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The Great Mystery of the Ages

March 17, 2009

I love a good mystery. I love trying to sort through all the clues and pieces of evidence in order to figure out the key, the central truth that explains everything. I guess that’s what intrigues me about Paul’s comment to the Colossian church in chapter 1 of that letter:

“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 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.” Col. 1:26-27.

I believe when God created man (and woman) in His own image, this mystery was more apparent to the angels looking on than to the created man. Being created in God’s image, whatever else that means, means being created with the capacity to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Man was created with a void in the shape of God’s spirit; a void that would not be filled on a large scale until a day we know as Pentecost. Everything changed at Pentecost. The answer to the mystery of what that void was all about was then revealed. For the first time (at least on a large scale) the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.

But isn’t it also the hope of unity among God’s people?

When we ponder the mess of broken relationships and bad behavior that seem to mark the church, and when we shake our fists at God demanding a way to “fix” the brokenness, to straighten out His people, hasn’t He already given us the fix? If the Spirit of God Himself really does live in every member of His …

Confessions of a Bad Servant

March 10, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration and comments.

Last Summer, in our Sunday morning Bible Study, my class did a series on Spiritual Disciplines. As I prepared the lesson on the Discipline of Serving others, I finished reading Same Kind of Different as Me, the true account of Ron Hall and Denver Moore and God’s work in both their lives, particularly on this subject of Christian servanthood. That book, and that week’s Bible Study of John 13:1-17 (Jesus washing His disciples’ feet) brought me under strong conviction and made me wonder if I have ever really understood the heart of the servant.

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. 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 had grown over time.

It occurred to me as I prepared to teach John 13:1-17 that 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 …

“Only YOU Can Prevent [church] Fires”

March 03, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-run for your consideration and comments.

Church fights…forest fires.  Perhaps it is Ron Susek’s book Firestorm that brings the illustration to mind (one of the really good books out there about church conflict), or maybe it is the “scorched earth” I find when I first look across the landscape of a troubled congregation.

Whatever the reminder, a raging forest fire is a great metaphor for a church fight. Once it gets to the “out of control” stage, the devastation is unimaginable and the utter helplessness catches you completely by surprise. Many of you know this from personal experience.

I am no expert on fighting forest fires, but I know this about fire: it needs oxygen to survive. Find a way to cut off the oxygen, and the fire will dissipate quickly. Water, dirt, foam, wet blankets can all serve the purpose.

Firestorms in churches also have a fuel: gossip. Without it, they cannot survive. But with enough of it, the small initial flames of conflict can grow bigger and faster than our minds can fathom. It is a universal underlying factor in every single church conflict with which I am even vaguely familiar. Gossip always makes the conflict worse, not better.

Here is how I define gossip (hide your toes, there’s a crushin’ a comin’): anytime you find yourself in a conversation about a brother or sister who is not here and he/she is not being edified in that conversation, it is gossip. I take this definition from several places in scripture, such as Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Weddings and Forest Fires

February 24, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-posted for your consideration and comments.

Last Summer, my family vacationed in San Francisco. The real cause for the trip was a family wedding that took place in the Redwood Forest (Kent and Amanda, my niece and her husband). Finding such a breathtaking place to start their married lives together is a testimony in itself about the spirits of these two much-loved family members. The ceremony was beautiful and amazing and images from it will remain burned in our memories forever. It was enough to help us all forget the hundreds of forest fires raging around us in the Northern California area, at least until we got back to our hotel rooms and watched the local news.

The irony is thick, isn’t it? A home filled with creative expressions of love is birthed in the midst of fire and destruction. What kind of divine entity masterminds that? What is the character of a God Who brings us such joy while permitting such devastation?

I could not help but think about the church and its dizzying tendency to provide us with some of our most beautiful and some of our most painful memories, all within days of one another. Even in the midst of real firestorms, God continues to move and to work in the hearts of His people. The God of the universe can do that. This is no God conceived in the small mind of a human being. Who could have ever written such a story?

This same God has left his fingerprints all over the church. His people carry with them the same incredible ability to provide a place of powerfully positive emotions and enormously damaging circumstances. The church is very much like that: …

The Ultimate Love Triangle

February 17, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration and comments.

O.K. The true ultimate love triangle is the Holy Trinity. But be honest, if I had called this post “A Pretty Important Love Triangle” would you have kept reading?

love-triangleEntering into a walk with Christ is necessarily entering into community with his followers. It’s part of the deal–it’s in the contract. It is a non-negotiable as far as He is concerned. And so, an important love triangle is formed between you, me and Him. It is a love triangle that is designed to change me (and you). This change process is a life-long process. The more “in touch” I become with this process and the more I subject myself to it, the more I change. Some call this process “Spiritual Formation”. Others call it “Spiritual Transformation”. Whatever you call it, it involves you, me, God and our influences on each other.

In His most detailed discussion of Christian accountability and how this change process takes place in the life of a believer (Matthew 18–the entire chapter) Christ takes advantage of a “teachable moment” in the lives of the disciples to help them begin to grasp what His “church” was going to look like and how it was going to operate. In that lesson, Jesus discusses several critical “steps” to the process of holding one another accountable, steps that you have probably read about and studied for yourself. We can discuss those very practical elements to this topic in other future posts. For now, let’s just focus on the very first point of that lesson (Matthew 18:1-4).

Being a part of God’s kingdom requires that you change and become childlike. It requires that you enter into relationships with other believers and become …

The Opposite of Love is Indifference

February 10, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration and comments.

In a previous post here, I addressed one group among Christians today who respond to the gay marriage issue with vocal disdain and “protests” designed to change the behavior of people outside the church; trying to get non-Christians to act more like Christians. Silly endeavor, I think.

But the mediator in me wants to be fair. There are other groups in the church which have our response to this issue equally wrong, particularly when the same-sex marriage issue pertains to people inside the church, i.e., to people who are Christians themselves and have chosen to subject themselves to the Spiritual accountability of the church. There is a group within the church who believes same-sex marriage is immoral and runs against God’s desire for humanity, but who doesn’t believe it is any of the church’s business to say so even when it involves its own members. This group would say, “Just love them…leave their decisions about their private lives to themselves…it is not our business to be their ‘moral police.'” My question is, in what kind of world does that attitude constitute love?

I’m reminded of when my daughter used to come into the house with yet another new injury. Those of you with “active learners” for children know exactly what I mean. When that would happen, there were some things which we both knew needed to happen. Neither of us wanted to do those things, but at least one of us knew they were necessary (and the other one of us would grow to figure that out eventually). This wound was going to get cleaned. It was painful (for both of us) and the process was no fun at all, …

“How’s That Working for You?”

February 03, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration.

Last year’s big vote on Proposition 8 in California raised the question (yet again) as to what, exactly, the church’s role is in the social fray surrounding the issue of alternative lifestyles and gay marriages. There seem to be several “sides” formed within the church to answer that question. One side says our role is to police the behavior (the morals, if you will) of the community we serve. Mind you, that is more than just having an opinion about what is right and what is wrong. It is actually taking action designed to change people’s behavior. And toward that end, we have some pretty ugly protests (see photo inset for example of what I mean by “ugly”) by “Christians” of the whole gay marriage thing. As a mediator, it is my habit to address one side of the conflict at a time. I’m going to pick on that side today.

How afraid, how utterly gripped with fear, must a Christian become in order to lash out with this kind of venom?  I do understand a Godly concern that the moral fiber of our country is getting pretty threadbare.  Moreover, I too am bothered sometimes by the political agendas of people who have a very different worldview than I have.  But that is what happens in democracies.  And I have no real problem with Christians taking an active role in political issues; “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”  Believe me, I “get” that concept (I am a lawyer after all).  But what does not compute for me is the hateful, vitreous, and even vulgar language coming out of the mouths of professing followers of Jesus, the man …

Worldwide Takeover: Are You In?

January 27, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – Here is an early post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration.

There are some things about the “culture” of the church today that, in my humble opinion, need changing. There are some things we do very well, but there are some disciplines we tend to ignore and some attitudes we display that do not honor Christ. Obviously, there are some individual churches who are getting it mostly right and to whom these opinions probably don’t apply (it’s difficult talking about “the church” in broad strokes since there is such extraordinary diversity among us), but looking across the landscape of the Christian church in the Western world, there are some glaring deficiencies. And these are not simple behavioral issues that can be changed easily. They are cultural–i.e., they are deeply rooted and ingrained in the very “DNA” of today’s church. The change that is needed, therefore, is likewise a pretty profound, invasive shift at a cultural level. I won’t take the space here to begin listing the symptoms of what is wrong (if you have been drawn to this blog, you probably already have some ideas about that). Rather, I will jump right to the solution…or at least a part of the solution.

revolutionMy good friend, Dr. Ann Farris taught me something important about change. If you want to change the results you are getting, you have to change your behavior (that’s not the part she taught me–everybody already knows this part). It’s that old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But often times, no matter how hard we try to change our behavior (be honest, how many of your new year’s resolutions have you already blown?) we do not. Paul talked about this is Romans …

Asleep in the Pews

January 20, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix: This is an update of a popular post I ran last year.

asleep-on-the-couchDo you agree with me that, to a large extent, the American church has fallen asleep in the pews?  I don’t mean that literally (although there may be another post there).  I mean that we have grown fat and lazy as servants and have been lulled to a state of Spiritual incapacitation by our “entertain me, feed me, give me, minister to me” consumer mentality. I think if the apostle Paul came to America today, he would be appalled.

I believe in an active laity. I believe the Spirit of God Himself lives, moves and manifests Himself through every believer. I believe God’s calling on my life (as a layman) is no less significant than His calling on a pastor’s life. I believe God gives laity specific assignments in Body life with an expectation that they will be met with faithfulness and commitment. Put all these “belief” pieces together and it means that I am often accused of “blurring the line” between laity and clergy in the church. Of that charge I am completely guilty.

Please understand, I believe strongly in the notion of pastoral authority. I believe God gives a pastor an ability to see what He (God) is doing across the landscape of a congregation and therefore have a critical insight on vision and direction of that congregation. In that regard, then, I believe there is a difference between being a pastor and being a layman. But I’m not convinced God intended the differences to go much further than that.

It seems to me that the church (at least the various church cultures with which I am familiar) is guilty of maintaining two classes of “citizens”: the professional clergy (whom we pay to do …

The Value of Relationships

January 06, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-run.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a pastor or church leader has commented to me, “I’m all for unity, but at what cost?” It always makes me smile. I know what he or she means—that agreement with each other is a good thing, but not the most important thing. I can’t argue with that. But agreement and unity are not the same thing.

Unity is not about agreeing all the time, it is a state of the relationships among a group of people. Biblical unity is a right state of relationships among Christians. And this, I believe, is the highest priority in the church. I believe it is more important than any of the issues which divide us. I’ll explain below why I believe that.

relationshipsWhat is at stake in this discussion is the value of Christian relationships. For most of the conflicts I see in the church today, the real heart of the matter is the relationships among the players. How much do these parties really value their on-going relationship? How interested are they in healing the broken relationship and what are they willing to sacrifice in order to do so? If you have ever been involved in marriage counseling, even informally, you have seen this at play. People talk about wanting reconciliation, but when it comes to making that happen, they often are not willing to do the things it requires, because (the truth is) they don’t really value that relationship that much. They would rather be right than be married. Or they would rather be free, or be any of a number of other good things, than be married. Unfortunately, that happens with relationships in the church as well. Lofty

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