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A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Angels

December 07, 2017

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Luke 1:13a

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

Now, I am no angel.  But, as a peacemaker, I do know what it feels like for people to be frightened of me.  It is actually a fairly common response, especially in church conflicts.  When I am called in by a congregation or Christian organization to begin my work as a peacemaker, and I begin having my one-on-one meetings with the players, it is always interesting to me how frightened they seem to be to talk to me.  Maybe it is because they know I am a lawyer?  Or maybe it because they have misunderstood my role in the process?  Or maybe it is their fear of being held accountable?  I honestly do not know.

But I do know that, for peacemakers, it means we have one task that is first and foremost in every conflict…we must be a non-anxious presence.  We must develop an ability to disarm the players, reassure them that they are safe, and guarantee a process which they can trust.  We apparently share that task with the angels.  Everything about our demeanor and our words must send a clear message: “be not afraid”.

I’m glancing at some of the long strings of comments we see today on …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

November 30, 2017

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect …

[GULP!] …I Might Have Been a Legalist

October 26, 2017

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written… Acts 15:6-8, 12-15

Have you ever noticed that the process of spiritual discernment is often much more complicated than merely examining the evidence logically?  The more background I read about the Jerusalem Council and its crucial considerations in Acts 15, the more I worry I might have voted the wrong way, if I had been among them. As it turns out, being a legalist is a lot easier than we would like to think.

Circumcision, to the very first Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, was a big deal…every bit as big a deal as baptism is to the Christian church today.  It was clearly not an act “stumbled upon” through some twist of tradition and men’s preferences…it was an act given to them by God Himself.  There was a plethora of Holy Scripture which required it [insert your favorite among a half dozen or so Old Testament stories showing God’s clear directives about circumcision here].  It was a non-negotiable to them, because …

Being Ananias: Ministry to those we Fear

October 05, 2017

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.  Acts 9:17-19

Have you ever wondered why exactly Ananias was necessary to Paul’s conversion experience?  Doesn’t it seem like a lot of extra (unnecessary) steps?  God could have handled this entire conversion experience so much more efficiently by just handling it Himself.  What is the point of blinding Paul until a fellow believer could come to him and play a part in helping Paul see again?  Friends, I believe we, the church, must answer these questions if we are to understand God’s expectations of us.

I have built an entire ministry around the proposition that the church is not just one alternative plan to reach this broken world, but rather is God’s only plan.  I believe this with all my heart.  Christian Unity Ministries is not about finding alternative ways to reach the communities of the world…it is about bringing health and vitality to the only vehicle God has already ordained for that work: his church. And a big part of that work involves helping churches become the people God expects us to become in order to love well, whether the objects of that love are within the church or outside the church. If we are to be God’s vehicle for reaching a lost and broken world, we must learn to minister even to those in our culture with whom we strongly disagree or fear.…

First, Do Good. Then, Speak Truth.

September 14, 2017

 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong…While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people…Acts 3:6-7, 11-12

Are you old enough to remember when it was said of the U.S. that our “national pastime” was baseball? I can remember it being said. I’m not sure I ever really believed it. Those were simpler times, to be sure. Nicer times. Less complicated. But what about today? What would you suppose is this culture’s favorite pastime? My educated guess is this: having a “take” and making it known. We are living in a culture obsessed with finding creative, persuasive, (controversial?) ways of communicating our beliefs or opinions about every single happening or news item or public personality. Racism? Here’s my take… Same sex marriage? Here’s my take… Abortion? Here’s my take… Politics? Here’s my take… Evangelicals? Here’s my take… Muslims? Here’s my take… You get the idea. It’s an obsession. All of us feel compelled to have a take and make it known. And we spend an enormous amount of our time either reading/listening to other people’s takes or coming up with our own.

In the Christian world, we usually call it “speaking the truth”. We may or may not want to be seen as going along with the crowd, so we may or may not intend to jump on the social media bandwagon of “have a take and make it known”, but we do …

This Changes Everything

September 07, 2017

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Acts 2:1-4

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

Of all the miracles referenced in the Bible, the Pentecost miracle in Acts 2 may be at the top of my list of moments I would love to have seen.  The tongues of fire ushering down God’s Spirit to indwell God’s people…wow!

In terms of their impact on this world and the ushering in of a completely new chapter in God’s story, I tend to think of the crucifixion, the resurrection and Pentecost as three aspects of a single, “this changes everything” moment in history.  All are significant in themselves, but all are necessary to bring about the age of the church.  It is a little like a three-legged stool in that regard.  Take any one of the legs away and you have an entirely different situation.

These three events (which all happened within just a few weeks of each other), taken together, changed forever the way God would relate to his creation…AND the way we, His children, would relate to each other.

Follow the history with me through the Bible…

In the garden, God related to Adam and Eve through an interpersonal relationship (yes, I am quite the literalist in my interpretation of scripture). …

The Missing Piece in our Social Discourse

August 24, 2017

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our culture is in great need of reconciliation. The divisions between us just seem to grow larger and larger every day. Likewise, the Christian church is in need of reconciliation. The same cultural and political divisions which have wreaked havoc outside the church seem to have had a similar effect even within the church. And as long as we use social media to try and resolve it, we will only make it worse. You see, there is a huge missing piece in our social discourse these days, one that is critical to human relationships. However, this particular missing piece is, by design, missing from social media. In fact, its presence makes for horribly boring–even ineffective–communication in the realms of social media. That missing piece is humility.

In every genuine reconciliation, there is a point where both parties have softened their hearts enough to be able to begin seeing the issue through the other party’s eyes.  It happens to a person when he/she is humbly willing to admit to himself that maybe, just maybe, his/her perspective is not complete.  It is a moment of sudden clarity, when he/she understands (probably for the first time) that he/she has been a bit arrogant and self-centered.  This softening represents a profound shift in the relationship.  …

The Truth about Spiritual Gifts

July 27, 2017

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed… to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:1, 7

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I wish I could see exactly what the question was from the Corinthian church.  I mean, I wish I could know exactly how they reported their issue with spiritual gifts to Paul.  The mediator in me has watched Paul call out three of the four factions in that church in the first part of this letter (“I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, and I follow Cephas”), and I wonder if the “I follow Jesus” faction was representative of the culprits here, because that is the way it comes across in so many of our church conflicts today where spiritual gifts are at issue.  Somebody is making a practice of doing something that is causing all kinds of havoc in the church, i.e., ripping the church apart, and their excuse is that “I am just exercising my spiritual gift…it is the Spirit of God Himself working through me…I am just following Jesus.”  I am troubled by that for several reasons, not the least of which is that spiritual gifts are ALL ABOUT UNITY and bringing …

Undercover Boss

July 20, 2017

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”  Matthew 25:41-46

Have you ever seen the reality show, Undercover Boss?  I’ve always thought  the concept is brilliant.  It is truly a study in servanthood. What could be more entertaining than seeing a bad employee treat someone badly who turns out to be the CEO of their company?  It’s one of those awkward circumstances that make you stop and think…and cringe!

Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those circumstances as well.  There were times when you just know the disciples sat speechless, looking at one another…in horror.  I think the passage above is one of those times.  I think when Jesus spoke these words about servanthood, all of the disciples’ minds went to the exact same place yours and mine do…to that homeless man or woman in the street earlier today with whom we would not make eye contact, because we just did not want to speak …

Confessions of a Bad Servant

July 06, 2017

My office is in downtown San Antonio. My daily walk from my parking garage to my building takes me right through the heart of one of our city’s gathering places for homeless folks. Years ago, when I first started making this walk, my heart went out to these men and women and I found myself giving to them pretty regularly. Over time, I felt like I needed to develop some “rules” about who I would give to and under what circumstances. If I am going to be a servant, after all, there have to be some parameters. You know what I mean: (1) no money for anyone who smells of alcohol, (2) no money for anyone who is rude, (3) no money next time for anyone who doesn’t seem grateful this time, etc. The list of rules has grown over time.

It has occurred to me this week as I prepare to teach John 13:1-17 that, with regard to servanthood, Jesus not only demonstrated WHAT to do, but He demonstrated HOW to do it. He could have done the foot washing by just standing up, grabbing a wash basin, and quickly going through the motions, but He did not do that. He made it a point to first take on the form of a slave before he even began the work. Far beyond the mere act of serving, He gave us an insight into the attitude of serving, i.e., the condition of the heart of the servant.

Servants do not serve with a list of rules about the condition under which they will serve. Servants do not come to their master with a list of terms for their “service agreement”. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in this passage when He reminds us that “no servant is greater than His master…”? …

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