Category Archives: Reconciliation

The Blinding Power of Bitterness

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

blind bitternessAt 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 …

The Key to Your Church’s Strength

And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” Judges 16:17

 I in them and you in me,that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:23

strength relationshipsI remember Samson (of the Bible) holding “superhero” status in my mind as a child. Studying his tragic story now as an adult, I realize his character flaws throw a very different light on his super-human power. Isn’t that what intrigues us about God’s story? It is told through the lives of so many horribly flawed–even dysfunctional–people. 

That is one of the ways of God: to use markedly flawed people to accomplish His will. It is intriguing about Samson and it is intriguing about the church. We are all flawed, and yet (like Samson) we, the church, are filled with God’s Spirit and collectively empowered to represent His spiritual authority in this world. Samson was a tragically flawed hero of God’s story, and Christ’s eklesia is likewise embarrassingly flawed. I’ve written about that here.

But also like Samson, the church has a peculiar source of its strength…a “lynch pin”, if you will, to all that empowerment God promises us. For Samson, it was his hair. But for the church, it is our relationships with one another.

We can talk about the power of prayer (if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven); we can talk about …

This Kind Cannot be Driven Out by Anything but Prayer

 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

prayerI 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 …

The God-Forsaken Church

Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. And she named the child Ichabod, saying,“The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” 1 Samuel 4:19-22

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

old church 2It was actually more years ago than I can remember…I was sitting with a church leader while her church was in the midst of turmoil and conflict and she was sharing the litany of painful circumstances that had befallen her church. It was just one horrible thing after another after another after another. It was startling. And then she said this: “It feels like God has written ‘Ichabod’ over our door. We are a God-forsaken church.” I had a vague recollection of the biblical reference but will admit to you now I had to go back and read the story again out of 1 Samuel.

Eli (the priest) had sent his two ungodly sons into war with all their Israeli brothers in arms to fight the Philistines. It did not go well. Both sons were killed. Israel was horribly defeated. and the Arc of …

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 …

The American Church: Tempted in the Wilderness

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. If there were ever a story written about it, the way Jesus’ story in the wilderness has been written, the enemy’s temptations of the church might go something like this…

temptationsI. 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. There is not a church leader anywhere who, when describing the church he/she serves, is not tempted to describe it at some level in terms of number of members. It is one way we measure our effectiveness in mission. Every evangelistic outreach is measured this way. And since we all want to be seen as “successful”, 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, …

Conformed to this World

Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

protestsIn his letter to the Romans, perhaps the most complete theological treatise we have from the apostle Paul, a veritable high-definition picture of the gospel-centered worldview, when he finally turns the corner from the heavy theology in chapters 1-11 and begins to address the very, very practical question of how, then, we should live, Paul begins that counsel with a simple charge: we should look different from the world. That is his very first word of practical counsel. Be transformed. Be different.

And so, when we (as the church) respond to the world around us exactly like the rest of the world responds, it is safe to say we have failed. None of us want that. We all despise failure. Some of us even have an unhealthy fear of it. So, let’s succeed, shall we? Let’s be transformed! Let’s not look like the rest of the world.

But that is harder than it might seem. Sometimes, we have been IN the world for so long, we do not even realize that we are looking more and more like it. So, here are some reminders. Here are some ways the world behaves to which we, as God’s people, would do well NOT to conform. Spelling them out here, just so we can remember.

1. When the world sees a racially-charged incident brewing in Missouri, it runs to the fight like a bench-clearing brawl in a baseball game. Everyone sees the fight and realizes their “tribe” may be involved (or ought to be involved) and immediately begins seeing the “facts” through the lens of their cause, …

Help for the Hypocrites

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

hypocritesPeople who do not want anything to do with the church often accuse it of being “full of hypocrites”.  I have a theory about why they say that…

…because we, the church, are in fact full of hypocrites.  We are bad about that.

I am certain you can fill in some of your own favorite examples of this.  Paul’s remarks to the Corinthian church above point out one of my favorite examples.

Paul reminds us in the church that we have been given BOTH the message of reconciliation AND the ministry of reconciliation.  They go hand-in-hand.  The message is shallow and powerless without the ministry.  The message (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) requires the ministry (i.e., that we love and forgive each other as well) in order to have any power, any credibility at all.  Otherwise, it is just…hypocritical.

It makes complete sense if you think about it.  It requires us to practice what we preach.  Those of us in the Christian church have preached the message well for a long, long time.  “No matter where you have come from, no matter what you have done, God loves you and forgives you.”  But if we are not, at the same time, willing to act out the ministry of reconciliation, i.e., “…and I love you and forgive you as well…” then the message rings shallow no matter how eloquently we speak it.  All the cool videos and all the polished presentations, all the great books and all the amazing sermons, all …

Healthy Relationships: That the World Might Believe

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21

No matter what kind of car I drive, no matter how expensive, how amazing, nor how reliable it is, if I cannot see out the windshield, it is worthless to me. It’s ironic. A $20 part (a windshield wiper blade) can make all the difference in whether an otherwise amazing vehicle is of any use at all. The windshield, you see, is the only lens through which we, as drivers, can see the road ahead.

windshieldJesus spoke of a similar concept in John 17. At a moment in time when Jesus was considering the global revolution He and his followers were about to start (we call it “the church”), he lifted his eyes toward heaven and prayed. Understanding the challenges the future church would face in bringing a lost and broken world to see and believe in Christ, he asked his Father for the one thing we would need most in order to accomplish our mission: relationships which point to Jesus.

Here is what Jesus understood and a truth we must grasp as well: if the key to a fruitful church is “Christ in us”, then the key to the world seeing Christ in us is relationships in our lives which point to Jesus. In short, our ability to show this …

Why We Reconcile with Each Other

As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  Ezekiel 43:4-5

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12

broken heart reborn

Do you know what it feels like to temporarily lose access to God? Are you familiar with the loss of not being able to find God today in the exact same place you found Him yesterday? Then you know something of the pain of the exiles to whom Ezekiel spoke.

I cannot even imagine a world where “the glory of the Lord” is geographical, i.e., in a particular place, such that it leaves that place and then returns to that place. To those of us living in the age of the church, that concept is rather foreign, because, for us, the Spirit of God quite literally resides in every believer. But we trust God’s Word to nonetheless have a word for us through this very vivid imagery of Ezekiel’s prophecy. What, then, is our contemporary take-away from Ezekiel’s visions about being “in” and “out” of the presence of the Lord? Surely, these visions speak about truths on multiple levels…one for the exiles in Babylon, one for us today, and yet another for those in the end times (to name a few).

For us today, if it is true that the Spirit of God resides in every believer (Col. 1:27; John 15:5; 1 John 4:12), then the easiest way to be “cut off” from God is to be “cut off” from the brother in whom He resides. Broken relationships, you see, are a contemporary version of living outside …