Welcome to Pastor Jack Buckley's weekly blog and podcast.
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Monday, June 25, 2007
Peace: A Place To Stand
Frederick Buechner says, in Wishful Thinking, "Peace has come to mean the time when there aren't any wars or even when there aren't any major wars. Beggars can't be choosers; we'd most of us settle for that. But in Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness, means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself."
St. Paul says, in Romans 5, that we have peace with God (and with each other by the grace of God) because God wants us to be spiritually whole and happy. And has done everything that was needed to make it happen.
Think about that long enough, and your whole life could be turned inside-out, rightside-up, at long last.
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The 19th-century American artist Edward Hicks painted about 100 versions of "The Peaceable Kingdom."
That makes sense, since he was a leader among the Quakers (aka the Society of Friends) who are world-famous for their commitment to the things that make for peace.
Each painting features at least one child and a few animals, all of them gazing contentedly out at us, inviting us to join their happy party. Lions and lambs, wildcats and kitchen cats, all lounge together without a bloody tooth or claw in sight. Many of the paintings also include in the background a party of famous Quakers, like William Penn, busy making peace with Native Americans and other non-Quaker neighbors.
It doesn't take a Bible scholar to read Hicks' pictures as calls to recapture what the world lost when Adam and Eve were run out of the Garden of Eden. Their willfulness, according to Genesis 3, demolished for all of us the "original blessing" of harmony between God, people, and the world of animals, vegetables, and minerals.
Ever since, it seems, our human tribe has been desperately looking for some secret door to let us back into that secret garden.
Yet the real world is torn apart by strife, suspicion, and self-protection against enemies both real and imagined. It's downright dangerous to open up your hands, let alone your mind or your heart, when people and parties, nations and denominations, could do you deadly damage if given half a chance.
Is peace, then, a wishful dream?
Jesus once told his disciples, "I have come not to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The fact is people will divide, sometimes violently, over Christ and his claim on our lives. All your best intentions might be thrown back in your face by folks who reject your faith in Christ. So much for peaceable kingdoms.
But on the last night they ate together, the night he was ripped away from them to die on the cross, he said to them, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (John 14:27). Spiritual health and happiness even in the worst of trying circumstances.
How can Jesus expect to have it both ways with us? Is peace, after all, just a wishful dream?
Frederick Buechner, in Wishful Thinking, says it this way: "The contradiction is resolved when you realize that for Jesus peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle but the presence of love."
Love... Joy... Peace.... Always, it seems, in just that order.
posted by Jack Buckley at
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Joy: The Christian's Open Secret
Whenever Paul the Apostle got to a new town, he didn't look for a nice hotel. Instead, he'd ask for directions to the nearest jail -- since that's where he ended up more often than not. His "good news" about Christ's way of transforming lives was bad news for the social status quo. Before long, into the slammer he'd go.
So it's not surprising that he wrote his letter to the Christians in Philippi from a jail cell.
What is surprising, though, is his emphasis on joy in the midst of all kinds of circumstances. In chains, unsure of when or if he'll be released, Paul still encourages his free brothers and sisters to "rejoice in the Lord; again I say, rejoice!" What's up with that?
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I was a 40ish minister of the gospel, rounding out a decade of unconventional ministry in Berkeley. God had blessed our study-center work, first as part of the "counter-culture" in the 1970s, then more mainstream into the early 1980s.
Even so, I was restless and uncertain about my future. Truth be told, I was tired out emotionally and spiritually. More than I was aware. But a close friend, a member of our ministry's board of directors, understood -- and he gave me the greatest gift he could.
He sponsored me to a long-weekend's worth of spiritual retreat with about 40 other men.
But he wouldn't tell me much about it. So I grew more and more suspicious. Would I be expected to speak in tongues or something? "Trust me," he said. "Trust them. And above all, trust God."
So off I went into the spiritual unknown. And what a wonderful batch of holy surprises I found there.
The weekend focused on ten teaching times, where one or another man reviewed a basic ingredient of Christian belief and behavior -- all told in plain English and personal stories. We sang a lot, prayed a bit, shared Communion often, and played more than a few goofy games. It all added up to a joyous crash course in the gospel.
All the surprises were good. No spiritual tricks. No big secrets.
Here's the best surprise of all: Some 20 men had teamed up, about 8 weeks ahead of time, in a conspiracy to bless the lives of about 20 men like me. Team members spent that lead time in training to serve as cooks, table servers, dish washers, study table hosts, speakers, or spiritual directors.
That last category had to be filled by two ordained ministers. Everyone else was just a garden variety Christian, most of them the kind of guy you'd never even notice if you passed them on the street. But here they embodied the grace of God like angels in disguise.
One man summed up the experience for all of us when he said, "This weekend I discovered that I am loveable!"
A '70s bumper sticker put the same thought more crudely: "God don't make no junk!"
Either way, it's the gospel truth that every person on God's good earth is a unique unrepeatable miracle of God. No two of us are exactly alike. And each of us is worth loving and being loved by. The world would be diminished without every one of us present and accounted for.
I came home from that Cursillo weekend overflowing with joy, grinning ear to ear, in love with myself and the whole wide world in a wonderful new way.
And there's the great open secret of joy...
Unlike happiness, dependent as it is on good things happening, joy is rooted in knowing that you are absolutely loved just because you're you. Even when your present situation stinks to high heaven.
It's anything but accidental that Paul says "the fruit of the Spirit is love, then joy"! (See Galatians 5:22)
Any guy who was at that retreat would tell you, "Well, of course it is!"
posted by Jack Buckley at
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Love: The Heart of the Matter
1 Corinthians 13
One of God's greatest hits, St. Paul's "love chapter" is requested by 4/5 of the wedding couples for whom I tie the proverbial knot. There they stand all starry-eyed, blushing with romantic warmth, pulses racing a mile a minute, while I recite those famous words about love never giving up and never running out. Love is forever. Amen.
But this poetic chapter isn't really about romance at all. It describes a muscular kind of love -- one that knows how to stand up tall, brace itself, and do the loving thing in a loving way. All of that, regardless of how we might feel at the moment. It's God's own kind of love, which we see demonstrated most clearly in the ways that Jesus treated people in God's name.
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I recently witnessed a little miracle right outside my office.
Well, I do work in a church. Shouldn't I expect an occasional miracle? Even so, they don't come around very often.
This one had an interesting background. Think $5,000.
That's the amount of a scholarship grant our church offered for needy families' tuition in the child care center that uses our site. We gave away that money in the same open-handed spirit we'd received it. It was a small portion of our share in the estate of a dear woman who, late in life, had found in our church a new spiritual family. Florence trusted we would be good stewards of her bequest, and now we were confident the child care leaders would do the same.
For a few months, though, the money just sat there. No takers. So we kind of lost track of the matter.
Then a family applied to enroll their infant daughter. Problem was, she had a disease that requires intensive physical therapy -- at the child care center as well as at home. The combined cost was far beyond the family's means. Hmmm, might $5,000 be helpful? The deed was done.
Our elders and I rejoiced that our grant had made the difference. And life went on.
Then one day Director Juneko stood at my office door and said, "Pastor Jack, I'd like you to meet the mother of the little girl your scholarship is helping. She's here to pick up Stella Grace now."
I was delighted to greet the woman. She profusely thanked us for our grant. I politely assured her we were pleased to give it. Etc. etc. etc.
Then Juneko asked if I'd like to see the little girl in her infant/toddler classroom. Of course! And off we went.
Director, mom, and pastor huddled to peek through the open door. Stella Grace was seated at a round table, with her back to us. Juneko whispered, "She stood up by herself today."
And the mother burst into happy tears.
You see, little Stella Grace's disease is a very rare one. It has prevented her body from spontaneously doing such simple baby things as rolling over, crawling, standing up, walking. She has had to be patterned into learning these motor skills with the help of a physical therapist.
And on this particular day, well ahead of predictable schedule, Stella Grace decided it was time to stand up by herself!
Well, teary-eyed and all, I slipped back to my office while the mother and child got ready to go home.
Except -- they stopped into the office on their way out. Mom and I picked up our joyous conversation, praising God together and getting more acquainted in the process.
Then she put Stella Grace down, so she could stand alongside her! And I knelt down to speak face to face with the girl for just a moment. Afterwards, I could not stop smiling for the joy of it all.
A miracle, I call it. You might disagree.
After all, everything I've described is very physical, material, natural through and through.
Start with the cold cash. Add in medical science to diagnose the problem, then to prescribe treatment and medications as well. Stir in a lot of physical therapy. Voila! So where's your miracle?
Walk over my way a few paces. Look at it from this angle...
We gave that money away in a spirit of grateful love.
Grateful for a loving bequest to help our church's ministries grow, which itself was motivated by gratitude for our church's ministries.
Loving in that we wanted to help people whose families needed quality care for their children. Just because they needed it. Whether we'd ever know who they were or not. Whether they'd ever join our church or not.
We gave it away. The same way God, out of love, with no strings attached, gave away his Only Son to bless the people of the world. Just because we needed what Jesus came to give. Just because God wanted us to have it.
That's exactly the kind of love St. Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter" that's so popular at weddings.
Romantic love, as wonderful as it is, is all about satisfying the senses. It's a payoff kind of love, perfectly okay in its own right.
But Paul describes a deeper, wider kind of love. Its motive is simply to bless the beloved, to do the loving thing in a loving way. Whether you feel much like doing it or not. The satisfaction comes in knowing that the one you love has been blessed. That's all the reward you need.
I got to witness Stella Grace's breakthrough day. On the very same day I met her mom and heard how much our gift had meant. The day we celebrated together that small, but major, triumph in this little girl's life.
That's what I call a miracle.
posted by Jack Buckley at