“A Force of Reconciliation”

A friend of mine named Tim was preaching recently and he said that thanks to what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection we are called to be “a force of reconciliation.”

I really like this image.

At first glance it’s an odd juxtaposition.  The word “force” brings to my mind a group of armed people who have a purpose, maybe even a menacing purpose.  And then the word “reconciliation” brings to my mind peacemaking, healing, and restored relationships.  Furthermore, the word “force” also implies something about power and energy, while “reconciliation” seems to imply empathy and soft-heartedness.

But when the words are put in relationship with one another — “a force of reconciliation” — something special happens.  We get a vision of a band of energized and empowered people who have come together for a purpose, namely to help bring fractured relationships back into proper order.

In fact, one of my favorite phrases in the English language is similar to this one in lots of ways.  That saying is “wage peace.”  The two words also seem to fit oddly together but when used alongside one another they have more impact.  “A force of reconciliation” is the same.

So during this Lenten season when millions of followers of Jesus all around the world are considering our need for repentance individually and corporately while reflecting on the amazing work of Jesus, why don’t we also consider being a force of reconciliation?

Think about it: Jesus paid the ultimate price for us so that we might be reconciled and become reconcilers ourselves.  He was obedient to the will of God, even obedient to death on the cross.  And why did he do it?  For us!  And not just for us, but for us so that we might become agents of this same reconciliation we’ve experienced (Romans 5.10-11; 2 Corinthians 5.18-20).

So let’s band together in our Christian communities large and small and become people completely and totally marked by reconciliation in Jesus’ name — reconciliation with other people and reconciliation with God.

Disciplines for Lent Lenten Reflection 2017: #1

Lenten Discipline

I grew up in a Southern Baptist context.  As such, I didn’t even know that Lent existed, much less that Ash Wednesday is the observance that begins Lent.  It wasn’t until I was in seminary more than a decade ago that my wife and I started observing Lent together.  We found great value in connecting with billions of Christians across time and space in being reminded of our mortality and our inadequate morality.


Moreover, my ignorance of Lent was deeper than simply not understanding its history and basic meaning.  One of the key components of Lent, namely, lament, was totally foreign to me.  The churches I was part of did not spend much time lamenting anything.  Though I was young and I may not remember everything well, what I do recall is being rushed through any negative or uncomfortable feelings because “good Christians” didn’t get down about things.  We’re supposed to “let go, and let God.”

But, friends, there is so much in our world to get down about!  Whatever our socio-economic locations may be, our lives are full of pain, distress, and dissatisfaction.  And it’s perfectly acceptable and biblical for us to lament these things.

More importantly, at least in my view, is that in our world there is so much that is lamentable.  Specifically there is so much injustice, oppression, violence, poverty, indifference, etc.  Real people in this world are suffering.  Real people in our neighborhoods are suffering.  And the biblical response to their suffering, at the very least, should be lament.

So during this Lenten season I have chosen to add a discipline to my spiritual formation regimen and to abstain from something as well.  Lament is the addition.  Here’s the tool I’ll be using to help me along: Lenten Lamentations.

(I’ll also be blogging regularly during these 40 days of Lent also.  Woo hoo!)

The thing I’ll be giving up is…

cable news

Reading Online News

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with reading the news online.  It’s helpful to be able to stay on top of what is going on in various corners of the world with the click of a few buttons.

But there is something inherently wrong with the way that I have been consuming online news.  Over the last two or three years I have spent an inordinate amount of time staring at my phone, totally consumed by the latest news stories.  I’ve become convinced that my obsession is proving to be unhealthy for me and may be contributing to me missing the pain and hurt in the very communities where I work, live, and play.

So, during the Lenten season this year I’m abstaining from reading online news.  Here’s what that looks like for me: I won’t click links on Facebook or Twitter, I won’t visit my usual online news haunts, and I won’t share any news on social media.  I will still get some news while listening to the radio in the car or during the morning as my wife and I watch/listen to the local news.  But I’m trying to un-handcuff myself from incessantly trying to stay informed.

But this will only be helpful to me if I then turn my eyes outward to those around me — first to my family (my wife and my two boys), then to my friends, extended family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  I’m hopeful that God will use this discipline to teach me and to grow me.

In fact, I’m excited to see what God may do in me during this time!

What About You?

Are you observing Lent this year?  What are you doing?  Are you adding a discipline or two?  Are you abstaining from anything?  Why did you choose what you did?  Let me know in the comments below!

Crucifixion: Two Reflections


I was asked to lead some folks at our church in two reflections during the Lenten season this year at a local park.  Here they are:


Reflection One:

What did it mean to be crucified?  Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment that was normally reserved for enemies of the state or people who had engaged in terrorism or revolts of one kind or another.  It was cruel and painful.  People were attached to crosses via ropes or nails, such as in the case of Jesus, and then hoisted up in the air and placed into a slot in the ground that held the cross up.


Crucifixion caused a massive amount of pain.  Normally a prisoner, such as Jesus, would have been beaten and whipped prior to being placed on the cross, which meant that his body, especially his back, would be full of open wounds.  So not only did the nails in the wrists and ankles hurt beyond imagining, every time Jesus tried to relieve the pain in his wrists or ankles he scraped his injured back against the rough wood of the cross.


But the way that crucifixion killed people was by making it hard to breathe.  The angle of the arms and upper torso, along with the tiredness of the prisoner, would result in there being great difficulty and pain with each breath.  Eventually the prisoner would have to push up on the nails in his ankles and pull at the nails in his wrists to breathe more easily.  Over time, this became more and more difficult.  Depending on the prisoner, this form of execution could take as little as an hour or as much as a day or more.  In other words, Jesus was in great agony as he hung on the cross for us.


But here’s the real kicker for me, Jesus chose this pain.  Jesus chose this agony.  He chose to be executed by the same method as a terrorist.  Why?  Because he loved us and wanted to pave a way for us to have a relationship with the Father.  Since the penalty for sin is death, someone had to pay that penalty.  And since we could not pay that penalty and live with the Father forever, someone special had to take our place – someone who was like us in every way and someone who had the authority and power to defeat death.  There has only been one person like that in the history of the universe.  His name is Jesus.  And he loved us enough to die for our sins!


Reflection Two:

Why are we at Central Park?  What is so special about this place?  Well, for me, Central Park represents what it means to live in light of Jesus being crucified.


Everyday this park is filled with various people.  There are parents here with their children at the playground.  There are professionals who eat here at the park every day at lunchtime.  There are folks who come here to exercise.  And then each night different areas of this park are occupied by some of Pasadena’s homeless population.  In other words, Central Park represents a really accurate cross-section of the people of Pasadena – the rich and the poor, those in community and those who are alone, those with jobs and some without.


People.  People like you and like me.  And all of the people who come to this park each day are people created in the image of God, people for whom Jesus died.  In other words, the people that this park represents are valuable beyond belief!  God made them and imbued them with life.  That alone makes each and every one of them special!  But since Jesus died for each of them, the value of their lives goes up exponentially.  The way to know what something is worth is by examining the price that is paid for it.  Well, what is a human life worth then?  Since Jesus paid for each of these lives using the most precious commodity know to humanity – himself – the worth of each person cannot be adequately measured!  It is off the charts!


What should that mean for our lives now?  It’s not enough for us simply to reflect on what Jesus did for us on the cross and then go home.  No.  What Jesus did for us on the cross should impact the way we live!  If it’s true that each life is made even more valuable thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, then the way we treat each and every person should be different.


We should treat each person with deep respect and kindness.  We should be less focused on ourselves and more focused on how to serve one another.  We should stop viewing people as extras, as human props, in the story of our lives.  We should strive with all we are to share the good news with the people we encounter, especially those that we see and interact with all the time!


But not only that, the fact that Jesus’ death brings value to each person should also move us to care for those in distress, whether emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, etc.  How could we, with a clean conscience, sit back and enjoy the benefits of God’s blessings while we know that there are people suffering in our world?


Friends, living in light of the crucifixion means living like Jesus did.  And how did he live?  He lived for the benefit of others.  Brothers and sisters, let us go and do likewise!


So, when you think of Jesus’ crucifixion, what do you deem worthy of reflection?