Ending Community Violence

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Steve Tran of Westminster, California, closed the door on twenty-five activated bug bombs, he thought he had seen the last of the cockroaches that shared his apartment. When the spray reached the pilot light of the stove, it ignited, blasting his screen door across the street, breaking all his windows, and setting his furniture ablaze. “I really wanted to kill all of them,” he said. “I thought if I used a lot more, it would last longer.” According to the label, just two canisters of the fumigant would have solved Tran’s roach problem. The blast caused over $10,000 damage to his apartment building. And the cockroaches? Tran reported, “By Sunday, I saw them walking around.”

As Proverbs 29:11 says, only “a fool gives full vent to his anger.” Texas State Representative Keith Oakley isn’t popular these days. He fought for a state referendum on whether to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. He got a phone call. “A guy with Peaceable Texans for Guns called me the other day to say he was going to kill me.”

Violence has been a long standing problem for humanity, it is not a contemporary problem as we are lead to believe. (Gen 6:11-13) Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

God is clearly a God of anti-violence! We find that coming out in the laws of the Old Testament. You shall not murder. No one has the right to take another life.
We sometimes feel justified in lashing back after we have been done an injustice, but we haven’t the right. Life and death belong to God. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. All of these laws were to protect the purity of God’s creation. But they were also to keep order in society.
To promote peace and harmony and prevent violence.

What is God’s goal for society? (Mic 4:3-6) They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

The Christian is not to wait for some mystical moment in the future for an end to violence. (Luke 10:30-38) In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Our involvement cannot be minimized. “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus said, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

How is the Christian to deal with the issue of violence and to stop it? Violence in America goes much deeper than drugs, gun control, and gangs. It is rooted in a philosophy that cheapens life from the moment we are born. Each year in America, an average of fourteen men are killed by soft-drink vending machines. After not receiving a drink or due change, these men shook the machines until they tipped over and crushed them to death. Each man became the victim of his own anger.
Inappropriate anger is a dangerous weapon.

“Is this going to take long? I’ve got someplace to go tonight.” An eight-year-old Chicago boy being questioned by detectives after he shot a girl classmate in the spine with a semiautomatic handgun. The problem is coming from home, not the street.

Dad turned on the television so his five-year-old daughter could watch her favorite cartoon. When he turned on the program, there was a mean cartoon character threatening “the good guys.” Marie instructed her father that the program was okay with the following assurance: “It’s not good now, but it will be good at the end.”
I’ve felt that way about the Christian life at times.

All of us are appalled at violence that takes the form of killing, arson, lynching, bombing, vandalism, assault and harassment. But the truth is that violence begins long before those acts occur. A seed is planted and takes root and grows into the ugliness of violence. In the home and in our circle of friendships we plant the seeds of violence. The dad who turned on the TV with the cartoons, why do they always have to be hitting or shooting each other? It may seem innocent, but over a long period of time, we become desensitized to violence.

It starts off as a subtle form of prejudice. Jokes, stereotypes and rumors made against races, women or men, religions, sexual orientations, and even disabilities.
Did you know that the second highest rate of violence (2nd only to race) in the United States is against religious groups? It is higher than even acts of violence against gays and lesbians.

What started out as a form of subtle prejudice moves to ridicule, social avoidance, name-calling and scapegoating. All of this is happening and we don’t even realize that it is taking place around us. The only cure for hate is love. We wouldn’t want to be the butt of jokes, or prejudice. Jesus said it best, Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Resident: Do Not Forward

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Abigail, age 3 and her mother are at a church one Sunday for a special service. It’s been a long service and she’s looking forward to communion (to get up and move around). Mother does communion and she gets a hands-on-the-head blessing which she is not too crazy about from a pastor she doesn’t know. On their way away from the communion rail, she sits down on the step – chin on hands – glaring. Realizing this may be the beginning of a major scene, the mother quickly scoops her up back to their pew. She buries her head in her mothers shoulders and is crying. Her mother know she’s tired and it’s nearly lunch-time, but can’t figure out this reaction. After much coaxing to find out what’s wrong, she’s indignant as she says to me: “I don’t like the one in the green (pastor’s vestment) – he just talked to me but he left me hungry!”

Every once in awhile, the person who delivers our mail will make a mistake. Among the various bills, catalogs and other items in the mail my neighbor’s name appears on one. Do I open it? Do I presume that it’s meant for me as well as for him? The letter has his name on it, so it’s his mail. What I do is ring his doorbell and hand it over to him.

Here is a meal spread before us. This is not a normal meal, but a very special meal. And you as a Christian have a special invitation to eat at this table. This meal was not prepared for the unbeliever. This meal was not prepared for those who don’t feel that they need God. But it is for you and for me, for those who are hurting, lonely, sinful and poor in spirit. Because of our desire for reconciliation with God we have been invited.

Our invitation was a specific invitation, not a general invitation that went out in the mail and read “present resident” or “occupant.” It was by the Master who only invited twelve to the upper room. Who in the course of the meal sent Judas away because his heart wasn’t right for the invitation. It was an invitation by a God that knows the very number of hairs on my head. And invited me by name.

Mysteriously and supernaturally this meal is unlike any other meal you will ever have. It contains two elements, bread and wine. Jesus Himself defined the two elements in the upper room. As the Disciples had gathered for the Passover Meal.

Jesus took the bread. He said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” What Jesus is saying, is not that the bread literally becomes His body. But that the bread represents His body because with the bread is carried the story of the incarnation! “And the Word became flesh…” That which is “mystical,”“supernatural,” and “spiritual,” God, took on the form of flesh, became human. When we hold up this piece of bread and take it, we confess and confirm our belief in the incarnation of Christ. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

He took the cup, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The new covenant reminds the hearer of the old Mosaic covenant, which could only condemn. Now, in the new covenant we find that God has fulfilled the old for us. In my blood points to the sphere and basis of the covenantal blessings. In other words, this cup is the new covenant and it cost my blood, is what Jesus is saying. Taking this cup, confesses and confirms your belief in the resurrection of Christ, and your acceptance of God’s forgiveness.

So, how do we get an invitation to this dinner party? Matt 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, `Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went off-one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. We are here because we have been invited by the King Himself.

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved. “I want to repay you,” said the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.” “No, I can’t accept payment for what I did.” At that moment, the farmer’s son came to the door of the family hovel. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “I’ll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll grow to a man you can be proud of.” And that he did. Farmer Fleming’s son graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming the discoverer of Penicillin. Years afterward, the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him? Penicillin. The name of the nobleman? Randolph Churchill. His son? Sir Winston Churchill.

Someone once said: What goes around comes around. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Confessing Christ

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There is the story of a woman who, early one morning, made a mad dash out of the house when she heard the garbage truck pulling away. She was still in her bathrobe. Her hair was wrapped in big curlers. Her face was covered with sticky cream. She was wearing a chin-strap and a beat up old pair of slippers. In short, she was a frightful picture. When she reached the sidewalk, she called out, “Am I too late for the garbage?” And the reply came back “No, hop right in.”

Church membership is like a poker game; you’re either in or you’re out. If you’re in, then ante up. For Peter it was show time and time to make the decision to be in or out. Jesus was halfway through His ministry and teaching, now was the time to see just what the Disciples had learned.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. And still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

The bottom line is that all of us want to go to heaven rather than to live eternity in hell. When all is summed up in scripture there are three requirements for salvation! Confession, repentance and baptism. One must recognize that he/she is a sinner and change his/her ways. Repentance meant not only being sorry for the wrong that we have done, but to change direction and go in the opposite direction. All believers where called to be baptized. John preached baptism. Jesus was baptized.
All believers in the New Testament seemed to respond to Christian baptism. But there was no greater requirement for salvation than to “confess Jesus as Lord.”

There was a variety of opinions which men held concerning Jesus. Many of those opinions showed that they connected Jesus with Messianic prophecy, but few regarded Him as the Messiah. We are not surprised by Jesus’ question to the Disciples in our text. Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. And still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Confession is different from spilling the beans to the public. Celebrities are not confessing when they hire writers to tell a prurient public their boring stories of sexual trysts; they are not after forgiveness, they are after publicity with royalties attached. Nor do you and I confess when we tell all to an understanding psychiatrist; we don’t want forgiveness, we want to feel good. We confess when we cannot stand the hurt we caused another. We confess when we put ourselves in the hands of the person we wronged and trust him or her with our souls. We confess when, naked in the eyes of the person we unfairly wounded, we plead nothing but the hope of grace.”

So, what is a Christian confession? It is required that we must confess that Jesus is Lord! Phil 2:9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This confession is important because we are admitting that Jesus is not just a man, He is God. In this confession we are admitting that we are sinners and that we need to be forgiven. That as God, Jesus can and will forgive our sins. Corrie Ten Boom, used to say that when we confess our sins, that God would cast them into the deepest ocean, gone forever . . . then God places a sign out there that says, NO FISHING ALLOWED!

This confession must be public, for no Christian lights a lamp to hide it. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Our salvation comes at a cost. For God it was His son, Jesus. For the believer, their faith must be public.

“Upon this rock I will build my church,” Jesus said. The spiritual body, the church, mentioned here for the first time, is built upon the divinely revealed fact about Christ confessed by Peter. This confession is so powerful and so real that nothing can destroy it. Not even Hell itself.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

All words, and nothing from the heart where all true confessions come!

Learning To Pray: Community Prayer

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The occasion was one of those community inter-faith Thanksgiving services where all the local pastors were participating — including the Episcopal rector and the Baptist preacher. The Baptist preacher wasn’t really sure whether he should even be there with this motley crew, but he was steeling himself, against his better convictions. He was assigned to read a Scripture passage and then introduce the Episcopalian, who was going to lead in prayer. When the Baptist finished his reading he struggled to get out the words, “I would like to present Fa, Fa, Fath, Father Smith it was hard for a Baptist to call another clergyman ‘Father'” but he finally got it out and then continued but not without adding a twist “Father Smith, pastor of the local Episcopal Church, who will read one of those Episcopalian pre-written prayers.” Father Smith stood up, approached the pulpit, turned and smiled at the Baptist preacher and said, “Would you all join me? ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven…”

A community prayer where the Church (all the people) pray. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

(Matt 18:18-21) “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” We are talking about the Church, the fellowship of believers. There is tremendous power in community prayer. “…if two of you on earth agree…it will be done….”

There was an ad put in the paper that went like this: Do you believe God is everywhere? If so let our computer pray for you, over 100,000 prayers each month. Send $2 donation for brochure, Bishop Skousen, Universal Life Church, Box — etc., etc.

Prayer is real and it comes from the heart. Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth, but from falling in love. Some of the kindest words ever spoken to me came from a person following my announcing to this congregation that Vickie had been diagnosed with cancer. I invited the congregation to pray for her. They said, “We always feel helpless and unable to do anything, but you invited us to be a part of her healing process, to pray.”

Prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.
There is no greater function of the Church than to participate in prayer, unison conversation with God. (Acts 12:5-16) So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.” When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her.

Many people quench the Spirit by being down in the mouth rather than rejoicing, by planning rather than praying, by murmuring rather than giving thanks, and by worrying instead of trusting in him who is faithful. One of the highest functions of the Church is to have community prayer. When we come to the “invocation,” “pastoral prayer,” or “benediction,” what do we do? Certainly it is a time that we listen to the minister or other leader as he/she leads us in prayer. Their words are important. But we supplement that prayer with our own prayers. Remember, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

There was a soldier in the Union Army, a youngest son who had lost his older brother and his father in the war. He went to Washington, D. C. to see President Lincoln to ask for an exemption from military service so he could go back and help his sister and mother with the spring planting on the farm. When he arrived in Washington, after having received a furlough from the military to go and plead his case, he went to the White House, approached the doors and asked to see the President, and he was told, “You can’t see the President: Don’t you know there’s a war on? The President’s a very busy man. Now go away, son! Get back out there and fight the Rebs like you’re supposed to.” So he left, very disheartened, and was sitting on a little park bench not far from the White House when a little boy came up to him. The lad said, “Soldier, you look unhappy. What’s wrong?” The soldier looked at this young boy and began to spill his heart to this young lad about his situation, about his father having died in the war and his older brother having died in the the war, and how he was the only male left in the family and was needed desperately back at the farm for the spring planting. So the little boy took the soldier by the hand and led him around to the back of the White House. They went through the back door, past the guards, went past all the generals and the high ranking government officials and they all stood at attention as this little boy took this private through the rooms of the White House. The private didn’t understand this. Finally, they got to the Presidential office itself and the little boy didn’t knock on the door — he just opened the door and walked in — and there was President Lincoln with his Secretary of State, looking over battle plans on his desk, and President Lincoln looked up and said, “What can I do for you, Todd?” And Todd said, “Daddy, this soldier needs to talk to you.” And right then and there, the soldier had a chance to plead his case to President Lincoln, and he was exempted from military service due to the hardship he was under. And such is the case with our Ascended Lord. We have access to the Father through the Son.

(Matt 6:5-8) Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him

Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his whole life at stake. When Jacob was fleeing his home one night he wrestled with God. Not only was his hip touched and changed, his very life was changed from that moment. Prayer with God does that to all of us. (Acts 1:12-15) Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.