This Kickstarter runs until March 30th, and I'd be so grateful if you'd take a look at this two-minute video that explains the vision of the book, scheduled for release in September (2017).
Be sure to check out the REWARD LEVELS (scroll down the right-hand side of the Kickstarter page), which include small Group packages for your church or organization, as well as personal rewards and special (small) thank-you's from me.
In church we say things so often it’s easy to forget they are true. More than true: some liturgical phrases have the power to change the world. Like children reciting E=Mc2 we are unaware of the power on our lips. Consider the simple greeting, “Peace be with you” and the group response, “And also with you.” It’s a simple exchange, offered and returned where God’s people gather.
Peace is a gift, ours to receive, and then ours to give. On what was perhaps the darkness night in history Jesus said to his friends, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus saw the betrayal and violence that would arrive before sunrise. He saw the hopelessness of midday. He wanted to equip his friends. He offered peace, capable of overcoming troubled hearts and abject fear. The same Jesus who could sleep on a boat during a violent storm said to his friends, "My peace I give to you." His words were not a command, they were a gift. He did not offer Biblical clarity, nor strategic insight. Indeed, what he offered passed understanding. He offered something from another world. He offered the in-breaking of a kingdom characterized by righteousness, peace, and joy. On that sacramental night, the high priest gave not only bread and wine. He gave peace as well.
And yet peace is a strategy as well. Jesus trained us to offer peace: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6) Peace is something a disciple carries without benefit of a bag or purse. Peace is a gift we give to anyone who shows hospitality. Peace is the starting point of all ministry, the axis of the good news. Peace is tangible: it is given and received—yet peace has a mind of its own, choosing whether to stay or return.
In the Kingdom of God is peace is more than a platitude. Peace is something other than a high-minded ideal. Peace is how God equips his people. Peace is so real it can be carried and offered to others. What if the antidotes to uncertainty and fear are not knowledge and courage, but peace: freely received, and freely given?
What if peace has been God's gift to you from the very beginning, and he is waiting for you to both receive it and give it to others?
Peace be with you.
Here’s why grace must mean something more than forgiveness:
Once there was an abusive husband. He was a rage-aholic, given to fits of rage and, horribly, those moments sometimes overflowed into violence. Like the time he slammed his wife up against the kitchen cabinets. Or the time he slapped her across the face and then, in horror and shame, he ran off to find a quiet place to tremble and cry.
The wife—a Christian—forgave her husband each time he came home. He said (quite accurately), “I don’t know what comes over me.” The wife loved her husband deeply and saw the many good sides of this flawed man, but she lived in fear that the next rage-riot might bring a harm that would not heal. She stayed with her husband because each time he was sincere each time he begged for forgiveness. She knew her duty as Christian was to extend grace.
The only thing she knew of God’s grace was forgiveness. She had been told all her life that she herself was powerless over sin, and God’s grace came to forgive and restore her relationship with God. She was enough of a Christian to understand that if God had forgiven her, she should extend the same grace to others, especially her husband.
She knew the something of God’s grace, but only enough to put her in danger.
It’s God’s grace that forgives and restores. Sweet forgiveness. Sweet—and filled with torment unless there is something more.
If we look at the wife in this story we want to scream, “Get out! It’s not safe!” Any sane Christian understands the woman has no duty to remain at home and risk injury or death because of some notion of grace, expressed as constant forgiveness.
If we look at the husband in this story we see a man trapped in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that will mean his ruin and the harm of everyone he loves. A sympathetic view of the husband understands he, too, is a tormented soul in desperate need of help—help beyond merely wiping clean his sinful slate. The most gracious thing his wife could do would be to move out and demand that he get the help he needs to overcome his deep anger and pain.
And what of Jesus, the third member of the marriage? We could no more imagine Jesus leaving this husband in his condition than we could imagine Jesus telling a homeless man, “Go your way, be warm and filled” without giving him food and clothing.
Beyond the characters in this simple story lay a larger question: what about us? Would a grace-filled God leave us in the condition he finds us? Would he spend his days reminding us of our shortcomings, demanding again and again prayers of repentance and sorrow? Would the loving Creator wave his hand and say, “you are forgiven, now—go and sin no more” with lifting even one finger to empower us over our sin?
Sometimes an extreme example is necessary to grab our hearts and free our minds. Does God’s grace mean only forgiveness, or is there something more to his antidote for sin? Would God leave us alone in our rage, our addictions, or our isolation? A cold and comfortless God he would be if it were so.
The problem is not with the Father, nor his grace: it is our understanding of his on-going work in our lives. Jesus will not leave us to ourselves any more than he would leave a beggar in the street. Anyone who suggests so misrepresents the true grace of God.
Who could need more than the grace of God? It’s not that we need something more than God’s grace, it’s that we need all of his grace, even the parts we would prefer to ignore. Take a moment and give it some thought: how might God’s grace be available in greater measure than we have known before? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
It was sometime during elementary school, but I still remember that moment when I first realized I was surrounded by . . . air! I wasn’t surrounded by nothing, I was surrounded by something. The wonder carried me away: I was swimming through the air. If I raised my arm above my shoulder, it meant the air around me was moving, too.
My childish imagination kicked in strong: what would it be like to see the air, cool blue and warm red? Was I breathing colors? I saw it with my imagination: inhale a faint celestial blue and exhale rose-colored pink. I could see the air move and mix and blend, or watch it settle, still and motionless, level as a lake. My head was filled with Impressionist masterpieces, the sky swirling with hues and shades too subtle for those in a hurry, but a rainbow for those with eyes to see.
But before long higher education crushed my wonder. In science class I learned about air pressure and wind resistance. The beauty of my childhood faded into the orthodoxy of physics, climate, and chemistry. The atmosphere became one more domain to be studied and measured.
Until one day. (I remember this day as well.) I read the amazing words of Paul as he addressed the skeptical, logical people of Athens, that city where diplomats and philosophers gathered on a hill named Mars, for the God of war. Paul quoted a Greek mystic from centuries before, and I saw the invisible God in much the same way I had imagined how the air must be:
“ . . . For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
The child in me was released again. I saw again the living, moving, breathing God! How could I avoid him—and more important: how could I have missed him? When I walk from the bedroom to the kitchen, I walk through God. When I walk into a new situation, God is there, waiting for me. Even the darkness is light to him. He inhabits the day and the night. Intuitively I understood a distinction: everything is not God, but God is in everything. True, the theologians had already told me God was omnipresent, but in doing so they reduced him to a concept I could memorize and recite. But I do not need lifeless facts; I need him.
“He is not far from each one of us.” The vast Creator surrounds us like the air. We breathe the air. It penetrates through our lungs to our very blood, and the blood delivers it to every cell. God himself is the life-giving air. Our vast swirling God is also intimate enough to be with each of us.
I used to think silence meant God was not speaking. Now, in the silence, he’s all I hear. We need not go anywhere to find him, because the slightest shift of our gaze reveals his nearness. If I am alive, if I move, I am encountering him. In every part of my being, he is here. Can you see the air?
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" ~ Mark 1:14–15
Who knows God’s timing? It’s one thing to agree with God’s viewpoint intellectually; it’s quite another to express our agreement in concrete action. Jesus modeled agreement with the Father by doing God’s will in perilous times. Mark’s gospel tells us Jesus launched his ministry at the very time that the Kingdom message could get you thrown into jail.
In an atmosphere of resistance and oppression Jesus said that the time was right to proclaim good news. Herod, a puppet-king of the powerful Roman Empire, threw John the Baptist in jail because John’s preaching had threatened the status quo. Perhaps Jesus should have kept things on the down low until passions had cooled. You can almost hear the counsel of the worldly-wise in Jesus’ day: “Wait just a little while,” they whispered. “Let the rich and powerful turn their attention away from preachers in the countryside.”
In a world overrun by a pagan power, in a world rife with political scheming and considerations, in a world where caution was the order of the day, Jesus boldly declared that good news, the best news, was within reach. Jesus modeled a ministry directed by the Spirit. What kind of person tells suffering, mourning captives that freedom is within their reach? The source of his good news had nothing to do with the powers of the age and everything to do with the in breaking of God’s rule and reign into their time.
It’s only natural to look for the “best time” to engage in ministry: wait until the economy is stronger; until the political climate is warmer; until the streets are safer, until your children are older, until your savings account is fatter. Wait. Jesus had a different schedule. He said simply, “The time has come.” He took into consideration only one factor: God’s Kingdom was at hand. The Kingdom of God does not require us to wait on the future because it is breaking into the present. God’s Kingdom was (and is) beginning to invade the kingdoms of the earth. God was on the move, how could Jesus remain still? It's true for us: we are called to imitate his example. If God is on the move, how can we remain still?
Jesus is serving the best wine now because he dwells in the now. “The time has come” each day. Since Jesus inaugurated the in breaking of the Kingdom, every day with God presents opportunities to announce and demonstrate the Kingdom of God. The only important question is whether we know what time it is.