And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8:26-27
Have we ever been more starved for peacemakers among us…for those who maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of these current storms? These are anxious times. You may have noticed. The list of words and phrases that immediately invoke anxiety in our culture is growing: debt, cancer, abortion, immigration, guns, impeachment, republican, democrat, etc. In a world of fear run amok, anxieties are off the charts. At the same time, our common ability to engage in civil discourse seems to grow smaller by the minute. So here is an interesting question: what role is the church to play in such a storm? And by “church”, I mean you and me, individually and corporately, in our respective communities.
In the gospels, we read that the disciples were overcome with their own anxieties in the face of a storm. Jesus was a non-anxious presence in that situation. Jesus’ disappointment with them for their tiny faith is convicting. They seemed to know at least enough to turn to him with their fear, but then they show genuine surprise when he actually resolves the problem for them. In other words, their fear of the storm far outweighed their faith in Jesus. And their words and actions showed their hearts. Do ours? As Christ followers stewarding the gospel message in this broken world, are we the non-anxious presence we should be?
Adding to the Noise
In an outrage culture where we hear only the most extreme voices, does the church really further God’s …
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
The church in America is in the wilderness. That’s not such a bad place to be. It’s a difficult place, often a painful place, but it’s a place God often leads his people when He has some difficult lessons to teach them or preparations to be made. And the American church certainly has some difficult lessons to learn. Moses learned in the wilderness, as did Elijah. The people of Israel learned in the wilderness. And Jesus went there as well, where he experienced some critical “perspective builders” in the form of temptations. The American church, while in the wilderness, is experiencing temptations as well. That story would go something like this…
Tempted to Manipulate Numbers
The devil said to them, “If you are the Church of God, tell these people to become members.” As bread represents a basic necessity for our body, believers (i.e., members) represent a basic necessity for the Church. It is, in fact, one of the first descriptors most church leaders use in describing their own church. It is one way we measure our effectiveness in mission. We measure every evangelistic outreach this way. In our rush to “success”, the temptation here is to move as many bodies as possible from the “prospect” category to the “member” category as quickly as possible.
The temptation is to use emotional pleas, scare tactics, or other forms of manipulation toward an all-important “decision”. And what the church is left with, especially over the long term, is a membership full of non-committed non-believers. At that point, none of the promises God gives us about His church are any good anymore. This temptation of getting people to check the correct box on our …
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practicesand have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:8-10
Another week and lots of new opportunities to see social media lit up with examples of Christians behaving badly, saying hateful things…about other Christians. You know what’s sad? This blog post can stay up for years and that opening sentence will still be perfectly timely and relevant. Oh, how we make embarrassing choices over and over again. And social media seems perfectly designed to help us shine the brightest of lights on those embarrassing choices. Is it just me, or has social media become the newest highway for our road rage? The temptation to make embarrassing choices is just too great for many of us.
Embarrassing Fashion Choices
I’ve lost track of how many reality TV shows there are about fashion makeovers. Well, that’s not true. I’m certain I never did have any handle on that count. But you know the formula for them: some unsuspecting soul is suddenly put into what amounts to a fashion intervention by well-meaning friends or family. The fashion “experts” come in and go through the person’s closet and ridicule them for all the horrible fashions represented there. A miraculous transformation ensues, and that person is a new person as a result. May it never happen to you or to me.
But the truth is, we all have worn things in the past which we would be thoroughly embarrassed to wear today (e.g., take a look at the wedding pictures of anyone married in the 70s or 80s). …
“…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.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Especially one that has been kept hidden for ages and generations and now is finally being disclosed? This word picture from Paul is Indiana Jones-like imagery. Something wonderful and powerful has been hidden away for a long, long time and is now finally unleashed. By the end of this remarkable introduction to his Colossians letter, Paul has us all leaning in, desperate to know what it is.
Imago Dei – Created in God’s Image
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, surely includes being created with the capacity to be indwelled by God’s own 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, the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. While we see appearances of His Spirit earlier in His story, temporarily filling individuals for limited purposes. But Pentecost was different. It was a permanent filling of every believer. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
A Broken Culture
I don’t have to tell you about the ridiculous state of brokenness in our public discourse. The divide between worldviews in our culture grows deeper by the day. The rules of engagement are changing faster than any of us can fully absorb. So are the weapons. Each “side”, in its obsession with destroying the “other side”, gets more and more creative with its narrative. And, to the extent there are any institutions with any integrity left, both sides have gone after them mercilessly in order to coop them for their own political purposes.
The culture wars tainted social media and completely coopted mainstream media. Similarly, well-intentioned non-profit organizations have been turned. Alas, even the church has been twisted, reshaped and weaponized for the battle. The great divide took an untold number of otherwise profound, complicated social problems and sucked them into the fray, reducing them to trite, idealogical soundbites. This pretty much guarantees no real solutions will be forthcoming. That is because problem-solving is no longer the goal. Winning is the goal. No matter the cost.
The Weapons of this War
In this culture of outrage, all problem-solving begins with an underlying assumption that one “side” must win and one must lose. There are no options outside this false duality. That is the war we are fighting. Those are the rules of engagement. The weapons are false narratives, confirmation bias, identity politics, and fear mongering. These are the weapons …
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:3, 10
Our circumstances are similar to Daniel’s in some respects, aren’t they? Babylon was not his home. Rather, he was exiled there for a lifetime, instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of this lifetime home. As Christ followers, this world is not our home. It is merely where we are for this lifetime. And we are instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of our lifetime home. God expected Daniel to be salt and light in his new home. God expects the same from us. Finally, like Daniel, we find ourselves in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward us and toward the God we worship. So, what does Daniel have to teach us about these circumstances?
When the opposition organized against Daniel and created laws which his walk with God simply could not abide, what did Daniel do? How did he respond? Here’s a list of ways he did NOT respond:
He did not take to his loud, proud social media voice and begin slamming those who had conspired against his God;
He did not stoop to his adversaries’ political ways by mobilizing his own political action committee to fight the battle in the world’s arena;
He did not create a bunch of hateful protest signs and organize a march on King
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 1 Samuel 25:23-24
Who are the peacemakers in your life?
I think my favorite peacemaker in the Bible is Abigail (I Samuel 25). Married to an arrogant, belligerent and wealthy man, she had to play the role of a peacemaker in order to keep King David and his small army from destroying her family. She saw a disastrous conflict coming and she got involved. She “handled” communication in such a way as to avert a very painful scenario for her family and probably for others as well.
That is what peacemakers do. They see danger coming where there has been a breakdown in communication and they involve themselves in the communication efforts. They become “interpreters”, helping each party hear the real concern on the other party’s part. They become “press secretaries”, helping each party learn a better, more productive way to say what they are feeling. They become “scribes”, making sure that only the right words get etched in stone for posterity’s sake. And in some cases, they become “advocates”, giving voice to a party who’s voice is otherwise not going to be heard.
Peacemakers understand one thing about relationships: they rise and fall based completely upon perceptions. Your response to me (i.e., your half of our relationship) will necessarily be based on your perception of me or of something I have said or done. Knowing this, peacemakers help control that …
Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. 1 Samuel 20:42
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 2 Samuel 12:7-9
These are confusing and chaotic times, aren’t they? In the midst of all the “culture wars” and PR posturing on social media and political battles over moral issues that, frankly, will never be resolved in the political arena, we in the church are haunted by a single question: what does love look like? In the face of ISIS and others persecuting Christians around the world, the church must figure out what does love look like? On politically entangled issues of immigration, the church must answer what does love look like? In response to legalized same-sex marriage and increasing pressure against the church for teaching what it believes on this issue, the church must know what does love look like? And those pundits on either side of …
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 …
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 …