“Finally, All of You, Live in Harmony…”

PeaceLoveHarmony

When you combine three or more specific but unique root notes on the musical scale they create a very pleasant sounding single harmonic chord. These chords are then arranged or scored and the result is a beautiful piece of music-Harmony.  Some of the greatest bands of all time are known for their incomparable harmonies-The Bee Gees, Boys to Men, The Eagles, The Stylistics, Acapella and yes, even Abba! Harmony is a beautiful thing when aspired to and achieved.  It can also be extremely painful even to the untrained ear when one of the notes is not in tune with the others!

As followers of Christ we are exhorted through scripture to live at peace with each other, in harmony with our Christian siblings and with the world at large so that nothing evil can be said of us and so that the name of Christ is not tarnished. Sadly, this is not always the case.  As I observe the recent riots centered around hate groups and the resulting violent counter protests in Charlottesville, the controversy over the NFL, the extreme left and right rallies wherever the POTUS is appearing, the obvious agenda of media coverage to create false barriers and all the consequential replies and posts on social media, which has made experts of us all in each and every subject, I am left wondering why we have allowed our Christian mandates to be hijacked by emotional responses that cause betrayal and division. When differences of opinion, strategy or approach result in labeling, bashing or overly heated exchanges aired on social media like yesterday’s dirty laundry, we are not only betraying each other but our Lord whose name we sometimes falsely bear.

The title above is taken from 1 Peter 3. This is what it says in full context:

 “Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing”.

The circumstances of this particular letter is extremely relevant to what is going on in our world today.  The author of the letter is the Apostle Peter, believed to have been written while he was Bishop of Antioch.  It was addressed to various churches, Christ-followers in Asia Minor who were enduring religious persecution for their faith by those opposed to the church and its teachings, much like what we are seeing today.  The difference, however, and it’s a biggie, is that the church was not at odds against itself but wholly united for the cause of Christ.  But many in the church today are being wounded by friendly fire from within the brotherhood. Those wounds are profoundly deep and take much longer to heal and recover from.

In an effort to avoid any contribution on my part to the divisions seen in the Body, I decided to refrain from politically partisan posts or comments.  And yet, try as I might, I am sometimes compelled to add my two cents worth of wisdom since I too have become a social media expert, only to be quickly reminded why I swore off such participation.  Wee can’t all be alike, thank God, and we will each have different perspectives on certain issues based on our upbringing, our environment and our own personal experiences and history.  But the vigor with which we sometimes respond and the emotional hijacking of our character whenever those differences are made known, offers little resemblance to the passage above from 1 Peter. The words harmony, sympathetic, compassionate and humble, should be our guiding compass if we are compelled to jump into the fray of a particular cause or injustice.  But we can’t be harmonious if we are all off key, we can’t be sympathetic if we refuse to consider opposing views, we can’t show compassion if we’ve left grace and mercy behind, and we most certainly cannot be humble if we are hell bent on winning an argument and being seen as “right”.

The ideal of a perpetual state of peace may only exist in old Beatles songs, but the daily commands left for us in scripture can not and should not be so easily tossed to the side jut because we feel compelled to take up the banner for some issue that hits close to home. Yes, scriptures also tell us to combat injustice whenever we see it, bit is also tells us how that should be accomplished and seen. However when we crank up our volume to match the intensity of the worldly volume, we lose all credibility and can do more harm than good.  There will be a day for all Christian believers when the differences we so vigorously exaggerated just for the sake of a Hatfield-McCoy like feud will be of no consequence or recollection as finally we achieve harmony and one accord around the Great Throne and the mandates of Holy scripture are finally fulfilled in a peaceful eternal Kingdom.  Would that it would begin here with the time we have left on Earth.

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While America Votes Red or Blue the Church Walks Away Red and Blue

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Tomorrow many will head to their local polling places to exercise their right to vote for the candidates of their choice.  In the political arena the colors red and blue have been used to indicate left-leaning or right-leaning voters, and on maps, showing Republican vs. Democratic States during election coverage.  However, it is my humble observation that the church will walk away from this unprecedented election as both red and blue, i.e. bloodied and bruised.

I am grateful that God allows His kids to be unique, to have differing experiences that shape their life long beliefs and philosophies when it comes to certain issues.  God forbid we were all cookie-cutter church droids void of any diversity.  We can have different tastes in worship styles, in dress, in practice and traditions and within limited context we can even have differing views on Biblical topics like tongues or the tribulation, so long as we accept opposing views with respect and humility.  With that said, I am deeply troubled at how social media has applied a magnifying glass to the existing vile and bitterness exchanged within the church when it comes to a civil election.  We can peacefully agree to disagree on tongues or prophesy and call it different takes but when it comes to secular politics, opposing views are tantamount to creating enemy lines.  The passion and the angst we should hold for the Kingdom of Christ is perverted and exploited to “ungodly” levels as we label and in fact view each other not as eternal siblings but as red or blue, left or right, conservative or liberal, and even in some cases, “real” Christians or disingenuous believers.  We invoke God and His will or His sovereignty into the debates when in fact the God I know would have little to do with such petty grievances as secular politics.  Whether one views voting as a Christian obligation or abstaining as a preferable option, both have been demonized and regardless of the outcome of this election, there will be brothers and sisters of the faith left battled and bruised, red and blue.

Many have been duped by those who bastardize Holy Scripture to support a political stance. The “God sets up Kings” and the “God establishes governing rulers” crowds have not only used improper exegesis in interpretation, they have “exorcised Jesus” “straight out of context”.  There is not a single passage anywhere in the Word that advocates an obligation to exercise a secular civic right.  Thank God we live in a country where we can have a voice, but that choice should be individual, personal and most certainly not subject to ridicule by opposing siblings of the faith.  Conversely, the Holy Scriptures are plentiful in reference to how we are to treat each other with love in a spirit of unity that surpasses the limitations of fleeting time in a temporal world.

Romans 12:16, …”be of the same mind toward one another, not haughty…”

Romans 14:19, “pursue things which make for peace and building up of one another…”

1 Peter 3:8, “…be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted with a humble spirit…”

Eph. 4:3, “…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…”

When the religious leaders came against Christ accusing Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He was quick to remind them that a house divided against itself is doomed. We can be peacefully divided when it comes to non-essential differences of opinion-you can love the Colts and hate the Pats, you can cheer on the Cubs and detest the Sox.  You can tithe by obligation or you can be a cheerful giver.  You can fast once a year or on a regular calendar. But any division or opposing view that causes one brother to look critically at another in light of just these few referenced passages alone goes against the grain of the totality of Christ’s teachings on peace, love, unity and humility.  We can’t be the light of the world if we are snuffing out each others candles.  When any light is diminished the result is an increase in the level of darkness. At that point we have failed our commission.

Most would say that tomorrow, Election Tuesday, is the most important day of this year. The result of the peoples’ preference and direction for the next four to eight years hinges on the outcome of the vote.  I might suggest however that for many believers, the following day, Wednesday, is actually the most important day of the year.  It is the day after the election that we as a church will be forced to look at not only the results of this race and the impact it will have on its citizens, but the aftermath and the damage done during the electoral process and the ramifications it will have on eternal relationships. I have to ask this with all sincerity-on that day when we are reunited with Christ in our forever home, how important will it be if you voted red or blue, if you abstained completely, if your good friends or even your family shared opposing social beliefs, or if your candidate won or lost? We hear the phrase “big picture” quite a bit.  But “big picture” should mean totally different things to believers vs. nonbelievers. To the church, this world is but a vacation stop, not our home.  Until we can see each other in the realm of eternity we will continue to take up arms against the political enemy in a secular war with no real winners but a host of losers.  This weekend I’ll  still be in church as always,  I’ll still buy food when I run out, I’ll still be able to post my opinions, popular or not, and I’ll still have a loving Father who will sustain me as He has before when “my guy” didn’t win.  And I won’t be moving to Canada. My prayer is that we will embrace our rights to have a voice but that our love for each other will “Trump” any temporary and insignificant civil situation we find ourselves in, with the understanding that we serve an eternal leader who has already won and one who can never be voted out of office.

God bless our country and heal our land but more importantly, let our rule of law be the debt to love our brother, which can never be fully paid.

 

 

 

 

Racial Harmony in a World Out of Tune

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble-l Peter 3:8

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Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

These are the lyrics to a song written and performed by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder many years ago.  Black and white keys on a keyboard being played together to create amazing sounds and beautiful music not possible if any of the keys were missing.  Sounds like a simplistic approach to the races living together in love, even naive given the recent events making news headlines.  Is racial harmony attainable in our society or are there powers at work to keep us at odds with each other, trapped in the sins of our past?  I wish I knew the answer.

Let us not beat around the bush.  Two weeks ago in Ferguson, MO a black and unarmed youth was shot and killed by a white police officer during an arrest.  While we are still waiting for the facts to come out, we know from the autopsy report that the youth was shot six times resulting in his death.  Not long before that a white officer applied a rear choke hold to a black man, who stated several times that he couldn’t breathe.  The man died of asphyxiation. And in a case in Texas a man with his hands cuffed behind him allegedly shot and killed himself in the chest while in the back seat of a patrol car.  I am in now way attempting to jump on the “white police are looking for black men to shoot” band wagon message being marketed as common practice.  Being a graduate of the local citizens police academy I have much respect for the police department at large who risk their lives everyday and have the right to return to their families at the end of their shifts.  But when these incidents happen, as isolated or exploited by the media as they might be, they serve to open up old wounds that in all honesty, never healed.  And even those who are siblings in our Lord tend to get caught up in the momentum and the new life breathed into the social demons of hate and bigotry.  It’s a cycle that is like a True Blood vampire-it just won’t die!  How do we love our neighbor and promote peace in ignorance of racial history?

In Luke Jesus tells a parable about the man we refer to as the Good Samaritan;

Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan was not only a hated man by most Jews but he was also of a different race.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known as The Way of the Blood due to its history of robberies and murders.  Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife traveled this road when they were in the Holy Land.  I love MLK’s synopsis of the travelers.  The first two upon approaching the man in distress must have thought to themselves, “what will happen to me if I assist this man“, while the Samaritan thought ” what will happen to this man if I don’t assist“.  Jesus had just stated that we should love our neighbors and used this story to show that brotherly love extends beyond the races.

I am a white man.  I was born that way.  Many parts of my character and preferences are more black than white but that’s another blog.  But even I have been criticized by many of my black brothers of  “not understanding” or being to white to get it.  My genuinely good intentions of trying to insert Christian love into the solution and response has been summarily dismissed as a “just get over it” attitude, not my personal stance at all.  I firmly believe that when Christians perceive injustices they have not only a right but an obligation to acknowledge and address them, just not in the same way as the hate mongers given our national spotlights do.  In the widely accepted “Love Chapter”, l Corinthians,  it is stated “…love barely notices when it is wronged“.  I know how tall an order that is to the parents of a youth unjustly shot by an officer, or another the victim of a terrible rape or murder.  The indignation that is the human spirit trumps the divine nature of Christ that should be indwelling us at all times.  Our response is always “yes, but”.  Loving our neighbors and those who persecute us is not turning a blind eye, as I have been accused of, but rising above the existence of hate.  Even scripture tells us that if we only love those who love us, how are we different than the world.  Applying Christian love in situations of hate does not mean we don’t peacefully protest, it does not keep us from seeking justice for all, and it does not render us inactive in seeking resolutions to social ills.  However it does compel us to approach these issues with the mind of Christ as His disciples and as a voice of reason and compassion, seeking restoration, not chronicling all history’s sins against mankind and pouring salt in the wounds.

It is high time that the leaders in the church, black and white, come together and raise their voices in harmony against injustice at every level and set the example on a national platform visible to all, tackle the tough and obvious questions, identify the ugly beast and raise the standard of peace as Christian brothers and sisters who are not of this world, and by doing so draw attention to the ultimate peace keeper, Jesus Christ.   I am convinced with all my heart that there is an attainable solution to this once all parties agree to come together, “forgetting what is past and pressing on” to acquire harmony and balance in our earthly domain as we prepare for and wait in eager anticipation of our Heavenly kingdom and reward.  At the throne of judgment there will be sheep and goats.  I wonder if there will also be peacekeepers and and war mongers.  Label me as you will-I will use what little influence I have for peace and pray every day that I will see it manifested in my world.