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
I 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 …
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. Matthew 10:16-22
I have lost track now of how many conversations I have had over the last couple of weeks and certainly of how many social media posts I have seen lamenting the future of the church in America in the wake of the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage. I get it. I share some of the concerns myself. I do agree we seem to be entering into a very different chapter here in the U.S. in terms of the church and its relationship to the world around us. To put it mildly, church popularity is on the decline. The fears and concerns I have seen and heard cover a broad range of “sky is falling” iterations…
“They’re going to take our tax exemptions away.”
“The church is losing its relevance to an entire generation.”
” We no longer have the protection to teach God’s Word.”
Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink… Exodus 7:17-18
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45
Apparently, the first four plagues in Exodus affected the Hebrew slaves as much as they affected the Egyptians. It was Pharaoh’s hardened heart that brought the plagues, but everyone suffered from it, including God’s own people. It’s not really fair is it? It does not fit our notion of a “fair and just” God. But it is the picture scripture paints of God, whether we like it or not…whether we understand it or not.
According to the stories of scripture, it is one of the ways of God. He sends his rain on both the just and the unjust. His wrath may come as a result of an unbelieving world, but the believing world will share in some of those consequences. This is so, I believe, because we were created for community. We, His church, are expected to be IN the world. We are expected to carry His gospel with us INTO the world, illustrating it in community with one another and in community with an unbelieving world.
I am grateful for Dr. Billy Graham and his generation of church leadership in the Evangelical church, because the world needs to know that salvation is ultimately a personal concept, stemming out of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. But I am also very excited about what appears to be an emerging generation of …
…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 1 Peter 1:17
Every year my ministry takes a team to South Africa. It is always a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.
Over my years of making this trip, I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics. I’m still learning the right questions to ask and the ones not to ask…when to ask them and when not to ask them. In so many ways, it is not unlike here in the U.S. Like here, there is within the church a degree of discontent with the moral and political directions that country seems to be headed.
When our team finds ourselves in those conversations, there is always some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.” We can still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we are not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we are only visitors. We have now grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land. We have the freedom (and the responsibility) to speak the truth, but no freedom (nor responsibility) to try to force it or to impose it on anyone. That is not our business.
In the end, the distinction between those two postures can be a thin line. Somehow, being foreigners in that land, it is an easier distinction to grasp. Speak the truth, in love, but do not seek political power to impose that truth on a country where we are mere visitors.
As I meditate on Peter’s words above…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear…I feel just a little more clarity about …
What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. Psalm 8:4-5
Back in 1985, when I came out of law school and started work as a very wet-behind-the-ears lawyer, I expected to be stuck in the back of a law library for at least a year or two before I would be entrusted with anything which actually required much judgment on my part. I fully expected I would be researching and reading and gathering documents and other such tasks which were reasonably “safe” for a baby lawyer to handle. Imagine my surprise, then, in my FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB, when one partner handed me a file to take before a jury in just 3 short months and another partner handed me an appellate brief to prepare and argue before the Texas Court of Appeals in just 6 short months. I was scared to death! I was in pretty far over my head. I would not have done it that way. I thought to myself…they must really trust me!
I say it often about God and the church…I would not have done it this way. If I were God, I would not have chosen this strategy to reach this lost and broken world. To be blunt, I would never have entrusted my name and my reputation into the hands of a bunch of broken, flawed people like you and me. What an enormous risk!
In my work as a peacemaker in the church, I get the privilege of seeing the church often at its very worst behavior. I am reminded over and over again just how flawed we are…how very capable we are …
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. Psalm 110:5-6
If you have been here at Church Whisperer very long at all, you already know I have some issues with what we call the “culture wars”. Specifically, I get a little twisted out of shape sometimes about the church’s role in those culture wars. Here is another angle on that issue. [RANT WARNING]
I wonder if those of us who expend an extraordinary amount of time and energy and resources on “fighting the culture wars”, i.e., engaged in heated debate with those outside the church over moral issues and trying to legislate morality so that non-Christians everywhere will start acting more like Christians,…I wonder if we have defined in our own minds what, exactly, “winning” this war would look like? What is the objective?
Is the objective to somehow force non-believers to act like believers, i.e., to conform to God’s standards of behavior irrespective of their beliefs about God? Is that a “win”? Or maybe the objective is just to have warned them in advance of their ultimate judgment, so that we have the satisfaction of being right, even when it means they suffer unspeakable judgment?
If it is the former, then I think you see the fallacy. Having a bunch of people walking around ACTING like Christians (conforming to God’s standards of behavior) will probably make for a more peaceful world in the short term, but it would do nothing to spare non-believers from the eternal fate which awaits them. If it is the latter, then we have a problem there as well. When we bash people over the heads with …
I’ve never actually seen a moth burn up as a result of being drawn into a flame. But I’ve seen them buzzing around my back porch light enough to get the idea. It is a great illustration for how we are often drawn into the very things that will ultimately destroy us. That has been the experience of the church in America. We fight to obtain the very things that will ultimately weaken us and make us wholly ineffective.
I believe that the spread of Christianity in the early church was attributable primarily to two God-ordained circumstances: (1) persecution from outside the church, and (2) conflict from within, due to the differences among them. Take away the oppression of the Roman government and Christianity does not have a reason to spread beyond Jerusalem except by mere happenstance. Take away the vast cultural differences within the early church, and Christian doctrine never really gets tested and grown and purified, it never develops any of the Spiritual “immunities” to false teaching which it currently enjoys.
It is always funny to me, then, when we in the church spend so much time and energy trying to rid the world of both of these catalysts. The church in America is actually fighting for two things that will kill us: (1) political favor from the outside and (2) homogeneous culture on the inside. I spoke to the second item in my recent post here. I will only summarize that post by saying that, contrary to what many of us seem to believe in the church, diversity is actually our friend, i.e., our strength…not our enemy. But what about the first catalyst? What about persecution from outside the church? History tells the story best.
Historically, Christianity has always grown stronger in the …
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
Last year, with its release of Doubt, Hollywood wandered not-so-innocently right into the middle of my world and, naturally, got my attention…and my $8 for a ticket. Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play, it tells the story of a young pastor (i.e., priest) trying to bring a warmer, more relevant leadership style to a church and falling prey to the distrust and manipulative ways of an established church leader. Sound familiar, anyone? I’ve seen this play out in hundreds of situations and I’m sure you have seen it before as well. Sometimes there is moral failure involved (as alleged in this case), and sometimes not so much. But there is always plenty at risk, including the fragile spirituality of innocent bystanders, the continued credibility of established leadership and the future ministry of one “called out” to shepherd God’s people. I must say, this movie tells the story well. You can find some clips from the movie here.
I recommend the movie, because it is an accurate and startling depiction of a truth every church leader needs to know: when it comes to ministry, your testimony is the only currency you have. Once it is tarnished (i.e., once the people you “lead” no longer wish to be led by you), your leadership is done. You can lead no more. And by the way, it doesn’t take truth to tarnish your testimony…all it takes is credible allegations and a little persistence on the part of those who stand to benefit from your departure. In short, all it takes is sustainable doubt…doubt about you, about your past, or about your motives.
So how does a church leader protect his/her testimony from these …