Most people who claim to be church would agree that in some sense God calls the church to a prophetic role in the world, and especially the part of the world that is their context for ministry.  Prophets stand up and say, “Thus says the Lord.”  By which they mean, among other things, “Here is God’s perspective on your present reality, on the way you are heading—leaders, nations, people—here is your destination and you really don’t want to go there.  Consider (or reconsider) a better way!”

Prophets say such things to the “powers,” whether so-called secular or religious, and they address all aspects of their present circumstances, whether relating primarily to the temple with its overtly “spiritual” concerns or to the court with its political, social, and economic responsibilities.  And, always, the prophets insist upon the coherence and interdependence of all dimensions of human life.  They would stubbornly resist separation between public and private, and insist that every policy and practice of the powers has spiritual depth and consequence.

Prophets are seldom appreciated (while alive) and often hated.  They remind the powers of things they know but ignore and doggedly assert the powers’ accountability to the One who, at least for now, permits them to hold power. 

One other observation: Prophets functioned with great versatility and multiple strategies.  They could simply utter a woe or declare a promise.  They could enact God’s assessment or response to the powers’ use of power.  Or they could confront the powers with questions that probed and challenged the status quo.

Indeed, sometimes the power of posing good questions far surpasses the impact of unrestrained bombast.  Church and world tend to think prophets specialize in the latter.  Yet Jesus, who certainly functioned prophetically, more often than not reserved the bombast for rare occasions and well-targeted audiences (mostly religious, by the way), and specialized in imaginative, suggestive strategies, such as a good story or penetrating questions.

With these musings as background, I’ve been thinking of some prophetic questions the church should be asking, particularly itself. 

Since Jesus’ primary message was about the Kingdom being here (he meant here and now) and since the Kingdom is all about “heaven,” why does the church often have little to say about God’s Kingdom here and now and so much to say about heaven, conceived as exclusively there and then?  And, as a result, why have so few noticed the consequences of this total reversal of Jesus’ Kingdom message (such as, for example, the relative devaluing of what is done here and the super-valuing of whatever the beyond will be; an escapist theology that views life here as only preliminary and preparatory to life there and then, etc.)?

How come those who confess a personal, intimate relationship with the living Lord Jesus have little or nothing to say about the things most important to Jesus, according to the gospels (the historical authenticity of which they would die—and maybe even kill—for)—things such as advocating for the poor and against the recklessly indulgent, championing the preservation of marriages that are threatened (instead of only championing the definition of  marriage as heterosexual …), decrying the glorification of violence as an answer to human conflict, or pronouncing woe on lifestyles and standards of living that reflect the view that human life consists in the abundance of things possessed.

Who will stand up to protest the number of non-terrorists being killed in our attempts to find and eliminate terrorists?  Who will wonder if some of our policies are not unwittingly out-killing the terrorists?

Why doesn’t someone suggest that a nation that doesn’t need help from other nations should for that reason seek such help (to avoid arrogance, to protect against blind spots, to admit humbly that power does not guarantee wisdom and may even blind or corrupt its holder)?

Why won’t the church affirm its higher allegiance to branches of the Family living in other places than to our nation-state?  Or will it?

And why, for many in our churches, does asking the previous question call into question the questioner’s appropriate loyalty to our country?  Or does it?

Why is there not as great an outcry against a conservative republican caught in obscene predatory sexual behavior with a minor as there was against a former president’s sexual transgressions?  And why won’t the impeachers of that president want to remove any from office who are found to have covered up this latest sexual sin?  Or, will they?

Why would we be more troubled about a governor who announces he is leaving his wife for his gay lover than we would be if we learned that another conservative governor had sold state contracts to her largest campaign contributors?  Or would we?

And why for many of us do such questions as these seem relatively insignificant compared with the need to grow our churches?  Or do they?

Of course, the list goes on, but perhaps these are enough to kindle a little prophetic spark (or just get me in trouble)!

On Winning and Losing

On Losing and Winning

We are T minus 2.5 weeks to the execution.  The condemned has invited us to join him on death row and, on that day, he will have also invited us to die with him.  These are days fraught with sobering realities.

If we look back we will remember that this is just as he promised it would be from nearly the beginning.  “Come, follow me.”

Follow me in announcing a new way to be and live, follow me in steady pursuit of loving others, telling the truth, showing mercy, undoing evil’s grip.  Follow me in saying “Yes” to the Father—in fair weather, when they say you can do no wrong, and in foul weather when they say the good you do is wrong—saying “Yes” even when the dearest in your life say “No!” and saying “Yes” even though in the saying of it you lose it all.

And why?  Because he said “Yes;” because in the light of his word we understand that saying “No!’ to win or gain or advance leads to the loss of our very selves, and saying “Yes” at the risk of losing all leads to winning big-time.

In a recent book, novelist Ann Perry creates a story which is a kind of salvation myth. The heroine is a woman name Tathea. After having had to flee from her country, and to survive through many dangers, Tathea is now trying to decide whether to return to her homeland in order to try and save it from the creeping evil that has corrupted every level of life. She is most hesitant. All the more hesitant because she is not sure she will succeed. Her good friend Alexias says to Tathea:

Remember, there is no middle ground. We are either for God or for Asmodeus (Satan).  Either we are for the light, the beauty, the good, or we are for darkness, pain and bondage. There is no place between, only the illusion of it. And that too is the creation of the Enemy; the eternal lie that you can win without battle, reap without cost, triumph without courage or pain.”

Read again those last two sentences: There is no place between, only the illusion of it. And that too is the creation of the Enemy; the eternal lie that you can win without battle, reap without cost, triumph without courage or pain.” (Cited by Bruce Prewer in a sermon for March 12, 2006)

We’re doing time with Jesus on death row with 2.5 weeks to go. 

We wait, we watch, we listen, we count the cost, and we say, “Yes!”


Jesus used at least three prominent figures to describe the believing life as an on going work of God’s grace in our lives—the journey, the new birth, the vine and its branches. 

Here are three prayers for people in process that express the longings of my heart.  Perhaps of yours too.

Master, thank you for noticing me when you passed my way.  Merely that—what a miracle!  Then, for you to call me, pull me to my feet, welcome me in your following . . . wow!

I would not dare to request more, if you had not urged me to ask.  So, keep me on the way with you, alert me to the potholes and the slippery slopes along the path.  Soothe the soreness of muscles grown weary with following.  Mend the brokenness when I’ve wandered from the way.  Unmask wolves disguised as fellow travelers.  Reveal deceptive road signs promising a short cut.  Make my journey an encouragement to others, and others’ to me.  Lift my eyes to see home growing on the horizon and to feel joy overflowing my heart.


My dear Father, thank you for calling me your child and birthing me to new life.  I owe you everything!.

I sometimes feel like a spoiled child whose asking knows no end.  But you’ve called my sincere requests a Father’s delight.  So, because I can’t wait to grow up, help me to be patient, to learn my lessons, to eat what is good for me, to let the hurts of life make me strong within (and, please, forgive my whining), to love my brothers and sisters (especially when I think they embarrass me and you), to grow sweeter and more content as the years pass, and to enter the next stage of life with eagerness.  And, when I grow up, I want to be just like you!


Lord God, thank you for plucking me up out of where I had been planted and splicing me into your vine.  I know it’s not “natural” and, by rights, I don’t belong, but here I am!

I’ve never felt as alive as I am in you (before I constantly mistook the artificial for the real!).  Please, keep the life flowing and help me to “go with the flow!”  Let your fruit develop in beautiful and delicious ways.  Make it clear to all who notice my branch that I’m yours.  When you prune the branches, keep me winsome for you, even through my wincing.

Let me never imagine that the life surging through me is mine, and let no one else think that the fruit you produce reflects my ability or virtue.  Instead, let everything bring you the joy and satisfaction of a grand and glorious harvest, repaying your patient, gracious and resourceful labors.   


Abscess, Root Canal and Lessons from the Pain

Recently I had as miserable a week as any I can recall. One night I woke up to a dull throb under a large molar on the bottom left side. Dull became acute; the molar shared its pain with the whole jaw, then cheek, eye, temple, and soon the entire left side of my head. In one week I was host to the natural birth, nasty childhood, rebellious adolescence, sociopath adulthood of a monster abscess. For its egregious crimes against the human, the abscess was put to death by root canal. After more than a week a whole night’s rest felt heavenly.

It is, however, not a week to forget. As I remember and wince over this painful time, I have deeper appreciation for people who live in constant pain, for whom no root canal or other procedure will ever bring full relief. People for whom there is at best fitful sleep, the attempt to balance the benefit of pain relievers with the dulling of mind that goes with the relief, the omnipresence of pain—always there intruding, slowing time and task down by its constant demand for attention, the loss of appetite and the drain of energy, the social narrowing that comes when those who love you lots join you in constantly focusing on your pain and how you’re doing, and those who love you less find it too painful to be around you—and more besides. One week of such things breaks my heart for those whose suffering dwarfs mine—both in the depth and duration of their pain. Then, of course, there are other kinds of pain that visit people with similarly enervating and devastating consequence—loved ones claimed or maimed by war, children lost through violence or tragic accident, cataclysmic loss from unnatural disasters, marriages ripped apart by infidelity, and the list goes on.

So, what would God teach me through such a week? A relatively intense but brief time of pain convinces me that most of the time I live a charmed—or graced—life. Such as I do suffer, relative to others, reveals my outcries as often petty whining. My mini pains provide a huge reality check to note the maxi pains that are companion to so many. May the reality check produce both discerning sympathy for the hurting and unending gratitude for being spared so much. And just as I wished someone would do something, even though I knew I was in part asking for the impossible, so when others around me wish or pray out of their anguish, may I sometimes be someone who does something!

When you are in pain, you want relief, you want it to stop. The wanting or desiring comes front and center and perseveres until relief comes. I muse: do I want God, God’s Spirit, God’s blessing, God’s will as much as that? I should, I want to, but do I? Am I as persistent in seeking until GOD-RELIEF comes?

It is impossible to escape all pain. And, it is inevitable that we will embrace some pain—especially if we are graced and empowered enough to live up to our God-designed destiny. I’ve been reminded that if we love God with our all and others as self—the very heart of our life in Christ and our movement as God’s people—we regularly and even joyfully embrace pain. We embrace the pain of the broken hearted Father whose cherished son was missing. We embrace the anguish of the Savior-Shepherd whose heart went out to the people—so many of them—who were harassed, confused, bruised, at the brink of disaster as sheep without a shepherd. We embrace the writhing of the Apostle moving in and out of contractions birthing Christ within and among the people of God. We embrace the crushing dread of the calamity about to sweep people away from their God and their rightful home—and we could wish to be crushed ourselves if only they would turn from catastrophe. And, we embrace the pain that comes as consequence of following the Lord as love of our lives. He is Life. To follow Him, to join Him is to be in the very center, moving toward fuller, more multi-dimensioned life, whatever the cost. I would follow—whatever it means and however it feels—for the sake of even one more …