Category Archives: Ephesians 4

The Parable of the Unmerciful Driver

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 …

X-Men Origins: Joseph, the Dreamer

Thursday Re-mix:

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  Genesis 37:5

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same.God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41:25

Super HeroI know there are some theological problems with comparing our Spiritual gifts to “super powers”…no doubt even more problems than I am aware of.  Still, it makes me happy to think of them that way. So indulge me, please, for just this one post, because I believe the story of Joseph and his particular spiritual gift reads like a classic Marvel Comics super hero tale.  He was like one of the X-Men with his super power of prophetic dreams and their interpretations.

Like most classic super heros, Joseph had a rough start with his gift.  He wasn’t very polished in how he used it.  It caused others to hate him and he just mishandled it more often than not.  His fumbling of it got him sold into slavery by his spiteful brothers.  Of course, years later, he would look back and see that was God’s plan all along.  But in the meantime, his gift would cause him much pain.

As he matured, he came to understand the power and began to use it to help others (every super hero faces a crossroads early on when he/she must decide whether to use his/her power for good or for evil).  As he made that choice more and more often, great and amazing things began to happen around him and he eventually rose to extraordinary power in Egypt, not to mention saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the midst of seven years of drought.

So here is the application (maybe you already got it)……

Defiling the Church

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order …

The Truth About Andrew’s Birthday Gift

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

I think the trick to understanding Spiritual Gifts is remembering their purpose…remembering for whose benefit they are intended.

Have you ever been so pleased with a gift you found for someone that you decided to get the same thing for yourself as well?  Should we feel guilty about that?  Do we have to tell the person that we did that, or can we just give them the gift and keep the rest of the story to ourselves?  Is that deceptive?  Does that break any gift-giving rules?  Can we please get a ruling on this?

One of my two team members (Andrew) on last year’s South Africa trip had a birthday while we were traveling.  I happened to be walking through the Waterfront at Cape Town a day or two before and saw the coolest little key chain.  It was African art, a symbol for unity (it shows two crossed crocodiles).  I thought it would be a perfect and simple little birthday gift for Andrew.  I bought it.  But I was so excited about it, I decided I wanted one for myself too!  And then I decided I wanted one for Kelley too, so that our whole Unity Ministries team could have this as a memory from this trip.  And, alas, Andrew’s birthday gift became a team gift for all of us!  I suppose the original purpose of the gift got a little blurred in the process…Very sorry, Andrew!

I think that can happen with Spiritual Gifts as well.  When the Spirit manifests Himself …

We Christians and Our Starbucks

Tuesday Re-mix –

 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.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:29-32

Last year, companies in the Northwest U.S. came out in favor of a same-sex marriage law in Washington state, citing business reasons such as keeping quality employees (who would presumably feel compelled to leave the state, and the company, in order to live somewhere where they could enjoy their same-sex marriage).  Those announcements would not ordinarily have made national news, except for the names of some of those companies: Microsoft, Nike, and (alas) Starbucks.  Actually, not even Microsoft’s or Nike’s announcements got all that much attention, despite their HUGE place in the homes of Christians all over the world.  But Starbucks…well, then the Christian world was in an uproar, to say the least.  People were calling for a boycott.  Messing with our computers and our $200 tennis shoes was one thing, but then they were messing with our coffee!

And so, the fight within the Christian world was once again fanned into flames with a renewed energy.

IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you believe the Bible and then support gay marriage by purchasing Starbucks coffee?!”  And IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you follow Christ and then refuse to associate (like He did) with those with whom you disagree?!”  And with those positions, both sides dangerously agree on …

Discipline for the Disciplinarians

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”  
Isaiah 10:5

I know I have joked (kind of) in previous posts about how theology watchdogs in the blogosphere (and in the church) are annoying in the same way as that teacher in high school who constantly corrected your grammar while you were trying to talk.  But I also do recognize that God has given us brothers and sisters whose giftedness and very calling is to help us keep our doctrine pure…they are the doctrine disciplinarians, if you will.  You know the ones I mean.  They blog about your favorite pastor, who made a horrendous, unbelievable, heretical, probably-not-saved-if-you-say-this theological error in his sermon last week.  They call him out by name, and the venom with which they attack him is, well, pretty ungodly.  Or they review the most recent book by one of your favorite authors and basically question his very humanity, not to mention his spirituality, because of the position he seems to have taken on this theological issue or on that social issue…again, with uncommon rancor.

[And, as an aside, you know what is one of my pet peeves?  That blogger almost never makes any attempt at all to actually contact that pastor/teacher/author in order to practice this “discipline” or “accountability” Biblically, which pretty quickly gets me wondering whether they are really loving this brother or rather are just a little envious of his acclaim.  But I digress.]

I know that God disciplines us.  And I know that he often uses others to do it.  I am really OK with that.  In fact, it seems like a good plan to me.  I think scripture gives us plenty of examples of God using people to discipline his children.  …

The Truth About Spiritual Gifts

Tuesday Re-mix –

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.  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 …

I Have a Dream…

Tuesday Re-mix –

…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:13-15

Step 7: We humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

I have a dream…

…of breaking free from the shackles of self-reliance and resting instead in the sure hands of Christ and His Holy Spirit, looking to Him alone for my daily bread and for my affirmation and for my validation as a man and a father and a husband and a teacher and a vessel of His Spirit.

I have a dream…

…of escaping from the complexities I have created in order to preserve the lie that I have my life under control and that I am the perfect manager of my soul, a lie I have convinced myself to maintain in order to enjoy the approval of men, a lie I have obliged myself to tell in order to prevent anyone around me from having to deal with my true ugliness.

I have a dream…

…of tearing down the walls which divide my work life from my church life and my family life …

The Lies About Church Unity

Tuesday Re-mix –

“…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

I am now more than a year past the half-century mark on this earth.  Quite the accomplishment, it seems to me.  When I was a teenager, I honestly never wanted to still be alive by this age.  It just seemed unbearably old to me then.  I have recently changed my mind about that.

I see a lot of things differently now.  I have developed a patience…a longer-term perspective on things.  I have learned that many of the things I thought as a young adult were just lies.  Here are some of the lies I have checked off my list as “learned” over the years:

If you can afford the mortgage payment, you can afford the house.

If you can afford the car payment, you can afford the car.

No matter how old you get, you’re never more than 90 days from getting back in shape.

You can work long and hard, or you can get lucky…lasting success can come either way.

When two good people get married, good marriages always result.

Lies, lies, lies…all of them.  In all these ways, I have learned that the same God who created the world in six days expects us to take significantly longer and work significantly harder to accomplish anything of real worth.

It makes perfect sense to me, then, that our job of “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the church is a tedious, difficult, long-term job which we cannot expect to happen overnight.  Because we are talking about real, human relationships, this job is messy and complicated and takes lots and lots of intentional effort.  In short, our responsibility of preserving the unity of the Spirit …

The (Sometimes LONG) Journey to Forgiveness

Tuesday Re-mix –

True confession: when I teach forgiveness, I often oversimplify it, making it appear much easier than it is.  I do that, I think, because God’s Word to us about forgiveness is clear: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32.  God’s forgiveness of us became immediate 2,000 years ago, with Christ’s proclamation on the cross: “It is finished.”  Therefore, our forgiveness of others is likewise supposed to be immediate.  But in reality, “supposed to” and “is” are two very different concepts.

That’s why I am so very encouraged to see one of my heroes, Joseph, struggle with the journey to forgiveness.

When Joseph sent his brothers back home to get their youngest brother (Benjamin) and return with him, Joseph kept one of his brothers in prison.  We don’t know for sure how long it took for them to return, but we know it was at least “seasons”, more likely years.  Think about that… for that entire period of time, while Joseph pondered how he would respond when he next saw his brothers, one of those brothers sat in his prison.  Every day, day after day after day, Joseph went to work knowing that his brother was sitting in his prison.  And every night, Joseph slept in the comfort of his own home, knowing that his brother was sleeping in his prison.  That went on for at least months, more likely years.

He could have “made himself known” to that brother at any time, the way he would eventually “make himself known” to all of the brothers together.  But he did not.  His brother sat in prison all the time Joseph pondered forgiveness.  For Joseph, getting to forgiveness was a long, long journey filled with suffering and …