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 …
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 …
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 …
“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. …
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 …
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7
At the very front end of Cain’s anger and frustration, before it had lead to anything permanently damaging, God warned him. “Cain, you better get control of this anger, or it will get control of you.” Well, that’s my paraphrase. God was warning Cain about a part of the human condition to which we often turn a blind eye: anger is not something to leave unattended. Unresolved anger, you see, turns into bitterness. And bitterness, over time, is a disease that spreads into our heart, our eyes, our brain, and a host of other places.
I have seen it way too many times in my ministry to churches in conflict. When passions get high and anger is left to fester over time, finding the truth about what really happened can become nearly impossible. That is because anger makes for a horrible historian. It twists the truth and blinds us to what really happened. The longer we stay angry, the less credibility we have for reporting what happened. However poor our retention rate is for facts and figures we have seen or heard, our retention rate for what we felt is almost perfect. So, in situations which anger us, if that anger is left alone to do its dirty work, we later remember how we felt and then back into the rest of the facts in a way which supports how we felt. In other words, our brain fills in the gaps and recalls events in a way …
In our ministry, we refer to it as the “Principle of Perceptions”…it is one of our 5 Principles of Unity in the church. It simply states: I have some responsibility for how others perceive me. It is simple to state, but it becomes awfully complicated in application. There is a scriptural principle which calls upon each of us to take reasonable measures in order to preserve our testimony before others. The more leadership responsibility we have (i.e., the more influence we have), the greater those measures become.
Where relationships are concerned, perception is far more important than reality. In our relationship, if you perceive me to be an abuser, then that perception will affect our relationship whether I actually am an abuser or not. In our relationship, if you perceive me to be a racist, then that perception will impact our relationship whether I actually am a racist or not. In our relationship, if you perceive me to have anger issues, then that perception will dictate much about our relationship whether I actually have those issues or not. And so on and so forth…you get the picture.
So, where relationships are concerned (and where my ability to be a leader or influencer in your life is concerned), I simply must take some responsibility for how I am perceived. I must always weigh the cost of my choices on that scale. There will be times when I must go ahead and choose in such a way which costs me that influence. And there will be other times when I will choose to sacrifice my freedom in order to preserve my influence with you or with others. This is life. This is leadership. And, most importantly, this is what following Christ entails.
So, it was with terrific sadness that I left the …
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back,but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven…And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Revelation 12:7-8, 11
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:10-13
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7
I remember playing “soldier” when I was a little boy. My friends and I would make up battlefield scenarios and spend hours and hours playing them out. We pretended to be sentries and infantrymen, and pilots and marines. We pretended to fire guns and swing swords and throw grenades. We crawled on our bellies and climbed trees and ran and hid. We manned pretend prison camps and planned ambushes. But you know what we never did? We never pretended to be communications officers whose job it was to communicate but who rarely ever actually “fought”. We never pretended to be the guy running BEHIND the other soldiers, carrying all the communications equipment but rarely ever firing a cannon. …
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 was split, the pastor was gone, and I had almost certainly done more damage than good. It was easily the most humbling experience of my life.
The lesson there had nothing to do with mediation skills. It had everything to do with prayer.
Working through conflict and entanglement among God’s people almost always presents problems at a spiritual level. Hence, using merely secular problem-solving models and processes will never be adequate. Relevant, perhaps…maybe even helpful; but not adequate in and of itself. Spiritual problems require Spiritual solutions…and ALL spiritual solutions bubble up out of deep and meaningful prayer. To ever expect otherwise is, well, spiritually immature.
Peacemaking among God’s people is far more than just surface-level problem solving, and it involves a great deal more than just compromise and negotiation. Spiritual solutions involve …
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22
The kingdom of Heaven is like when you’re driving home on Friday evening and the interstate is a parking lot with cars bumper to bumper for like miles and miles and there is this one pitiful car trying desperately to get in line but nobody will let him in because everybody is being a jerk and this poor guy is sitting there with his blinker on waiting and waiting and waiting and so you decide to be the good guy and you let him get in front of you. Good job. You are a Christ-like person. But then along comes another pitiful soul in the exact same situation and he pulls up along side the first guy hoping the first guy will let him get in front of him because he’s thinking, “this guy just had mercy shown to him so surely he will show a little mercy as well” and, frankly, you’re thinking the same thing which is why you are so angry when the first guy WON’T BUDGE and will not show any mercy at all to the second guy. Suddenly, you’re not thinking nice things anymore. You just want to do physical harm to the first guy’s car for being such a jerk. You’re thinking, “Hey, I showed you some mercy, what’s your problem!?” And that is like the kingdom of heaven.
As a church mediator working with conflicted congregations, I have come to believe that the sin posing the most significant threat to church unity today is the sin of unforgiveness. I cannot …