When Hope is Lost (A Lesson from Birds)

I have begun the process of changing my mind about birds.

Sure, you may not find a stranger first sentence than that, but those closest to me know that I have this unreasonable phobia of the feathered friend. It has something to do with a mother bird dive-bombing my head to protect her nest when I was five. And no, to answer your question, I was not bothering her nest. I was simply going next door to a friend’s house. But, there is no reasoning with a mother bird. Anyway, my neurosis aside, I am slowly taking steps to rediscovering the beauty (or some redeeming quality) in birds.

An Indiana winter can be brutal and bone-chilling. And it is not made any more bearable by the local meteorologists who giddily, and a bit too affectionately, begin referring to it as a Polar Vortex. The tragedy is they don’t realize that by calling it a “Polar Vortex,” it psychologically becomes twenty degrees colder in our heads. Let’s just be honest here, we do not need “Polar” anything in Indiana, especially when it is already pitch black at 4pm in the middle of December.

But there was a moment a few years ago in late winter, when darkness still owned the morning and the cold refused to let go of everything in it’s grip, that I heard the sweetest song.

Through the shroud of night, before the sun’s first rays, amid the polar chill, a melody of hopeful anticipation pierced the dark veil of winter and announced that spring would soon be arriving.

It was glorious and profound.

The processional of spring, a time of life, new beginnings, and spectacular beauty was coming! And it was being ushered in through song by feathered vocalists announcing it’s arrival.

I, a crusty-eyed morning zombie of multi-layered, nighttime attire (pre-coffee), could not miss this staggering metaphor. When a season of darkness surrounds us and seems as if it will last forever, we may very well begin to believe that this is the way life will always be. But even in the darkness that may surround us, if we are still enough to hear it and patient enough to trust it, there is always the sweet song of the Spirit, leading us in hopeful anticipation, surprising us with beauty in the present, and giving us a glimpse of the life that’s yet to come.

I know it is terribly difficult to discuss how we can learn to see beauty amidst the wreckage when we are in the throes of a painful life situation, whether it be temporary or permanent. But, it is in this place where we must always begin- in the place of our pain, in the place of our suffering. For it is in that place where we can, mostly easily, lose heart, feel lost and defeated, grow wildly cynical, and begin to blame God for our condition or circumstance.

Even more, our pain can become the place from where we begin to live our lives.

The crushing weight of our suffering will always try to convince us that the pain we are experiencing is our only reality and that there is nothing redeemable there, ever. And as a result, the pain we are experiencing can begin to manifest outwardly in our lives into our words and actions, ultimately affecting how we see the world and how we relate to others.

That is what suffering can do. It can cause us to reside in our pain, no matter how great or small that pain is, and then become the lens through which we begin to see people, situations, and the world as a whole. And over time, our pain through suffering can very easily spiral downward and lead to questions and then the destruction of our identity, our worth, and our purpose in life.

Living constantly in the burden and pain of our suffering can either become an end destination or a passageway for each of us.

As an end destination, the pain of our suffering can become a place where we stay in bitterness, sadness, anger, hatred, and unforgiveness.

As a passageway, our pain through suffering can become the pathway to profound life transformation and new ways of seeing the world.

Suffering breaks us down into insufferable little parts where we can either self-destruct or cry out helplessly to God, because we are in a place where we have seemingly lost control. Our sense of self has been shattered. Our identity has been obliterated. And it is in our place of pain through suffering where we can choose whether we make it our final destination or a transformative passageway.

That is the profound mystery of suffering. Suffering strips away any and all control we believed we had over people and situations. And it is in this place, our place of suffering, the place where we have lost all control, where our hearts and minds can either be closed off or open to the healing and transformative love of God.

And no matter who you are or what you have been through, or are currently going through, you can choose what you want to do with your pain, and how you receive suffering. You can let it dominate and control how you see the world and relate to others, or you can use it as a means to be taught and guided into a new and more beautiful way of living.

In hope,

Brandon

I Don’t Need Your Legislation (A Good Friday Litany)

I know who I am.
I know what I signed up for.
I know whose life I have chosen to pattern my life after.
I know that patterning my life after Jesus comes with a cost.

And to that end, I realize and accept the fact that it could cost me everything, including my own life.

But despite that reality, I have chosen, and continue to choose, to bear the cross of Christ and to be led by the Spirit of God.

For it is only at the cross where all that enslaves is crucified. And it is only in the Spirit where I, at last, find freedom.

To that end, I do not need anyone or anything to protect me.

And I certainly do not need any legislation to pronounce the freedom I already have, and will continue to have, despite my changing circumstance or situation.

For if my loving of friend and enemy offends or is a crime, then arrest me.

If praying or blessing offends or is a crime, then imprison me.

If my Kingdom values (which always looks like Jesus) offends or is a crime, then ridicule and ostracize me.

If standing up for the oppressed or marginalized, or by associating with “sinners” and outcasts offends or is a crime, then spit on me.

If honoring God with my entire being (my words, my life, my all) offends or is a crime, then beat and give me your most severe punishment.

If patterning my life after Jesus and going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, and giving the shirt off of my back offends or is a crime, then crucify me.

But hear me in this.

I do not need a law to protect me.
I do not need a government to grant me a freedom I already have.
I do not need a legislator to promise or guarantee a freedom that I will continue to have.

My freedom is in Christ alone.

Whether I am poor or rich… I am free.
Whether I am enslaved or emancipated… I am free.
Whether I am imprisoned or liberated… I am free.
Whether I am a servant or a master… I am free.
Whether I am suffering or in comfort… I am free.

For it is God alone who has freed me. And that freedom is enjoyed in any and all circumstances or situations of my life.

I have counted the cost of following Jesus Christ and accepted the freedom he has given me. That is sufficient.

“That’s all nice and good until they come after you and then punish you and make an example.”

To which I would humbly reply, “If punishment for loving was good enough for my Savior and Lord, then may it be good enough for me.”

For it was Jesus who loved, yet faced accusation.
It was Jesus who loved, yet faced the heavy hand of opposition groups, religious groups, and the government.
It was Jesus who loved, and lost everything.
It was Jesus who loved, and was mocked, beaten, and spit upon. It was Jesus who loved, and was put to a wretched and inhumane death.

All of this without legislation to protect his religious liberty.

He made no appeal to the governing authorities for his right to practice his faith. He lived and faced the consequences and said, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they are doing it.”

[We ought to] think of [ourselves] the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (‭Philippians‬ ‭2‬:‭5-8‬ MSG)

Let his life be our life.
Let his love be our love.
Let his way be our way.
Let his death be our death.

For that is where life and freedom are found.

It is for this reason, that no Christian should hide fearfully behind man-made legislation. For if we live our lives like Christ, ought we not expect to be treated as Christ was treated?

It is only when we face opposition, persecution, threats, and ultimately death, that we can show the world, as the Body of Christ in the world, what great lengths we will go to in order to demonstrate the sacrificial, cross-like love of God.

And that kind of love will never be found in legislation, it can only be found when we pick up our cross.

“Yes, and all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”- ‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3‬:‭12‬

Brandon

A Christian Response to the Terrorist Threats

As I write this article it has been a couple of hours since I first heard the news that three Columbus, Indiana church buildings were spray painted in graffiti with supposed terrorist threats. At this point, no one knows who did it. But to be honest, for the points I am going to make in this article, it really doesn’t matter who did it. Whether they are authentic terrorist threats made by radicals or just the tasteless humor made by some locals, the response of the Christian, specifically, and the Church, generally, ought to remain consistent regardless.

But even in the few hours since the news broke, the positions of Christians with whom I have spoken have been anything but consistent. And that is precisely why an incident like this is so essential for Christians in our community and in our country- because whether it is a genuine threat or not, the way we respond as followers of Christ is more important than anything else in this world.

I submit to you that there is only one way that Jesus responded to both his friends and enemies… it was consistently in love. I also submit to you that there is only one way Jesus wants his followers to respond to their friends and enemies… it too is in love. And to that end, as long as we bear the name of Christ, we will not cower in the defensive stance of fear, rather we will stand boldly in the offensive act of revolutionary love whether the threats are with spray paint, words of insult, or at the end of a sword. Our very essence, the way we are knitted together, the well-Spring of our hearts that comes from the very Spirit of God is to love. And no matter how much you hate us, we will love you that much more. That’s just the way this thing is going to go down.

It is this kind of love that looks like Jesus Christ in every situation, good and bad, even to the point that it may cost us our lives. Yes, you read that correctly, even to the point of costing your life! The way of Jesus never moves forward violently, but only through selfless, sacrificial love. It is love put on display in such a selfless and radical way that it lays itself down for friends and enemies alike.

I was at a business meeting a few years ago in Chicago. One evening I went to a Mexican restaurant with some of my business colleagues. After a really good dinner and conversation we began our trek back to the hotel. My three colleagues 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 men started talking about how he carries a concealed weapon to church service each week. He went on to say that his church recently implemented security measures for their church services. At any one time there are at least three people…with guns…at their church service! I was astonished. Maybe external threats have you considering the same thing for your church? Maybe the fear of violence has you and your congregation on the edge? Maybe you are terrified that someone may come in during your worship service and hold you hostage? But can you imagine the early Church, during a time in which they suffered the greatest violence, abandoning the way of Christ by picking up arms for fear of their lives at their church service! Can you imagine Jesus pulling out his piece and blasting the Roman soldiers when they arrested and began to beat him? No, of course not. The reason you can’t imagine it is because Jesus and his early followers would never had responded to violence with more violence. And neither should we as his followers. The entire Jesus movement and ministry was predicated upon turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, blessing and not cursing, loving your enemies, not repaying evil with evil, and non-resistance to evil. Responding in anything less than love contradicts and compromises the ministry of Jesus. And the very reason why we can demonstrate the self-sacrificial love of Christ to the world rather than by fighting back is because we are people who do not fear death!That is why we will love you despite your hate. Our singular hope is in the future resurrection. And the cross Christ would have us bear presently for each person in the world is love. A love that will lay itself down for both friend and enemy.

To that end, we each should live such uncompromising lives in the Kingdom of God that not even the threat of death itself will shake us. Our love will always, always, always prevail, even and most especially when it is face to face with death itself. It is this kind of love that exposes evil and hatred for what it is. It is the kind of love that is on display as a testimony for the world to see in all of it’s beauty. Love always wins. Love is always victorious. Love never fails. Preach it!

I implore my brothers and sisters in Columbus, in all the surrounding areas and throughout Indiana, and all across our nation who follow the humble, loving, self-sacrificial way of Jesus Christ to stand united in the Holy Spirit and in prayer and to go on the offensive with a radical, revolutionary love for the sake of the world.

Peace…

Brandon