Community . . . God's Way
October 25, 2018
Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love. The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. 2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)
Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people. It was a triathlon. It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas. After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area. There we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind. By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.
I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me. Genuinely torn about what I would do, I could quit now and just lie back and relax or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again. It was the very kind of moment most endurance races bring: the moment of decision, whether or not to finish what I started. How we respond to those moments …
October 18, 2018
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We all have seasons in our lives when we need a little help. And, given the choice between someone who has already been through my issue versus some spiritual leader who knows nothing about my issue, I’ll take the former every time. If you think about it, it just makes sense. As you are climbing that mountain, you can listen to the guy on the ground below you who has never been up that mountain or you can listen to the guy above you who has just come up that same climb. Who would you choose?
God’s community is set up that way. There are times and circumstances in our lives when we’re the ones who need the help and there are seasons when we make ourselves available to others in a sacrificial way. Often, those seasons even overlap and we find ourselves in both positions simultaneously. In the support group arena, it is always a significant moment in the recovery journey when a person stops focusing inwardly and begins to ask how he/she can turn outward and begin to help others on this same journey.
So what does this all mean for you and for your church? On any given Sunday morning, within your church, you will find two kinds of people: (1) people who are there to be comforted and ministered to, and (2) people who are there to comfort and minister to others. You may have found that you are capable of being in either group, depending on …
October 04, 2018
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12
There is so much wrong with our public discourse these days, even among Christians…maybe especially among Christians. The arrogance, the tribalism, and the mere screaming across the cultural divide (as if adding a little outrage to my message will make it more convincing) is just sickening to me. Maybe it is to you as well.
I have no idea what mirrors looked like back when Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth. But I’m certain they weren’t as good then as they are now. I rather suspect that the image in the reflection was pretty poor, maybe like looking at your reflection on the back of a silver spoon. However their mirrors worked then, one thing is clear: Paul is telling us that our state of “knowing” spiritual things is pretty poor on this side of Heaven.
For me, this is a truth which keeps me humble, especially when I am discussing theology or scriptural interpretations or even more general matters of God. Whatever it is I think I know, however certain I think I am, I must hold even that certainty with a healthy dose of humility. And when I lose that humility, I lose my ability to influence those who might disagree with me. By that I mean that any hope of conveying that truth to anyone not already inclined to listen is lost.
I sometimes think that we in the evangelical church have convinced ourselves that our job is to persuade. We act as though the gospel, despite its inherent power, somehow needs our polished communication skills …
September 13, 2018
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside… 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Imagine my joining a CrossFit class and telling the trainer, “I just do not do squats of any kind. Sorry. It’s not that I cannot do them, because I can. I just don’t believe they will help me at all.” That trainer is likely to respond with something like, “Well then you don’t really want to do CrossFit, because squats (of every kind) are pretty foundational to everything we do here.” And then he/she would encourage me to leave and try a different program somewhere else; one that I really can believe in. I might ask him/her to please explain WHY squats are so foundational to CrossFit, and maybe that trainer would have a great answer, or maybe not. That’s not really the point. The point is, squats are a foundational part of CrossFit. So, if I am able to do them but just don’t really believe they’re helpful, then I really don’t believe CrossFit is helpful. If I don’t want the accountability CrossFit offers, then I don’t really want CrossFit. It’s simple that way.
Christianity works that same way. It is a revolution founded by Jesus, who …
September 06, 2018
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. I Corinthians 3:10
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. I Corinthians 12:18
Building a church, i.e., a body of believers, is like the man who set out to build a house. He had seen some beautiful houses made of brick, and determined that his house would also be made of bricks. He began searching for the strongest and most beautiful bricks, because he wanted his house to be both strong and beautiful. He took great care in his search for bricks. He read books on how to find lots and lots of great bricks. He spent long hours perfecting his strategic plan for collecting more and more bricks. He became an expert at finding and collecting bricks. He wrote books and taught seminars on the subject. His brick collection was one of the largest the world had ever seen—piles and piles of bricks covering acres and acres of land. Nobody knew more than he knew about how to collect bricks. The entire world recognized him as a wildly successful expert when it came to finding and collecting bricks.
He never built the house.
Another man set out to build a house. He too would build with bricks. When he had found his first two bricks, he began to examine them closely to determine how they might fit together. They were not particularly beautiful bricks nor were they all that strong, but he knew he could use them. When he had determined how they would best fit together, he used mortar to join them …
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 …