Plowshares and Swords

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4 (NRSV)

My mood is as dark and dreary as the weather as I write this article. I awoke this morning to news of yet another senseless shooting, and news of more lives lost. Although I know I need to write this article, I honestly don’t want to. It isn’t that I don’t want to talk about the topic, but I honestly have hoped and prayed that we would have found a way to stop killing one another. It is past time. The violence simply must stop.

At the same time, I find myself wondering; “What, if anything, can I do about it?” I’m not the one holding the gun. You’re not the ones going on shooting sprees. I am sure that you, like me, are praying daily for the victims of the violent attacks that are becoming all too frequent these days. Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and now Fort Myers… And, I know I’ve missed some. Why is it that we seem to be reading from Joel where plowshares are beaten into swords and pruning hooks into spears, instead of the other way around?

This world we live in is broken, fragmented even. People near and far are hurting and afraid. We, as Disciples of Christ, claim to be a movement for wholeness in the midst of this pain and fragmentation. So, what are we doing? How are we moving to bring that healing and restoration into reality?

I’ve already mentioned the first step in the process, prayer. All too often we turn to prayer as a last resort. When we don’t know what else to do, we pray. I believe we are called to do the exact opposite. Instead of trying everything in our human power then turning to God, we are to turn to God first. Then we use what we discover in prayer to direct our human efforts. Although it may not seem like prayer is all that “effective” in bringing about change, one thing that happens when we pray is that WE are changed. When we pray we begin to see things through God’s eyes, and understand more clearly how we are to then ACT in response to God’s will and spirit.

Another tangible way to effect healing in the world is to train ourselves to recognize and celebrate the humanity of the “other.” You have likely heard me talk about the “radical objectification” which is running rampant in our society. We look at others (and sometimes ourselves) as objects, not people. Furthermore we have a tendency to treat objects as disposable. We care for them while they are useful to our purposes, but when their usefulness is over they are set aside or discarded altogether.

Where objects are useful for completing a task, people have inherent worth. When asked which of the commandments was the greatest, Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NRSV) Jesus clearly commands us to love our neighbors, to treat them with dignity and respect. It is clear we are to treat our neighbors as human beings, not as objects.

But, who is our neighbor? Jesus answers that question with the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. That well-known story reminds us that everyone, even the person with whom we disagree strongly, is to be treated as our neighbor. In other words, all people deserve to be treated with love and respect.

Our response to the violence of the world begins with prayer and continues as we love and respect others (and ourselves). Those swords and spears won’t become plowshares and pruning hooks overnight. But, we do have God’s promise that one day there will be an end to the violence. Until that day comes I’m going to do my part. I’m going to work each and every day to be the hands and feet of God in my sphere of influence. I pray that you will as well. Together we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

God is Always with Us … BELIEVE IT!

If you joined us for Vacation Bible School you heard that phrase repeatedly throughout the day. The focus of our stories, our crafts, and our games, was to remind us that God is always with us. In the darkest of valleys, in the mundane everyday, and during those mountain top experiences, God is with us.

That’s an important message for us to hear, no matter how old we are. God is with you. A major component of Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God is in our midst. He repeatedly encouraged the disciples, and all who would listen, to notice God’s presence in our midst. Matthew 4:17 recounts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: ‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.’” (The Message)

Jesus reminds us that God is not “somewhere out there.” God is right here, in our midst, with us, right now. However, just because God is present with us does not mean that everything will go smoothly. There will still be trials and tribulations, heartache and brokenness. The recent news from Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas just goes to confirm that. We are living in a time where God is presence, but not fully realized. It is like an extended pregnancy, there is new life, but it is not yet fully realized. The child is there, but we can’t yet see or hold her. It is a time of great anticipation, and sometimes substantial discomfort.

Though we cannot see the child, we see evidence of its presence. As the mother’s body changes to accommodate the new life growing within her, we know that there is something new and beautiful taking place. The same is true in our world. I believe, with all of my heart, that there is something new and beautiful taking place. I just don’t know exactly what that looks like, yet.

What I do know is that God’s present, and coming, kingdom requires something on my part. I have to change my thinking, my behavior, and my attitudes. I have to repent. Did you notice the importance of repentance to recognizing God’s presence? Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, the kingdom of God is here if you want it.” He said, “Repent.” We have to change our way of thinking, of acting, and of being to be able to appreciate God’s presence among us.

In just a few weeks we will begin a 30-week journey to do just that. Beginning on August 21st we will be working our way through “Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.” This is the follow-up to “The Story” and will give us the opportunity to answer the question, “So what?” The story of God’s work in and through humanity is a remarkable tale of love and redemption. But if it doesn’t change us, doesn’t move us to be more like Jesus, then what good has that remarkable story done? It’s a great story. So what?

That is the question we will seek to answer as we journey through the 30 weeks of “Believe.” We will begin with 10 weeks asking “What do I believe about …?” During that time we will address what we believe about God, Church, the Bible, humanity, and more. Once we have begun to get a grasp on what we think about those topics, we will address how we act as a response. The question for the second set of 10 weeks will be, “What should I/we do?” During this time we will discuss topics like sharing our faith with others, worship, and prayer.

Finally we will conclude our journey by examining who we are becoming as people of faith. These last ten weeks will be focused on what Paul identifies as the “fruits of the Spirit.” After thinking about what we believe, and how we are to behave, we finally settle on how we know we are becoming more like Christ. We will cover topics ranging from love, to patience, to humility, to self-control.

We will take a short break during Advent to focus on the important message of God’s presence with us through the birth of Jesus. Our Advent celebration will include a special, casual, worship on Christmas morning. (I’m still working on what that looks like, but am considering something which I think will be fun, unique, and significant.) And we will take a break at Easter to focus on the importance of the resurrection in our lives. Our Journey through “Believe” will conclude on May 21st, 2017.

In the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to sign up to purchase materials which will allow you to follow along with us as we work through “Believe” as a community of faith during Sunday school and worship, and throughout the week on our own, or as a family. I am excited about this experience and the potential for transformation in our lives as individuals, and as a community of faith.