MANIFESTO for a Divided Country

Every time I go backpacking, I find myself in some of the most remote and isolated backcountry in the world.

On my most recent endeavor to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, from which I am now returning, I was more distant and separated from civilization than I have ever been in my entire life. The closest town, McCarthy, Alaska (population 45) was 50 miles from where we would be backpacking over the week and was only reachable by bush plane.

I don’t know if you have ever had a similar experience, of finding yourself literally cut of from the world- from communication, from news media, from the current geopolitical climate, from domestic unrest, from political upheaval, but it is one of the most liberating, yet terrifying experiences of my life.

In one sense, there is a sweet relief in finding solace in the stillness of the wilderness. Yet, in another sense, there is a profound unease upon reentering the “real world.”

Metaphorically, it is as if this retreat into the wild always provides a necessary cleansing or washing from the accumulated daily muck and mire and mudslinging of our culture, but then is unceremoniously followed by the ugly realization that the mudslinging continues all the while and there is a sad inevitability of having to walk back into it.

And I was told as much upon my first communication the other day when one of my friends said, “After the events of this past week, I suggest heading straight back into the wilderness.”

I seriously thought about it after taking a quick look at the news and social media.

There is a crushing agony to experiencing so much stillness and peace and serenity, but then walking back into so much antipathy, hatred, and division. 

These are certainly the times that try men’s and women’s souls, but retreat is for those who have lost hope that life can actually be better.

Retreat is for those who have lost the prophetic ability to help people imagine and begin working toward a different and better future.

Retreat is for those who have submitted to a defeated reality in which the healing, restorative, reconciling, and saving power of God through Christ has no victory.

And I want each of you to know that I will absolutely not retreat.

I have not lost hope that every single life can be better. I have not lost the prophetic ability to help others imagine and then begin working toward a different and better future. And I will never submit to a defeated reality, because I believe with every ounce of my soul, every ounce of my being, in the healing, restorative, reconciling, and saving power of God through Christ and the victory that is found there for every single individual, for every single relationship, and for every single community, across every culture, every ethnic group, every race, every orientation and lifestyle, and from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

Listen to me, our future can and will be better. 

But it seems, now more than ever, that there is a wide disparity amongst those who ought to be helping make this future better, a great divide between Christians and the Jesus we profess to follow. In fact, many who profess Jesus with their lips do not actively follow Jesus with their lives and this leaves many wondering who we are, where our allegiance lies, and for what purpose we exist.

While this should be obvious, it must be stated, that a follower of Jesus is one who has given their full allegiance and fidelity to Jesus and then one who strives moment by moment to follow the way of Jesus, in word, action, and deed.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will love God and every single human being created in the image of God with our hearts, minds, and souls. And the way this love of God manifests in our lives is, not in guilting, shaming, wounding, hurting, devaluing, standing against, or damning another, but by a willingness to sacrifice one’s self in order to demonstrate this radical love of God to another.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will affirm the God-given worth and value of every single person on the planet from the time of their conception to their final breath of life, no matter their gender, gender identity, orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, affiliation, ideology, religion, socio-economic status, citizenship status, or the sin in their life.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will stand for and will actively work as peacemakers, not just in our own lives, but on behalf of every single life, every single relationship, every single community, and every single situation in which we find ourselves.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will unambiguously and self-sacrificially stand, in solidarity and love with, by, and for every individual or group who is being marginalized, victimized, oppressed, harassed, terrorized, or threatened, no matter who the aggressor may be, no matter if it is a person or a group with whom we may have previously aligned.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will only respond to any verbal or physical antagonism, threat, or offense by another in love.  For each person, even the most violent offender has immeasurable worth and value. Even more, a life fully rooted in the radical love of God can only respond in love, therefore we will respond to every verbal and physical aggression only in love.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will work actively toward forgiveness and reconciliation, not just in our own lives, but between individuals and God, between individuals, and between people-groups, even when this means that we will likely loose standing or position from people or groups with whom we may have previously aligned, for there is no other way forward in a hostile and divided world than in forgiveness and reconciliation.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will strive for lives that emanate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control regardless of the changing conditions around us, regardless of how people, social media, the government, politicians, or the media may try to turn us against others through propaganda and misinformation. We will choose to give others the benefit of a doubt and to love them despite what is said about them, even if it means standing against those with whom we previously aligned.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will work tirelessly to invite every single person in the world out of systems, structures, organizations, and ideologies that work to divide and build antagonism between people through words and actions, whether it be political, governmental, religious, military, corporate, economic, or ideological, and into a new reality in which love is our absolute foundation, care and compassion is the means by which we relate to one another, grace and forgiveness and reconciliation is our modus operandi, peace is our undying disposition, and unity is the fabric of our relationships and communities.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we choose a different way in this hostile and divided world.

Because right now, there is so much on the line and the world needs the saving, healing, and restorative Body of Christ now more than ever.

Because right now, the world needs those who manifest God’s radiant, self-sacrificing, other-centered love.

Because right now, the world needs those who value all life and believe each person is made in God’s image with immeasurable worth.

Because right now, the world needs those who are actively working to be ambassadors of peace among all people in every situation.

Because right now, the world needs those who are willing to go to their death by standing in love with those are stigmatized as outcasts and pushed to the edges.

Because right now, the world needs those who have taken the path of non-retaliation against hateful litanies and insults, as well as physical aggressions.

Because right now, the world needs those who are working tirelessly to bring the broken pieces back together by working toward forgiveness and reconciliation in all things.

Because right now, the world needs those who are steadfast in moment-by-moment Christ-like character, and who are not easily swayed or manipulated into being anything less than Christ-like.

And because right now, the world needs an invitation into this new, beautiful, life-giving present reality of the Kingdom of God and a people who are willing to extend the invitation.

Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, this worldwide body of Christ must resurrect and come to life, we must unite and lock together arms behind the way of Jesus.

This fractured, broken, and beaten Body of Christ must rise to new life today.

Rise, Church, Rise!

Brandon

This excerpt is from my book Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage available everywhere online.

The Kindle Version is currently $0.99 and the paperback is $10.99 on Amazon!

Should We Arm Our Churches?

I remember a business meeting that I attended in Chicago about ten years ago. One evening a few business colleagues and I went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. As we finished and began our trek back to the hotel, the other three guys were in deep conversation about guns and firing ranges.

Since I didn’t have much to offer to the conversation I spaced out and started thinking about other things. That was until one of the guys started talking about how he carries a concealed weapon to church service each week. He went on to say that his church had recently implemented security measures for their church services. At any one time there were at least three people on their security team with concealed weapons during their church services.

I had several thoughts about this mindset and approach at the time, but believed it was unique to that church and not necessarily a widespread phenomenon among other churches. But with the recent violence that has occurred within a few churches in the United States, the issue of securing churches with deadly weapons is more relevant now than ever.

I have a feeling that I am going to be a lone voice in the wilderness on this issue, but I believe a different voice is desperately needed right now.

Listen to me.

A church is supposed to be a gathering of those who have professed their allegiance and given their lives to the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. A church is supposed to be the body, the physical manifestation, of the Spirit of Christ in the world. A church is supposed to be comprised of those who are citizens of an alternative, upside-down kingdom that defies every convention of worldly wisdom.

So how have Jesus followers determined so easily to defy the way, life, and teachings of Jesus by deciding to take up arms when they gather together?

How have Jesus followers given up so easily their identity as the body of Christ in the world by concealing deadly weapons when they gather together?

How have Jesus followers abandoned so easily their citizenship of a kingdom that is characterized by the values of their king by choosing instead a thoroughly human way of responding violence?

There is no argument one can make for Jesus condoning the use of violence by his followers, without taking Jesus out of context and manipulating his meaning.

Jesus is the full and perfect revelation of the Father. When you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. When you have seen the way of Jesus, you have seen the way of the Father. When you have seen the values of Jesus, you have seen the values of the Father. And to that end, the full revelation of God through Christ is a self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, other-oriented love.

Even further, the disposition and character of those who follow Jesus, who are given the Spirit of Christ in and through their lives, looks exactly like the Jesus they profess to follow by embodying and demonstrating the self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, other-oriented love of Christ to both friend and enemy.

And no matter how many times a person tries to twist or contort Jesus into a violence-condoning, weapon-encouraging, enemy-killing, blood thirsty Savior, it simply can not be done without ignoring the clear and concise words of Jesus and the heart of the Father.

Whipping animals into a frenzy and overturning tables in the temple does not condone or justify the killing of an enemy.

Telling his disciples to buy swords, which was unambiguously mentioned in Scripture to fulfill a prophecy and which Jesus later rebuked Peter for using on an aggressor, does not overturn the entire ministry and life and command of Jesus to love your enemies.

Riding symbolically on a horse in Revelation with a sword coming out of his mouth, which clearly symbolizes the “sword of Truth,” does not somehow make the task of those who follow Jesus an enemy-killing affair. Besides, who fights with a sword in their mouth, anyway?

If those manipulations of Scripture are your basis for overturning and ignoring the overwhelmingly obvious foundation of the self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, and other-oriented love of Jesus to justify your carrying of weapons to kill an enemy, then you have been misguided and have missed the heart of God for all people, including those you view as enemies.

Even more, if those are the proof texts for Jesus condoning the arming, violence, and killing by his followers, then we have a wildly contradictory Messiah, because they would absolute contradict his entire life, ministry, and mission.

For the Jesus I know and follow took up a cross to demonstrate how God loves despite accusation, insult, violence, and impending death. For the Jesus I know and follow said to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and to give food to our enemy if he is hungry. For the Jesus I know and follow taught us to repay evil with good, to not resist an evil doer, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, and to give the shirt off our back. For the Jesus I know and follow instructed us to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive others because they do not know what they are doing, and not be afraid of those who kill the body. For the Jesus I know and follow said that anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, that anyone who lives by the sword will die by the sword, that we should not avenge ourselves, and implored us to live at peace with everyone.

If his Kingdom was of this world, then his followers would fight and aggress and retaliate like those in this world. For though we live in the world, we do not fight as the world does. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this dark world. And the weapons we bear are not of this world. Our belt is truth. Our breastplate is righteousness. Our shield is faith. Our helmet is salvation. Our sword is the Spirit of Christ.

And this Kingdom, the Kingdom in which we are citizens, is not of this world. Nor does it operate like the world.

For we are peacemakers. We are those who choose to bless. We are those who are meek and gentle. We are those who forgive and forgive and forgive. We are those who are self-sacrificial, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, and other-oriented. And we are those who always choose to love, even in the face of impending death, because it is the way demonstrated by our Savior and Lord.

Click here for Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 2

Only and always peace and love…

Brandon

Pimps and Mission Trips

As my daughter and I, and 50 other servants, exited the newly constructed 400 square foot house built for a beautiful family of seven in the barrios of Puerto Penasco, Mexico, I humbly said:

In every way I have talked and written about how misaligned the Church is… what you just experienced is the very essence of the Church in all her beauty.

Quizzically my daughter replied, “What do you mean?”

The unity in Christ.
The self-sacrificial love.
The selfless service.
The worship in Spirit and Truth.
The fellowship and community.
The grace and mercy extended.
The joy embodied.
The gospel preached in word and action.

That is the Church of Jesus Christ.

And it was magnificent and beautiful.
It was heaven and earth coming together as one.
It was everything we long for in it’s fullness… and more.

And this was significant.

Not for what we were able to experience and receive as a result of God working among us, but significant for what God was doing through us- the Church.

Two weeks ago I watched a documentary called Tricked, which details sex trafficking in the United States. The victims, law enforcement officers, parents of the victims, and pimps were all interviewed. While listening to, and looking into the eyes, of a particular pimp who was being interviewed… all I could see is emptiness, brokenness, and darkness.

The way he viewed and spoke of the women as products and objects to be used and then discarded to make money without any regard for their welfare, emotions, or humanity was the very embodiment of evil (you can view that video here but be warned that it is explicit). I am not talking about dirty jokes or stealing a candy bar here, I am talking about an all-encompassing and pervasive darkness and evil that blankets and covers… and that works to destroy, not just our relationship with God, but our relationships with others and then ultimately ourselves.

All I could think while watching this documentary was- My God, I am utterly powerless against this evil. What can I do of my own accord, in my own power, to push back this evil? How do I even stand a chance against such a destructive force?

The truth is that I am utterly powerless against it.

We, together, are powerless against this force that works to break and destroy us.

And the only power in all of existence that can confront and defeat this evil… that has the power to turn hate to love, that has the power to mend what has been torn to shreds, that has the power to repair that which has been broken, that has the power to bring to life that which is dead, and that has the power to bring light into the darkest places on earth… is the power of God.

But that seems to be our greatest struggle. We limit God with our perceived adequacy, our man-made self-sufficiency, our all-too-convenient logic and convention, and our failure to see that the world is caught in a spiritual battle with evil forces that work against everything good that God intends for his creation.

If we simply trusted the power that God has given us, I wonder how much differently our world might look. Rather than believing that darkness is more powerful and is diminishing the light of Christ in the world, what if we realized the power God has given us and then became the means through which the light of Christ breaks into the dark places on earth?

In the same way that the people in darkness saw a great light in Jesus Christ, so the world today will see a great light again shining in the darkness through the Body of Christ- the Church.

How would that change you individually?
How would that change your church?
How would that change your community?
How would that change the world?

In the barrios where drug abuse, alcoholism, and physical violence continue the cycle of extreme poverty, the Church my daughter and I were a part of that day was the light of Christ breaking into darkness.

The hands that hammered nails and feet that kicked the soccer ball with the children of the barrio was the light of Christ piercing the darkness.

The songs of worship and praise that we sang within the newly constructed home was the light of Christ invading the darkness.

The words of prayer and petition prayed over the family in their new home was the light of Christ pushing back the darkness.

The communion that we took together in unity within the home proclaimed the Good News of Christ and was the light of Christ that extinguishes the darkness.

That is what I long to be a part of every day of my life (and not just on a mission trip)- the great light of Christ shining through the Church in all the dark places of the world.

And that is what others long for as well.

But will we take the light of Christ into the darkness of the world?

What does it look like in your own life, in your small group, and in your church to take the light of Christ into the darkness? To what dark areas are you being called? What is the first step?

I would love your feedback.

Peace and love…

Brandon

For information on the work of i6eight in Mexico visit their website here