The Insurgency of Love Is Looking for Recruits

In 2007, President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of more than 20,000 soldiers to Bagdad and the Anbar Province in Iraq. The objective was, in part, a “unified, democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself…” The operation, which the army dubbed, “The New Way Forward,” was popularly described as “The Surge” in the U.S. media.

I want to be part of a different kind of surge, one in which tens of thousands of ordinary people are deployed with the objective being, in part, a unified, respectful, and just America. Those deployed would be positioned on both coasts and in Middle America and would include people of every race, language, and ethnicity in the country.

They would defend against the disrespect and contempt that are pulling our country apart. They would do so by showing respect to everyone, including their enemies; by showing compassion; and by treating people as subjects of God’s loving rule rather than objects of political or economic conquest.

I want to be part of the insurgency of love. That insurgency started a long time ago, under the leadership of the extremist Jesus of Nazareth. Some readers might object to calling Jesus an extremist, but the term is apropos. Jesus called for extreme love for God – “with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”; and for extreme love of neighbor, where “neighbor” is defined as anyone near you, including one who needs help. He said we should love such a person as we love ourselves.

The insurgency of love could undermine the current surge of contempt in our nation and around the world. It would do so by seeking what is best, even for one’s adversaries. Rather than attacking those who disagree with us or withdrawing from them, it would mean going to them with their interests in mind. Jesus’s way of putting it is to “be well-inclined toward your adversary quickly” (Matthew 5:25, literal translation).

The insurgency of love would show the same kind of goodwill to everyone: to other drivers, to slow-moving store clerks, to children and spouses, to liberals and conservatives, to people of other religions and nationalities. The insurgents would routinely ignore the lines society is always drawing to exclude people.

This does not mean they would agree with everyone or relinquish their convictions. I, for example, am strongly pro-life. I believe that some future generation will look back at the latter years of the twentieth century, when around one out of three pregnancies in the U.S. ended in an abortion, as a time of bewildering barbarity. Yet I acknowledge that people in the abortion rights camp are pursuing what they see as good, even though they do so in a way I see as bad. To treat them with contempt will solve nothing. For them to treat me with contempt will not help either.

Yet, as a member of the insurgency, I must never let the contempt of others cause me to abandon my post. Indeed, I must see it as a reason to continue my efforts. Evil, including assault and cold-hearted withdrawal, can never be overcome by more of the same. Understanding this, the great insurgent of love St. Paul ordered us to “overcome evil with good.” He understood it is the only way evil can ever be overcome.

All my training in the insurgency of love comes from Jesus and his followers but if someone is drawn to the insurgency who does not acknowledge Jesus, let them come. They will need access to the insurgency’s arsenal, which includes the strange weapons of forgiveness, listening, and blessing, or they will go unarmed. I know God supplies these things to those who enlist, but if they seek them elsewhere, let them do so for, as Jesus himself said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

As for myself, I count on God’s supply and depend on Jesus’s instruction to carry out the mission. I believe in its eventual success, convinced that the side of love has already been victorious in the insurgency’s most crucial battle, waged on a hill, far away, many years ago.

First published by Gatehouse Media

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What Jesus Revealed About God: God is Light

The most religious thing I heard when I was a boy – and I heard it often – was from my mother: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” I hardly thought about God at all but, if I had, I could not have imagined him playing in the dirt with me, or riding a bike through mud puddles, or crawling through the damp, narrow cave at Cascade Park.

All of us start with distorted ideas of God. He’s a celestial policeman, looking to bust us for having a little fun. He’s an upscale version of the most religious person we know – all into candles and hymns and long prayers. He’s a kind of cosmic vending machine, spitting out favors … but only if our account is sufficiently funded by good deeds.

Jesus helped people see God clearly and, in doing so, debunked many false ideas about him. Because of Jesus, people who thought God disliked them discovered that he really loved and wanted them. When they walked away from a meeting with Jesus, they were saying, “Wow!” about God.

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Take Advantage of Second Chance Opportunities

The Bible is full of stories of people who tried and failed or who failed to try. There was Moses. He tried to do something for his people, failed, then spent the next third of his life in self-imposed exile, a fugitive from his own failure.

King David rose from humble beginnings to the place of supreme power and highest privilege. He became the greatest of all the kings of Israel. Yet, at the apex of his power, he fell, both morally and socially.

Elijah was the chief of biblical prophets. He went toe to toe with the leading power of his day and came out on top. But after his historic stand, his courage failed and he copped out. He then was filled with self-loathing and got so depressed he isolated himself from others and prayed to die.

There was John Mark. He signed up for Paul’s and Barnabas’s missions trip to the eastern Mediterranean, then backed out part way through. My dad used to say – more times than I cared to hear – “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But when the going got tough, John Mark quit going and went home.

The biblical illustrations are plentiful. There was the Apostle Paul himself. In his younger days, he had engaged in violent religious persecution. There was the strong man Samson, the miserable prophet Jonah, greedy Zaccheus, and the dying thief on the cross. They all failed. They failed spectacularly, but they all got second-chance opportunities.

Moses, living in self-imposed exile and hindered by personal insecurity, got a second chance. His first attempt to help his people failed miserably, but out of that experience he gained knowledge and received a calling that transformed him into a remarkable leader.

King David was given another chance after his fall. In fact, it was after his failure that his dynasty was established. Elijah, who experienced severe anxiety and depression, once dropped out of public life entirely. Yet he returned to national and international prominence and spiritual usefulness.

John Mark, who abandoned the Apostle Paul when things got tough, also got a second chance. In spite of his woeful first performance, he was enlisted for a second mission. Years later, St. Paul – who once resolutely refused John Mark a place on his team – said that John Mark was “useful” to him in the work of the ministry. John Mark went on to pen the oldest of the biblical Gospels, the Gospel of Mark.

Paul himself got a second chance and never ceased to marvel that he, after the terrible things he had done, was provided opportunities to serve. Jonah and Samson, both of whom failed spectacularly, later succeeded spectacularly. It was not too late even for the thief on the cross.

No one better illustrates the biblical theme of second chances than St. Peter. On the night before Jesus was executed, Peter insisted loudly that he would be true to Jesus, even if everyone else – the other disciples – proved untrue. He insisted he would die before he would deny his master. Yet within the space of a few hours, he had denied Jesus three times.

The Bible tells the story of Peter’s second chance. He not only got another opportunity to serve Jesus on a national and world stage, he even got a chance to do what he failed to do the first time around: stay true to his master even though it meant dying a martyr’s death.

All these people and more beside received second chances. That was not because of who they were but because of who God is. We may think we don’t deserve a second chance and we’re probably right; but then, we didn’t deserve the first one either. It isn’t about the kind of things we deserve but about the kind of person God is and the kind he wants us to become.

He is not merely the God of the second chance, but of the third and fourth and hundredth and thousandth. This is because God, as revealed by Jesus, is not just concerned that we get into heaven but that we become the kind of people who can thrive there.  

First published by Gatehouse Media, 6/8/2019

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The Lord’s Supper: What’s It All About?

http://lockwoodchurch.or/media (Listening time: 24:27)

When the 14th century theologian and Bible scholar John Wickliffe said the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper remains bread and wine even after it has been consecrated, the pope labelled him “the Master of Errors.” This table has come between Christians ever since. Indeed, when the divided church has sought reconciliation, it has been Holy Communion, more than any other issue, that has stymied the effort.

What are we to make of the Lord’s Supper? Is there anything about it on which we can agree?

There is. Whatever your understanding of the Eucharist, we can agree that sharing Holy Communion has Kingdom of God implications. Click on the link below to learn more.

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Why You Should Not Claim “the Right Side of History”

That famous philosopher from New York – the Yankees, that is – Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” That’s so Yogi and so true.

When I was young, I read – I think it was in Popular Mechanics – that we’d all own flying cars by the turn of the millennium. I couldn’t wait. I’m still waiting.

In 1904, the New York Times ran a story on the debate raging over the automobile. Some experts claimed the human brain was incapable of processing enough information to travel at speeds exceeding eight miles per hour. The article went on to predict vague, “disastrous results.”

Joe McKinley, writing in Reader’s Digest, cites a 1966 Time essay that claimed remote shopping would never catch on. According to the essay, “…while entirely feasible, [remote shopping] will flop—because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.”

Yogi was right: it is tough to make predictions – at least accurate ones. The prediction that the automobile was a passing fancy was dead wrong. It turned out that the telephone was not a faddish toy. Y2K did not devastate the country. NASA’s prediction that we would soon walk on Mars proved mistaken.

So why is everyone so quick to make predictions regarding the right and wrong side of history? Over the past dozen years it has become a mantra of sorts. During the Obama years, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out at the time, administration officials were regularly predicting that some particular international bully was going to find himself on the wrong side of history.

There are numerous mistaken assumptions that lie behind this way of thinking. First, it anthropomorphizes history and makes it humanity’s judge. Or it might be more accurate to say, it apotheosizes history, giving it God’s place as judge. But history is not a person, whether human or divine, and is incapable of rendering judgment.

A further error lies in the common but mistaken idea that history – in the sense of the progression of time – will somehow make things right and good. Martin Luther King understood the flaw in this thinking and wrote in the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” of “the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.”

After quoting King, Jacob T. Levy, writing in Vox, calls the idea that “the passage of time reveals moral truth” a “superstition.” Jonah Goldberg goes further in The New York Post, suggesting the idea was popularized by Karl Marx and was used by communist regimes to justify the murder of “millions of inconvenient people.”

It has become popular to claim that anyone who disagrees on a moral issue is “on the wrong side of history,” as if history is a door with two sides, one of which opens onto some utopian society. But this has not been our experience. History doesn’t have sides nor does it take sides. It is simply the story of which sides we have taken.

It is irresponsible (and morally bankrupt) to take a side on a moral issue based on what we expect some future majority will choose. To take sides on a moral issue requires an ethical foundation, not software-based predictive analytics. That foundation will be made of something; often a philosophical understanding of, or a religious revelation regarding, humanity’s purpose and meaning.

For Christians, that ethical foundation lies in biblical revelation, which the church understands to be the word of God. Various influences have so eroded that foundation that society now nails together moral platforms on contemporary issues without any ethical foundation other than the illusory “right side of history.”

When someone claims their position is morally superior, ask the basis upon which they make that claim. If all they have to stand on is a “right side of history” claim, they have nothing to stand on at all. Remind them that a philosopher (of sorts) once said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

First published by Gatehouse Media

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Key Four: No Fouls

http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 23:04)

In basketball, the worst kind of foul is the technical foul. A technical foul not only gives the opposing team free throws, it forfeits the next possession. At home, the worst kind of foul is hypocrisy. What can we do about hypocrisy? Almost all of us have fallen into it at one time or another. Can we ever get out of it? How?

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“People Have Forgotten God”

Forty-six years ago, the Nobel Prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Solzhenitsyn was born the year after the Russian Revolution. He served in the Russian military during World War II and was a decorated combat veteran. While still in the military, he was arrested for making derogatory remarks about Josef Stalin in a letter to a friend. He spent the final months of the war in a prison cell.

Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp. After serving his sentence, he was sent into exile in Kazakhstan. It was during his time there that he rethought his Marxist philosophy, abandoned it, and became an Orthodox Christian. In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union expelled Solzhenitsyn.

The speech he gave when he was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1983 became known as the “Men Have Forgotten God” speech. In it he blamed “the ruinous Russian Revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people” on the fact that “men have forgotten God.” We Christians in the west nodded our heads in agreement: “Yes, the Soviets have forgotten God.”

But Solzhenitsyn was not finished. He went on the say that “the principal trait of the entire 20th century” is that “men have forgotten God.” Not just in Communist Russia, but around the world, even in “ostensibly Christian states.” The “leaders of Europe … lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them.”

The Nobel Prize winner broadened the scope even further. The West “too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness… replaced by political or class considerations of short-lived value.” He went on to say, with prophetic insight, that the “eager fanning of the flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today’s free world.”

He widened the net still further, refusing to let any nation escape: “Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.”

What can put a stop to this worldwide process, if not Christians? But Solzhenitsyn looked at the church and found it “disunited and frequently bewildered.” The “fragmented” church “has taken steps toward reconciliation. But these measures are far too slow; the world is perishing a hundred times more quickly.”

He noted that there is an organized movement to unify the Church, “The World Council of Churches” but it is little help since it “seems to care more for the success of revolutionary movements in the Third World, all the while remaining blind and deaf to the persecution of religion.”

The Russian prophet believed the Church itself had forgotten God at times. And indeed, this is the Church’s great danger at all times and, when it falls into sin, its great shame. The World Council of Churches was, in Solzhenitsyn’s day, trying to do good, but he perceived they were doing it without God – they had forgotten him.

But this is just as much a danger for conservative churches as for their liberal counterparts in the World Council of Churches. In its passion for biblical orthodoxy, Evangelicals sometimes think that the highest calling is to get doctrine right. But when getting it right becomes the de facto saving power, God is left waiting in the wings. In Solzhenitsyn’s words, people forget God.

When some churches and denominations try to use governments to bring God’s kingdom to earth through the establishment of social justice – as their generation understands it – they must make sure they remember the just God. When other churches are trying to make sure they are getting people to heaven by helping them believe truth, they must make sure they do not forget the true God.

It seems unbelievable, but even in worship people are in danger of forgetting God. Worshipers can focus so intently on the music they sing or the liturgy they use or the worship experience they have that they forget who it is they have come to worship.

Solzhenitsyn believed the only hope for the world and the church was “a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned.” That was never more true than it is today.

First published by Gatehouse Media, 5/25/2019

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Plan-A, Plan Only

God had a plan to undo the consequences of the Fall, to heal and restore humanity, and that plan began with one man: Abraham.  His line would lead to a point: the Point-of-it-All.  And God would get from Abraham to that Point by what N. T. Wright calls “the single plan-of-God-through-Israel-for-the-world.”  There was never a Plan-B.

But (and this is a huge “but”) when the covenant was established, Abraham and Sarah had no child.  God’s plan and promise of a family line required Sarah, who had been infertile, to conceive. And she did.  I don’t think we can imagine the joy Abraham felt.  He and Sarah had a child.  They named him Isaac, which means laughter.  That tells us something, doesn’t it?  In his latter years, Abraham took great pleasure in watching his son grow up. I wonder how often he found himself chuckling at the antics of his boy.  But sometimes when he looked at him, he could see a line stretching into the future, embracing the promise, blessing the earth.

And then we come to Genesis 22. Plan-A, Plan-Only, “the single plan-of-God-through-Israel-for-the-world,” which depended on only one person, on Isaac, on the boy called Laughter, was put at risk. And it was God himself who was to blame. It looked as if Abraham’s laughter would be silenced forever.

Was God really going to erase the line that led to the point – the Point of it All? God sometimes seems almost reckless. Would he bring the line to an end before it even began? On only one other occasion in the history of redemption were the stakes so high. On that occasion (once again), everything depended on one person – this time, on Jesus, the end of the line, the point of it all.

How daring God is – or seems to be to us. He is fearless! But then he has nothing to fear. He sees the end from the beginning, sees Jesus in Isaac, and sees us in glory (even when see only trouble and pain). He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And, because of Jesus, he is our God too.


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Take Advantage of Second-Chance Opportunties

Ann Arbor has one of the weirdest museums on the planet: The Museum of Failed Products. The museum’s shelves and aisles look like a supermarket—except there’s only one of each item. But these items aren’t in a supermarket nowadays: they are all failures, products withdrawn from sale after a few weeks or months, because almost nobody wanted them.

Clairol’s A Touch of Yogurt shampoo is there. It was an abject failure. Gillette’s short-lived For Oily Hair Only is also there, a few feet from a now-empty bottle of Pepsi AM Breakfast Cola (born 1989; died 1990). The museum’s exhibits include discontinued brands of caffeinated beer; TV dinners by the toothpaste manufacturer Colgate; Fortune Snookies, a short-lived line of fortune cookies for dogs; and self-heating soup cans that had a tendency to explode in customers’ faces.

If the museum has a message, it’s that failure isn’t a rarity; it’s the norm. According to some estimates, the failure rate for new products is as high as 90 percent.

I wonder what the failure rate of Jesus’s people is? My guess would be 100%. The question is not whether we will fail but what we’ll do after we’ve failed. Because of God’s grace, there is an “after.”

In this message we look at John 21:1-22 and think about the third key for winning homes: Taking advantage of second-chance opportunities.

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If Shakespeare Were Writing from Washington

Imagine Shakespeare were now writing. What storylines (Tragedy? Comedy?) might he find in the ongoing drama in Washington, D.C.? Nearly every presidential contender, and there is a battlefield full of them, is in high dudgeon. Accusations fly like arrows in a Peter Jackson movie.

There are Hamlet-like duplicities, Macbeth-like rants, and King Lear-like bouts of self-pity. Katherina-like egos and Richard-like self-absorption dot the stage. Shakespeare would soon find a donkey-headed Bottom braying in the halls of Congress. Maybe a stable-full of them.

What seems to be rare – in Washington and in Shakespeare – is the person who acts deliberately for good; who quietly and thoughtfully pursues what is best. Of course, Washington has such people, acting from minds shaped by truth and characters formed in virtue, but we infrequently hear about them and, more infrequently still, hear from them. Washington is a power center, and the quest for power seldom coexists with self-forgetful, others-centered leadership.

The four-year struggle for power that is part of our system of government means that we will have constant revivals of this same power-play. This is of course not unique to our system of government nor our time in history. Think of Theresa May in the U.K. Think of Julius Caesar. Think of Jesus.

Jesus? We may not at first think of Jesus as a character in a political power play but he certainly was. He was the deliberate one, placing God’s interests and people’s good above party loyalty, and he suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous (and outraged) men because of it. As soon as the effort to coopt his abilities failed, the effort to eradicate his influence began. The will to power and the predisposition to anger seem to go hand in hand.

Among Jesus’s most vocal critics were the Pharisees. The group, which had emerged during the intertestamental years, was an influential actor in Israel by the time Jesus came on the scene. The Pharisees practically owned the synagogues, which were the center of Jewish life and thought in the first century.

With Jesus’s meteoric rise in popularity, the Pharisees sent envoys to learn what he was all about. Because he seemed to share a worldview with them, some Pharisees initially treated Jesus as an ally. That was short-lived. It soon became apparent that Jesus did not share some of the group’s fundamental commitments. His public disregard for one of their principal issues and his disagreement with the thinking that lay behind it led party leaders to label Jesus an adversary.

One early conflict is telling. The Pharisees’ signature issue was support for traditional Sabbath regulations. When Jesus, who understood the intent of the law differently, healed a man on a Sabbath day (after lecturing the Pharisees about proper Sabbath conduct), they were outraged. St. Luke writes: “…they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

“Furious” is an English rendering of a word that means “without thought.” The Pharisees, having been publicly reproved, reacted in a blind rage. There was no thoughtful pursuit of what was best, just unthinking malice. Latin has an evocative word for this state: “demens” – “demented”; “out of one’s mind.”

The hostility toward Jesus grew as time went by but he did not let the conflicts sidetrack him. He did not become “demented”; was not robbed of his reason. He continued doing the right thing for the right reasons, regardless of what his adversaries said or did.

He was able to do this because he was confident in the truth and in the God of truth. Had he been power-hungry, he would not have possessed this confidence. It is a delightful paradox: the one who had ultimate power by right refused to do wrong in order to exercise that power. The power-hungry devour those around them. The truly powerful do just the opposite: they nurture and empower them.

Christians must learn to think of power as Jesus did. Because he understood that power belongs to God, he never compromised in pursuing God’s interests and others’ best. He didn’t make the mistake, so often made, of thinking he had to do wrong to make things right. His is the attitude that is needed today.

Let some modern-day bard write about that.

First Published by Gatehouse Media

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