Not Passive, Not at All

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about pacifism.

I know. Poking the bear here, on this, the day before my country celebrates its declaration of independence from Great Britain all those years ago. (Probably not a good time to point out that there really wasn’t any Scriptural support for that war). The flags wave and the fireworks unnaturally fill the night sky with the light of day. This year, more than any other year of my life, tempers run hot, ready to boil over at the slightest provocation.

In this midsummer cauldron, I reflect.

In my experience, people tend to assume two things about pacifists:

  1. That we disdain members of the military and the police force. That we hold ourselves morally superior.
  2. That we are content to stand silently by and let evil run amok.

Neither is true.

Every person must deal with the big questions. Why are we here? Is God real? Coke or Pepsi? Some deal by engaging in denial, shoving the haunting inquiries beneath the carpet of their souls. Others study until their minds are mush, smug in their intellectual superiority. Still others latch on to the answers before they even ask the questions, running their mouths in breathless polemic. Some walk the thoughtful path, seeking to examine both questions and answers honestly.

Most of us run the gamut, doing all of the above at one point or another.

I was 12 when these questions began to plague my mind. My middle school journals are filled with long, rambling sentences, not-at-all elegant turns of phrase that make me smile today. No doubt God laughed as the paragraphs poured out of me, the kind of loving chuckle that bubbles up from the throats of fathers who delight in their children. I wanted desperately to understand, to know the deep truths fully.

At this time, my family attended a small Evangelical Friends church. Also known as Quakers, the Friends are founding members of the “peace churches,” groups of believers who are committed to principles of non-violence and non-resistance. (The Amish, Brethren and Mennonites are the other groups). Shortly after becoming involved with this church, Focus on the Family Radio Theater released a docu-drama on the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Whenever an episode aired, my ears were glued to my radio. In the end, I purchased the series on CD and listened to it so often that I could (and still can) quote large sections.

By age 14, I was a convicted pacifist. Despite my ever-wandering heart and the years I spent straying from the Lord, in this I have not wavered. No, indeed I have grown more radical. I do not say the Pledge of Allegiance. I do not sing the Star-Spangled Banner. I cannot in good conscience pledge loyalty to or celebrate any entity that way. I fear placing anything before the Lord.

But I am not contemptuous of those who have a different view.

To be a pacifist is not to hate those who disagree. It is not to loathe men and women who put on uniforms, firearms at their sides. It is not to declare that such people are not and cannot be saved. I dare not question the faith of my brothers and sisters who leave behind home and family to fight on foreign soil. I cannot, despite concentrated efforts, come to a place of agreeing with their actions, but I do not presume to cast them out of God’s hand. I have not and will not yell at or spit on active soldiers, veterans or police officers.

I understand that these men and women are attempting to do what they believe is right.

As do I.

I am a pacifist for many reasons, the primary being that I cannot shake these words:

Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. …

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. …

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

 

– Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 12:14, 17-21; Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

I am in possession of a nasty temper. Unforgiveness, grudges and bitterness are natural for me. Oh, I may not put on a grand display of wrath and thus be known as someone who loses control. My anger is expressed rather in ice and whispers. But it is real. And it is terrible. More than once have I spoken of my longing to punch this person or run that person over with a car.

Did not Christ come to redeem me from this? Did He not come to remake me into His likeness?

As Spurgeon said in his 1859 sermon, “War! War! War!”:

Be in yourself what you would want others to be. Be clean that you can hope to be the purifiers of the world; and then, having first sought the blessing of God, go out into the world and bear your witness against sin.

I can hardly preach the peace and joy that comes in knowing the Lord if I give free reign to violence, both in word and deed. (Thank Him for His great patience!)

Nor can I preach the Gospel if I am content to turn a blind eye to evil.

During the disgusting years of the enslavement of Africans across the United States, members of the Friends risked livelihood and life itself as conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping to usher thousands to freedom. Desmond Doss, whose story was recently told through the film Hacksaw Ridge, single-handedly saved the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen during the battle of Okinawa – without carrying a gun. Sophie Scholl was arrested and executed by the Gestapo for distributing anti-war leaflets in Munich.

These are but a few examples.

I must get in the way of evil I am to avoid hypocrisy. I must bring light to the darkness whenever possible. Here I will not list the ways that I have done so; such a thing would invite your applause, and that I do not need. My Father sees. My Father knows.

To accuse pacifists of hatred for and complacency toward our fellow man is to misunderstand. As the Beloved Disciple wrote,

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

– 1 John 2:9-11 (NKJV)

One may argue that this applies only to believers – we cannot hate each other but we are free to hate those outside the Body of Christ. While these verses are written to and within the context of the community of faith, consider,

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

– Luke 6:27-36 (NKJV)

These are not suggestions that we can shrug over and disregard.

These are commands, straight from the lips of the Living God.

At the 1521 Diet of Worms (a formal meeting in a German city, not a weight-loss plan), Martin Luther said,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

(emphasis mine)

Luther himself was hardly a pacifist, but his proclamation provides a nice summary.

I will never tell anyone that love of country is a sin. Where Scripture does not bind the conscience, neither will I. Pacifists love their countries, just in a way that is not commonly expressed in patriotic displays. We want peace, harmony, prosperity – the kind that is found in a relationship with Christ. So we labor, seeking to share the Gospel message of salvation and hope, despite hostility from those in the dark and lack of understanding from fellow believers.

This is my mission.

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Photo credit: Ben White

Five Minute Friday: Haven

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: For a writer, rejection is a badge of honor.

Of course rejection stings. It strikes right at the core, right in that tender spot. To read, “your work has merit, but it’s just not quite the right fit for us” is crushing. I felt the blood rush to my face. I immediately began to question just who in the world I think I am, sending book proposals to literary agents.

Then I looked up the word merit.

And found that it means, “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.”

I’m choosing to focus on that. My work has value. It may have been rejected. I may come through this process bloody and bruised. At least I’m stepping into the arena. My prayer is that God would give me a spine of steel so that my head will never bow in shame. For rejection comes. It comes to everyone who must write.

I realize, in this feeling of being sucker-punched, that I am a writer. No matter if my name never appears on a spine. No matter if no book of mine ever gets a MARC record. (Sorry, library talk). I am a writer.

Speaking this truth to myself now as a sense of smallness washes over me again and tears blur the screen. Don’t pity me. They are the tears of a fighter.

Kate asks to write about our: haven(s).

Go.

The wind brushes against the rosebushes, moving pink blossoms, green leaves and honey-colored trellises in a waltz whose tune only nature knows. Rhythmically the heavy flowers bob and weave, flashing their bright yellow pistils here and there. In and out, up and down. The trees join in with a joyous rustle.

We never see the wind and yet we know it’s there.

So, too, the Holy Spirit. In the middle of the busy and bluster, He fills me with a knowing. A belonging.A deep and abiding feeling that cannot be categorized. I am stilled in the chaos at the sound of His whisper. I strain, longing to hear more. He speaks life and truth. Never aloud. Never contradictory to the words on the thin pages of my Bible. He tells me that I am safe when the adrenaline rushes. That I am beloved when I wish the floor would open and swallow me whole. That I do not have to lash out in anger. That it will turn out all right.

I cannot stay home all day, every day, much as I often wish I could. And so He is my Haven, my Rock, my Fortress. He pulls me close. If I lean in, I can hear His heart, filled with holiness and love. The beat drums into me the sweetest kind of peace.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Michael Fertig

I Should, I Must

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Strike the match. A scent, the barest whiff, of burning wood. Lay flame to wick. Spark, flicker. The darkness illuminated.

The candle of hope. Now the candle of peace.

I sit and watch the little lights shining, my mind filled with “shoulds.” If anxiety was a country then overwhelmed would be it’s president and should would be the law. Should go out and walk. (Even if it is raining. But I don’t really mind that). Should deep clean the refrigerator. Should go through all the papers in the filing cabinet. Should find a good deal on and install (by myself, of course) new flooring for the whole house.

I lost sleep last night, thinking of all the “shoulds.”

The Martha voice won’t win today. I’m tired of her. Tired of her unending demands. Yes, there’s always work to be done. And that’s kind of the point: There’s always work to be done. There’s always a chore or a project. While ignoring them is no good, neither is letting them master me.

And all too often, they do. Call it a personality mark or a sin issue, but whatever it is moves me to slip easily into workaholism, growing more and more fearful the harder I push and the more I take on. The mountains grow. The piles get bigger. No matter what I accomplish, no matter what I check off of the list, it’s never enough.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

– Augustus M. Toplady, Rock of Ages

Today I rebel – against myself. Against my natural tendencies. Against the worry and the woe, against the struggle and the strife. As soon as this publishes I will grab my iced coffee (yes, even in December because hot drinks are gross 98% of the time) and my Bible. I choose to tell Martha to shut her mouth and chill.

For it is peace I crave, the peace that is found only in the presence of the Lord. Sometimes I find that in the middle of the work, but today I turn away from the “should” and latch on to the “must.” I must curl up at His feet. I must remember that He judges me not on the carpet stains left by the previous owners that I can never get out no matter what cleaning agent or method I try. He doesn’t care about that stubborn spot on one of the shelves in the back of the fridge that remains despite my best scrubbing efforts. He doesn’t shake his finger at me if all the DVDs don’t get cataloged all at once.

He sees me through the overlay of Christ, in whom my life is hidden. Purchased at great cost. He sees me in a way that I can never manage to see myself. He takes my hand and, in the quietness and authority that characterizes the voice of His Spirit, says, “Come sit with me, little one.”

In that is peace.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Life and Death Brigade

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Gentle Reader,

Many thanks to the secretive Ivy League club and “Gilmore Girls” for the title.

I’m going to get heat for writing this. I know it as I type.

Brittany Maynard was wrong to end her life.

Cue explosions and much hand-wringing.

I am NOT saying that Maynard is in Hell. I have absolutely no idea about that. I am NOT saying that she was an evil person. I never met her. It hardcore sucks that she was dealt such a blow so early in life. What her family has had to deal with since the diagnosis is terrible. I am acutely aware that there are real people who are hurting and grieving. I don’t at all wish to throw mud at anyone.

What I want to talk about here today has nothing to do with this specific person or this specific family, but rather the more nebulous realm of the topic itself. I’m talking about suicide. Dress it up with the phrase “death with dignity” if you want, but the result is the same. Death.

It’s wrong.

I can say that. I can say that because I took steps along that path. I decided that I no longer wanted to live. My pain was too great. I thought that it would be better for those around me if I were gone.

I can also say that because an hour ago I was told that I have a tumor in my liver. Benign, praise God, but a tumor nonetheless. I’ll have to have major surgery. I don’t know what that is going to be like. I don’t know how difficult or long recovery will be. This will impact the rest of my life.

I hear the objections, things about apples and oranges and how dare I judge. But here’s the thing, and I believe it’s a thing that all Christians must address in the debate over “death with dignity”: Who is in control? Who is in charge? It leaves me staggering that the answer of many who claim Christ as Lord is so ill-defined.

It is my firm conviction that a follower of Christ must trust Him in all things. Of course, that’s a process. We’ve all always got room to grow. It is also my firm conviction that a follower of Christ does not, in any way, have the right to end the life of another human being. I stand resolutely in the pacifist camp, opposing all forms of violent action from abortion to war.

Nor do we have the right to end our own lives. I oppose suicide. I don’t care if it’s physician-assisted (which opens up a whole can of worms when one considers the Hippocratic Oath) or not. I believe that God has a good, unique plan for every single person – and that He alone is the determiner of life’s span. I believe that He is ready and willing to give us grace and strength for every situation, for every pain, for every sorrow, for every valley. Far sturdier than any umbrella, He will provide shelter in every storm.

This should be the witness of every Christian. Trust me, I know what a difficult witness it is. I know how easily and how quickly tortuous doubt descends. I know how overwhelming sudden loss, unexpected diagnosis and change of finances can be. Yet God has not failed me once. Not once. Things have not always turned out as I hoped or expected, sure. But He has always been there, always truthful, always faithful, always more and better than I could hope for or imagine.

I don’t know what you’re dealing with today. I don’t know how you’re being tried or tempted. Please, dear one, turn to the Lord. Seek His wisdom, His peace, His comfort. That is the way of life.

My journey to faith. (15)