The Power to Push Back the Darkness

On Sunday’s when I’m home sick, I like to check out the online worship service at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City (www.cor.org) where Adam Hamilton has been the lead pastor since the church began in 1990. One day I was struck by Adam Hamilton’s comment, “You are God’s strategic plan to push back the darkness.” I have to admit, that I have never thought of myself in those terms. Yet, hearing the words and being reminded that we are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, got me to thinking – Just what does a Christian do, to push back the darkness in our world?

The present political climate in the United States is cause for many of us to search for a way to push back the darkness. Our inner demons have been set loose. The past year of campaign rhetoric and all the divisions since has fueled attitudes of arrogance, racism, and fear. All of which lack the compassion of a Jesus. I find it hard to comprehend the attitude of people who claim the name of Christian and then proceed to do hate speech on social media. Christians are seeped in foundational stories which ground us. We remember Jesus telling us that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, it is as if we are doing it for him. (Matthew 25:31-46) I’m troubled by Christian friends who have missed this compelling message of Jesus.

We live in a world of deep challenges, in a nation so divided that we find it hard to even talk to each other about the issues that divide us, but matter to all of us. Likewise, we live in a time of immense possibilities in need of people who will direct those possibilities for good. It comes to me that each of us, does have the power to push back the darkness. Each of us has the power of words, where we live and work, in our families and in our homes. We have the power to influence through our own attitudes and actions. Especially, we can use our words on behalf of people who are targets of bigotry, injustice and callousness.

We have been born into this time and this era for a purpose. We are followers of Jesus who need to act in love and be God’s strategic plan to push back the darkness, We do that by being agents of God’s love and grace. Our part may seem very small. It may seem insignificant, but daily we have the power to use the influence we have to build bridges of understanding. We can influence through our generosity. We can give support and encouragement to people who need to know the gift of friendship and the power of God’s loving care through us. Today we can make another person’s life better, because of who we are and what we do and say. We really can be people who push against the darkness.

Jesus said it another way, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)

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Surviving Political Polarization, Scandals and Fears – Remembering God is Still God

I learned a new word recently, “Awfulizing.” A person engaged in “Awfulizing” assumes the worst case scenario will come true in any situation. “Awfulizers,” can only see the potential hazard ahead and prepare themselves for a disaster. I think I’ve been doing a good bit of “Awfulizing” myself in recent weeks.

I have watched unfolding events in Washington with despair. Every time I’ve seen regulations cut that would protect consumers, the environment or the work place -I’ve set off on a case of “Awfulizing.” I’ve agonized over the House version of the health care bill. Each time, I have assumed the worst that can happen will happen. That was before the past weeks in Washington. Most media carried stories of the firing of the FBI Director and it’s far reaching impact. Now there is apparent evidence that President Trump encouraged the FBI Director to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn. While all of this is going on, the concerns and needs of ordinary people are put aside in the midst of the latest scandal.

I read an article recently where a person likened today’s period of “Isn’t this awful” thinking to the experience of England in the Blitz. During an eight-month period, from the fall of 1940 to late spring of 1941, England was bombed almost daily. While many people in England are bemoaning *Brexit the writer pointed out, that any fallout from Brexit could not compare to what people endured as they lived through the Blitz in London. The writer then added, nor does it compare to the height of World War II when almost every family in the United States had one or more family members deployed in the war effort.

In January of 1780, Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams, who would later become president, “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed . . . The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties . . . Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

What I’ve been forgetting in all of my “Awfulizing” is that, while I don’t like much of what is happening in Washington these days, God is still God. God still works through God’s people for good. God is a God of justice. When God works in the hearts, minds and souls’ of God’s people, truth rises to the surface. There is “Awfulizing” and there is action. God always calls us to move from looking at the problems in our world to working on positive solutions. The choice is really ours. Where does God need us today? Is it “Awfulizing” or is it to start working for solutions?

*Brexit -The decision in 2016 by popular vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The decision impacts everything from trade and students attending colleges outside of the UK, to international banking.

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Making a Difference – The Power to Bless

(First Published October 29, 2015)

In her book “Angels in the Workplace,” Melissa Giovagnoli tells the story of a man who was homeless. There was a program in that city to help people get off of the streets by earning money selling newspapers. So every morning, a formerly homeless man went down to his street corner to sell papers. Rain or shine, in cold weather or warm, he was there. He began to wave at the familiar faces of people who were driving past.

One day, he was startled by a woman who stopped her car, jumped out and gave him a big hug. She said to him, “I want to thank you for simply being here.” She went on to tell of the difficult time she was going through. Every day was a struggle. There were days when she really didn’t know if she could go on. But each day, as she came to that intersection, there he was standing and waving to her. His simple gesture of warmth, gave her the strength to get through the rest of the day.

Often, we look at our lives and tell ourselves that we can’t make a difference anywhere. We really don’t fully comprehend the impact we have on another person’s life. Simple kindnesses can make a significant difference to a person starved for affection and love. A note, a phone call, a visit, a word of encouragement, a smile or taking time to listen can show that you genuinely love and care for that person. Your prayers can touch a life and join with Gods for a person’s well-being.

You have it in your power to bless somebody’s life today. You can make a difference. You can be a part of God’s Kingdom of love and kindness. Look around you. Who needs you to reach out as a friend to share God’s love today?

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On the Path to Easter

(First Published, March 2016)

As Jesus travels through Holy Week, he is surrounded by a sea of human need. He sees heartache and sorrow, the mingled tears of humanity. He confronts evil, challenges systems, restores hope. Compassionate eyes search for those he can bring hope to. He offers the wisdom of one who knows these are to be the words his followers will remember.

The path to Easter is a mixture of celebration and pain. Good Friday inevitably stands in the path to Easter. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. A crowd will shout its praises on Palm Sunday. The greedy and powerful are confounded when they and their trade are cast out of God’s sacred space. Healing occurs and some are blessed with restored health. One we love is betrayed by a close and trusted friend. Ugliness, the ugliness of a crowd that lets itself be swayed away from truth and into violence takes over. And the heart cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Whenever fear, death and darkness appear to win the day, we stand by Good Friday’s cross, asking the questions of faith. We do not have answers for most of our Good Friday questions. What we do have is One who walks with us through the Good Friday’s of life… One who stands with us when we encounter its pain and harshness… One who embraces us in the darkness of our personal Good Friday.

Easter stands forever as a reminder that God has the final word. Death is not more powerful than life. Easter comes with its joyful message! Its certain response to Good Friday’s heartache. “He Is Risen!”

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An Apology for a Former President

(First Published July 31, 2015)

New York Times Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, offered an apology on behalf of the media to former President Jimmy Carter in 2015. Carter only served one term as president. It was a time of rapid inflation. World oil production was cut back because of the Iranian revolution leading to shortages, long lines at gas stations and high prices. The media never really took to Carter. His Southern background wasn’t a mix for Washington insiders. Jokes about peanuts were frequent. His presidency was covered by the media in a way that indicated that the Georgia peanut farmer, belonged back home on the farm.

But life for Carter since the presidency, has been an amazing story of living life with significance and meaning. Nicholas Kristof ended his July 9, 2015 apology to Jimmy Carter saying, “We in the snooty media world owe him an apology.” He pointed out that this former president has improved the lives of more people, in more places in the world than any other recent president.

From the time I first heard that former President Jimmy Carter led a Bible Study at his home church in Plains Georgia, it was on my bucket list of things to do. Which is how I found myself in that little church on a Sunday morning in June of 2012. Then, age 87, the former president was just back from monitoring the election in Egypt.

I discovered that Jimmy Carter exudes joy when he shares his deep faith. The day I visited, his Bible Study was based on the book of Matthew, that section where Jesus’s disciples ask him how to pray. Jesus in turn taught his disciples the prayer we know of as the Lord’s Prayer. Carter said he believes that when Jesus told his disciples to pray the words. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus was asking them and us to envision the world God wants for us. “It certainly,” he said, “would be one of peace.” Then he told us what he has come to believe, that “peace cannot come apart from forgiveness.”

Carter said that the years of his presidency were those when he prayed most fervently with the most emotion because he felt an obligation to the American people to not make a mistake. Given political realities, we could argue about the success of his presidency, but I’ve always admired the way he chose to live after he left the white house.

Instead of sitting back and resting on some quite significant accomplishments in life, he decided to take that segment of life left to him and do whatever he could to make the world a better place. He created the Carter Center with it’s mission to “Wage peace, fight disease, and build hope.” He has frequently been invited to monitor elections around the world, to insure the integrity of those elections

He left us the day I visited with these words, “Our prayer should be to find out where we fit into the universe.” I think that last piece is one that is a lifetime quest. Where does God want us to fit into the universe? How does God want us to serve in this stage of each of our lives?

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Integrity in Washington – Fixing What is Broken in Health Care

I breathed a great big sigh of relief when the repeal and replace health care law was pulled yesterday and wondered if President Trump secretly did too. The American Health Care Act, the bill that would have replaced the Affordable Health Care Act, was opposed by almost every medical organization in the country from the American Medical Association to Hospital Associations and every specialty in-between. Millions were projected to lose their health care coverage. It would have put a greater burden on the working poor and given tax breaks to our wealthiest citizens. The bill was a train wreck ready to devastate the country.

In the months since the election many people learned that the Affordable Care Act, they or family members have found help and relief in, was the Obamacare they loved to hate. I have both friends and family who have been helped through tough stretches because of this law. I am personally grateful that it stays in place. I also know people who have experienced too high premiums and deductibles. What has been a blessing for some of my friends is neither affordable nor available for others. Clearly, the law which exists needs help.

Now that the replacement law has failed, I hope and pray that Washington decides to fix what is broken in the Affordable Care Act and not spend any more time playing political games with Health Care. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009, all efforts to repair the bill have failed in congress. What is forgotten are the hurting people depending on this Congress to come up with genuine solutions which will work for everyone. They live in every district in the country. They are not just Democrats or just Republicans they are Americans, representing all political parties and those who have none. The people who are hurting are not the wealthy in these districts and probably not big donors. This group will never carry the political muscle of billionaires and their threats to financially support another person carry little weight. But, they are those “salt of the earth,” hard-working people who are the essence on which our nation has grown and flourished.

When Medicare became law there were any number of issues which arose in the following years. Back then, we had a Washington that was more concerned about fixing the problems than playing political games. Our representatives and senators worked across the aisle to make the new Medicare law work. It’s called integrity. Would that there was more of it in our nations’ leaders today.

The psalmist in a difficult and challenging time promised God, “But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.” Psalm 26:11-12

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Living as a Christian Nation in the Post Election World of 2016

(First Published – November 14, 2016)

The election of 2016 has torn at the very fabric of our nation. Words and actions have brought out our darker angels. Facebook posts tell both sides of the long battle for the White House. Some of my friends are deeply troubled by the outcome. Others are celebrating. I know people who are afraid, while some feel misunderstood in the backlash of being labeled a racist.

What I have learned in this election is that all of us need to begin listening to people who have different political beliefs. Until we hear the pain, we will never understand what lies in the hearts of people we differ with. What are the hurts, hope and aspirations of our neighbors? What is the source of anger that rages? Are their common values that can guide us?

I dare to believe that our Christian faith can show us the way. First of all there is love. Love for God and love for each other. If our nation is to resolve our vast differences, it will be because we take time to listen to each other in love. For in listening we gain empathy, compassion and understanding.

Back in the first century, the apostle Paul, wrote to a group of people in the city of Corinth urging them to start living the Christian faith they claimed. In simple eloquence he sent words to bring about understanding and reconciliation, saying, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing . . . Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” * Love includes respect, compassion and caring. Love treats the other as we would want to be treated.

We say that we are a Christian nation. Votes were cast based upon Biblical values. Perhaps, the best way for us to bridge the distance between us, is for all of us who claim to be a Christian, to live and speak like one.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” *

*Scripture is taken from I Corinthians Chapter 13.

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