Tag Archives: conflict

Our Place in the Culture Wars

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Acts 12:1-3

persecutionThere is a fair amount of debate these days over just what the accurate number is of Christians in this world who are being persecuted for their faith. A lot of that debate has to do with how we define “persecuted for their faith” and which genocidal numbers should or should not be included in that count. There is actually a pretty decent description of those numbers and that debate from this Christianity Today article last year. Our struggles here in the U.S. do not yet rise to the level of “persecution”. Indeed, I am embarrassed that we sometimes use that label to describe our culture wars here in this country, when our brothers and sisters around the world are being tortured, dismembered, and killed by political entities. Still, for our purposes here, suffice it to say, genuine followers of Christ are finding the journey more and more difficult.

I am struck, then, when I read about the early church’s responses to political persecution. And I am convicted when I compare their response to our response today. From the account of Peter’s miraculous rescue in Acts 12, here are a few observations about the natural tension between Christ followers and the world in which they are called to be salt and light:

  • The battle is the Lord’s and, as with all battles He fights, He wins in the end. OK, we don’t necessarily learn that from this particular passage. In fact, this account takes place as the culture wars are only just getting started. But still, you

Peacemakers in our Lives

“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 …

Hope for the Barren Church

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

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-cracked-land-image22328576In 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 …

God is Bigger than Our Ugliest Moments

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 …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Angels

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Luke 1:13a

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

Now, I am no angel.  But, as a peacemaker, I do know what it feels like for people to be frightened of me.  It is actually a fairly common response, especially in church conflicts.  When I am called in by a congregation or Christian organization to begin my work as a peacemaker, and I begin having my one-on-one meetings with the players, it is always interesting to me how frightened they seem to be to talk to me.  Maybe it is because they know I am a lawyer?  Or maybe it because they have misunderstood my role in the process?  Or maybe it is their fear of being held accountable?  I honestly do not know.

But I do know that, for peacemakers, it means we have one task that is first and foremost in every conflict…we must be a non-anxious presence.  We must develop an ability to disarm the players, reassure them that they are safe, and guarantee a process which they can trust.  We apparently share that task with the angels.  Everything about our demeanor and our words must send a clear message: “be not afraid”.

I’m glancing at some of the long strings of comments we see today on …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect …

[GULP!] …I Might Have Been a Legalist

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written… Acts 15:6-8, 12-15

Have you ever noticed that the process of spiritual discernment is often much more complicated than merely examining the evidence logically?  The more background I read about the Jerusalem Council and its crucial considerations in Acts 15, the more I worry I might have voted the wrong way, if I had been among them. As it turns out, being a legalist is a lot easier than we would like to think.

Circumcision, to the very first Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, was a big deal…every bit as big a deal as baptism is to the Christian church today.  It was clearly not an act “stumbled upon” through some twist of tradition and men’s preferences…it was an act given to them by God Himself.  There was a plethora of Holy Scripture which required it [insert your favorite among a half dozen or so Old Testament stories showing God’s clear directives about circumcision here].  It was a non-negotiable to them, because …

The Missing Piece in our Social Discourse

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our culture is in great need of reconciliation. The divisions between us just seem to grow larger and larger every day. Likewise, the Christian church is in need of reconciliation. The same cultural and political divisions which have wreaked havoc outside the church seem to have had a similar effect even within the church. And as long as we use social media to try and resolve it, we will only make it worse. You see, there is a huge missing piece in our social discourse these days, one that is critical to human relationships. However, this particular missing piece is, by design, missing from social media. In fact, its presence makes for horribly boring–even ineffective–communication in the realms of social media. That missing piece is humility.

In every genuine reconciliation, there is a point where both parties have softened their hearts enough to be able to begin seeing the issue through the other party’s eyes.  It happens to a person when he/she is humbly willing to admit to himself that maybe, just maybe, his/her perspective is not complete.  It is a moment of sudden clarity, when he/she understands (probably for the first time) that he/she has been a bit arrogant and self-centered.  This softening represents a profound shift in the relationship.  …

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 …

Re-Focus: The Role of the Church in Spiritual Warfare

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven…And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Revelation 12:7-8, 11

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:10-13

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7

boys-and-swords

I remember playing “soldier” when I was a little boy. My friends and I would make up battlefield scenarios and spend hours and hours playing them out. We pretended to be sentries and infantrymen, and pilots and marines. We pretended to fire guns and swing swords and throw grenades. We crawled on our bellies and climbed trees and ran and hid. We manned pretend prison camps and planned ambushes. But you know what we never did? We never pretended to be communications officers whose job it was to communicate but who rarely ever actually “fought”. We never pretended to be the guy running BEHIND the other soldiers, carrying all the communications equipment but rarely ever firing a cannon. …