Tag Archives: Ephesians 4

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 …

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 …

Real Leaders Have Hard Conversations

Tuesday Re-mix –

…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 4:15

Am I the only one who thinks “Pastor” should be one of Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” episodes on the Discovery Channel?

Thinking about another truth my Dad taught me about the church.

Those of you who know Dad know that he is certainly capable of “stirring the pot” even to the point of conflict.  That capability is, I think, actually a reflection of a particular leadership skill he possesses…he is capable of having the hard conversations in a church.  You know the conversations I mean: the ones nobody else on the staff wants to have, the ones which may prove to be a bit awkward, even painful.  I have watched him in ministry for all of my 52 years on this earth and, whether as a pastor or a denominational worker, or even as a Sunday School teacher, I have known Dad to step up to the plate many, many times when a hard thing needed to be said or conveyed.

This is not a lesson he has ever spoken to me, at least not that I can remember.  Rather, this is a lesson I learned from watching him all these years.  Real church leaders, the ones who are genuine influencers, are the ones who are willing to sit down and have that very difficult conversation which nobody else wants to have.  The pretend leaders, on the other hand, will avoid those conversations at all costs.

You know well the conversations I mean…

…that volunteer who needs to be “counseled out” of a particular ministry position…

…that employee whose gossip is becoming a problem…

…that Sunday School teacher …

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 …

The Truth Behind “It is finished.”

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Matthew 6:14-15

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

This is the time of year when we, as Christ followers, remember the three events which all happened within a few weeks of each other and which changed our world forever: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost.  Within the Christian world, different groups have tended to focus more on one of these events or another.  In my particular flavor of Christianity, we tend to focus more on the resurrection than on the other two; so much so, in fact, that I sometimes lose the practical significance of either the crucifixion or of Pentecost.  This week, as an exercise to help me balance this, I have been thinking a lot about the crucifixion.

In The Gathering this past Sunday, I challenged everyone to consider their daily routine, their life and their world without the crucifixion.  What would it look like?  What would it be like?  It made for some interesting discussion, as we each began to come to grips with what the crucifixion means to us individually.

So, I have also been asking the same question with regard to the entire church.  What does the crucifixion mean for us corporately?  What would “church” look like without it?  For me (so far) the picture is both simple and scary: there would be little forgiveness and there would be little grace.  I believe that because, over and over again, scripture draws a clear and convincing connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of each other.  Don’t …

Trust as the Means of Healing

Tuesday Re-mix:

“…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.

stitchesThis 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.…

Unity is the Pathway to Doctrinal Purity

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

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 men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14

Over the years, as my passion for unity in the church has intensified, some of my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ have expressed concern that too much emphasis on unity could actually hurt the church, especially in the area of doctrinal purity.  The premise is, I think, that we can have complete unity or we can have doctrinal purity, but we cannot have both, i.e., that the two concepts are somehow mutually exclusive.  That concern is understandable, even predictable…but badly misplaced.  The call to Biblical unity is not a call to some sort of compromise in order to get along.  Moreover, maintaining doctrinal purity should not mean constant pushing and shoving to keep people in line.  Some in the church believe that, in order to keep our doctrine pure, we’ve got to step on a few toes and bang a few heads.

As confrontational as he was capable of being, I believe Paul would disagree with this “bang a few heads” mentality.

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes one of his most complete lessons on unity in the church.  He calls us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, he reminds us of some things we can all agree about, he teaches us about Spiritual gifts, and he gives some very practical counsel about our life in community with each other.  He paints a clear picture for us of unity, and in the middle of that discussion, he …