For those of you who are the regular readers of these blogs, you would know how totally dismayed, even undone, I am over the phenomenon of this present administration, and the way the president and the ‘religious right’ have hi-jacked and even bastardized the noble designation evangelical. It defies easy explanation, how those whose policies stand as the stark opposite of the radical social agenda taught by Jesus and the apostles. But this week a refreshing light of explanation has dawned. In the April edition of Atlantic is the cover article by Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post, former congressional aide, and speech writer for a president, as well as a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois.

The article is entitled: The Last Temptation. I cannot commend it too highly. It is profoundly researched, eloquently written and quite brilliant in its historical, sociological, cultural, Biblical and theological components. In seven journal pages, it spells out the huge contradiction that exists when those who identify as ‘evangelicals’ identify with the political alt-right as though that political extreme reflected the teachings of Jesus. … And to see Donald Trump as their “dream president” is off-the-chart. (The article can be accessed on Google.)

Gerson begins: “One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary development in recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.

The author then tracks the history of the evangelical movement from the mid-nineteenth century when Jonathan Blanchard, the founding president of Wheaton College, was a social progressive opposing slavery and making the college a safe-haven on the Underground Railroad for run-away slaves. He also tracks the history of Oberlin College; whose president was evangelist Charles G. Finney, also a social progressive. There is a very real sense in which they were both socially radically, and with large influence in the Christian community in the United States. That brand, or definition, of evangelicalism was, Gerson asserts, the predominant religious tradition in America. But came the Civil War and much disillusionment about any golden age of Christianity, and evangelicals began to become more defensive, reactive, and adversarial, what with the emergence of the social gospel, the assault on the supernatural by much of the intellectual community.

The seminal event was the famous Scopes Trial in Tennessee in 1926 over the teaching of evolution in the schools. It was at that point that evangelicals began to be identified as anti-intellectual, … and it all ‘went south’ from there. I hope I am whetting your appetite to read the whole much more persuasive and eloquent essay by Michael Gerson (Please do. You’ll be much the richer in understanding if you do.)

Skip down to the end of the article and Gerson laments: “It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. “Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the life of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows … And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.”

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy? Yes, and Amen.

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Oh, yes! Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, what with parades, green outfits, green beer, and all the rest. And I’m all for all that fun. But, then, being a student of the church’s mission (i.e. being a missiologist) it is remarkable how there can be so much mindless celebration of such a remarkable figure. All the myths surrounding Patrick, such as ridding Ireland of snakes, etc. are just that: myths. What is huge about Patrick is that he is one of the missionary giants of the church’s history. In that he lived in the 5th century, and in a period when there were few written records, there are some things we know because of his legacy in Irish monasticism.

Patrick’s own conversion to Christianity is somewhat obscure. What we do know is that he was British, and that his parents were Scottish. In his youth, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. Somewhere in that sojourn he turned to prayer, and then along the way, he escaped and fled back to his homeland, and then had a vision of becoming God’s messenger to those who had been his slave masters in Ireland. Again, we’re dealing with very shadowy resources. We know that he spent a brief time in France. We also know that there was little communication with Rome and the Vatican at that early period, so that Patrick was virtually on his own to carry out his priestly vocation.

The reality is, however, that he did establish a monastic order in Ireland, which was also a vital missionary breeding ground. We moderns do often realize that in those early years of the church’s history, monasteries were not only centers of Christian contemplative orders, but were major agents in the missionary outreach of the church.  So, if you look at the fruit of Patrick’s work you discover that in the generations which followed, it was this Irish monastic influence which not only brought the gospel to Ireland, but was significantly responsible for the evangelizing of Great Britain, and then through St. Columba, the bringing of the gospel to a significant portion of Europe.

A couple of resources that you might want to look into: one would be the very readable account of this phenomenon by Thomas Cahill: How the Irish Saved Civilization (1995). This is a well-researched account of the missional and cultural impact of Patrick and his legacy. The other you can access through Google, and is entitled: St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which occasionally finds its way into present day liturgies. The story/myth is that each day when St. Patrick laced up his tunic, he made each course of the lacing to be a reminder of his formative Christian beliefs. I would copy it here but it is quite too long—but well worth your time. And the notion of having a daily discipline of reminding oneself of the essential beliefs of one’s faith is most commendable.

That’s a glimpse. Enjoy your green beer, your corned beef and cabbage, … but remember: Patrick’s greatness is in the fact that he brought the Christian faith to Ireland, produced a whole new culture there, and launched one of the great missionary movements of the church’s history. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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In the parlance of the urban street culture, to say that a person has street cred is a designation of acceptance of that person as one whom you can trust to be authentically who he/she is, and whom one can trust and with whom you can identify. Let me hi-jack that designation, and say that those of us who profess to be the followers of Christ should be considered authentic and believable in whatever culture we live our daily lives—should have street cred. Let me tell you a story out of my own past.

After World War II, my own father, a gifted mechanical engineer, completed his wartime commitment to the United States Merchant Marine, and came home to West Palm Beach to find a peacetime employment in that field. He became the resident maintenance engineer for one of the elegant winter resort hotels in Palm Beach, which had been closed during war. There was a lot to do to bring that hotel and its properties up to the standard of excellence they required. I had, by then, become a college student, and was looking for summer employment, and my dad took me on as a ‘go-fer’ for his maintenance crew. Here’s where it gets interesting. No one on that crew knew that I was his son. I called him “chief” since he had been a chief engineer in the maritime service. I was just a college kid with a summer job.

One morning while we were doing some major plumbing work at the hotel’s beach club, and during a coffee break, my dad came by the check on our progress and on the welfare of the crew, and to have a cup of coffee with us. That crew were a good-natured, positive, and totally irreligious bunch. When dad had left, one of the guys said: “Mr. Henderson is really a nice guy, and good to work for.” Another commented: “Yeah, and I hear that he is a Christian, whatever that is.” The first guy responded” “Well I don’t know what a Christian is, but if I were ever to become one I would want to be like Mr. Henderson.” Bingo! Street cred. My dad did his work with excellence, with concern for his workers, and with high ethics. He was a transparently authentic person.

Let me add, that I grew up with him, and in my adult years have come to appreciate more and more what a model he always was. Dad was very modest and self-effacing. He was quite economical with words—he wasn’t always talking about his profound faith. But he “walked the talk,” and at home, at work, and in the Christian community he was looked upon as an example of Christian integrity. When he did talk, people tended to listen and to take him seriously. I saw him early each morning, cup of coffee in hand and Bible in his lap refining that walk of faith. (It wasn’t until I was an adult that he told me of his prayers for me from my earliest years.)

We are observing a distressing episode today of those claiming to be ‘evangelical Christians’, while at the same time bastardizing that once-noble-designation. They come across as strident, prejudiced against other religions, races, sexual behaviors, as well as espousing loveless behavior toward the homeless, the immigrants, the sick, and the stranger, and so become the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. They are totally without street cred as the followers of Christ.

I go back to that coffee break that morning in Palm Beach, and that honest and good natured workman who saw something in my dad that got his attention. Street cred. “… that men may see your good works and glorify God.” My dad has been my model in these years since, and my prayer is that I will be such an authentic model of the life of Christ to others, as he was to all who knew him.

Stay tuned, send comments, and pass the word along to others who might profit by my ramblings.

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Of late I have been taken with one of the apostle’s terms for the thrilling and captivating message of God’s invasion of his rebel creation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth in his description of the Christian’s dress/armor: the gospel of peace. And, the more I reflect, the larger that designation becomes. “… and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace(Ephesians 6:15). What with Good Friday just a few weeks away, it’s worth unpacking that. How are we to understand what makes the message of Jesus, of his life, death, and resurrection, to be the thrilling, all-consuming message—this, after all, is the meaning of the word ‘gospel’—of peace? How does a Roman executioner’s scaffold become a message of peace? And what is the peace that it achieves? Here are a few clues:“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”  – Colossians 1:20 –

“For in himself is our peace, who has made us both one [Jew and Gentile, ordinarily hostile to one another [ and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through his cross …” – Ephesians 2:14-16 –

That, in turn, brings us back to the reality that somehow we have become estranged/hostile to God, and to one another. The opening chapters of the Bible point to the fact that we are made to find our true humanity as we walk in intimacy with God our Creator, and so in total harmony with each other and with God’s good creation. Then, disrupting that scene, is the emergence of the mystery of evil and an evil personality, who suggests that if we become autonomous, or assert the we ourselves and can be our own gods, that we will be free, … and it all ‘goes south from there’. Life without God becomes a boundless, bottomless, sea of chance … humankind looking for answers.

And what you have in the Jesus, the Son of God, on the cross, is God himself bearing the consequences of our rebellion, and experiencing the totally hopeless and night-marish darkness, abandoned by God, on the cross—suffering the consequences of our rebellion—and so making peace. I love the hymn by Fullerton:

“I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.”


This all becomes the more awesome the longer one reflects on it. Lent is a good time to do so.

[By the way, the hyperlink for my recent book contained an error in the last  blog. Here is (I hope) the correct one: ]

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Every once-in-a-while, in our normal communications in daily life, it is worthwhile to stop and remind ourselves that every one, no matter how adamantly irreligious they may profess to be … everyone has a faith position. It is also liberating to know that the point of contact between our own faith position and theirs is a head-on-collision. That doesn’t mean that we become hostile or unpleasant—not at all. That is the nature of our being faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ in this very real world. It should, in fact, be our delight.

Yes, if Jesus lives in us by the Spirit of God, then then the love and compassion for those who are (to use the Biblical term) lost, or are “like sheep without a shepherd”, or are walking in darkness, or are “without God and without hope in the world” should be those toward whom we should move. Jesus came to bring light into the darkness, and we are his children of light.

If we were to live in other parts of the world, we would be in the context of other religions, and faith positions, maybe Hindu, or Islamic, or Buddhist. In the West one likely encounters those who profess to be atheistic or agnostic, or just ‘spiritual’. More likely we encounter those whose faith is something like a dismissive disinterest, or “who cares?” Folk are more hedonistic, or pleasure seekers, or consumed with careers. These are the things that dominate their lives, as innocent as they may seem to them. But they are very real faith positions. When one lives in an academic setting, it is quite common to get into intellectual and philosophical arguments. These are normal in that setting. But when pressed to get real about ultimate reality that encounter is a head-on-collision. In corporate life, faithfulness to the the corporation is frequently the religion.

In the New Testament accounts, Jesus prefaced his call to believe in himself and his teachings with the requirement to repent. What that meant was that those who would come to him must embrace a whole new frame of reference. That is actually what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus (John 3) that he needed to be ‘born again’. Nicodemus was a highly respected leader in the Jewish-temple establishment, a righteous man, but he was formed by an understanding of faith that was based on the Jewish law and its traditions. He had faith … only it was an incomplete faith that made him dependent on his own efforts at pleasing God. Jesus loved him, and gently told him that he needed to be responsive to a whole different understanding of how one enters into God’s New Creation. He needed a whole new frame of reference.

Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that they always needed to be on their guard that they not be conformed to the world and its faith-positions, but to be continually transformed by the renewing of their minds. As the Christian faith entered into the Grecian and gentile world, it entered into a scene of many faiths and philosophies. In so doing it learned to understand the faith positions of those devotees of idols, or of major philosophers, and boldly but lovingly engaged in the encounter of faiths as they articulated their confidence that in Jesus of Nazareth, the secret hidden for the ages was made known, that he was the very Word of God made flesh and blood. They were often laughed to scorn, and persecuted. Ah! But some believed and the message of God’s love moved out into all the world. They became a transformational and reconciling witness to the gospel of peace.

Be comfortable with this in your encounter and conversations. We don’t convert people. Rather we are the demonstrators and articulators of God’s love in Christ. God does the converting. He opens minds and hearts. Every follower of Christ is part of the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. It makes every day to be one of anticipation. And while you’re engaging in this point of contact, you can pay for their Coke. Stay tuned …

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Politics in the 6th century BC were a bit more ruthless and obvious for the inhabitants of Israel than are so much that we are encountering today, what with the subtle and off-stage shenanigans that take place on our American scene. In the 6th century the emperor Nebuchadnezzar invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem. As was the pretty much the norm in those days, the conqueror would frequently take captive those citizens who would be useful to his court. So, it was that this emperor took the young Daniel and his three friends back to Babylon because they were “without blemish, of good appearance, and skillful in wisdom, and endowed with knowledge, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.”

But then the other shoe drops, as the story unfolds. Yes, they did prove themselves quite useful in the king’s court, but they didn’t conform to its mores. They didn’t avail themselves of all the king’s delicacies, or its sensuous lifestyle. Rather, the proved themselves and were wonderfully fruitful, but they held rigorously to their Jewish faith, spiritual disciplines, and the moral law taught in the Torah. Two things happened: 1) their competence causes them to be elevated above their Babylonian counterparts, but also 2) to incur their jealousy, and to have plots made against them because of their Jewish faith and their non-conformity to the emperor’s religious edicts. You know the rest: the lion’s den, and the fiery furnace, and their vindication by their God.

The point is that Daniel (as well as his colleagues): 1) knew who he was; 2) he did his work in such a way that it was only explainable by God; and 3) he was able to discern the idols of that culture. He was willing to pay the price for his covenant obedience.

I long for a new generation of Daniels in this frightening American political scene. There is the illusion that we are a nation guided by a constitution, and by duly elected officials … until one begins to discern where the real power lies. Who is actually making the decisions? First off, there was the Supreme Court decision entitled Citizens United, which removed limits that corporations could give to influence campaigns. But in recent days what becomes more and more obvious is the frightening political and vast economic power of the gun lobby, of the NRA. Their money and lobbying skills seem to control not only the legislatures, but too often the courts (and the president). The huge costs of campaigning for office makes politicians very vulnerable to large gifts from the NRA, and then they become its captives. (My congressman doesn’t take any money from them. Cheers!)

So, here we have this awesome number of deaths by gun violence in this country, which is inescapably linked to lax gun laws, not to mention that heartbreaking school and church shootings by deranged persons with automatic weapons. It would seem only normal that dealing with this crisis would be a priority with elected officials except that they are captive to this contemporary expression of empire. Moral compasses are ignored. So, we have Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and those who could bring solutions only equivocate and procrastinate.

Dear God, raise up a generation of Daniels who are willing to pay the price to bring about righteousness. I look to those heartbroken students in Parkland, Florida, and I take hope. They looked the adult generation and even the president in the eye, and gave them a few choice words, and began to use their giftedness to organize. One hopes that a new generation of Daniels will emerge committed to peace and order and justice to displace those who are captive to the principalities of greed and violence and mammon. Am I an unrealistic dreamer? Maybe so, but I take hope in a whole new generation of those who do not eat the emperor’s delicacies. Stay tuned …

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“When God needs a burning bush, any old bush will do!” I give total credit for this jewel to my special friend and much appreciated preacher/teacher, Bill Serjak. I love it! When God wanted to get Moses’ attention and speak to him in the wilderness of Midian, he did it by causing an ordinary bush to burn without being consumed. This caused Moses to turn aside and look at this marvelous episode. Likewise, we live in a culture that tends to be populated with all kinds of stimuli, with Facebook, with iPhones, with all kinds of entertainment, as well as tragedies and mindless day-to-day living. That often includes some zealous folk who are full of religious talk and can be annoying with it. How does God get persons’ attention?

Face it! Most folk aren’t looking too much for bland (dour?) church folk always going to church meetings. I don’t blame them. They are not open to arguments or sermons either. But, … when some ordinary person is selflessly, and unselfconsciously, living out those teachings of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1ff.) … they will be like the burning bush. They will be different and unselfishly giving themselves to commendable efforts, and Jesus says that the response will be that those outside will see their good works and be totally impressed that they are somehow different, and living fruitful lives. Yes, such are rare.

It’s not that many folk, who make no profession of being followers of Christ at all, are not also living fruitful and unselfish lives. It’s just that when the life of Jesus Christ indwells his followers by the Spirit that they will become an occasion of incarnating the love of God. They will be unselfconsciously incarnating God’s new humanity. They might well “turn aside” (as Moses did before the burning bush) and wonder what is the source of such inner motivation.

This is a frequent theme in the teachings of Jesus, and of the New Testament. Peter writes to those followers of Jesus, who are essentially exiles and aliens—maybe even hassled or persecuted—that they are simply to ‘do good’ and rhetorically asks them: “who will harm you for doing good?” It is only when those observers ‘turn aside’ and ask them the reason for the hope that is in them that they are to give a thoughtful answer with gentleness and sensitivity.

Jesus told his disciples that all men would know that they were his disciples because of the love they had for one another, and, also by his love for the poor, the halt, and the lame. His disciples would, first-of-all, be authentic in their new creation lives and relationships, and then they would have the right to gently herald their message.  This is all to say that Christ’s followers should be a disarming lot. They should be approachable. They should exhibit God’s love for his lost humanity and willing to suffer and pay the price for such lives. That inner flame of faith, that love of God which consumes them, should make them in this too-often-barren community of distraction, and of lives without meaning or hope, to be “pools in the wilderness”. They should wear the gospel of peace.

So also the lives which exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5): love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, patience, and self-control. And it takes all kinds of persons to be “burning bushes” in all kinds of places and circumstances. It is a noble and thrilling calling.  It is to be authentically human. Go for it!

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For 60 years, I was a pastor-teacher in the church. For whatever reason, I never found much company in professional ‘clergy’ but was more comfortable with the folk who were engaged in their various professions. I walked hospital rounds with medical students, drank gallons of coffee with a cross section of fun people, went on long-day’s sales trip with a salesman, and so many more.

Along the way I became a close friend and co-collaborator in some projects with a guy who was a major laser-technology whiz, and who owned his own company in that field. It was he (Bob) who would ultimately brain-wash me on the ministry of the laity in the workplace. He would never let me equivocate on that subject. He, in turn, had been formed by some mutual friends who were advocates of this thesis, and which thesis was initiated significantly in some major contributions on that subject sponsored by the World Council of Churches after World War II. Along the way, Bob and I were to be a part of an ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican to discuss this theme (and evangelism) with members of the Vatican staff after Vatican II had named a new office having to do with the ministry of the laity. On that trip, in off hours, he and roamed the streets of Rome and he became my mentor on this subject.

I have never been the same since those days. I have subsequently seen my role in the church of equipping God’s people for their ministry in the workplace, or wherever their 24/7 lives found them. I thought of that last Sunday when I was being interviewed by my pastor, and looked out from that platform at all those people out there listening to the interview, and   thinking of the enormous potential influence residing in that room, if those gatherings of God’s people were encouraging and equipping them for that 24/7 ministry. They were the ones who were the church in daily confrontation with those whom Christ loves, and to whom Christ sends us. I was looking at young parents, educators, film-makers, accountants, environmentalists, physical therapists, physicians and medical personnel, architects, high school students, … so many more. It was the awesome potential of those children of the Light who would be in daily confrontation with the dominion of darkness that Jesus came to seek and to save.

And on this week of my 90th birthday, I have been continually reminded as I received love notes from friends from years back, who were products of that ministry of mine. Here’s one: In my New Orleans years, there was a colorful pair of contagious personalities, who had led fractured lives, been through divorces, and then came to faith in Christ, found each other. I performed their wedding, and became their mentor. They were contagious with their new-found faith, and both held significant positions in the business world. They, in turn, met a young Cajun lady working as cashier (or something) in a French Quarter night club, and with whom they established a relationship, and discovered that she was looking for meaning for her life. They recruited me to come and meet her. She found Christ, and I became, not only her spiritual father, but her mentor. She grew and became a wonderful friend, and a fruitful witness herself, in a colorful career – all because my two friends were alert to the people they met in their daily lives (and a night club!). I received a love note from this spiritual daughter this week, now back in the bayous of south Louisiana. It again reinforces my passion to be an equipper of God’s people for their ministry in the workplace.

I hope the Blog may, itself, be an agent of creating in my readers this understanding. Addiction to hanging out in many church meetings is a subversion of our calling. It’s the 24/7 world that is or place of ministry and obedience and love. Peace!

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 The human quest for meaning is not a new one, but the current chaotic scene, that can easily breed hopelessness, has taken on new dimensions. The government no longer seems to be functioning as a structure of peace and order and justice. The top government official personifies all the things that George Washington warned against in his second inaugural address. People in places of influence seem to have lost their moral compass. And the church easily gets consumed with agendas and institutions that seem to have nothing to do with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The dominant cultural religion (as I have often said) seems to be something of a self-satisfied humanism. Too often the whole of life seems to be what one of my mentors described as: a boundless, bottomless sea of chance.

Add to that the growing escapism offered by the digital, iPhone, TV, hedonistic culture, in which you can totally ignore life as well as the treasures of literature and of history, even the threatening realities on one’s doorstep. Or, one can tune-out those sitting across the table, or walking next to them by becoming obsessed with the stuff on their iPhones. Connected but not communicating. A century ago T. S. Eliot wrote his remarkable poem: The Waste Land. A half-century later, Walker Percy probed something of the same issues in a renowned novel: Lost in the Cosmos. But if, and when, persons can (and do) create their own digital world that is usually quite narrow, so that the larger issues and questions of truth, meaning, knowledge, and moral guidelines can be ignored, or consigned to being somebody else’s territory. Life becomes ‘me and my own interests’, … a road to nowhere.

Or, one can all get lost in an intellectual parlor game of: what is truth? Or, is there truth? Or, “that may be your truth, but not mine.”

Yet, we who are the followers of Christ, are those who are to be formed into Christ’s likeness: in our thinking and behavior and our identity with the glory of God. We worship him who said: “I am the way and the truth, and the life.” We are unequivocal in that. And that embraces Christ’s love for the world, and for our enemies, and this world’s estranged personalities.  It also means that we rejoice in all of those who become the voices and agents of righteousness and justice.

Ah! But the flip-side of that (somewhat theoretical) look at our cultural scene is the heartening report of the moral outrage of those kids in Florida, whose 17 friends and teachers got killer by a troubled boy who could easily buy an AK 47, and become another episode in gun violence … and who, when the President and many adults refused to see gun control as an immediate need, became quite vocal. (As one writer on this generation observed: “They have a highly sensitive BS detector) They tweeted back to the President that all of his hesitations and his lame excuses were a bunch of BS. Then they set about to become an organizing voice immediately in order to begin to put pressure on the government to ban assault weapons.

What this says is that, at least these kids do have a moral compass. They have become a moral and ethical voice in this culture that has seemed so increasingly lacking in moral and ethical backbone. They are (self-consciously or not) saying that life has meaning, that there are standards of knowledge and behavior that are God-given. The story of these kids from the high school in Parkland, Florida indicates that many of them have been formed in Christian and Jewish communities.  And, I for one, am so very heartened by a rising generation who are vocal and principled and energized to be and do what needs to be said and done. This life for them, at least, is not to be that of those lost in the cosmos. I am heartened by their boldness, and their ethical vision. May their voices be the bellwether that make of this tragedy the beginning of a new generation fraught with meaning, and committed to social righteousness.

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In the mid-19th century there were two friends who were very devout and effective pastors in Scotland: Robert Murray McCheyne and Horatius Bonar. They would regularly get together on Monday mornings to compare notes on the previous Sabbath’s ministry. As the story goes, on one Monday morning McCheyne asked Bonar what he had preached on the day before. Bonar replied: I preached on “The wicked shall be turned into hell.” McCheyne’s response: “And, could you do it with tenderness, Horace?”

I thought of that this past week when I got some thoughtful comments on my Blog on the subject of the ministry of rebuke and reproof. One person commented that it was one thing to utter rebukes to the grossly immoral from a distance … but something else to lovingly confront those with whom you interact every day, so that it becomes easier to just remain silent. Yes. So true. And yet, that doesn’t resolve the reality that it is an act of love to find some way to remind such persons that their words or behavior cross the boundary of what is constructive and purposeful.

I was reminded of that discipline again when noting II Timothy 3:16 the other day: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, …” God knows that we need guidelines for our behavior and thinking in such a life full of contradictions, ambiguities, temptations, difficult personalities, and border-line ethics. I don’t have any simple formula. There are a whole lot of gray areas and marginal decisions out there.

But one thing I do know is that we do not forsake those fruits of the Holy Spirit as we confront others, those fruits of love and gentleness and goodness, nor do we forsake the gift of wisdom. I think, also, that our responsibility for rebuke and reproof rests mostly with those persons with whom we have good relationships. I think, first-of-all, of my own need of rebuke and reproof. I have the capacity to come on too strong often, or to overstate a case, and to be a bit over the line in dealing with questionable situations. Ah, but God gave me a wife, who could rebuke me with a simple pat on my hand, which communicated the unmistakable message: “Cool it, Bob!” I got the message. Or a gentle question: “Don’t you think you came on a bit strong with him?” Or, “you might have been a bit more sensitive to what he/she is going through.” She was a gift.

Plus, I had a wonderfully helpful and challenging friend for years, who early in our relationship insisted that we establish the “right to intimidate each other,” which gave us an honesty in our relationship and an openness with each other that was very fruitful over many years.

Rebuke and reproof are a ministry that is mandated in scripture, but it need not be brutal or insensitive. A gentle question, or your own response to some word or action spoken in love. Confrontation should definitely not be hostile, but then it also is part of the commandment to love. To rebuke and to reprove is usually linked with the ministry of teaching one another, and is always to be done with longsuffering, gentleness, and love.

I hope this may help. We need each other’s corrections. That is what we’re about in this community of God’s new creation. For those outside of the community, it might only be a gentle question over coffee/beer: “Would you be offended if I offered you a suggestion?”  We need to earn the right, then to get their permission. Then do it with tenderness. OK?

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