Category Archives: Church Unity

Relationships: the Building Blocks of God’s Work

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

friendship coffee relationship

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 …

God is Bigger than Our Ugliest Moments

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 …

The Way Back to Relationship

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 …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Shepherds

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  …

[GULP!] …I Might Have Been a Legalist

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 …

This Changes Everything

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

“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

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 …

Man-made Unity: Moths to a Flame

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words… Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Genesis 11:1, 4-6

There is something utterly intoxicating about banding together with others and overcoming obstacles as a team to achieve something significant. Perhaps you have experienced it. If you have ever been on a team during a championship season, or a part of a military division who survived under daunting circumstances, or shared some life-changing scenario with a group, you know the feeling. I felt it having survived the rigors of law school with my classmates. There is this overwhelming sense of everyone having pulled together and accomplished something bigger than any of us thought possible. Working together, everyone pulling their weight, fighting through struggles, and winning. It’s a good feeling…one which often binds a group together for life.

We have a lot of names for it: team chemistry, “family”, camaraderie, esprit de corp.  But no matter what you call it, it is a good thing…a powerful thing. There have been times when we felt it as a country here in the U.S. The last time was probably just after 9-11, when we had identified a common enemy and we banded together as a country, building (short lived) bridges across …

Church that Defies Conventional Wisdom

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. Genesis 6:13-14

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

When it comes to building churches, there is no shortage of conventional wisdom. And in matters of church growth, church finances, and (alas) church conflict, the “church world” is loaded with advice and counsel. Moreover, add to that the wisdom of the secular world about how to build a corporation or how to lead an army or how to have a winning team (much of which wisdom gets imposed on church leadership), and you could fill a library with all the ways that it makes sense to build a church.

But God is not impressed with our conventional wisdom…never has been. At a time when the world had never even seen rain before and over a project schedule of some 100 years or so, God had Noah build an ark. On dry land. In the middle of a wilderness. There was absolutely nothing conventional about it. In fact, Noah was surely considered to be a crazy old drunk by pretty much anyone who knew him during this time, and his “project” was 100 years of sheer nonsense.

So, as I consider how incredibly closely Noah had to be walking with the Lord in order to rightly understand his assignment and to then fulfill it, I am captivated by the thought of just one church, one local body of believers, equally sold out and tuned in to God. Can …