Category Archives: Reconciliation

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 …

Devastation, Destruction and the Love of God

Thursday Re-mix:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. 
Psalm 118:1

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of one of the most destructive weather weeks in our country’s history.  One year ago, tornadoes ripped through the heartland of America and one particularly devastating one gutted the town of Moore, Oklahoma, leaving us with a great deal more questions than answers about God and His ways.  After that kind of occurrence, nothing seems safe…our cities, our homes, our children.  Devastating.

tornado damageIt was against that backdrop that I found myself meditating on my church’s Re:Verse passage from that week: Psalm 118.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Awfully hard to embrace in that context, right?

When I work with congregations in the midst of conflict, there is this same difficulty…finding God and trusting His promises in the midst of devastation.  Hopeless does not really begin to describe the feeling.  Trusting God when the path is smooth is one thing, but believing He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do when our world has crumbled around us…well, that’s a different thing, isn’t it?

When your entire neighborhood is literally ripped from its foundation, leaving little evidence of ever having been there, it is hard to hear about God’s love.  When lifelong friendships are torn apart as a result of a church conflict, we struggle with notions of God’s promises to those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.  When our children are sent safely off to school and then are horribly and suddenly taken from us, the love of God can feel like a completely foreign concept.

I think it is important to note that God’s Word …

Pursuing Peace

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are …

It’s a Relationship, Yes…but Different

Tuesday Re-mix:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

 Psalm 32:3-5

Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth.  Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way.  Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets.  Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.

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The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship.  We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God.  We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”  We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ.  It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then.  It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word.  But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.

The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes.  So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions?  Why does that metaphor fall short for …

We Should Have Credentials to Talk About Love

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted.  In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.

love credentialsLast week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision.  As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet.  No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.” 

Terrific.

There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here.  Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts.  In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement …

The Heart of Your Conflict

Tuesday Re-mix:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If you’re a peacemaker, you need to have read The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute. My first time through it,  I also happened to be working through the gospel of Mark in my church’s regular Bible study. As so often happens, both lessons converged for me.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAeF-pGoAxM&w=560&h=315]

By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.

I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.

I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our …