Then is it really self-promotion?”

“I guess not.”

In that case it wasn’t just self-promotion because I didn’t care about being the biggest, or about impressing anyone with the size of our group. But I did care about people connecting to Jesus and community, and what we were doing with our college group was helping people do just that.

And there-in lies the challenge for everyone who does creative work, or starts a business, or designs a product, or promotes a cause, or otherwise asks others for anything online.

It can’t just be about self-promotion.

There must be more behind it. There must be the more noble goal of actually and authentically making people’s’ lives better with your words, or your song, or your article, or your product. There must be a sincere effort to not simply be another voice shouting for attention, but instead be a voice looking to influence the world for the better in some small well, regardless of personal gain.

So to be honest, I don’t know if I’m ever going to start writing (on the Internet) regularly.

I want to.

I just don’t know.

But I want to keep that idea about self-promotion in front of me, and if you share your ideas or your creations online I hope you will, to. I want what I create to enrich the lives of those who trust me enough to give me three minutes of their attention.

And if I believe I’ve done so, I’m self-promote without shame. And if you’ve done so, you should, to.

Eight Words

In the Old Testament book of Jonah, the title character- perhaps history’s most reluctant prophet- gets sent to by God to preach to the evil city of Nineveh.

“Tell them the gig is up,” God says (my paraphrase), “And they need to knock it off with their wicked ways.”

If you know the story you know Jonah responds by boarding a ship going the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. One crazy storm, a trip overboard, and a three night stay in world’s biggest water taxi later, Jonah found himself near Nineveh.

By this point he’d accepted his fate- he had to go to Nineveh.

And when he arrived at this wicked, godless, city he started to preach.

He preached eight words.

Eight words.

Shortest. Sermon. Ever.

“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

And that’s all it took.

The people of Nineveh believed God, and in prayer and fasting “everyone turn(ed) from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” (Jonah 3:8)

The wicked city repented.

After eight words.

And as I’ve spent some time reading and re-reading Jonah this week I’ve been struck by the sensitivity to the Word of God in Nineveh.

They heard it, and they responded immediately.

How often do we, in our arrogance, do anything but that?

And so my prayer has been for a similar sensitivity to God’s Word to exist in my own heart. That when I open the Scriptures or hear them taught I would receive and respond to what God has spoken, and do so with great eagerness, knowing, as the psalmist did, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.” (Psalm 19:8)

It took the people of Nineveh- who did not know God, and who were so unspeakably wicked that God was ready to wipe them off the face of the earth- eight words to do just that.

May God do a similar work in our hearts.

The Paradoxical Way to Find Our True Identity

I’m looking forward to this weekend, when I’ll be one of the speakers at my church’s Young Adult Discipleship retreat. In preparation the my talk, our young adult pastor asked me to read The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner.

It’s a short book, but it’s one of those books where not a word is wasted. It digs into all sorts of ideas related to identity and self-discovery. I especially liked this passage at the end of the book. It’s about finding our true identity in Christ, and it’s really beautiful.

“Happiness and fulfillment are blessings that come from surrender to the loving will of God. Both are idolatrous if pursued directly. Both are also easily a distraction from our true destiny, our  calling in Christ. This is the only self within which we will ever be able to find absolute authenticity.

It is like putting on a perfectly custom-tailored dress or suit after wearing clothes made for other people. Our self-in-Christ is a self that fits perfectly because it is completely us. It is a self that allows us to be free of all anxiety regarding how we should be and who we are. And it allows us to be absolutely ourself- unique not by virtue of our strivings for individuality but profoundly original simply because that is who and what we are.

God’s call to our fulfillment is therefore a call to take our place in his grand restoration agenda of making all things new in Christ. Our vocation is grounded in the self that from eternity God has willed that we be. Our calling is to become that self and then to serve God and our fellow human beings in the particular ways that will represent the fulfillment of that self. Our identity is not simply a possession. It is a calling.

Paradoxically our fulfillment lies in the death of our own agendas of fulfillment. It also lies in the crucifixion of all our ego-centered ways of living apart from complete surrender to God. It does not lie, then, in any of the places we would expect to find it. Christ’s way always turns our ways upside down. But it is only in the upside-down world of Christ’s kingdom that we will ever find the self we were called from eternity to be and the God we were created to serve. In God alone is the truth of our being.”

Everyone is Fighting Something

A few weeks after Joey was born, a few of my wife’s co-workers came over for lunch. During the visit Joey was quiet, and Matthew sat in his high chair on his best behavior. He said “please” and “thank you”, obediently ate his lunch, and laughed and sang with gusto to the delight of our guests.

“You guys are just the perfect little family!” one of them exclaimed.

I laughed.

I confess, in the moment it sure looked that way. Our kids were cute and well-behaved, and Christie and I were in control enough to entertain guests. But I knew it wasn’t always the case.

“Ha, trust me, you could come by another time and you’d see both kids screaming and Christie and I looking wide-eyed at each other, unsure of what to do.”

In a separate incident a few weeks later, I was having lunch with a friend.

“You and Christie are just the perfect ministry couple,” he said. “You guys are always able to go to events, and you stay till the end, and you always seem engaged with what’s going on.”

Again, I laughed.

It’s true my wife is awesome, but it’s also true we are constantly walking in the tension of trying to raise our children, get enough rest to survive, stay in engaged with one another, and manage the reality that we have very different personalities- me being an extrovert who loves time with people, and my wife being more of an introvert, who also loves people, but who gets overwhelmed by too much activity. I told my friend that, and I told him I often don’t know how my wife is going to respond to another event on the calendar, or another opportunity to minister to different people.

And there have been plenty of times when we have struggled with the tension of ministry and family life.

There is an elusive balance I am constantly trying to find.

I went home and shared all of this with my wife, who agreed. It’s something we talk about all the time.

The reality is there was some truth to those two statements. Our family does some things right, and we celebrate the grace God has given us- beautiful children, a commitment to one another, a marriage that is also a friendship and partnership, a means to pay the bills. It’s also true God has equipped us for ministry, and we are able to manage the family challenges it presents better than most.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t struggle.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t days where we are fighting just to get by.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we look at each other and wonder how we’re going to make it through the day.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we simply can’t be everything other people need us to be.

Those snapshots I shared above served as a powerful reminder to me that it is easy to look at other people and think they have it all together- that they don’t struggle like you, they aren’t under stress like you, they don’t doubt like you, they don’t sometimes feel like throwing in the towel, like you.

It stunned me that anyone would look at any area of my life and call it “perfect”. And there were two people I respect who did.

It makes me laugh, even now.

It’s a reminder that everyone is fighting something. Everyone has demons they are battling, stresses they are facing, tension following them around day after day.

And instead of envying others for their perceived perfection, what we really need is grace for one another.

Grace to share each other’s burdens, as Scripture instructs.

Grace to look at others not with envy, but compassion.

Grace to extend kindness and patience when we don’t feel like it.

Because we’re all fighting something, and we’re all in this together. 

photo credit: flickr creative commons, djclear904

Waiting for Joey

In less than 24 hours we will be heading to the hospital.

If all goes according to plan we will meet our second son just a few hours after that.

Joseph Micah Kiley.

Joey.

Those who have experienced it know there is nothing quite like waiting for a child. It is strangely surreal. The clothes have been organized, the baby supplies washed and prepared for use, the baby’s room put together (mostly), arrangements for the care of our older child made, bags packed.

And yet it still doesn’t quite feel real. Much like with our first child, there is a part of me that is having a hard time believing that, in fact, a real live human is coming.

This time is different than last time in all sorts of ways, not the least of which is that we have another child this time. We’re fortunate being back in our hometown where Matthew will have plenty of grandparents around to shower him with attention while we’re in the hospital.

It’s also different in that this delivery is scheduled.

We go in early, and they operate a few hours later, as long as we don’t get bumped by an emergency. Last time we waited, not knowing when “the moment” would arrive. And once that moment arrived we went to the hospital, ground out nearly two days of labor, and finally had to have an almost emergency c-section. Because of that, this one is scheduled.

That leads to a totally different kind of waiting and anticipation. It’s almost like waiting for Christmas as a kid, the closer it gets the further away it feels.

I wanted to write a little bit about the name of our child, something I did before Matthew was born nearly two years ago. At that time I talked about how one of the reasons we named our first son “Matthew” was because of the story of Matthew in the Bible. Matthew was a tax collector, about as far from God as a person could get, and yet Jesus still came to him and called him to follow.

This resonated with me, because I know that should God see fit to keep me working in ministry, there will likely be many behavioral expectations placed on Matthew simply because he is my son. I want to protect him from that as much as possible. Of course, as his father, I’m going to do everything in my power and with God’s help to teach him to love God and walk with him. However, I am now, and always will be, more interested in my son’s heart than his behavior (believing that behavior comes from the heart). And one thing I want him to know is that if he starts to go in a different direction, if he starts to walk away from God, that there will never be a point when God will not welcome him back with open arms.

That’s one of the most powerful ideas that I want to communicate to my children, the unconditional, welcoming, pursuing love of God.

Naming Joey, I confess, was more challenging than naming Matthew.

Like with Matthew, there were a number of factors that led us to choose the name Joseph, but a big one was the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. In Joseph’s life he faced outrageous challenges and insurmountable obstacles. He went through months and years of hardship, and yet in the end he was able to say to the very people who sought his harm, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Now, I think it is safe to say we’ll be able to protect our children from being treated as badly by their siblings as Joseph was, but Joseph’s perspective is still one we want to model and teach our children. We want to model for our kids attentiveness to the ways God might be working behind the scenes in their lives. When times get tough, we want to teach them to look for evidence of God’s grace. When things go badly for them, we want to teach them to trust in the goodness of God and resist complaining or self-pity.

The point is certainly not to teach our kids to be like Joseph. The story of Joseph is about so much more than a moral example. And it’s certainly not a tool for behavior modification. The point is to show our kids the way that God has worked, what he is like, and how he has shown himself to be trustworthy. We believe that helping our kids understand truths of that sort will impact their hearts in profound ways.

So we wait.

For one more day.

To welcome our little guy. To begin, with God’s help, the process of teaching him what God is like, the process of showing him and his brother how God worked in the life of his namesake, the process of showing our kids the gospel in prayerful hope that in due time God will awaken their little hearts to love him.

What a gift.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

Peacemaking is more than Peace Loving

I’m just finishing up Jim Wallis’s new book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common GoodI don’t always agree with Wallis on everything, but I agree with him most of the time, and this might be the best book he has written. I appreciate his consistent challenge to Christians to form political views that are consistent with biblical theology, rather than forming theology that is skewed by political views.

In one chapter of On God’s Side, Wallis offers some commentary on The Beatitudes. Here is what he had to say about Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Conflict is found in every corner of our world, and violence is the habitual way of resolving our grievances and disputes. Ever being “for” or “against” wars becomes just another confrontation. What we need most are not just peace lovers, who talk against all the violence, but peacemakers, who actually learn how to resolve our endless and inevitable human conflicts without recourse to such destructive methods. The practices of conflict resolution are urgently needed in both our personal and political battlegrounds and will be the only way to break the tragic cycle of violence. In this new order, those who show the skills, behaviors, disciplines, and courage of peacemaking will have the honor of being called “children of God.”

If you know me at all, you know I’m a card-carrying peace lover. I’ve never been a fan of violence, but it was after becoming a follower of Jesus and reading the New Testament that I became a pacifist. You also know that if you’re a Christian I think you should be a peace lover as well. Jesus in particular and the New Testament in general teaches a consistent nonviolent, pro-life ethic, and I believe that obeying the Scriptures must trump abiding by culture norms.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about nonviolence, it’s that if you want to get Christians violently angry, start showing them what the Scriptures teach about nonviolence. I understand much of the objection to nonviolence is fueled by emotion, especially for Christians with connections to the military, and I am sensitive to that. For those willing to do serious, biblical thinking about nonviolence it’s clear to see that Jesus points us to a way of life that is better than violence. It’s holistically pro-life, and it’s really beautiful.

For those unwilling to do serious, biblical thinking about nonviolence it’s easy to come to all sorts of false conclusions about what a nonviolent-for-Jesus lifestyle and belief system looks like. “You must hate the military.” “You must be a liberal.” “You must hate America.” “You must have never read the Old Testament.” I’ve been told those things more times than I can count, even though they are not true. In fact, part of the reason that I don’t talk about nonviolence much anymore is that it’s hard to do so without sounding divisive, and that’s not what I want to be about.

I just believe Jesus meant what he said when he talked about loving enemies, blessing peacemakers, telling his disciple to knock it off when he tried to resort to violence to get business done. I believe the gospel story isn’t about opposing violence but is about embracing peace and radical, suffering love. It’s not about hating anyone (I have all the respect in the world for the courage of military personnel), it’s not about politics (I’m definitely not a liberal or a conservative), it’s not about hating your country (there is no place I’d rather live), and it’s not about a selective reading of Scripture (I’ve read all of the violent passages in the Old Testament). It’s about faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture, no matter how counter-cultural that teaching might be. It’s about being holistically pro-life, as Jesus has taught..

Wallis’s comments convicted me because I think at times I have been guilty of being a peace lover more than a peacemaker. This was especially true during my angst-filled early 20s. I’ve allowed war and peace to simply become another issue to argue about. And when that happens, the spirit of what Jesus said about peacemaking is lost. As Wallis points out, peacemaking is about pointing to a different sort of lifestyle, a lifestyle that avoids petty bickering, name-calling, and demonizing those we disagree with.

In that sense, peacemaking is about showing and not telling. It’s not enough to speak against wars, abortion, and other violence. It’s about demonstrating a lifestyle that rises about violence, a lifestyle that shows there is a better way than the violence ways so common in our culture. It’s about finding common goals shared by granola-chomping hippies who are Christ followers and decorated military service members who are Christ followers, and then doing the work of discovering how those goals can be accomplished through the way of Jesus instead of the way of violence. It’s about resolving conflict rather than creating it.

And in our increasingly divided world, peacemakers are needed like never before. Peacemakers need to provide alternatives to physical violence. Peacemakers need to show a willingness to suffer in the name of refusing to return evil for evil. Peacemakers need to help Republicans and Democrats learn to speak civilly to one another and focus their energies on the common good rather than partisan talking points. Peacemakers need to help Christians recognize that while “some trust in chariots (military power)…we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7), and this means we don’t join in with the violent ways of the world.

Peacemakers need to point to Jesus, and the power of his words, because those words transform in ways violence never can.

 

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