Unity


Moravian Church, Crest and moto, “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him”

I recently took up the spiritual practice of the Moravian Watchwords.

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world, dating back to the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century.  They fled Bohemia (western Czech Republic) to Saxony (southeastern Germany) in 1722 to escape religious persecution and settled near the town of Herrnhut.  From there Moravians have spread across the world.  Today the Moravian Church counts approximately 1.2 million members throughout Europe, North America, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America.

Every year, for the past 290 years, the Moravian’s have published a devotional text known as The Watchwords.  A daily set of two verses, one from the old testament and one from the new testament, paired to provide a framework for meditation and prayer.  For three centuries millions of people have relied on the watchwords as their introduction to the scriptures and as a guide to prayer.  I started using them this summer after I finished my reading of the Psalms and when I heard that one my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, credited them with keeping him grounded while in prison for opposing Nazi rule.

Today’s watchwords where from Isaiah 53:5 and John 11:51,52.

“By his bruises we are healed” and “Not for the nation only but to gather all children into one”.

It has become increasingly necessary for Christians all over the world to recognize that we are united by grace.  We gather, from all economic realities, all walks of life, all countries, and all political affiliations, at the foot of the cross to be washed in the blood of Jesus our hearts sustained by the water of life that gushes from his side and sent forth into the world as one humanity.  He took our punishment upon himself and healed us.  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus he could save the Jewish nation, (John 11:50) but he did not realize that Jesus’ death would save, not just the Jews, but all nations and make them one.

My childhood church used two hymn books.  One a traditional, red hard cover tome filled with all the old classic hymns from yesteryear.  The other a small, green paperback full of more modern folk songs and spirituals called the “Sing and Rejoice”, songbook.

One of the songs that I remember from “Sing and Rejoice” was called “Unity” by Gerald Derstine.  Derstine was a charismatic Mennonite pastor active from the 1950s to the 1990s who was well known in certain Mennonite circles for his evangelical teaching style and spiritual song writing.  He wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter however but with a bit of digging I managed to find this version of Unity on YouTube as performed by the Mennonite Covenant Choral.  Close your eyes and let the words wash over you.

In these polarized times, Jesus, help us live in unity.

Stewardship and Uneven Grace


Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. [1 Peter 4:10]

raindrop

I’ve been thinking a lot about stewardship lately. When I was growing up whenever the church we were attending talked about stewardship they were really talking about money. At least once a year, usually around tax time, we would have what was called Stewardship Sunday. The pastor would talk about all the great work the church was doing and how much it all cost and then wrap up with an appeal for all of the members of the congregation to “commit to supporting our ministry with the riches God has entrusted to each of us”. It was all very predictable and it could get very awkward.

But being a faithful steward is not just about how you spend your money. Wikipedia says; “Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.” While Webster defines stewardship as; “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something”

Clearly stewardship isn’t really about money, although it can be.

When Peter talked of stewarding God’s grace he did so in a context of service. The entire paragraph of his letter that the previous verse is lifted from reads;

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 4:7-11]

God could have given each of us exactly what we needed for self-sufficiency and been done with it. That would have been far more efficient as it would have eliminated starvation, want and any need of any kind. It would have also negated the need for relationships and community. It is clear from this passage that God has bestowed his gifts upon his people “unevenly”. Some may have material wealth, others may have the gift of hospitality or wisdom to lead and to teach but none have all of the gifts in equal measure. Therefore we must be willing to serve others with “whatever gift you have”. God has done this in order to bring us together in relationship with one another and with him.

Why? So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. [v. 11]

If you have material wealth then of course you should use some of that “grace” that God has bestowed on you to help the community in which you live, and by community I don’t just mean local community but also the broader human family. Poverty knows no boundaries and injustice, even on the other side of the world has a way of coming home to roost. But stewardship isn’t just about money; it’s about grace, management and human relationships.

Are you hoarding God’s grace?

Jesus told a story about stewardship in the gospel of Matthew.  I won’t go into all the details here because it will take too long but at the end of the story Jesus tells us what will happen to those who don’t steward what has been given to them to manage.

 For whoever has will be given more and they will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. [Matthew 25: 29]

Don’t hoard God’s grace. It was likely given to you in order that you might bless someone else and thus build the Kingdom. If you hoard it, no one benefits and it may soon be taken from you.

Meekoethics – The Body of Christ


I’m currently in the final editing stages of my second book – “Meekoethics; What Happens When Life Get’s Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough?”  I am hoping to release it sometime in the summer or early fall of 2015.  Recently my church started a series on The Body of Christ and I was reminded of my own thinking and writing on the subject.   What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Three of Meekoethics, “When God Shows Up (The Community Hermeneutic, Servant Leadership and The Body of Christ)

The Body of Christ

bodyofchrist

The ethic of service is best worked out within a community of like minded workers, better known in Christian circles as The Body of Christ.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. [1 Corinthians 12:12-14]

There are fewer things in this world that are sadder to see than a church divided. I personally have been a part of a fractured church three times in my life. Each time there were certain people who would leave the community and never return. Their loss was felt be everyone who remained and the body of Christ was forever wounded by their departure. It was as if we had lost a hand or a foot and could no longer function as we once had.

The body imagery used by Paul is a powerful metaphor. We all know that a human body is made up of many parts that work differently and serve different purposes but they all work together as part of a functioning whole. There are certain parts of the body that remain out of sight and out of mind until they are damaged and require attention.

When I was in my mid twenties I broke a toe. I was wading through shallow water at the edge of a lake and slipped on a slimy wet rock, my toe bent back all the way and I heard a snap! I had to crawl out of the water and I could hardly walk for weeks. Do you know what doctors do for a broken toe? First, they laugh at you then they tape it to the toe next to it so the undamaged toe acts as a splint while the bone fuses itself back together. I see the humor in the situation now but at the time, the pain was very real and the effect it had on my quality of life was significant.

Perhaps a better and less humorous example would be another experience I had just a few years ago. Your kidneys are very small organs, not much bigger than your thumb but have you ever had a kidney stone? I have and believe me, for such a small invader in such a small organ the effect it had on my quality of life for a few days was monumental. When the stone finally passed out of my body I was amazed at how small and seemingly insignificant it was. For all the pain and discomfort it caused this little ball of calcium was no bigger than a grain of sand. I am still amazed by the fact that something so insignificant could bring my life to a complete stop for 3 days.

The point here is that when Paul uses the imagery of a body to describe the church and the ethics of community it’s not hard to see what he means. We are individuals, but we are one. We are independent but we still need each other. And most important of all, we each have different functions, different abilities and different gifts, but we need to recognize and affirm each other’s uniqueness while still figuring out how to work together.

Partnering with people who are gifted differently than you is often times the only way you can take on a large project and make a lasting impact. There are literally millions of examples of partnerships that are made up of people who were so differently gifted that at first glance you would wonder what brought these people together in the first place. One such partnership of opposites is the unlikely paring of Paul and Barnabas.

We all know a lot about Paul he was a Pharisee, a teacher of the law and former persecutor of the church. He was a gifted orator and prolific writer. He preached long sermons and wrote more than half of the New Testament. But by contrast we know very little about one of his ministry partners, Barnabas.

Barnabas first shows up in Acts 4.

 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. [Acts 4:36-37]

First off, Barnabas wasn’t even his real name, it was a nickname given to him by the apostles because he was so kind and gentle to everyone around him. That should tell us just about all we need to know about his character right there. I’ve had a few nicknames in my life, none of them as character affirming as Barnabas.

Barnabas was a Levite. That fact often get’s glossed over when we look at his story but it’s important because it makes him perhaps the only other Christ-follower at the time who could understand where Paul was coming from. Here’s a guy who was trained his entire life to be a servant in the synagogue. Don’t miss this – for Barnabas to become a Christ-Follower was no less radical and life changing than it was for Paul. In order for him to join with the apostles and other Christ-followers in Jerusalem he had to become unemployed.   And yet, he then sells all of his worldly possessions, lays the money at the apostles’ feet and earns the nickname, son of encouragement. This guy is, in many ways the very definition of servant leadership.

Later on, after we learn of Paul’s conversion it is Barnabas who brings him to the leaders of the Christian church [Acts 9]. Who better to bring a Pharisee, teacher of the law in to the fold than a Levite?  The two understood each other in a way that many of the other early Christ-followers probably could not.

As dramatic as the Paul’s conversion was, there is no way he would have been accepted into the trust and inner circle of the rest of the early church without Barnabas. Finally it was Barnabas who convinced the early church that he and Paul should go out from Antioch and take the good news message of salvation through Jesus to the gentiles. [Acts 11]

Like the prophets of old, Paul preached the gospel message with conviction and convinced a lot of people to join the movement but it was Barnabas who stood back and helped new converts though the life change that results when you turn and follow Jesus. His gentle and encouraging nature in the way he went about this is want earned him his nickname.

Just like every eye needs a nose, every Paul needs a Barnabas (or two). We see this pattern repeated throughout history.   In business it’s called the Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside partnership, a strong leader who rallies the tropes and sets the direction partnered with a strong servant who works the hallways and front lines encouraging workers to stay the course and trust the mission.

Bill Gates had Paul Allen, Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, and Paul Simon had Art Garfunkel. One of my personal favorite song-writing duos of all time Simon & Garfunkel are a great example of what I mean here. The two men who could not be more different in their personalities and the way in which they have lived their lives after their partnership ended. Who made a more indelible mark on pop cultural history in the 1970s than Simon & Garfunkel? Who made a bigger impact on business and information technology than Gates & Allen, or Jobs & Wozniak?

The synergy of a body, almost always leads to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Two plus two, does not always equal four, especially when God shows up.

Underneath My Clothes I am Naked and Unashamed!


“Don’t tell people you’re a Christian and don’t do business with Christians.”

That was the advice I got from a member of my church when I was making the career transition into the financial services industry. At the time I understood it to mean that wearing the label of Christian in the secular business world puts you under a microscope that no human could ever withstand, so I took it heart. Flying under the radar is easier. Good deeds done in secret are rewarded in secret and all that. But it was the second part of that advice that bothered me the most. Why wouldn’t a Christian want to do business with other Christians?

I think what he meant, or at least what it comes down to for me is best summed up in the words of William Blake.

“Both read the scriptures day and night but thou seeist black where I seeist white”

Christianity is one of the most factioned and fractured movements on earth. When you put two Christians in a room it doesn’t take long before they are arguing over some obscure point of scripture. When two Christians start doing business together a simple dispute over service delivery or payment schedules can take on a whole new dimension when they start quoting scripture to one another. Arguments get ugly fast and the non-believers looking on can be quick to write the whole thing off as just another example of corrupt and greedy business people in a dispute over a trivial matter. “If that’s how Christians treat each other I want nothing to do with it.” Your life, including the way you run your business, is a witness for Jesus and if two professing Christians can’t get along the entire kingdom is damaged.

But lately I have been struggling with this advice as a whole. I want to be a witness, an ambassador as the apostle Paul put it, in life and in business. How can I not let people know I am a Christian or do business with other Christians?

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16]

oil lamp

Will I be held to a different standard that others? Maybe. Will I lose credibility when I fail? Probably. Will I end up in a dispute over some point of business with a fellow believer? I sure hope not.

The point is that as a Christ follower I cannot be ashamed of the life I lead, the hope I have or the Lord I serve. At the very beginning, just after the world and all that is in it was created God declared it good and there was no shame to be found in anything.

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” [Genesis 2:25]

Shame entered the world with sin. Hiding your salvation, is also a shameful sin.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21]

As I have been developing the concepts contained here at The Meekonomics Project I have been increasingly convicted that it is time for me to be more transparent about my faith and my motivation. It’s time to be naked and unashamed!

How is God challenging you in your nakedness?

The Gospel According to Saint Google


logo11w

The world’s most popular search engine is a marvel of mathematics and algorithms.  Type just about anything into the search box on Google and the system will start providing type ahead options for what it thinks you are about to ask.  These options are based on the millions of searches that have been performed previously on the system and are there to help you refine what you are looking for and save you a few key strokes along the way.

When it comes to researching social stereotypes and societal perceptions nothing is more accurate that the Google search engine.  That’s why this article in Christianity Today was so interesting to me as a Christ-Follower.

“Church Stereotypes According To Google”

The number of times negative impressions of various Christian denominations came up is both sad and not surprising to me.  The terms “wrong”, “judgmental” and “cult” keep coming up time and time again.  I venture to say that it’s not just the atheists and agnostics that are driving these searches.  In fact I doubt it quite strongly.  I am willing to bet that the driving force behind most of these negative stereotypes is actually coming from competing Christian churches.  It’s a far cry from what John wrote would be the mark of Christians that’s for sure.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. [John 13:35]

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for the unity of the church that would follow.  When Christians search out other denominations with questions like “Why are Anglicans so wrong” it grieves out savior and gives a black mark to us all.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23]

Dr. Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul Minnesota and the author of several best-selling books including “Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Benefit of the Doubt” said it best in a sermon not too long ago.  “The only opinion we are allowed to have about our fellow human beings is that God considers them valuable enough to die for.”

When so called Christians portray a contrary attitude is it any wonder that the church is struggling for relevance today?  David Kinnamen president of the research firm Barna Group put it this way in this book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”

When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions.  When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

Just for fun I tested the Google algorithm by typing “they will know we are Christians by our love”.  I got 12 characters in before Google completed the phrase for me.  At least people are searching the right things, or maybe it’s because that’s the title of a popular hymn.  Who knows?

The Pacifist and the Three Star General


In my day job as a Financial Security Advisor I have the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people.

In actuality, everyone is extraordinary in their own way, from the entrepreneur who discovered a new way to teach kids to love the Arts (my first client) to the 61 year old letter carrier who still works 10 hours a day with a smile on his face and love in his heart and the stay-at-home mom who stopped counting the hours she spends keeping her kids happy healthy and wise after she had her fourth.  I count all my clients not only as extraordinary, but I draw inspiration from them as I go about everything I do.  That’s why the person I met last Friday had such a profound impact on me.

About twice a year our office hosts a full meeting of all the affiliated Financial Advisors in our city.  In any given year there are about 150 of us.  The management gives some basic updates on our performance, recognizes a few of the top players in each product line and lays out some goals for the coming months, then they turn the morning over to a guest speaker.  Usually the guest is a top player from one of our offices in another city or someone sent down from head office with a specific message that corporate thinks we should here.

Ho-hum…

We mark our time, sign the attendance sheet for our Continuing Education credits and get out of there as fast as we can so we do what we get paid for.  But this year was different.  This year we had the opportunity to hear from a truly extraordinary Canadian; General Rick Hillier (retired) of the Canadian Armed Forces.

I’m an unapologetic pacifist.  (That doesn’t mean with you think it means, more on that in previous posts here and here)  So I am a bit skeptical of anything a military man might have to say but if there is one thing that the military can teach everyday civilians, pacifists included, it’s how to practice and cultivate leadership.  And there is no greater leader in the history of the Canadian military than Rick Hillier.

Hillier made his mark on history as the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2004 and as the Chief of Defence Staff, the Canadian equivalent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2005 to 2008.

Here is what I, a pacifist, learned from Canada’s top military man on leadership.  Hillier calls it the two step cycle of leadership.  Step one, provide inspiration – tell stories, show the way, take concrete action and give people the tools to do their jobs.  Step two, draw inspiration – listen to their stories, ask them where they want to go, let them take action, ask what they need from you to do their job.  Repeat!

General Hillier spoke to a room of 150 Financial Advisors for an hour and half.  Honestly, it felt like ten minutes and at times there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  He told us a bunch of stories about showing the way, taking action and providing tools, and at the end he quoted another great Canadian to sum up it all up.

“Vision without a plan is just a fantasy and you’re wasting your time.” – Mike Babcock; Head Coach Detroit Red Wings and Canadian Men’s Olympic Team (2010 Gold Medalists)

Meek people can be great leaders.  In fact I am convinced that meekness is an essential trait for true leadership.  The key to Hillier’s two step cycle of leadership is meekness.  You have to be able to step back and allow others to lead you and inspire you in order to provide leadership and inspiration yourself.  You have to release your grasp on power and hold it in an open palm in order for true respect and power to be given to you.  At the end of the day, that’s the definition of true leadership and I’m glad that our military is staffed by men and women who get it.

I Just Have to Say Something…


I don’t want to write about this topic.  I had hoped, like many that no one would ever have to write about this topic again.  But sadly we still live in a society that is full of ignorant philistines that just can’t understand how things are really supposed to work.

I’m talking about the recent racist uproar caused by, of all things, a Cheerios commercial.

You can view said commercial here;

There are two things that I find disturbing about this story. 

First the obvious, that racism is alive and well in North America.  That’s just sad.  I thought the civil war was over and the civil rights movement accomplished its goal decades ago.  There is a black man in the white house for Pete’s sake!  Get over it!  The constitution clearly declares all men (and women) created equal if you don’t believe that maybe you need to go back to kindergarten because you’re an ignoramus who should have failed the first time!

The second thing I find disturbing is a little more subtle.  According to CTV News, and a few other major news outlets, somehow this story is being spun in a way that makes the advertisers themselves culpable in their own criticism.  As one news anchor put it, this just shows that advertisers haven’t done enough to reflect the way American society really is. 

Huh? 

So what you’re saying is that since TV programs and commercials haven’t shown enough interracial families in the past they should expect a back lash?  That’s almost as dumb as the back lash itself!  I applaud advertisers who make an effort to tell it like it is.  Maybe in this case they are a bit late to the party but that is no excuse for the Neanderthals who insist in vilifying the idea of interracial marriages and families in the first place.   Racists are racists and giving them the excuse that they’ve never been shown this on TV before is bull.  You can’t give them any reason to hide behind their ignorance! 

The civil war is over.  The civil rights movement is over.  You lost.  Move on!

The Year That Was, Part Five


So here it is, the one you’ve all been waiting for, my number one post of 2012.

I mentioned earlier in this count down that this isn’t really a current affairs blog but once in a while something happens in the media that I simply can’t ignore.  Back in July I watched quietly while one of those instances took on a life of it’s own on social media.  It was the anti-gay comments made by the president of the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain in the United States.  At first I thought that the whole thing would blow over but it just seemed to go on and on, for weeks on end.  By early August I was getting a bit fed up and then when I got drawn into another discussion about race relations in the South I just couldn’t hold back any more. 

On August 3rd I posted this commentary, to date it has been viewed 73 times (6 of them in the last week for some strange reason).  I hope I never have to write about this issue again but I know that’s just wishful thinking, there are bigots everywhere, even in the so-called Christian left. 

“Like” if you share my frustration…

Chick-fil-A, KKK and Bigotry On All Sides…

Church Unity – The Whole World is Watching, We Have To Get this Right…


Those of you who have followed my writing for the last few years should have noticed by now that there are a few things that I am really passionate about. 

1)      Responsible stewardship

2)      Peace, Justice and Reconciliation

-and-

3)    Church Unity

It’s that last one that I want to touch on again today. 

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Chick-Fil-A controversy in which I was careful not to come down too hard on one side of the debate or another.  I got criticized for that.  Not because my opinion was viewed as wrong by a certain element of the Christian Church but because, as one person put it, they couldn’t figure out what my opinion was and therefore couldn’t decide if I was a heretic or not. What??

I couldn’t figure out what to say about that other than to ask them to read the post again.  My opinion on the specific issue wasn’t what I was writing about it was my opinion about the behavior of a church divided that mattered.   

This past week in my morning devotional I happened to read through Romans 12-15.  Contained in these four chapters are some of the most beautiful descriptions of Church unity and instructions on how people at different points on their faith journey are to work together ever written. 

Over the years, as a pacifist I’ve had to defend my position on the church’s role in government and society on numerous occasions.  Inevitably the discussion ends up landing on a “proper” interpretation of Romans 13.  If the entire book of Romans were just that one chapter, my detractors would have a point, but when I remind them that Romans 13, follows Romans 12 and proceeds Romans 14, the conversation usually stops, or is deflected in a different direction.  Why is it that people who are strong in their convictions about certain things just refuse to look at them in a broader context?      

 Here’s what the passage in Romans 13 says. 

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

They way most people read that is to provide justification for their assertion of a Just War theory or that it’s important for Christians to get the right guy in power so the will of God can prevail but that’s not what it says at all.  If you read that passage as a stand-alone statement it’s very easy to interpret it as meaning that we are to do everything the governing authorities say without question because ultimately God has put them there for His glory.  That’s easy to say when you agree with the government but what about when you don’t?  How many Christians today, especially right wing evangelicals would honestly agree that Barak Obama is God’s servant for their good?  Conversely, how many left leaning social justice Christians would vote for Mitt Romney on the same grounds?

 Who’s in power isn’t the point.  The point is that God can and does use whoever is in power to achieve His goals at different times.  What this passage is saying is that we are to have faith that whatever is happening on a earthly level, God is still in control and we need not try to force our agenda on top of what God has already done. 

 If Romans 13 gives the church instruction on how to live under governing authority, Romans 12 gives us instruction on how to govern ourselves within the context of the church. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2]

We then go on to learn what a “living sacrifice” does; it is a humble part of a larger body, loves sincerely, “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”, (v. 12) and “lives at peace with everyone” (v.18).  This is unity in action but it doesn’t stop there. 

After the aforementioned passage in Romans 13 on submission to governing authorities we are reminded that love is the fulfillment of the law.  “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (v. 10). 

And then it gets really interesting… 

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. [Romans 14:1-4, emphasis mine]

 Here’s where I really get into some trouble but to me this is the heart of the matter.  While truth is not open for debate, as one of my detractors once put it, one’s ability to live by faith and his or her ability to accept or apply that truth may vary significantly at different points in their life.  There is therefore no point on brow beating people with a truth stick.  God’s grace is sufficient no matter where you are in your faith journey, ours is not to judge but to walk along side and support.

Finally in Romans 15 the point is driven home indisputably. 

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. [Romans 15:1-2]

Don’t judge your neighbor for their weakness but please them and build them up.  Wow!  Many would say that is just pandering, I call it being compassionate and acting like Jesus.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. [Romans 15:5-7]

Amen! – Go and do likewise…

The Problem of Evil


Animals can be brutal, but only humans can be rationally cruel… Only humans can be evil. – ­James Orbinski; An Imperfect Offering, Humanitarian Aid in the Twenty-First Century

I’ve struggled with the concept of evil a number of times in the past.  Recently I was confronted with the question again while reading James Orbinski’s “An Imperfect Offering; Humanitarian Aid in the Twenty-First Century.” 

Dr. Orbinski is the past president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) and in the mid 1990s was one of the few westerners who remained in Rwanda during the most brutal and complete genocides ever recorded.  

For those of you who don’t remember or the details are foggy.  In the space of just a few months during the spring and summer of 1994, tribal warfare in central Africa claimed more lives than the Nazi death camps of World War II could claim in over 5 years.  Millions of men, women and children were simply slaughtered by whatever means seemed most convenient at the time.  The lucky were shot but most were hacked to pieces with machetes or burned alive.  Many were tortured and raped in the process.  Why?  For no other reason than an accident of birth, they were of the wrong tribe.

During his time in Rwanda Dr. Orbinski had a front row seat to evil on display and reading his book has been a very unsettling experience.  More than once I have had to stop and collect myself. 

I have long held that true evil is beyond human understanding.  It is not a human trait that is possible to understand from a human perspective.  Evil is a spiritual concept.   What makes a man do unspeakable things to another man?  It is the evil of the spiritual world that grabs a hold of him and takes over his conscience.  To put it another way, evil is not a human trait and contrary to what Dr. Orbinski says in the above quote, it is not possible for a person to be evil.

I realize that ‘s a pretty bold and inflammatory statement but hear me out … 

As a Christ-follower I strongly believe in the innate goodness of all creation.  Indeed in the creation story of Genesis God declares all things good not just once but six times.  Evil doesn’t enter the story until chapter 3 and the entire rest of the bible is a story about people bowing to the temptation of evil while God begs and pleads with them to return to his perfect example of righteousness.    

Christ followers are called to be peacemakers.  In that calling we need to look beyond the evil that people are prone to and see them with God’s eyes, as children of creation, deeply loved as only a father can love.  You cannot make peace with an evildoer but you can make peace with a misguided person and show them a better way, if you take the time to see them as an innately good human who has been led astray by the spirit of evil.  In acknowledging their humanity you can also help them to see your own humanity and the humanity in everyone else. 

I firmly believe that if the perpetrators of genocide could see the humanity in other people they would be incapable of killing simply due to an accident of birth. 

That being said if someone remains blinded to their part in all this we also need to be able to walk away and leave them to their own destruction.  But that’s a discussion for another time.  For now our job is to love with a heart of compassion both the victims and the perpetrators of violence, because all humans can be children of God if they turn from their evil ways and follow him.

And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16 None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live. [Ezekiel 33:14-16]