Matthew 5:38–48

You have heard that it used to be said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I tell you, don’t resist the man who wants to harm you. If a man hits your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If a man wants to sue you for your coat, let him have it and your overcoat as well. If anybody forces you to go a mile with him, do more—go two miles with him. Give to the man who asks anything from you, and don’t turn away from the man who wants to borrow.”

You have heard that it used to be said, ‘You shall love your neighbour’, and ‘hate your enemy’, but I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Heavenly Father. For he makes the sun rise upon evil men as well as good, and he sends his rain upon honest and dishonest men alike.

For if you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even tax-collectors do that! And if you exchange greetings only with your own circle, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do that much. No, you are to be perfect, like your Heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:38–48,
J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”
1962 edition by HarperCollins

Links to Go (August 26, 2014)

Don’t Let Your Comfort Zone Kill Your Church

My question is this: are we willfully blind in our churches? As the body of Christ, do we intentionally turn a blind eye to problems in the Church as a whole, or more specifically, in our local congregations? Why do we ignore problems that persist in our churches? Are we like the rest of the world, afraid of being labeled as some sort of pharisaical whistleblower in our church?
What if your church would be better off if you had the courage to speak up and help solve problems that may plague your congregation? Can you think of a persistent issue in your church that needs to be dealt with? Why aren’t you dealing with it?

Well To Start With, Your Last Theologian Was A Idiot

And that’s where it starts reminding me of theology, especially the kind of theology geared for public teaching. Some theologians adopt the same rhetorical tone when disagreeing with other theologians or traditions. They don’t say, “well, there are several opinions about that, and what you’re describing is A, while I’m persuaded by C.” They don’t attempt to get inside the mind of the other view, or try to explain sympathetically what previous teachers must have been thinking. Instead they trash the other view, and then assure listeners that NOW they’re getting the real story.

How We Can Learn From One Another

Our cities contain a diversity of persons with different perspectives, communication patterns, and presuppositions about the world in which we live. We desire to be heard and we desire to be understood. In order for this to occur, we must do the hard work of knowing and intently hearing from other ethnic groups.
When we pursue the hard work of knowing and hearing intently what life as an African American or Caucasian American resembles, embrace becomes possible. It is in the work of creating this new fellowship with each other that we have the opportunity to also demonstrate God’s embrace of a diverse humanity in Jesus Christ.

Viral Evangelism

One of the things the IBC [Ice Bucket Challenge] did for me was to see that somebody behind this went public with it. They filmed it. That’s all. No billboards. No TV ads. Filmed by amateurs on phones. That’s it!
What if we filmed baptisms the same way? What if we moved these sacred events through the media for others to see how it’s done and what it’s for? Additionally, what if we helped novices to baptize their friends and their friends baptize their friends?

A guide to four types of Bible study learners

Here are four types of adult learners that I’ve found in church small groups:

  • “Go deeper.” These are the folks for whom the Bible can never be complicated enough.
  • “Whatever. If the doors are open, I’ll be there.” At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who don’t care what the lesson is about or who the teacher is.
  • “Let’s talk about that.” Lectures were once the dominant form of adult teaching in most churches, but today many people prefer a discussion format.
  • “Make it fun.” A friend of mine once observed that a successful pastor we knew was not much of a preacher, “but he is a great after-dinner speaker.” The same can be true of small-group Bible study leaders.

Illiterate People of the Book

69% of adult Americans consider themselves Biblically literate according to a study conducted in 2013 by the Barna Group. But the same study found that 58% of American Christians are not interested in Biblical insight on how to live their lives.
Instead, the survey found that the highest-ranking topic about which we look to the Bible for wisdom was death. This disconnect between reading God’s Word and believing that God’s Word applies directly to our lives is troubling.

A Look at Labels

The following links are posts on labels and why they often do more harm than good.

Doctors Say We Should Let Students Sleep in Longer

This is exactly why doctors are now urging schools to delay their start time until after 8:00 am to accommodate kids’ natural sleep cycles. Right now, only about 15% of all high schools start after 8, but a handful are heeding the doctors’ advice, and it’s paying off. Research published earlier this year from the University of Minnesota in St Paul showed that later start times improve grades, test scores, and lower teen car accidents by a dumbfounding 65 to 70 percent.

64 People and Their Famous Last Words

Poignant, funny, sad, weird or mean—last words can make quite the impact as we shuffle off the stage of life. Here are 64 notable examples.

Salt, Light, Peacemakers

crayonsYesterday I only preached to part of the group that meets in the chapel at University Church of Christ. I let the rest of the group listen in, but my message was really addressed to our public school students.

School was on their mind. Today is the first day of classes here. As they thought about the upcoming year, I told them to think of themselves as missionaries. We had sent out groups this summer to Africa and Latin America. Now we’re sending out a group to the public schools of Abilene.

I told them that their mission was to change their school. To make it a better place. And that they would do that in three ways:

  1. By being salt. I reminded them of how salt changes the flavor of food. (Unfortunately, the young boy I called on prefers unsalted mashed potatoes; I told him he’d ruined my point!) And we read Matthew 5:13:

    You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

    They were reminded that the only way to be salty was to be different from those around them.

  2. By being light. We talked about how darkness can’t project itself, it can only occupy the places where there is no light. By being light at their school, they would naturally push back the darkness. And we read Matthew 5:16:

    In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

    They were reminded that they needed to let other people see good in them, not evil.

  3. By being peacemakers. We talked about the unrest in the world, but more specifically the unrest that occurs in schools. We talked about racial tensions, social tensions, gangs, bullies. We talked about how one voice speaking up for peace can often defuse a tense situation. We read Romans 12:17-18:

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

    They were reminded that they were to be agents of God’s presence, bringing peace to a tense world.

And after each point, I had everyone who would be involved in school (including college students, teachers, and others) to raise their hands and repeat after me:

“I will be salt.”
“I will be light.”
“I will be a peacemaker.”

Image by Amanda Petty via Creation Swap

Links to Go (August 25, 2014)

Review of Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank
Part 1

Part 2
Part 3

Over my forty-plus years of preaching and teaching I have slowly shifted from reading Scripture as a legal textbook designed to provide a specific pattern to reading Scripture as a story in we participate by imitating God. Rather than servile slaves whose obedience is rewarded and disobedience is punished based on keeping the technicalities of the law, we are God’s partners in the divine mission who are enabled by the power of God to participate in the unfolding story of God.

America in Black and White: Why Do So Many of Us Respond to Ferguson So Differently?

I do not know all of the answers. At times I don’t even know how to ask questions or attempt answers for fear of misunderstanding or being misunderstood. There is an enormously complex constellation of presuppositions, history, psychology, inclinations, suspicions at play here.
What I do know is that we all can learn from one another on this, and that interacting without understanding is counterproductive.

It’s Time to Listen: Will White Evangelicals Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice?

In an interview Dr. King once said these words with respect to the civil rights movement:

… the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned.

I am praying that here, now, this mistake will be rectified. I want to believe that you will rise to our aid, and that you would agree that a silent Christian who avoids applying the gospel to issues of injustice—though those issues may be uneasy, unclear or politicized—upholds the very structures that purport and perpetuate injustice.

Three Barriers Hijacking Christians’ Ability to Love Our ‘Enemies’

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers, and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human.
Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?”

Of Ice Buckets, True Righteousness, and Our Neighbor

So…stand up to cancer or walk for pink ribbons or take a bucket of ice for the team. Have at it if you like. Just remember that your real goodness is the kind of goodness that caused Paul to boast in weakness and brought martyrdom (not celebration) to millions. And then love Him and love your neighbor in all the ways in which your faith leads you.

What the Bleep Does the Bible Say About Profanity?

In some ways, it’s understandable that we don’t want to be using this type of language in church. But, on the other hand, the Gospel is offensive. Grace is scandalous. And that’s the real point. The biblical prophets sometimes use offensive language, but not to produce shock for its own sake. Edginess was never the goal, and neither was some vague notion of Christian “freedom.” God’s messengers used vulgar images to shock their religious audience out of complacency. Because sometimes the goodness of God becomes lost in the fog of Christianese rhetoric and religious routine, and the only way to wake us up is to use provocative language.

From brother to enemy


Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

We’re at the 100 year anniversary of the War to End All Wars; somehow I don’t think that concept worked so well.

Yesterday, a Cuban friend posted on Facebook a picture of his younger brother, who is performing his compulsory military service. My friend asked for prayers for his brother.

I looked into the face of the young man that I knew from numerous youth conferences, and I was moved. Moved by the thought that, for many of my brothers in Christ, this young man’s status could change from “brother” to “enemy” at the stroke of a politician’s pen. From being one to be hugged and loved, he would become another target to be shot at. All because someone in Washington D.C declared war on another country.

I can’t wrap my mind around it. “At least he’d go to heaven if he were killed,” is the reply I’ve received. And it doesn’t ease my pain.

Fortunately, Cuban troops rarely see action. But we know these things can change. It’s been a mere three decades since U.S. troops last killed Cuban forces (on the island of Grenada). It only takes a few politicians (or just one, if he’s president) to decide it needs to be done.

Of course, we all have full faith in every decision made by our Congress and our President. Don’t we?

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree N. Palacios