Category Archives: conflict

Hope for the Barren Church

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

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-cracked-land-image22328576In 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 …

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 Magi

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

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  …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Angels

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

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

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 …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

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 …

[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 …

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.  …

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 …