For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:20-23
I’ve got a growing list of questions for God when I meet Him in glory. Maybe you do as well. These are questions which I honestly do not expect to have answered this side of Heaven, but which just bother me. A little. I am honestly OK not knowing the answers in this life. I think that is part of our calling to be more and more childlike in our faith. But eventually, I really would like some answers.
I’ve got some questions, but none of my questions are more troubling than those I have heard from hurting people in the midst of unspeakable pain. As a church leader, you know the questions I mean. I hear them from people grieving the loss of a loved one, or from people lamenting their terminal disease diagnosis, or from people just generally trying to understand the utter and complete brokenness of the world in which we live. You know the questions. They all begin the same way: “Why would a loving God…?”
“Why would a loving God ever allow a child to suffer?” “Why would a loving God permit really good people to die really horrible deaths?” “Why would a loving God allow a person to be born into …
the state of being enslaved to a practice or habit or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
When I think about the community prescribed in God’s Word, particularly in the New Testament church, I see plenty of problems for our contemporary culture. We have become a people insistent upon our anonymity. We value self-sufficiency and independence almost above all things. We write books about “self-improvement” and “self-made men”. We idolize individual achievement and we dream about financial independence, and we describe all of this as “the American dream”. We live in gated communities to keep out the undesirable community. And we see anyone asking for help as weak and sad. We have created an entire body of law around the “right to privacy” and we guard our privacy as if it is our most prized possession. There is no question but that we have, in many ways, worked exactly contrary to the type of interdependence described in the Bible.
But none of that necessarily gets us to “addiction”. The question is, are we “enslaved” to this need for independence? Is it psychologically habit-forming? If we lost it, would we be traumatized? These are troublesome questions for me. These are the questions I ask myself as I travel around the country from one church to the next talking about Biblical relationships and New Testament community. I have to say it…that kind of community is not easy to find, even in the church…maybe especially in the church.
I believe our culture’s obsession with privacy and independence and anonymity have approached the “addiction” level. I believe this because we …
“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1
I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life. Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself. But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth. In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.
But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals? Churches grieve also. They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church. And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting. It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation. It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say. But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.
Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations. It turns up into down and right into left. It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction. It is chaotic and complex and confounding.
So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation …
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 bad 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 …
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:41-47
I have two leadership roles in my church, two different “small group” ministries for which I am partly responsible. I am pretty passionate about both of them, and I am always learning from each of them. The Gathering is my Sunday morning Bible study group, open to any and all comers, all ages, all walks of life and all levels of spiritual maturity. It is a slightly non-traditional offering as a part of my church’s “Sunday School”. We meet around tables, effectively creating “small groups” of 6 to 8 people every Sunday morning for Bible study. Heart 2 Heart is also a small group ministry, but for wounded people. Every Tuesday night, these dear friends meet in small groups built around specific issues and pains in their lives. Some of these groups …
Broken relationships are like infections, they only get worse with time, and the consequences can be devastating.
They almost always start the same way. There are hurt feelings which go unaddressed. Maybe there was bad behavior involved, or maybe there was just an oversight. Maybe there was no wrong doing at all. But feelings got hurt and were left that way with no meaningful attempt to deal with them. The injured person tries to ignore the pain or tries to hurt the other person in return, but the pain itself is left to fester, much like leaving an infection unattended. Very soon after that, the relationship is broken.
But like the infection, the damage then is only beginning. There are actual stages of brokenness in the relationship. They can be identified, even measured to some extent. There is a common progression, a typical stage-by-stage process which every broken relationship goes through. The stages represent some clear “red flags” which I can use to check myself. When I see these things happening in me, I can know I have crossed a line and need to do something about it. Depending on the person and the circumstances, some may go through the stages quickly, and others more slowly. But when my relationship with you breaks,the progression is fairly predictable:
Stage 1: “Otherization” – You determine that I am no longer “one of you”. I am suddenly different. I have a different character, a different essence. This represents a distinct change in “us”. You “otherize” me when you suddenly choose to focus on what is different and you choose to ignore all our history which may show otherwise. Maybe this distancing is just a defense mechanism, or maybe it is a conscious choice. Either way, it is taking a …
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:17-18
Do you remember getting on your parents’ nerves by fighting with your brother or sister in the backseat of the car? And do you remember your mom or dad finally getting fed up and saying something like, “Don’t make me stop this car…”. I understand this sentiment much better now that I have been a parent. For me (both as a child and as a parent), these words were the last clear communication before someone gets in big, big trouble. Because once that car got stopped… hoo-boy.
I really believe that is a close sentiment to what God feels when His children get all tangled up in conflict with each other. I believe that, when we start hurting each other, God feels a real urge to intervene. And I believe that, if God decides to intervene, ALL parties to the conflict will regret it.
Surely, this is why so much of Paul’s writings to the New Testament church were devoted to how we relate to one another. Paul knew what all of us must learn:that you cannot be on mission with God and be living in discord with God’s people. And I have begun to see that being on mission with God is the only way to follow Christ. There is no other way to follow Christ. If you are following, you are on mission.
Virtually every letter Paul wrote to any New Testament church (Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, Corinthians, Romans, Thessalonians) contained specific instructions about getting along with each other. If we are going on this journey, we must …
“…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. I was at church (Dad was a pastor…I was ALWAYS at church), playing with a friend out on the church playground. It had rained, so there was plenty of opportunity for slipping and sliding. One of us had the brilliant idea of using the slippery circumstances to stand up on the slide and “surf” down it. The “brilliance” of the idea, however, was soon overshadowed by the sharp pain on the back of my head after it hit the slide on my way down. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it had to be bad by the way everyone kept reacting to it, and by the way my parents threw me into the back seat of the car and sped off to the hospital.
This was a day I would face yet another fear on my long list of childhood phobias. This was a fear near the top of the list, one I had carefully and gratefully avoided until now: stitches. I can still remember the word coming out of the doctor’s mouth…He was almost apologetic about it, and yet he was certain. I wanted to ask, “Are you sure?” But I could see it in his eyes. There would be no getting out of this. I knew it was inevitable. So I mustered up all the trust I could find and I put myself in his trained and skillful hands. Mind you, I didn’t really have a choice, so “bravery” or “courage” probably are not the right words to describe it. But I did it. I faced my fear by trusting in someone else.…
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and reposted for your consideration and comments.
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
It is simple, really. We are pre-wired by our creator to live in community with others. This is doubly true for Spirit-filled believers. Not only do we have our natural inclination toward community, but God’s design for His church is that His Spirit would manifest itself through individuals in a way which binds the community together. In other words, we are actually stronger together than we are alone. And we learn more together and grow Spiritually together.
We are not unlike the giant redwoods of the Western United States. The largest single living organism in our world, these trees grow to be hundreds of feet tall and live thousands of years. Walking among them is one of the most breath-taking experiences I have ever had. But did you know that a giant redwood cannot survive by itself? It can only grow to its fullest measure in community with other redwoods. The reason is simple…it has no tap root. Rather, its root system spreads out laterally in every direction, searching for root systems of other redwood trees. These magnificent creatures actually “join hands” underground, their root systems growing together and becoming one system. They actually draw their strength and their growth from one another. It is why you will never find a fully matured giant redwood growing all by itself.
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
I believe the most difficult thing about the process of reconciliation is getting started…going to the brother in the first place. Most of us can think of hundreds, maybe thousands of reasons why NOT to do it. “He’s the one who needs to be coming to me…when he does, we can talk.” “Why would I go back to her to talk about it? She’s the one who hurt me in the first place!” “He won’t listen. He never listens. It won’t do any good.” “I don’t want to put our friendship in that kind of jeopardy.” And the excuses go on and on and on. But none of them are good excuses, especially in the face of ALL the scripture that tells us we must be reconciled to each other as Christians. Hey, if you are waiting on a word from God about whether or not you should go to your Christian brother or sister and be reconciled, all I can tell you is…pick up your Bible and read it.
God’s call to you to go and be reconciled to your brother is every bit as clear as God’s call to Jacob (Genesis 31) to go back to the land of his father in order to be reconciled to his brother Esau. If you know that story, you know …