Discussion and Discernment
by Bruce Hamsher
I still remember today what recess felt like when I was in the third grade. That year the game was kickball.
More pointedly, I remember the awesome red ball we used. It was the kind of ball which was somewhat solid, yet spongy enough that when it hit that sweet spot on your foot, it seemed to soar in the air for a mile. I also vividly remember the classmate who never thought he was out. (You probably remember this guy too. Every class had one.)
The play didn’t even have to be close, but, regardless, he would dispute the call if he was out. After weeks of this behavior, another classmate and I decided that it was time for us to become the teachers, so we made up our own lesson plan to teach this guy a lesson. Thus, the push technique was applied. The push technique was done very quickly, succinctly and successfully.
I engaged the whiner in a conversation while my buddy slowly walked behind him and proceeded to get down on all fours. Once he was in place, I gave a quick push and watched as he tumbled backward over my accomplice’s back and onto the ground. We had a good laugh—until he started writhing around on the ground in pain.
His cries and groans caught the attention of the teacher on duty and our laughs quickly turned to concern and to that “Oh, no” feeling deep in the pit of one’s stomach. As we weren’t able to go out to recess for a while after this, we realized very quickly that our reactive, aggressive behavior certainly didn’t solve the problem. A peaceful solution wasn’t tried and things only got worse.
A Peace Church
The Mennonite church is a historic peace church. One of our doctrines states that we do not go to war. We believe that the way of Jesus is the way of peace. In our past, when a military draft has been enacted, many have chosen to give of their time and service in what we would consider to be possible “life giving” ways, rather than possible “life taking” ways.
We grieve the reality that in the past Christians have killed each other in war in the name of Civil Religion. We would see the entire world as the potential “Kingdom of God,” one that can’t be divided by national, human-made boundaries.
‘What Would You Do?’
Obvious questions arise when statements like these are made. One I’ve heard often is, “What would you do then if someone was about to harm your wife and children?” To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what I would do in that situation, but I can’t imagine that I would passively sit back and do nothing. Another question I’ve heard is, “Shouldn’t Hitler have been wiped out?” One thing is for certain: he should’ve been intensely prayed for.
The point here is that too often, both nationally and personally, we take matters into our own hands first and then beg and plead with God to bless our efforts. We can go back and forth on these things, but the one thing we can all agree on is that Jesus modeled for us a “ministry of reconciliation” and a “peace-giving lifestyle.”
What About Our Wars?
This then poses another question. If we are a historic peace church, then why are we no different from other denominations when it comes to our internal “warring” and squabbles, our church splits and our inability to, as Paul says, “Live at peace with everyone?” (Rom. 12:18) Why is it easier to agree with this in doctrine than in practice?
I do believe that the way of Jesus is the way of Peace. Jesus tells us it is a blessed thing to be a “peacemaker” (Matt. 5:9). In other words, we will experience a deep sense of satisfaction and joy if we are peacemakers and we’ll be labeled as “children of God.” I wonder then, when will we live out this lifestyle of peace in all of life, not just in convenient, isolated segments?
Facing a Robber
In his book Just in Time, Lynn Miller tells the story of the time he and his wife were doing Voluntary Service in Chicago. As they were walking toward their church, they were held up at gunpoint with the robber yelling, “Give me your money or I’ll shoot!”
Lynn quickly told him he didn’t have any money and then asked the man if he would want to come to the church with them. He said maybe they could find something there for him. The robber shouted again, “Give me the money!” His wife then told him they needed to visit a woman whose mother had just died. They then turned and started to walk down a narrow alley that led to the back of the church.
Halfway down the alley, Lynn turned around and said, “Come on” and motioned the gunman to follow them. The gunman just stood there, confused. He then turned and ran away. It was later revealed that this couple regularly prays ahead of time for nonviolent responses to potential violent acts committed against them.
Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). He also states, “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). We must be willing to share the peace we have with Christ with others in loving and creative ways.
An Indonesian Pastor
I listened to an Indonesian pastor tell of the time when his church was unjustly shut down by the local Muslim officials. This would now cause a huge problem as the only water well in that small community was located on the church property. What would be their response?
If they would withhold water from the other villagers, chaos would erupt. It would be tough, but they decided that even though they were unjustly shut down, they would continue to let the local Muslims freely use their water supply. After eight months the Muslim officials peacefully let them reopen their church.
It’s an Activity
I’m coming to realize more and more that peacemaking is not merely a concept or a doctrine, it’s an activity. It’s not passive; it’s active. It’s not so much something we are; it’s something we do in our homes, in our work and in all of life!
A myth abounds about peacemakers which needs to be clarified. Peacemakers love peace, but they do not passively accept trouble. They are persons who are strong in the Lord and who do not remove themselves from conflict and adversity. Think about this verbally and how it’s so much easier to shoot someone down with your words, than to deal with the situation at hand.
However, if you’re seeking a “peaceful” solution, you will assume the hard work of conflict resolution. You will be proactive, will stand strong in the face of the adversity and will not run away from the problem. You will face it and address it in a bold and righteous way.
The Example of Christ
As we look into the purpose of His ministry, we see that Christ sought to bring peace to a hurting and needy world. He saw us trapped in our sin, with no way out. He saw the warring and the pain within our souls. He saw us in our war and in His compassion, He longed to bring us His Peace. These verses from Isaiah 53:5-6 sum it up well: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His Wounds we are healed.” Hallelujah and amen.
Oh, and the next time your “classmate” is insistent about being safe at first base, let them be safe and keep on playing the game. And at that moment when they do stumble, remember that helping them up is always better than causing them to fall. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
Bruce Hamsher, DMin., resides in Sugarcreek, Ohio, with his wife Jocelyn. He is the CEO of Toward the Goal Ministries (www.towardthegoal.net), the Director of Leadership Development at ProVia, and an ordained pastor in the MCUSA.