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!

Spiritual Transformation

Words on pages are not enough to transform you.

Inspirational and motivational words are energizing, but they are not enough to sustain your fleeting emotions and not powerful enough to completely change you at the core of your being. Sure they may lift you up and get you excited for a bit, but those feelings will soon fade and you will remain untransformed in your life.

We, as Christians, too many times have this belief that our lives will necessarily begin changing when “we say the right words” or “take on a new label” or “hang with a different group” or “read the Bible more.”

Transformation is not that simple. It is not a flipping of the light switch or “getting dunked” and then becoming magically new.

In fact, there are those who have verbally professed to give Christ their lives…but yet remain untransformed, and likely even painfully empty, in their lives- day by day, week by week, or year by year.

Spiritual transformation… being made new… is a process. It is a daily walk of letting go and receiving, of dying and coming to life, of the edges being knocked off and refined into something new… something glorious. It is not for those seeking quick fixes, instant gratification, or a new life without sacrifice.

It is only in a life centered on Jesus Christ and the moment by moment sacrifice of your will and your way to the Spirit of God that you begin to change inwardly. When this happens, the Kingdom begins to break out through your life in power. It is only through your continual and perpetual worship that the Kingdom begins to reign inwardly then outwardly in your life.

The Kingdom seed is planted. It takes root. It grows wildly. It bears fruit.

We must understand from the beginning that it is not about what you can do in your own power, but rather what the power of God can do to transform you. It is not about what you can do outwardly to be a better Christian; rather it is coming face to face with Jesus Christ and His in-breaking Kingdom that begins to change you inwardly. It is allowing Christ to come so close that your heart, your mind, your desires, and your feelings begin to change. It is the easiest (and hardest thing) you will ever do, but it is essential to understand that you do not have the capacity to live a righteous and holy life in your own power, rather it is only when you are reborn from the inside that God’s ways become your own.

You must pray for the Spirit to come into your heart and your life, for that is the only place where transformation can begin and the only place where the Kingdom can take root and reign. It is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual solution and it can only be cured by the Spirit of God. When the Spirit comes close and begins to work intimately in your life, you begin changing. You are able to see the world as God sees the world. You hunger for those things which God hungers. You pursue those things which God pursues. You desire those things which God desires. You cannot get enough of Jesus and His way and His Kingdom. You change so radically from the inside that the power of the Spirit cannot help but work its way out into your life in everything you do. But sacrifice and surrender to God the Holy Spirit is essential.

The way of Jesus always means sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in which you become so hidden in the fullness of Christ that it is no longer you, only Him. It is never what you can do; it is only what can be done through you when you get out of the way. It is essential for each of us to pray and plead to God for a transformation from the inside and for a deep hunger for His Kingdom to come into our lives and work through each of us.

Seven years ago I did not know much about the Bible. I did not have any passion or excitement to read it. My guess is that I was a lot like many Christians today; the thought of reading my Bible seemed more like a chore than anything life-giving. One day I began to pray that God would change my heart and that I would have a passion and a hunger for Him and His Word. In ways that I can only explain as miraculous, my heart and my life began to change. I began to have a hunger for anything and everything of God.

I wanted to pray without ceasing. I wanted to give up my own pursuits and desires. I wanted to read and understand more about God. I wanted to know what God was doing in and through my life for others. The changes in my life didn’t come from guilting myself to death. It didn’t come from arm-twisting or beating myself into submission. My inner passion, desire, and hunger came from God emptying me of me and filling me with His Spirit. That is when I began to find Life and began to understand the words of Jesus, “I came that [you] might have Life and have it abundantly.” I wholly believe that for any one of us to change, it has to begin in humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice of our own ways coupled with an insatiable hunger and desire for God to come close and change our hearts and minds. It is then that the Spirit is invited to begin the transformative work of raising you to new Life.

But how deeply inside our lives do we allow the Spirit to work? How much of ourselves do we really fully sacrifice? Are there certain places within you that are off limits? Are there certain areas that have been purposefully blocked off? Are there areas of darkness that you keep hidden because it is just too difficult or too embarrassing to go there? You have to admit, we rarely ask questions like these in our churches. It is as if we are all completely cool with a superficial scrub of the house, but we are reluctant to open up all of the windows and doors to the house and even more reluctant to open the closets inside. The truth is that the entire house needs cleaning, but we have to be willing to open all the windows and doors and every single closet for the work to begin.

For me, words like humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice had always been these abstract words that really didn’t mean anything for my life. I knew that a Christian ought to exhibit those qualities, but it was just a mental thing, not a real way of living. In essence, I was comfortable opening a couple of windows and doors for the Spirit to come into, but I kept the shades drawn and other doors securely locked deep inside. Not only was there no possibility of cleaning the restricted areas, I would not even allow the Light to break in.

One evening I gathered with a handful of my Christian brothers from my church. I told them how important it is that we come together as sinners at the foot of the cross to confess our sins to God and to each other in repentance. The truth is that it was my way of finally opening up every window, door, and closet that had remained closed and off limits. It was my way of finally exposing every bit of darkness within me to the Light of Christ.

In the presence of God and my Christian brothers, I began to verbally confess every sin I could remember in my life. All of the windows were opening and every door to the house invited in my dear Friend. Humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice became a real part of my life as I began carrying the cross of Christ. I went through every room, kicked down every closet door, and asked my Friend to do the work I was completely incapable of doing. The pockets of darkness that had been hidden deep in my life and that kept the Light of Christ from penetrating my heart had now been opened up. The cleaning of the entire house could now begin. There was no longer a place for the darkness to hide. The Light of Christ broke into my heart and began to transform me into a new man.

The man who had been the cheater, the liar, the adulterer, the perverse, the foul-mouthed, the self-centered, and the verbal abuser had been exposed, put to death, and forgiven by Christ and my brothers. It was evident that there was absolutely nothing spectacular about me, only Christ in me. I had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for Christ and His love for me. I also had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for the Spirit that began to do the work in my life that I could never do and to teach me new and higher ways. Life completely changed for me that night.

Are you willing to open not just the windows and doors, but also the closets that you have kept hidden deep within your life? Are you willing to let the Light break into those hidden places so that the Light of Christ will begin to shine through you? Are you willing to let the “old man” be exposed so that the new man might come to life? Are you willing to lead by example the way of humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice by being confessional with your other brothers and sisters in Christ so that they may see you not as someone who is perfect, but as a sinner who is forgiven and who is being made new? For the Spirit to begin the deepest cleaning, you must be willing to walk the sacrificial pathway of Christ for transformation to begin. It is only on this pathway where Christ and His Kingdom together are glorified in and through your entire life.

peace…

brandon