I am increasing fascinated by the New Testament designation of the message of Jesus Christ as the gospel of peace. In Paul’s word of caution to the church about the ever-present malice of wiles of the devil, he tells them (among other pieces of the armor of God) to put be putting their feet the gospel of peace. Remember, that the references to God’s purpose in making peace run deep in scripture. An early prophecy about the future messiah was that he would be called: the prince of peace. Later in that prophecy (Isaiah 11:6 in loc) is the description of the peaceable kingdom where all would be in perfect harmony with God’s design for creation and humanity.

Jesus is portrayed as that one who made peace by the blood of his cross. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes God, as the God of peace: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus … equip you with every good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight.” … So it is too convenient to rush mindlessly right over the implications of that, or to fail to understand how all-consuming that peace is to be, or even what that peace is.

Or, how incredibly unrealistic it is to repeat St. Francis’ prayer that we be instruments of God’s peace, and then enter into some spiritual never-never-land as we ask to be just such amidst hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness, sadness, and with those who need consolation, understanding, love, pardon, and hope when dying, … all of this in our fractured world so torn with idolatrous nationalism, political, ethnic, cultural, and religious tribalism, environmental spoilage … globally. It is all too convenient to retreat into our safe institutional form of Christian faith, and even there not to probe deeply into the radical social and cultural values in the teachings of Jesus and the Biblical writers.

Do you recall that Jesus said things like: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives, let not your heart be troubled?” Or, “I do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword.” If we stop and probe into that we are brought face to face with the fact that Jesus came to disrupt the systems of darkness which are our daily experience. There are ‘principalities and powers’ that are complex and do not respond to challenges to their sovereignty passively.

But our gospel of peace looks beyond what is, to what is God’s sovereign intent for his creation, and that intent is to be incarnated by his followers in a dominion of darkness. God’s tomorrow has invaded our today … which is disruptive. One has only to read the news in this election season, or read the news from other nations, or look at the human tragedies (school shootings!) that cry out for God’s true peace, … while so many are agents of those destructive powers political self-promotion, greed, prejudice, and violent solutions.

At the threshold of our Christian profession is the command to repent, and repentance is a whole radical new frame of reference that is formed by God’s gospel of peace, and all too much of (what Bonhoeffer called) ‘religious Christianity’ is not ‘up to’ (responsive)such radical new creation. There are no easy or simplistic formulae for being those who wear the gospel of peace as a garment. So, I, for one was heartened by the voices of Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, social justice advocate and editor,Jim Wallis and others who have used their visibility and influence to sponsor a declaration, entitled: “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.” Yes, and Amen.  But in the ongoing battle between God’s tomorrow and the principalities and powers of today, the scripture teaches us that we overcome by the word of our testimony, the blood of the Lamb, … but that it may well cost us our lives! (Rev. 12:11). May the peace of God be with you, my readers.


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With the wedding of royal couple fresh in our minds, it might be a good time to take a fresh look at vows, at faithfulness and unfaithfulness. The royal couple looking deeply into one another’s eyes took a vow to forsake all others and to cleave to each other until death did them part. It would have been unthinkable for them to make some exceptions. “O, Meghan, I forgot, I have a date with a previous girlfriend next week. I forgot …” Or, that’s O.K. Harry, I can visit with my other boyfriend.” Outrageous? Of course it is.

OK, what are you getting at, Henderson?

I’m getting at the reality that there is a whole lot of shabby stuff that goes on inside the ostensible Christian communities that is akin to some kind of spiritual adultery. The classic Christian baptismal vow had in it a vow to renounce the works of Satan, and of darkness, and to embrace Jesus Christ alone as one’s Lord and Savior. In one version, it was to renounce all other lords and loyalties. But the vow to embrace Christ alone, and forsake or renounce all other loyalties that were in conflict … was at the threshold of one’s entrance into the Christian community. That has somehow become diluted and trivialized and remote to our thinking.

Then there is the apostle’s word that we are not to be “conformed to the world,” but rather to be continually transformed by the ongoing renewal of our minds, so as to be able to prove what was the will of God, i.e., what is the transformational thinking and behaving of God’s new creation in Christ. There are no exceptions here. The thinking of the local tribal religions, or of the empire, or of the trade guilds, or the economic forces—whatever—are to be renounced and forsaken continually. The clear implication is that if we do not engage in that renouncing, or forsaking, that we are in a very real sense committing something like spiritual adultery. (After all, we (the church) are the bride of Christ!)

And yet it is so commonly practiced, what with the political idolatries, the economic principalities and powers, the environmental exploitation, the disdain for other ethnic groups, or heartlessness toward the poor and homeless and sick and hopeless within all of our daily lives. In this election season, one needs to ask whom one is voting for and what are his or her principles and policies? How do they conform to our primary calling to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, and to renounce all of the forces of darkness that so defile our social, cultural, environmental, economic, and political ethos?

In my own career as a teaching shepherd within the Christian community, I have been publicly rebuked by those “in house” church folk over my insistence on racial justice, my opposition to nuclear warfare, or my dismay at our national callousness at the cost in the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in our nation’s saturation bombing of Iraq in the Gulf War. Those inside my own Christian community held in contempt all those who held Christian principles as primary, rather than the policies of corporate America, or the military establishment.

But my readers also face such challenges every day in their neighborhoods or workplaces. Yet we are called by our baptismal vows to be agents of the Light, to be the ongoing incarnation of God’s new humanity, that instruments of peace and order and justice, … and to affirm those who are agents of such Kingdom of God ethics, even if they do not profess our faith.

Every time we gather together for Christian worship should be an occasion to renew those baptismal vows of our allegiance to Jesus, his teachings, and his mission—and to, likewise, renounce and forsake all other lords and loyalties that are at odds with Jesus’ new creation. This is a lifestyle choice, with radical ethical implications, yet it is by the “word of their testimony, the blood of the Lamb, even if it cost them their lives” (Rev. 12:1l) that God’s people overcome the world. Single-minded in faithfulness to our Savior, that’s our holy calling. Got it?

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In a recent dinner-table conversation, I was asked whether I had read somebody’s ‘Christian novel.’ I had never even heard of the author, or of any of the others subsequently mentioned in the conversation (in which I soon became a passive listener, or an outsider). But it reminded me of something I was taught a long time ago: there is no such thing as Christian literature and non-Christian literature. There is only good literature and literature that is something less than good (bad?), just as there is not ‘Christian’ music and ‘non-Christian’ music, only good music and not-good music. That may sound a bit simplistic and judgmental, but it bears pursuing.

Good, or great, literature engages life and the culture realistically, profoundly, deeply, and honestly. Great literature is never ‘safe’ literature. Rather it engages life and reality in all its beauty, sordidness and tragedy. What passes for ‘Christian’ novels seeks for something ‘safe’, and so there are ‘Christian’ bookstores in which one does not have to engage the tragic and complicated and dangerous areas of our human existence.

To be sure, there are gifted Christian authors, but they become recognized because of their craft and the literary excellence of their plots, and the honesty and profundity with which they engage life. One thinks of Flannery O’Conner, Madeline L’Engle, Walker Percy, C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, … yes, and John Grisham. I mention Grisham because I am a fan of his mysteries. He is, in fact, a professing Christian, but he is also trained lawyer, and it is with that legal background that makes each one of his novels an engagement with some complex area of injustice, whether political, environmental, or personal. They are not sanitized. Walker Percy’s Lost In the Cosmos will leave one exhausted, but is incredibly insightful of the intellectual struggles of an honest and troubled  soul.

It is quite too convenient to seek reading that doesn’t challenge the evidences of the dominion of darkness in which all of us live. John Updike was a practicing Lutheran, but his novels deal with sexual permissiveness and adultery in (primarily) suburbia. He was condemned by many conservative Christian folk as pornographic, while he was being creatively gifted (and award-winning) in crafting novels that engaged reality.

I am an incorrigible C. S. Lewis fan, but I have found very few (outside of the C. S. Lewis Foundation folk) who have ever read his science-fiction trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength), which I consider one of the most formative engagements I have ever had. In them he, with his brilliant imagination, tackles the whole issue of evil in the cosmos. It is exhausting, but enlightening at the same time, … but it is not safe. The good guys don’t always win.

Madeline L’Engle was once asked if she ever shared her Christian faith with the other authors in the guild when she was in New York. Her response was that she did not simply because the Christian faith was “too wild and free for the timid.” I often am provoked to conclude that it is “too wild and free” for many who profess to believe it, and so seek escape into safe Christian stuff in which one does not have to engage the tragic results of our human rebellion.

Go on Amazon or Google and find a list of the greatest novels in modern history, and few of them would be considered ‘Christian’ novels by the timid, … and yet they were remarkably insightful and creative. Safe ‘Christian’ fiction is seldom transformational, and hardly ever great literature. Have I said too much? So be it.

[I always appreciate your comment, and your recommending these blogs to your friends.]

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It is such an enormous blessing for those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, that we have the documentation of his life and teachings by eyewitnesses, or by those reporters who had access to eyewitnesses, in those first four documents of our New Testament. But that also carries with it the challenge that we cannot ever claim ignorance concerning the data of who Jesus was, or what he taught. That, notwithstanding, it is far too common to skip over the demands of Jesus as we revel in his extravagant promises.

This is nowhere more obvious than in the seeming obliviousness we seem to adopt almost unconsciously about the radical social and ethical teachings that stare us in the face as soon as we begin reading those documents. Jesus never allows his followers to wander off into some spiritual never-never land, while, at the same time, remaining blind to the social and ethical realities of the context in which they live. To that end, in both Matthew’s account, and in Luke’s, early on, Jesus sits his growing company of followers down to explain what it looks like to be identified with him. In Matthew’s account, after a few records of his coming onto the scene and teaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, he sits his followers down on an elevation and gives them what we designate as the Sermon on the Mount beginning with the Beatitudes, which describe the ethical principles or God’s kingdom people. In Luke’s report, again early on, Jesus sits his follower down on a level and gives them the parallel Sermon on the Plain.

It is Luke’s briefer, and more starkly realistic, teaching that I want to point out to my readers. Right up front: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, … you who are hungry … who weep …when people hate you” … and more. But then (brace yourself): “But woe to you who are rich, … who are full, …who laugh now, … when all speak well of you …” ( or, vote for you?). This is the teaching that I’ve seldom heard heralded in my decades in the church (except in faithful journals such as Sojourners, or The Other Side). And yet, there those teachings are, staring us in the face, and calling for a radical new way of believing and behaving, … and conveniently ignored.

It is obvious in the political and economic spheres of which we read in the news. The 1% or 2% of the population who possess the vast majority of the wealth, use their Wall Street power to influence policies that give tax breaks to themselves, while turning a blind eye to the multiplicity of issues in the economy and social justice facets of our society. Legislators are defensive about their own salaries and benefits, and yet steadfastly refuse to realize that one cannot support a family on a forty-hour work week (or frequently with a second forty-hour job) on what is our legal minimum wage. Legislators who are champions of prison reform, housing, and all of those ancillary issues that are so common among the poor, face an almost impossible up-hill battle. Such issues are so commonly and conveniently ignored by those who live comfortably in good neighborhoods, and are well fed, and admired.

Ah! But dear readers, it’s not just in the political arena. I am a seventy-year veteran of leadership in the church as a teaching-shepherd, and I unequivocally assert that very few congregations want to hear these teachings of Jesus. They want something more ‘comforting’ and more ‘up-lifting’. Congregations so easily fall into the trap of seeking their institutional welfare by building grand meeting places, fawning over wealthy and important people, recruiting with an emasculated version of the gospel, … while ignoring the poor and hungry and grieving on their doorstep. And do you want to be reminded of what Jesus says to such ostensible Christian churches? He says: “Woe to you …” The church has become conformed to the world, and so become part of the darkness. “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”  I always appreciate your comments. Peace!

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I was surprised by the several comments I received about my recent blog on Frodo as a model of faithfulness. I agree, and I identify with him since I am also an unlikely bearer of a valuable message. But, maybe more in on my mind as a writer is a comment by the late South African missiologist, David Bosch, when he noted that missiologists (the study of the church’s mission) are always gadflies in the field of ecclesiology (the study of the church’s calling). So, for these past couple of decades of my life I have been provoked to write several books, which are, in essence, my own gadfly journals through which in several contexts I have explored the church’s frequent forgetfulness about its primary calling. Let me list for my readers those books that are in print (and available from my publisher Wipf and Stock, or from Amazon).

  • At a period of very difficult engagement with destructive factors and personalities in my pastoral career, I wrote a book on the spiritual warfare one engages  as a faithful pastor. It was published as A Door of Hope: Spiritual Conflict in Pastoral Ministry, first by Herald Press, but then it was picked up by a theological seminary as required reading for their D.Min degree, and was republished by Wipf and Stock (my introduction to them).
  • Subversive Jesus, Radical Grace is an engagement between a skeptical/agnostic graduate student and some perceptive young adult believers whom he stumbled across when curiosity took him into an Episcopal church. They, in turn, extended an invitation to a meal and as the book unfolds is an exploration into the radical demands of the gospel with this grad-student’s telling questions of them.
  • Enchanted Community: Journey Into the Mystery of the Church is my first foray into a critical rethinking of ecclesiology, or the church’s essence. It would be the first of what I consider, in my gadfly role, as a trilogy into missional ecclesiology.
  • Refounding the Church from the Underside addresses the fact that for traditional churches, which have displaced, diluted, or forgotten their true essence, ‘renewal’ is not even an option—rather what is required is a radical refounding, i.e. going back to the church’s essence and beginning all over again, and that this is almost never accomplished by church professionals, but rather from the grassroots.
  • Third in this trilogy is the reality of church’s inevitable and ongoing engagement with the forces of darkness, i.e., taking seriously the malice of the satanic dominion of darkness. I attempt to unpack this in: The Church and the Relentless Darkness, and written as a dialogue with a company of young adults who raise the question with me.
  • I had assumed that that work might well be my last, … until a series of encounters with some young university students and urban professionals at a favorite coffee shop revealed that they had no idea of what the church was, or what my career as a teaching-pastor was all about. With their questions in mind I wrote: What On Earth Is the Church? An Inquirer’s Guide.
  • Again, I assumed (at my advanced age) that would be my last book, until more and more evidence began to surface that, on one hand, older and more traditional church institutions were dying of age, and that the emerging generation was not into institutions but were more into relationships in smaller groups. With that in mind, and the evidence behind it, I hi-jacked an episode from the emergence of the whole computer era from a creative group of six in Menlo Park, California who became known as the homebrew computer club, and wrote: Homebrew Churches: Reconceiving the Church for Tomorrow’s Children.

So, there you have it. These are my gadfly journals in which I attempt be encouraging to God’s people struggling with the phenomenon of the church. Now you know. I’d love your comments. (And I really do think there will be no more, … but then …)

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It might surprise my readers, but I find the diminutive and rustic hobbit, Frodo, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the of the Rings, to be a model for me of faithfulness to one’s calling in the most extremely unlikely circumstances. I know this will never get me into the hall of fame for teachers of spiritual formation, but let me explain. Professor Tolkien, of Oxford University, w wrote the three-volume epic on the classic theme of the battle between good and evil, darkness and light.

To do this Tolkien created the imaginary world of ‘middle earth’. There are two forces vying for the leadership of middle earth: one was the dominion of darkness and its leader Sauron, whose agenda was destruction and slavery and spoilage of everything it touched. The other was the authority of those forces committed to the stewardship of the good and true and beautiful in middle earth. Their leadership was centered in the Council and its leader Elrond and headquartered at a secure refuge called Rivendell. Ah! but also in middle earth was a quaint little village and culture known as ‘the Shire’. It was populated by a diminutive colony of folk know as hobbits, or half-lings. These rustic folk were content to tend the earth, drink beer, smoke their pipes, and live in a self-contained world of their own

At the heart of the epic was that in the early history of middle earth there had been created five magical rings which would give middle earth its character, … but one of these was the Ring of Power, which controlled all the others. The problem was that the Ring of Power had a corrupting influence on whoever owned it, but it had been lost in the shadows of past history. It was the great quest of the forces of darkness to find and own that ring. The Council, and its advisor, the wizard Gandalf, also knew the power of that ring.

As fate would have it, the ring was accidently discovered by a hobbit by the name of Bilbo, and ultimately came into the hands of the Council, who knew that if middle earth were to survive then that ring simply had to be destroyed, and that could only be accomplished by casting it back into the fiery volcano in Mount Doom in which it has been forged. But how to accomplish that when all the forces of darkness would be bent on forbidding it? And who could be trusted to bear that ring on such a perilous journey with himself being taken captive by its power?

And here is where Frodo comes in. Frodo was Bilbo’s nephew, and was self-effacing and simple-living, and the last person, the least-likely one would be apt to choose for such a daunting mission. But the Council saw in Frodo that integrity and commitment to faithfulness to the cosmic mission that would not be inclined to any self-aggrandizing grab for power. Hence, these three volumes are the story of Frodo and his faithful servant Sam, and a small band setting out from Rivendell to get to Mount Doom, with all the supernatural forces of darkness seeking to forbid it. In the course of the journey the others in the party got separated from them until it was just Frodo and Sam experiencing unimaginable temptations, sufferings, impossible odds, the wrath of the Dark Lord and his emissaries in the trek to get to Mount Doom. But they were faithful. Frodo would not be deterred, no matter how hopeless it all looked. He and Sam made it, fulfilled their mission, and thus destroyed the power that would have totally blighted middle earth.

I see in Frodo a model of faithfulness to mission in the midst of discouraging and often daunting odds. He’s the little guy, “the weak and foolish and of no prestige” that the Bible speaks of as those whom God uses. He’s a model to me. Life under the mission of God is seldom glamorous, or accomplished by grandiose figures, but by those ordinary little people who are faithful to the mission they have been given, to wear the garment of the Light and to demonstrate God’s New Creation and so displaying the power of God in simple lives in unlikely places.

[I always appreciate your comments.]

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This certainly is no moment in our history to be naïve about the reality of the designs of the prince of darkness, nor of the reality of his being. From the beginning the Kingdom of God enterprise, the mission of Jesus, who is God come among us in flesh and blood, has been an encounter with the alien forces of the prince of darkness. Yet, it is never an encounter that lends itself to easy solutions. Yet, we who are Christ’s followers, and who intend to be faithful to his commands are easily seduced into making peace with the darkness … by the clever wiles of the prince of darkness. How so? Because he counterfeits himself in his agents of darkness by passing them off as children of light (cf. II Corinthians 11:13-14).

And this is certainly a murky context in which we live, what with those who are significant figures of leadership in government and in ostensibly Christian organizations, passing themselves off as children of the light, all the while espousing those positions and policies which are the antithesis of Christ’s teachings. Jesus said we would know who were his disciples by their works. Yet within the structures of this present society and those who, with fanfare, participate in the National Day of Prayer, who wave their Christian identity as a flag to gain support, … and yet who seem to have never read the radically counter-culture agenda of Jesus for his followers.

We need to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven. We are not primarily citizens of any particular earthly nation. We are always aliens and exiles. In any nation, we are to the agents of Jesus New Creation. The stewardship of the environment is God’s concern, as is to be ours. Policies of peace, and civic order, and justice are God’s concern and are to be ours. To profess of be his followers also means that we have his mind, and are formed by a wholly other frame of reference. The policies of injustice which have given this nation the highest number of imprisoned folk of any nation in the world is God’s concern, and should be ours, what with all the minor offenses that put so many of them there. Paying workers a wage they can live on is a matter of justice that is God’s concern, and ours. Our ministry as a nation to those of other nations and religions is overt in Jesus’ teachings.

So, that when any who profess to be Christ’s followers in church or state want to legitimize their identity, we can test them by their works, their policies, their prejudices and their passions. So apropos to our present murky scene is the old adage: “What you do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.” Or, maybe, the venerable old slave song: “ … everybody talking ‘bout heaven ain’t a gonna go there.”

We do not fulfill our calling to the salt of the earth, or the light of the world, by conforming to its policies that absolve us of our humanitarian concerns for the sick, the lonely, the poor, the strangers within our gates, or the imprisoned. This always comes at a cost. It makes us a threat to whose policies are determined by power and greed, and defend their insensitivity to such realities by labelling those who are advocates of Christ’s agenda as ‘do-gooders’, or ‘bleeding-heart liberals’. Christ’s authentic followers confirm that identity by passionately embracing just such an identity.

Our savior has commissioned us to do good to all humankind. We are, in whatever context we live, to be “the sweet aroma of Christ unto God,” and to be co-belligerents with all those others who are advocates of our Kingdom of God ethic. Our present culture is filled with frauds, Satanic “angels of light,” seeking to gain legitimacy as ‘Christian’ but whose works declare their hypocrisy. These in the highest places of government, to the interlopers in the Christian community. The prince of darkness is no dummy. Be alert and be discerning.

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Let me see if I can do you a favor. Let me raise the issue and help us all to come to grips with the issue of death and dying. Sound macabre?  Do you quit reading right here? That’s sad. It also confirms what one New Testament writer was describing as: “… those who fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). It also raises the reality that we are never really free until we get honest about this inescapable reality.

Face it, death confronts us every day in so many ways. It is ever before us in ways, often entirely unanticipated: a much admired high school hockey team, who bus was broadsided in a traffic accident where all were killed, in school shootings or church shootings, in the daily obituary column in the newspaper, in the tragic and unexpected suicides of dear ones, in the gassing of civilians in Syria, in drowning refugees, or among the elderly in care facilities, or those in the operating room of hospitals where skillful surgeons are seeking to save their lives, or acquaintances with heart attacks at a young age, … and so many other ways.

And, if we stop and reflect, our own lives are going to come to an end sooner or later. We seldom know exactly how that will take place, … but that New Testament writer (above) says that the subliminal fear of death and dying can hold us captive. One can only live to the hilt, and with joy, if one is free from the fear of death. There are psychiatrists who have proposed that all of humankind live with three anxieties: the anxiety over meaning of life, the anxiety over our acceptance by others, and our anxiety over what is beyond death and the grave.

Then there is the theologian (P. T. Forsyth) who indicates that all humankind share five basic needs: 1) a center, 2) and authority, 3) a creative source, 4) a guiding line, and 5) a final goal. Yes, if we live without hope it can be frightening—whether we are 25 years old, or 85 years old. Very few of us of us knows exactly how and when we will die, or if we do, we can be slaves to the fear of what lies beyond.

Which is exactly why the message of Jesus Christ is worth looking at with this question in mind. The above New Testament writer says that Jesus is our hope since he shares our human flesh and blood, he took on our human nature “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” That is why the Easter event is so significant in the Christian community, and why the church’s faith is that because Jesus rose from the dead, we too believing in him shall be raised with him. It is why the celebration at one’s funeral is called: The Celebration of the Resurrection. It testifies that we have confronted death and the grave, and in Christ we have hope.

It is why for generations the Christian community has been able to sing songs about that great hope, such as: “One sweetly solemn thought comes to me o’er and o’er: I’m nearer my home today than I ever have been before.” Or: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; changed and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” That is why the message of Jesus is one of hope, of deliverance from the slavery to the fear of death … tomorrow or fifty years from now. Don’t be reluctant. Confront the issue now. “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks…”

In Jesus’ death and resurrection, death has lost its sting and the grave has lost its victory. I speak as a nonagenarian who confronts it every day, but have lived with that hope for most of my life. It does, indeed set one free. Peace!

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What with all of the assertions about, and definitions of, those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, it is worth taking a step back and looking at how Jesus himself approaches the intent of his message to the crowds that quickly sought him out to hear what he was preaching. Those first century gospel writers, who had access to actual eye-witnesses, report that Jesus came into Galilee “preaching the kingdom of God.” That message resonated with the ages-long expectation that God would send his anointed servant/Messiah to inaugurate his divine purpose, and that Messiah would inaugurate God’s new creation, i.e., that God’s tomorrow would invade our today, i.e. the Kingdom of God.

Ah! But what is interesting is that as huge crowds numbering into the thousands sought him out, he doesn’t give them a theological definition, or a lecture on the doctrine of the Kingdom of God … rather, he sits them down on a hillside … and gives them (in the recorded sermons) a definition purely in terms of the behavior of those who would follow him—or the praxis of those who would compose his in-breaking kingdom. It is absolutely not what one would expect a kingdom authority to look like in that context of Roman political tyranny, religious corruption, and ethical confusion.

No! Rather, it focuses on how those who will compose that Kingdom will deport themselves? What will be their passion, and praxis? They will be, not those who seek power, but rather those who will become servants of what is right, those who are seekers after peace in human relations, those who are merciful, … yes, including the willingness to suffer persecution for what is right, those who are pure of heart (or, as one classic definition puts it: “to will one thing”). Jesus puts the blessing on those who are poor, and calls his followers to be agents of true assistance to the homeless, the poor, the sick, and the strangers among them.

In other teachings, Jesus will teach how they are to encompass sensitively to the weak, those  victims of poverty in debtors prisons, and helpless in the community of faith. Jesus says that those who will be great in his kingdom will be so by being servants, by washing the feet of strangers. The rich and powerful are warned about how perilous is their condition.

Jesus is quite blunt in saying that he is not impressed by those who give orthodox professions and tout their wonderful works—no, they may well be rejected out of hand. What he looks for are those who have his word, his teachings, and put them into practice. They are those who build their houses on a rock. This is sobering, and we dare not read through it hastily.

The apostolic writings continue this priority focus on the behavior of those who are Christ’s followers. Paul, in particular does generally initiate his letter with a set of teachings about the eschatological fulfillment, of God’s eternal design, in the coming of Jesus, but inevitably this is the foundation of his teachings on the lifestyle and behavior of those who are made new by God’s Spirit. He talks of that behavior as the garments of righteousness. He teaches that we are to continually be putting off the old garments of our pre-Christian / pre-Kingdom behavior, and putting on the new, those garments that make of us the demonstrations of the divine nature, those who are the sweet aroma of Christ in the most unlikely settings. This is our calling as we are always aliens and exiles in this quest. Our calling is to be faithful to what Jesus has called us to be … “that men may see your good works, and glorify God.”

I’m not at all impressed by those who tout their so-called “evangelical faith,” (or any other religious position) when they are the epitome of all that Jesus denounced by way of the behavior of the Kingdom of God. And I embrace all who are servants of righteousness, justice, and peace. They are co-belligerents with us in the pursuit of our Kingdom goals. The Kingdom of God is heralded in the behavior of those who are its citizens. Yes! Instruments of God’s peace.

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A couple of months ago, when I was spoke in this blog about my impending 90th birthday, I got back some interesting comments asking if it got any easier the older one got? That’s a question worth pursuing. I’ve written several books in the last decade whose target audience has been the emerging generation, since younger adults and college students have been the context of much of my career as a pastor-teacher-disciple-maker. But here I am at the other end of life, and so much that is written about ageing is pretty bleak, like: dementia, Alzheimer’s, helplessness, dependency, retirement centers, etc. The fact is that the huge Baby Boomer bubble is now moving into retirement, and that makes the demographics of ageing a hot topic. One can exist in very congenial surroundings and still be without hope or joy or any sense of purpose.

So, being one of those nonagenarians myself, and having known God’s boundless faithfulness in my adult life, here I am. I look at the text: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16). My observation is that here is no “octogenarians-nonagenarians need not apply” notice hanging out in front of that exhortation! The same goes for Jesus’ word: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life … do not be anxious, saying what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or what shall we wear? … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and these things shall be added to you.”

Oh? How does that fit in with the realities of giving up driving? Being dependent on others? Concerns about health in these ageing bodies? Mental acuity and freedom from dementia? Ageing without purpose? Good questions. Add to those: Am I now absolved from any responsibility for the mission of God in Christ Jesus? Have I accrued any wisdom that needs to be passed on? … Or is the witness of my life only one of decline and despair?

Jesus told Peter: “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. … Follow me” (John 21:18-19). Such are the realities of this human sojourn. (It is not just ageing that can render us helpless. Think of the millions of refugees in the world today, many of which are fellow believers!) No, ageing is an inevitable passage of life, and brings the need for a fresh appraisal of God’s purpose for my/our lives, fresh patterns, living with limitations. But, at the same time we are called to be those whose lives are to be the radiant display of God’s glory.

When my much-loved older brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he asked the physician how long he had to live. And when told, he responded: “Thank you. I want to die like a Christian.” And so, he did. I, likewise, want to grow old like a Christian, rejoicing and giving thanks. I certainly don’t know what is out there but I know that I am to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances—and I know that there is no: “Octogenarians-nonagenarians need not apply” warning in front of that promise. Feed me back your comments, and we’ll travel this road together. Peace!

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