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Guarding Each Other’s Dignity

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each other’s dignity and save each other’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

– Excerpt of “By Our Love” by for KING & COUNTRY

When I read about the early Church, one thing that never fails to move me – sometimes to tears – is the love the brothers and sisters shared with each other. No mere platitude, this love was expressed in solidarity so deep that followers of Christ sold their homes and kept the proceeds in a common pot. They not only cared for the poor within the fellowship of believers, but outside of it as well. Nobody was turned away; nobody was left behind.

How different that world is from my world, from Babylon! What a splendid inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven! In Babylon, worth is measured by earnings – past, present or future – and by status, but in the Kingdom, every person is cherished, whether or not he can work, whether or not she is profitable. In fact, in the Kingdom, the poor and lowly are considered particularly blessed! In Babylon, once I’ve got mine, you’d better worry about getting yours, but in the Kingdom, people put the interests of others above their own. In Babylon, we prioritize productivity and navigating our calendar as efficiently possible, but in the Kingdom “wasting time” in teaching, in prayer and in sacrificial relationship with others is the highest and best use of the day. In Babylon, we do our best to make ourselves look good, including by shredding others’ reputations, but in the Kingdom, human weakness emphasizes God’s glory and, as the song says, believers “guard each other’s dignity and save each other’s pride.”

Most of us know that we are supposed to guard each other’s dignity in our speech, and we try – however imperfectly – to avoid gossip and disparaging comments. But how can we bring this attitude to our actions?

I had an unexpected opportunity to answer that question a few weeks ago. I had gotten involved in a lively exchange on the subway with a man a few years older than me. I was excited that he was not only getting off at my stop but also taking the same commuter train, as good conversation makes the long trip home so much more pleasant. But as soon as the subway pulled into the station, my conversation partner, who used a cane to walk, started giving me “outs” to let me smoothly exit the conversation, noting that I would likely want to take the stairs, that the elevator was probably dirty, that I might miss the earliest train. In response, I smiled wryly and remarked on the weirdness of running off in the middle of a conversation, particularly for someone raised by human beings rather than by wolves.

While my gentle joking allowed us to return to a thoughtful and rewarding interaction, I was inwardly horrified that the man felt the need to give me tacit permission to leave him behind, particularly since we were going in the same direction. What kind of rude, crude, uncouth Philistine would abruptly abandon a conversationalist so warm and engaging? But as I have continued to reflect on that question, the real answer has become uncomfortably clear: I would.

The truth is, continuing our conversation meant slowing down significantly. It meant moving much more deliberately than my typical “places to go, people to see” bob-and-weave style. If my family had been waiting for me at home, if I had been rushing to meet my husband for dinner, if I had been hurrying to complete an assignment for work, would I have accommodated my companion’s languid pace so easily and naturally? Almost certainly not. And my self-centered, utilitarian orientation would have caused me to miss out on a beautiful experience of engaging with him around matters of faith and connecting with him around questions of spirituality.

The toxic busyness and me-first heartspace that characterize Babylon often prevent us from experiencing and responding to opportunities to share the Gospel of love. Even worse, we may come to view other human beings as objects to be acted upon, impediments to be discarded or obstacles to be overcome. This attitude stands in grotesque contrast to the way of the Kingdom, which honors all people as the precious and beloved beings that God knows them to be. In Babylon, we worship beauty and power. We cast aside those who can’t keep up. In the Body of Christ, though, the parts that outwardly are the least dignified – the parts that are weak, unsightly, imperfect –  are treated with the greatest dignity.

What would it look like to carry a Kingdom mentality into our daily interactions? What could it be to jealously guard the dignity of the people in our lives? What concrete steps can we take to infiltrate Babylon as God-empowered agents of radical respect?

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Spirit-Led Evangelism

Many thanks to my friend (and fellow Friend of Jesus) Johan Maurer for publishing this piece on his blog, Can You Believe?, and for encouraging me to distribute it widely.

Have you ever been amazed by God? Has he ever surprised you with joy, healing, challenge or transformation? When you experienced God’s grace and power, maybe you looked for people to talk to about it with, only to be met with indifference or worse. Or maybe you were afraid to even try to tell some people your story for fear of offending. Or maybe you started off boldly in your first wave of enthusiasm, only to lose your confidence as the experience lost its freshness.

It is hard to talk about God, Jesus and the spiritual life in this moment in American history. Many of our non-Christian neighbors find the little they know about Jesus to be attractive or intriguing, but they know enough about the failings of the church to have very negative opinions about actual Christians. If we do have non-Christian friends, it may be despite our Christian faith rather than because of it – we may be seen as the exception that proves the rule.

So many of us want to follow Jesus’ directive to go and make disciples but don’t know how to engage people who are skeptical of, indifferent to or uncomfortable with the Gospel in a way that:

  • Is authentic to our own communication style;
  • Is honest about Jesus’ bold claims;
  • Honors the uniqueness, spirituality and God-given worth of the individual before us; and
  • Is unscripted and responsive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

I hope this will help you get started!

Understanding Evangelism
Evangelism is simply sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ, nothing more and nothing less. Please purge your mind of any thought of “converting” anyone: that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not yours! What you can do is share your own experience of God’s grace and power and invite others to reflect on and respond to God’s love for them.

Understood this way, evangelism isn’t about “winning souls”: it’s about opening doors to deeper relationship with God through Christ. It should also be clear that sharing the Gospel isn’t something we only do to the “unconverted”; the Gospel is also something that we should share with our brothers and sisters in Christ who need encouragement in faith. When sharing the Gospel becomes part of our ordinary life, rather than something we reserve for special initiatives or occasions, we create space for God to use us to touch lives in ways we can’t imagine and open paths we may never see. The Word of God is a seed scattered freely among all people, but we can, with God’s grace, help provide a bit of water, or sunlight, or fertilizer to help that seed take root and grow.

What is the Gospel?
Part of the reason that sharing the Good News can be so hard is that it is such good news! The Gospel is so big that it can be hard to sum up in a few words, and I won’t even try. However, I will describe different aspects of the amazing saving work accomplished by and in Christ.

I encourage you to explore parts of the Gospel that are uncomfortable to you. Several years ago, I read Death by Love, a book that explores different aspects of the atonement – the way Jesus reconciles God and humanity. My least favorite parts focused on penal substitution, the idea that Jesus accepted God’s punishment for our sins on our behalf. The whole concept seemed barbaric! But I was recently able to share exactly that truth with a dear friend struggling with painful guilt over the harm unwise personal decisions had caused her family. The reminder that Christ had already taken on and discharged the weight of her sins at Calvary brought her such joy, peace and healing that we both wound up in tears!

I am so grateful that I stretched myself to read and absorb that book, even the parts that I found disturbing, because it prepared me to be an agent of God’s grace to a friend in her time of need. Learning about the different aspects of the Gospel will give you a language to minister to the real people and real problems of the people you meet. Isn’t that worth a little discomfort?

With all that said, the Gospel is the good news that:

  • God passionately loves each and every person in the world;
  • God created everything in the world to work together in harmony;
  • God will set right every injustice on the Day of Judgment;
  • Jesus has paid the price on the cross for every bad thing you have ever done or will ever do;
  • Jesus has broken the stranglehold evil, dysfunction and addiction has on your life, on your family and on this world;
  • Followers of Christ have the authority to collaborate with God in his holy purposes of life, reconciliation, healing and sacrificial love;
  • The Body of Christ is a family that is holy and eternal;
  • The Spirit of Christ is here, now, to guide you into a new way of living and to empower you to shed old habits and dysfunctions;
  • Jesus provides a model for what it means to be fully human, as God intended for each of us to be;
  • The blood of Jesus has cleansed you of all defilement;
  • While you cannot earn a place of honor with God, you don’t have to – in Christ you have all the holiness and righteousness you need;
  • By fellowship in the Body of Christ, you can participate in a holy community outside of the power dynamics of the world’s hierarchies and enter into messy, glorious, life-sustaining fellowship;
  • Each and every true follower of Christ – regardless of race, class, disability or any outward characteristic – is a precious and gifted channel of God’s glory and grace; and
  • Jesus can bring you healing from all manner of woundedness.

Now, isn’t that good news?

Preparing Your Mind to Share the Good News
Read and reread your New Testament and books, including devotionals, that lift up and celebrate the Gospel. (I enjoy the Solo Devotional, which is based on the fresh and relevant Message translation and invites life-giving, interesting contemplation and reflection.) Put the Good News into your own words. Connect it to your own life. How have you experienced Christ’s power? How have you experienced God’s grace? Listen to quality hymns and praise songs, which illustrate different elements of the Good News. For example, compare “Victory in Jesus” with “He Leadeth Me” with “Canticle of the Turning.” Each is an excellent exposition of the Gospel, but the first focuses on Jesus’ victory over sin and death, the next on the ever-present guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the last on God’s care for the weak and his revolutionary justice.

There’s no single right script when you share the Gospel, and there’s no wrong testimony. The important thing is to get comfortable telling the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. The practice of putting it into words for yourself will help you internalize this precious gift in all its glory. This will make it much easier to live each day to the glory of God and, of course, to share the Gospel with others.

Preparing Your Heart to Share the Good News
If you are reading this, it is because you are eager to start sharing the Good News – or at least curious about the idea. Maybe you realized you aren’t acting out the Great Commission and you would like to. Maybe you see how people around you could benefit from the hope Jesus shared. Or maybe you’re so excited about Jesus you can’t help sharing.

Wherever you are in your evangelism journey, you should ask God for two things: love and discernment.

Love is essential for the work of evangelism, because people can tell when they are a “project” and they don’t generally appreciate it. Love in this context is not so much a feeling as it is an attitude or way of being. The kind of love you need for evangelism – and for the Christian walk in general – says:

  • You and your inner world are precious to God – and to me;
  • It is a privilege to hear your thoughts, problems and concerns; and
  • Your need is more valuable than my time and preferences.

There will be times when God will open a door to a relationship or conversation that you’d rather stayed closed, because you’re busy or distracted or you don’t have natural affection or affinity for the person you are called to speak with. Love is what lets you say, “Not my will, but your will be done, Lord.”

Pray for love. Pray for patience. Pray for a tender, listening heart. Cultivate awareness of others. If you seek earnestly to grow in love, I promise you will.

Discernment is tapping into a deeper reality, accessing the mind of God and being sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is being attentive to “nudges” of the Spirit, who will lead you in all elements of evangelism – who to start a conversation with, who to build a loving spiritual friendship with, what part of the Gospel will be most meaningful and how to share it, and so forth. Discernment takes you beyond your intelligence and wisdom and gives you access to God’s intelligence and wisdom. That’s a big advantage!

Practicing different forms of prayer and worship is a great way to grow in discernment. Praying the psalms, contemplative prayer, and intercession without an agenda – waiting for God to tell you who or what to pray for – are good ways to grow in discernment, and anyone can do them. I also highly recommend meditating on scripture, particularly the prophets and the words of Jesus, so you can get familiar with what God sounds like. This is really valuable so that you can tell the difference between your own thoughts and intuitions and the wisdom that comes from God. In addition, singing and other forms of praise will help overcome any inner resistance to really trusting God to carry you through conversations with strangers, sharing messages you don’t understand, being open and vulnerable and all the other risks that come with letting God use you to draw others closer to him.

Pray to grow in wisdom and faith so that God can use you extravagantly for his glory. Pray for a bold and generous spirit. Pray to know and obey the voice of Christ inside you. God will hear you, I promise.

Just Do It!
As you go about your day, ask God, “Who can I encourage today? Who needs to experience your love today? Who can I bless today?” Be ready to obey God’s call. You may have to do some “self-talk” to follow through but you never know where obedience can take you and what conversations it may start.

For example, God may prompt you to add a few minutes to your commute by buying breakfast for a homeless person, which may lead to conversation about why you are doing it. You can then reply by sharing how God has put people in your life to help when you needed it and you feel called to be that person for someone else. Or you may cross paths with a colleague who is upset and whom you can comfort. It’s not always appropriate or productive to share the Gospel in every situation – discernment is required. But if you try to live the Gospel all the time and you ask God for opportunities to share it, you’ll find that they come up more often than you might expect.

Don’t wait until you have “mastered” the right information or techniques. Just open your heart and ask the Lord to lead you, praying the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am; send me.”

Spirit-Led Evangelism in Action
I actually started writing this on a flight from Minneapolis to Sacramento. About an hour into the 3.5 hour flight, I noticed that the young man seated next to me had put away his phone, flipped through the seat-back magazine and was looking desperately bored. Part of me wanted to seize the opportunity of traveling alone to set out my thoughts on Reimagining Evangelism, a book I had just finished and that was still on my tray table. However, I was aware of the uncomfortable irony in writing about evangelism while ignoring the actual person sitting next to me. Eventually, I couldn’t continue writing.

So instead I made a banal comment about how they used to give you food on long flights, and soon my Catholic row-mate Bobby and I were off to the races, discussing our respective career goals, thoughts about evil and strategies for negotiating challenging work environments. I was able to encourage him in his calling (he was a paramedic) and testify to him about the value of connecting with God. He didn’t even flinch when I started talking about how followers of Christ are called to respond to evil (I did avoid the term “spiritual warfare”!), and he seemed pleasantly surprised when – after over two hours of conversation – I asked if I could pray for him during our descent.

It was one of the most anointed conversations I have had in a long time, and it confirmed my hope that when we set aside our plans and open ourselves up to God’s unexpected motions, when we leave space for the Holy Spirit to act, when we are willing to testify to God’s grace and power, we can be blessed – and bless others – in unforeseen and beautiful ways.

Welcoming the Gifts God Sends Us

The gifts [Jesus] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

– Ephesians 4:11-16

Too often, we in the Church ignore or downplay what the Bible says about the gifts of the Spirit that God bestows on every believer through the power of the Holy Spirit. In more conservative congregations, this may be because of a desire to see authority and influence flow through the “official” channels of church leadership rather than according to the beautiful anarchy of God’s grace. In more liberal congregations, gifts may be ignored or downplayed due to a misguided egalitarianism that studiously ignores the fact that different gifts may entail different degrees of visibility and require different levels of accountability and support. Whatever the reason, we seldom recognize and nurture the gifts that God has shared with the body of Christ for the glory of his name.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Most local churches know what to do with folks who love to teach about scripture: get them involved with Sunday school or, if they are particularly passionate and gifted, send them to seminary. As Neil Cole points out in Primal Fire, houses of worship themselves are typically laid out like lecture halls. What does that reflect, if not a particular focus on the teaching gift? And while seminaries are getting better at equipping students for a variety of ministries, teaching and scholarship remain the heart of the experience. At nearly every seminary, students being prepared for ministry are supposed to gain a certain basic facility in reading, interpreting and teaching from scripture, regardless of their ultimate ministry goals. (Pastoral counseling is also part of the curriculum, though notably smaller in significance.) Similarly universal expectations with respect to evangelism or prophetic discernment or launching new ministries in an apostolic vein seem largely absent.

In my own corner of the Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), it is the pastoral (shepherding) gift that is most easily negotiated. We put our most effective shepherds on committees where they pray for us, cook for us and make sure we are all comfortable and happy. This is a beautiful and essential contribution to the Body of Christ, as long as it does not come at the expense of the other gifts. When shepherding is disproportionately emphasized, we lose the sturdy foundation of sound teaching, we stop sharing the Gospel with our neighbors through evangelism, we stop taking risks to start new ministries with the faith and energy of the apostolic gift, and we are set adrift without the prophetic guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we neglect the full range of spiritual gifts, our activities are increasingly stagnant and self-focused, rather than the dynamic and sacrificial ministry embodied by Jesus and the early church.

Even worse, when we routinely marginalize certain gifts, we begin to see their exercise as dysfunctional and their absence as normative, rather than the reverse. When the prophet challenges us with uncomfortable truths, rather than using our discomfort as an opportunity for reflection and discernment, we tell her to tone it down, complain that she is “unwelcoming” and, if she doesn’t get the message, we run her off. We come up with a hundred reasons not to support the efforts of the evangelist, and if he does by grace succeed in bringing new people to our congregation, we quietly freeze them out unless they are exactly like the people already in attendance. And God help the apostle, who is routinely doubted and perceived as reckless, divisive or naïve (or all of the above), rather than supported and guided in the launch of new and needed ministries.

By marginalizing, suppressing or excluding three or more gifts, we drastically limit our ability to effectively share and live the Gospel. Instead of a hand with five capable fingers, we choose a hand with one or two fingers – and one of the two may be sprained! This is not how the church is designed to function and, as the cultural forces that for centuries pushed people toward religious practice fade away, as shrinking budgets lead to cuts to all but the most essential ministries, churches that fail to nurture all the gifts will wither and die. And if they aren’t forming disciples, preaching the Gospel and serving the needy, they will deserve to.

How does your church identify and nurture spiritual gifts – or not? Have you witnessed the dynamic of gift exclusion at work? How can we learn to welcome the gifts God sends us?

What I Learned from “Weinstein”

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

– Matthew 27:3-5

I recently watched the Frontline documentary, “Weinstein,” about famed filmmaker Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long resistance to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. While the documentary as a whole was painfully revealing, exposing as it did the willingness of most of us to put aside what we know is right when we feel enough fear for ourselves and our futures, there was one scene that was particularly striking. In it, model Zoe Brock described her experience of being lured into Weinstein’s hotel room under false pretenses only to have him strip and attempt to assault her. She managed to lock herself in the bathroom, where she shouted at him through the door to get dressed. When she came out, Weinstein was sitting on the bed, clothed and crying. His words to her pierced my heart : “You don’t like me because I’m fat.

When we hear that “Jesus saves us from sin,” it’s easy to picture a moralizing God who is always ready to catch us in wrongdoing and always eager to punish us for it. This image of God as a judge and disciplinarian is scripturally supported, and the view of sin as wrongdoing is not incorrect. But sin isn’t just the way we do evil. It’s also the pathology that twists and perverts our spirits, deforming the nobility that is our birthright. Sin prevents us from trusting in God’s love and power and instead makes our friends and neighbors a blood sacrifice to the false god of our woundedness.

“You don’t like me because I’m fat.” These are devastating words, coming as they do from a famous, powerful and critically acclaimed filmmaker, a man at the peak of his craft. These words paint a portrait of a man so consumed by insecurity that no amount of accomplishment could soothe his fears. And to be clear, there is no sin in anxiety, and there is none in uncertainty. But when instead of leaning on the promises of God to calm our doubts, we turn our insecurities outward and manipulate or bully others in order to bolster our fragile egos or soothe our clanging anxiety, we have crossed a line that is both deadly serious and tragically human. And all the compassion that we may – and should! – feel for someone in that position does not erase that person’s wickedness and depravity.

And sadly, as much as we may wish to believe otherwise, the Harvey Weinsteins of the world have no monopoly on wickedness. Any of us can become a predator or manipulator when we see something important to us put at risk, whether it is our financial security, reputation or self-image – unless, that is, we make a choice to trust in God rather than in our own fears. Absent such a commitment, the only thing that separates any of us from a Harvey Weinstein is that he had the power and influence avoid the repercussions of his actions longer than most.

That choice – to trust, really trust, in God – is hard to make, and I believe that it is only through the grace and power of the Spirit of Christ that we can consistently make it. Sometimes that means taking lumps rather than lying our way to safety. Sometimes trusting God means deciding for the good of someone else to do things that we would rather not do and to refrain from activities we desperately want to engage in. Sometimes it means climbing on the cross with Jesus. It’s not easy, and it sure isn’t fun, but it’s the only way to cure the cancer of sin.

Is Jesus a Nazi Sympathizer?

“Now, just think of this. The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that’s his God, the white man’s God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we’re dead, while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth!”

– Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

sympathizeintransitive verb: to be in keeping, accord, or harmony; to react or respond in sympathy; to share in suffering or grief: commiserate; to be in sympathy intellectually 

Before we talk about what it means to be a Nazi sympathizer, and whether Jesus is one, we need to acknowledge that there are two Jesuses. Actually, there are probably more, but two of them are particularly relevant.

One is Jesus the ad-man, Your Personal Lord and Savior (TM). A smiling shepherd with a sparkling smile, his benediction is on the wealthy, the powerful and the successful. He is the Lord of the beautiful people – except that he doesn’t so much rule them as retroactively bless whatever power plays they happen to be engaged in. He is the mighty king of Crusaders. The reward for following him is a lucrative job, fair skin, brilliant children, thick but manageable hair, good health, an attractive spouse, a heterosexual and cisgender identity, and maybe even a seat on the city council or a winning touchdown.

The other Jesus is the Lamb Who Was Slain. His face is alternately lined with grief and mirth as he raises a glass with prostitutes, criminals and sweaty laborers just in from the fields. This Jesus flips over tables and insults the powerful and indiscriminately lays hands on the oozing sores of lepers.  He isn’t fit for polite company.  He is the Lord of the illiterate, the disabled, the black sheep of the family, the gangster, and the unwed mother, and he leads them into a new and dangerous life. The rewards for following him include holiness, sacrificial love, the power of the Holy Spirit, a new family of faith, and the assurance of salvation, but also poverty, homelessness, domestic strife and persecution.

Paul said it clearly in his letter to the Romans:

And not only [do we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God], but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

– Romans 5:6-10

Paul knew what it was to be a sinner. He was a man of privilege and position, possessing both the rights of a Roman citizen and the birthright of the holy tribe of Aaron. He had authority in his community based on both birth and accomplishment and had turned every ounce of his influence, talent and perseverance to one task: stamping out the renegade sect known as the Way. These heretics proclaimed the fulfillment of the law and had the audacity to claim a personal relationship – even a family relationship! – with God. His life’s orientation changed on the road to Damascus, where, after a visit from the Spirit of the Lord and a change in his name, Paul understood that he had it exactly wrong: the very people he had reviled and persecuted were dearly beloved by God.

Does that sound familiar – someone persecuting and reviling people-groups precious to God? It should; it is what every hate group from the Klan to Westboro Baptist Church has done. We see this phenomenon in action abroad with ISIS and Boko Haram, and we saw it here in the United States in Charlottesville this past summer. Our own homegrown terrorists typically see themselves as being on the side of God and of Jesus when they insult and threaten and demean. But if they are, the Jesus who blesses them is White Jesus, who is a stranger to the Gospel.

So is Jesus a Nazi sympathizer? The Jesus of scripture, whose victory looks not like domination but like death, has no patience for ideologies of racial or national supremacy. The Kingdom of mutual submission and sacrifice that he proclaimed made all the old categories – nation, race, class, sex – obsolete. That said, Jesus had infinite sympathy for those caught in the sin of racial supremacy – so much that he was willing to die for those who breathe hatred and suffer for those who spew lies in order that they could see that real glory isn’t burning a cross but willingly being crucified on one.

Becoming a Christian Nation 

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

– Romans 10:1-4

If you read the Christian biblical narrative, it’s easy to miss how weird it is that the scribes and Pharisees were the bad guys. Think about it: they fasted more, gave more, prayed more, sacrificed more than others did. They were diligent in creating laws that they felt reflected the commandments of God and scrupulous about observing them. They set high standards of behavior and did their best to ensure the community reached them, ruthlessly punishing those who stepped out of line. The scribes and Pharisees wanted nothing less than to use the law to bring their society into harmony with God’s will.

Doesn’t this goal sound familiar? It should: it continues to animate activists to this very day. How else to describe the impulse to ban abortion and resistance to the very concept of same-sex marriage? When pushed, many who espouse these views would tell you that the actions they are resisting “go against God.” And let us not neglect the liberal end of the spectrum: substitute “God’s will” with “truth” or “progress” and suddenly views supportive of – for instance – using the weight of the law to force religiously orthodox bakers to cater same-sex weddings become nearly inevitable.

It is an impulse intrinsic to the spirit of the political activist to use the law as the primary tool in aligning the world with his personal conception of moral order. And laws do have a role in restraining the worst impulses of the human heart by promising punishment for certain acts or, occasionally, omissions. But the political activist sees potential beyond the minimal standards of fairness and decency: he sees in the law the pathway to a new world order, a bridge to a future of harmony and justice and righteousness.

And yet when has the law ever accomplished such a lofty goal? The law desegregated America’s schools over half a century ago, but public schools are less racially diverse today than they were when Brown v. Board of Education ended official school segregation. The law criminalizes sexual harassment and assault, yet sexual violence remains a threat for a disturbing number of children and adults of both sexes, as the horrifying proliferation of MeToo hashtags demonstrates. Laws against murder are perhaps the most ancient and widespread, yet mass killings, gangland massacres and even police shootings persist.

The sad fact is that even the most just laws cannot make a just society unless the people love justice. Even the most protective laws will fail to protect unless the people see the vulnerable as objects of care rather than targets for predation. Even the most righteous laws will fall short unless the people hunger and thirst for righteousness. If the people are wicked, the law can punish and, hopefully, deter – but the law cannot transform. Its only power is coercion, its only persuasion the threat of violence.

Does that mean we should give up on seeking just laws? Of course not! But if what we want is not just an orderly society but a flourishing one – where God is revered, families are strong, human life is cherished, the natural creation is protected, and justice and mercy share a place of honor – the law won’t get us there.

What will? Love, which is the mark of the true follower of Christ. I’m not talking about a weak, wishy-washy love that puts up with anything, but a love too strong to abandon a friend and too pure to be silent in the face of sin. This is the difference between our current practice of either cutting off or silently accommodating people we think are wrong and the assertive, godly approach of using loving, authentic relationships to share the good news of God’s truth and love. To paraphrase my dear friend Brandon Zicha, if we would truly see America become a Christian nation, we must put our highest efforts into honoring God’s Word in our hearts rather inscribing it in our laws.

You show that you are a letter of Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

– 2 Corinthians 3:3-6

When a Quaker’s Convincement Meant Being Found Guilty

In seventeenth-century England, convinced meant proven guilty. It was a term used in the courtroom, similar to “convicted.” A person became a convinced Quaker after being shown the errors of his or her ears, admitting them, surrendering to God’s judgment, and becoming liberated for a new kind of life. The Light reveals all the internal thoughts, mental patterns, and fantasies that resist the work of God. Although it is painful to see one’s internal conflict, continuing to face the Light and to see what it reveals in one’s own mind, heart, and behavior allows God to refine, or melt away, the inner impediments to the Light.

– Marcelle Martin, Our Life Is Love, p. 62