Community . . . God's Way
August 16, 2018
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Acts 12:1-3
There is a fair amount of debate these days over just what the accurate number is of Christians in this world who are being persecuted for their faith. A lot of that debate has to do with how we define “persecuted for their faith” and which genocidal numbers should or should not be included in that count. There is actually a pretty decent description of those numbers and that debate from this Christianity Today article last year. Our struggles here in the U.S. do not yet rise to the level of “persecution”. Indeed, I am embarrassed that we sometimes use that label to describe our culture wars here in this country, when our brothers and sisters around the world are being tortured, dismembered, and killed by political entities. Still, for our purposes here, suffice it to say, genuine followers of Christ are finding the journey more and more difficult.
I am struck, then, when I read about the early church’s responses to political persecution. And I am convicted when I compare their response to our response today. From the account of Peter’s miraculous rescue in Acts 12, here are a few observations about the natural tension between Christ followers and the world in which they are called to be salt and light:
August 02, 2018
And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:26-29
I can still remember the first church dispute I officially mediated. I had been involved in literally hundreds of mediations as an attorney/mediator, many involving issues worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there was this conflict in a tiny church involving a dozen or so people and I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?” I remember whispering a short prayer or two on my way to the church, thinking this would be a simple matter to iron out…three, maybe four hours, tops. Two days later, the church split, the pastor left, and I had almost certainly done more damage than good. It was by far the most humbling experience of my life.
The lesson there had nothing to do with mediation skills. It had everything to do with prayer, and the only meaningful source of power for anything at all having to do with Christ’s church. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lesson then. There have been many more occasions in my own church since then where my own “expertise” or efficiencies have gotten in the way of what God was doing. I have come to see this problem as a part of the human condition…or at least MY human condition.
It was certainly the lesson for the disciples in Mark 9. A very short time before that failure at …
July 19, 2018
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:3, 10
Our circumstances are similar to Daniel’s in some respects, aren’t they? Babylon was not his home. Rather, he was exiled there for a lifetime, instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of this lifetime home. As Christ followers, this world is not our home. It is merely where we are for this lifetime. And we are instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of our lifetime home. God expected Daniel to be salt and light in his new home. God expects the same from us. Finally, like Daniel, we find ourselves in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward us and toward the God we worship. So, what does Daniel have to teach us about these circumstances?
When the opposition organized against Daniel and created laws which his walk with God simply could not abide, what did Daniel do? How did he respond? Here’s a list of ways he did NOT respond:
July 05, 2018
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life… Psalm 27:1-4
Honestly, it does not matter to me whether or not the current administration intended to bring about what I see as a positive thing happening on the issue of immigration. To me, what they intended is far less important than the fact: suddenly, a much larger percentage of Christians and churches have been mobilized to the borders with the most important message of hope any immigrant will ever hear. I say “suddenly”, because it is shameful how blind many of us have been to those issues at least throughout the course of my 58 years…probably more than that. So, seeing such large groups now mobilized toward a more compassionate response to the huge struggles of the immigrant is, in my mind, quite the silver lining to an otherwise startlingly dark cloud.
One of the important people in my own life is an immigrant. Tanzila (Tania) Kaiumova is very much like a third daughter to me and my wife. Tania currently lives with us. A few years ago, she and her single mom walked away from their home and most of their belongings in war-torn eastern Ukraine, not knowing if they would ever be able to return. They have still not returned. …
June 14, 2018
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1 Corinthians 3:12-13
Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. Ruth 2:10-11
My pastor loves to say, “let’s build a church”. I love it too. It clarifies, for all of us, that “church” is not something we merely attend; rather, it is something we build together. It reiterates that we all have a part to play in that building process.
Paul used the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3 to describe the work of the church. Indeed, Paul cautions us to be careful about the materials we use when building the church. He warns us that, in doing kingdom work, we should be using extraordinary materials, rather than common, everyday materials. He also warns us that our work will be tested. By fire. *gulp!*
So, what are these “building materials” in Paul’s metaphor? What, exactly, are the building blocks of the work of God in this world? I believe the answer is simple: relationships. They are central to every meaningful endeavor (i.e., work which has any eternal significance at all) by God’s people. And, in scripture, relationships are …
May 31, 2018
These are the times that try men’s souls. Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776
He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:12-14
During the American Revolution, author/philosopher, Thomas Paine, wrote a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis in which he challenged colonists at the infant stages of a revolution to stay resolved and to have hope. Considered a liberal (most such revolutions against such a long-standing government as the British empire are), he reminded the colonists that the war against Great Britain was a just war, with God on our side. He denounced any thoughts of compromise or of negotiated peace, but called the colonists to hold onto the values and principals in which their only hope lay.
Some would argue the U.S. is in another similar time of crisis. The political divisiveness of our current culture suggests as much. While I agree we are approaching a time of crisis, I think it is for different reasons than the current state of political divide. After all, is today’s divide truly deeper than the race fights of the 60s? The Vietnam War crisis? The fights over prohibition? Women’s suffrage in the early 1900s? The slavery issue and the Civil War? No, …
May 17, 2018
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 1 Samuel 25:23-24
Who are the peacemakers in your life?
I think my favorite peacemaker in the Bible is Abigail (I Samuel 25). Married to an arrogant, belligerent and wealthy man, she had to play the role of a peacemaker in order to keep King David and his small army from destroying her family. She saw a disastrous conflict coming and she got involved. She “handled” communication in such a way as to avert a very painful scenario for her family and probably for others as well.
That is what peacemakers do. They see danger coming where there has been a breakdown in communication and they involve themselves in the communication efforts. They become “interpreters”, helping each party hear the real concern on the other party’s part. They become “press secretaries”, helping each party learn a better, more productive way to say what they are feeling. They become “scribes”, making sure that only the right words get etched in stone for posterity’s sake. And in some cases, they become “advocates”, giving voice to a party who’s voice is otherwise not going to be heard.
Peacemakers understand one thing about relationships: they rise and fall based completely upon perceptions. Your response to me (i.e., your half of our relationship) will necessarily be based on your perception of me or of something I have said or done. Knowing this, peacemakers help control that …
May 03, 2018
Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. 1 Samuel 20:42
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 2 Samuel 12:7-9
These are confusing and chaotic times, aren’t they? In the midst of all the “culture wars” and PR posturing on social media and political battles over moral issues that, frankly, will never be resolved in the political arena, we in the church are haunted by a single question: what does love look like? In the face of ISIS and others persecuting Christians around the world, the church must figure out what does love look like? On politically entangled issues of immigration, the church must answer what does love look like? In response to legalized same-sex marriage and increasing pressure against the church for teaching what it believes on this issue, the church must know what does love look like? And those pundits on either side of …
April 19, 2018
And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37
I have known the story of David and Goliath most of my life. It is possibly one of the most familiar stories in all of scripture. We use it every time we need to illustrate an unlikely hero overcoming impossible odds to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe. So, as I am studying 1 Samuel 17 this week, thinking about the “foes” whom Christ followers face in our current culture, I am asking myself, “Today, who/what is the church’s Goliath?” The list of possibilities is long. I think I have the winner, but first, here are some things that are NOT our Goliath:
April 05, 2018
And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?… Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 1 Samuel 15:13-14, 24
Am I the only leader who struggles from time to time with disappointing people? No. I didn’t think so. My guess is, it is a relatively universal struggle. We tell ourselves that, in order to be a Godly influence in people’s lives, in order to be able to say the hard things to people, we need their approval. And we tell ourselves that, as shepherds, that is what love looks like. There are some seeds of truth in that thinking. But the rest of that truth is, for leaders of God’s people, approval ratings (i.e., how much everyone likes you) are insidiously addictive and massively overrated. That was the lesson for Saul (Israel’s first king) and it is likewise the lesson for all of us as Christian leaders today.
As I read 1 Samuel, God clearly did not want a human king for His people, Israel. But when they insisted on one, God relented and gave them one. And Saul was His choice…and was the people’s choice as well. He had the look. He had the demographics. He had the attitude. In short, he was (to use today’s parlance)…presidential. But he was also unbelievably insecure, on so many levels.
So, when he and his rag-tag group of soldiers walked up to the school-yard bullies (the Philistines) and punched them …