Community . . . God's Way
March 15, 2018
And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4
In this story from 1 Samuel, it took the people of Israel 20 years of being back in the presence of God to finally turn back to Him. It was more or less their version of “just doing church”, without their hearts being in it. Samuel’s word to them at that point was, “if you are serious about your faith, you need to lose your idols.” So what about us? Are we willing to lose our idols?
I might be an idol worshipper if other people’s words on Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or any combination of them) take up more of my thought time each day than does God’s Word;
I might be an idol worshipper if I spend more of my money on my personal comfort than I do on the furtherance of God’s kingdom;
I might be an idol worshiper if it turns out my god’s heart aligns perfectly with one political party’s platform or the other;
I might be an idol worshipper if my greatest hope for our world’s social ills is the next election;
I might be an idol worshipper if my deepest regret for our world’s social ills is the last election;
I might be an idol worshipper if my ability to listen to you is intractably related to your politics;
I might be an idol …
March 01, 2018
Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 1 Samuel 1:6-7
In ancient times, being barren was a major affliction. I suppose it probably still is in many parts of the world. But for Hannah (and for all the other women in the Bible whose stories begin with being barren), it meant no security at all for their future. Once their husbands were gone, with no children of their own and with no ability to own property or to earn a living, they would be destitute. Desperation, then, does not begin to describe their plight.
Churches often go through seasons of desperation as well. Maybe you understand what I mean. After years of budget shortfalls and then an economic crisis, there is suddenly a severe conflict and families leaving the church, and then the sudden death of a key leader and then a moral failure on another’s part and so on and so forth…the desperation can pile up pretty quickly. Then there are the anguishing cries to the Lord, “How long will you allow this to continue?!” Month after month of praying can turn into year after year. The landscape of the church turns into a parched, dry, barren land. Heretofore strong, faithful members begin to question whether the Lord has simply lifted his hand from the church…His glory has departed…He has written “Ichabod” across the door.
In such “barren” circumstances, hope for the future is all but waned completely. It becomes impossible to even imagine a future. Only the most faithful few even remain. It can feel awfully destitute…much like Hannah no doubt …
February 20, 2018
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Luke 24:5
What our world often is seeing in our day is a devoted, committed Christian serving God. But, they are not seeing God. They comment on what we are doing, “Well, there’s a wonderful, dedicated, committed group of people serving God.” They, however, do not see anything happening that can only be explained in terms of the activity of God. Why? Because, we are not attempting anything that only God can do. Henry Blackaby
“Spiritually Dead” is probably too strong an indictment for the church in America…”spiritually limping” or “spiritually challenged” may be closer descriptions. But whatever the precise measure, few of us would deny that the church in America is hurting right now. With the exception of some clear pockets of vibrancy, the church in our culture is simply not the bastian of enlightenment it once was for the world. Moreover, our two youngest adult generations are running from the church, which does not bode well for our future.
If the Blackaby quote above is accurate, if this lost and broken world is truly looking for God-sized evidence that the church is a place to find truth, then we are in trouble…because they are looking for God-sized evidence in a culture of man-sized efforts.
The American church is blessed. We have had over 200 years of absolute freedom to grow and to express ourselves and to figure out all the best ways to further our institution without fear of governmental interference (or any other real interference, for that matter). As a result, we have gotten very, very good at doing church. We build amazing buildings, produce amazing communicators, have …
February 15, 2018
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. Luke 23:23-25
I am no fan of politics. As far as I can see, it represents much of human behavior at its very worst. At least in our culture, politics seem to have devolved into the extremists and their screaming voices holding the larger percentage of us in the middle hostage. The more we try to shut those voices out, the louder they become, and the wider the chasm dividing our country becomes. And, in the meantime, every important issue politics touches gets hijacked into the feeding frenzy of labels and manipulation. In short, politics poisons everything it touches.
This week, I am reading the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is so filled with ugliness and power struggles and politics and manipulation, it is an amazingly frustrating story to me. A few religious leaders who feel threatened by Jesus incite a virtual riot and use their influence to create an angry mob to ensure Jesus’ crucifixion…it is a portrait of how truly ugly humanity can be when politics take over.
It saddens me that this kind of ugliness has invaded the church today in the same way it did 2,000 years ago. In fact, some of the nastiest, ugliest pictures I have ever seen of an angry mob have been church business meetings or staff retreats or deacons meetings or committee meetings. Crucifixions, as it turns out, have become a dangerously common phenomenon in the contemporary church culture.
Sad, isn’t it?
But if you have been in a leadership role in the church …
January 30, 2018
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12
There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son. Each of them represent a different perspective on common human behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives. Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son). But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship. And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all. I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.
Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God. We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction. It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple. Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap. But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him. Either way, it is rebellion. And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession. You will not find a more perfect confession in …
January 16, 2018
What might happen in a city or a community if all the churches began praying for the same things at the same time? How might genuine transformation look in that community if God were to respond to those prayers in a powerful way, making His manifest presence known?
The folks over at Waymakers.org have been working on answers to those questions for the last few years with excellent prayer guides for 40 Days of Prayer for the City leading up to Palm Sunday. I came across this material last year and found it to be especially meaningful. Especially powerful. So, this year, I am inviting you to join me in the prayer for our cities.
You can order the 2018 material here. Better yet, if you’re like me and prefer an app for your smartphone rather than a paper product, look here or go to your app store and search for “Seek God for the city 2018”. You will love the experience!
The 40 Days of Prayer for the City begins on February 14. I will be praying for my home city of San Antonio, Texas, as we celebrate our 300th anniversary this year. You pray for your city. Let’s do this together. More importantly, let’s get our churches doing this together!
Imagine the possibilities!…
December 21, 2017
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2
At the risk of spoiling your nativity scenes, here are the facts about the magi (separated from the myths): (1) they probably were not kings, (2) we do not know how many there were, (3) they never saw Jesus as an infant, nor the manger, nor the shepherds, (4) we do not know their names nor their nationalities. We actually know surprisingly little about them. The sum total of what we do know, we learn from 12 small verses of scripture in Matthew’s gospel. That is all. But it is enough for us as peacemakers to continue to learn some important truths from the Christmas story.
These magi (however many there were), were apparently scholars and apparently familiar enough with Jewish prophecies to understand that the “king of the Jews” had been born. They were also men of science, familiar enough with the night sky to recognize a star which did not belong there. They were also shrewd seekers of Jesus, not thrown at all off track by Herod’s deception or malicious intentions. These are all good qualities for peacemakers.
A peacemaker among God’s people is a student of the Word. I know I’ve already made this point in this series, but it bears repeating. The truth of God’s Word is critical to peacemaking among His people. Peacemakers therefore immerse themselves in the Word regularly…even in all the woes and warnings of Old Testament prophecies.
A peacemaker studies the landscape of relationships and recognizes things that do not seem to …
December 14, 2017
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:17-18
The Shepherds had a pretty simple, but critical role in the Christmas story, right? Go and observe, and then tell the truth about what you heard and observed. They did not elaborate…they did not speculate about anyone’s intentions or possible motives…they did not add their own opinions into the mix. They heard from the angels, observed the baby Jesus, and then they simply reported what they had heard and observed. They did their job well…God took care of the rest.
As a peacemaker, I could learn a thing or two from the shepherds in the Christmas story. I could learn to remind myself that my role in the peacemaking process is not complicated. More times than not, I am merely speaking the truth in love. The role is actually simple enough unless I find myself beginning to interject my own opinions and speculation about motives and behaviors. That is when I get myself into trouble.
A peacemaker must speak the truth about what he has heard from God’s Word. For this reason, faith-based peacemaking is different from the secular concepts of genuine mediation. It is slightly less conciliatory and slightly more directive, at least in the sense of being grounded in the Word of God as the source of all truth and of all solutions. Among Christ-followers, there is almost always a spiritual element to conflict. Spiritual problems demand spiritual solutions…and spiritual solutions come from God’s Word. For me to be an effective peacemaker in the church, I must be listening to the Word of God and I must be representing it accurately…just like the Shepherds …
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
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 …
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 …