“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:26-27.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Especially one that has been kept hidden for ages and generations and now is finally being disclosed? This word picture from Paul is Indiana Jones-like imagery. Something wonderful and powerful has been hidden away for a long, long time and is now finally unleashed. By the end of this remarkable introduction to his Colossians letter, Paul has us all leaning in, desperate to know what it is.
Imago Dei – Created in God’s Image
I believe when God created man (and woman) in His own image, this mystery was more apparent to the angels looking on than to the created man. Being created in God’s image, whatever else that means, surely includes being created with the capacity to be indwelled by God’s own Spirit. Man was created with a void in the shape of God’s spirit; a void that would not be filled on a large scale until a day we know as Pentecost.
Everything changed at Pentecost. The answer to the mystery of what that void was all about was then revealed. For the first time, the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. While we see appearances of His Spirit earlier in His story, temporarily filling individuals for limited purposes. But Pentecost was different. It was a permanent filling of every believer. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
A Broken Culture
I don’t have to tell you about the ridiculous state of brokenness in our public discourse. The divide between worldviews in our culture grows deeper by the day. The rules of engagement are changing faster than any of us can fully absorb. So are the weapons. Each “side”, in its obsession with destroying the “other side”, gets more and more creative with its narrative. And, to the extent there are any institutions with any integrity left, both sides have gone after them mercilessly in order to coop them for their own political purposes.
The culture wars tainted social media and completely coopted mainstream media. Similarly, well-intentioned non-profit organizations have been turned. Alas, even the church has been twisted, reshaped and weaponized for the battle. The great divide took an untold number of otherwise profound, complicated social problems and sucked them into the fray, reducing them to trite, idealogical soundbites. This pretty much guarantees no real solutions will be forthcoming. That is because problem-solving is no longer the goal. Winning is the goal. No matter the cost.
The Weapons of this War
In this culture of outrage, all problem-solving begins with an underlying assumption that one “side” must win and one must lose. There are no options outside this false duality. That is the war we are fighting. Those are the rules of engagement. The weapons are false narratives, confirmation bias, identity politics, and fear mongering. These are the weapons …
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:3, 10
Our circumstances are similar to Daniel’s in some respects, aren’t they? Babylon was not his home. Rather, he was exiled there for a lifetime, instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of this lifetime home. As Christ followers, this world is not our home. It is merely where we are for this lifetime. And we are instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of our lifetime home. God expected Daniel to be salt and light in his new home. God expects the same from us. Finally, like Daniel, we find ourselves in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward us and toward the God we worship. So, what does Daniel have to teach us about these circumstances?
When the opposition organized against Daniel and created laws which his walk with God simply could not abide, what did Daniel do? How did he respond? Here’s a list of ways he did NOT respond:
He did not take to his loud, proud social media voice and begin slamming those who had conspired against his God;
He did not stoop to his adversaries’ political ways by mobilizing his own political action committee to fight the battle in the world’s arena;
He did not create a bunch of hateful protest signs and organize a march on King
“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 …
Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city. 1 Samuel 20:42
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 2 Samuel 12:7-9
These are confusing and chaotic times, aren’t they? In the midst of all the “culture wars” and PR posturing on social media and political battles over moral issues that, frankly, will never be resolved in the political arena, we in the church are haunted by a single question: what does love look like? In the face of ISIS and others persecuting Christians around the world, the church must figure out what does love look like? On politically entangled issues of immigration, the church must answer what does love look like? In response to legalized same-sex marriage and increasing pressure against the church for teaching what it believes on this issue, the church must know what does love look like? And those pundits on either side of …
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
In 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 …
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 …
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12
There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son. Each of them represent a different perspective on common human behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives. Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son). But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship. And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all. I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.
Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God. We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction. It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple. Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap. But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him. Either way, it is rebellion. And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession. You will not find a more perfect confession in …
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2
At the risk of spoiling your nativity scenes, here are the facts about the magi (separated from the myths): (1) they probably were not kings, (2) we do not know how many there were, (3) they never saw Jesus as an infant, nor the manger, nor the shepherds, (4) we do not know their names nor their nationalities. We actually know surprisingly little about them. The sum total of what we do know, we learn from 12 small verses of scripture in Matthew’s gospel. That is all. But it is enough for us as peacemakers to continue to learn some important truths from the Christmas story.
These magi (however many there were), were apparently scholars and apparently familiar enough with Jewish prophecies to understand that the “king of the Jews” had been born. They were also men of science, familiar enough with the night sky to recognize a star which did not belong there. They were also shrewd seekers of Jesus, not thrown at all off track by Herod’s deception or malicious intentions. These are all good qualities for peacemakers.
A peacemaker among God’s people is a student of the Word. I know I’ve already made this point in this series, but it bears repeating. The truth of God’s Word is critical to peacemaking among His people. Peacemakers therefore immerse themselves in the Word regularly…even in all the woes and warnings of Old Testament prophecies.
A peacemaker studies the landscape of relationships and recognizes things that do not seem to …
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:17-18
The Shepherds had a pretty simple, but critical role in the Christmas story, right? Go and observe, and then tell the truth about what you heard and observed. They did not elaborate…they did not speculate about anyone’s intentions or possible motives…they did not add their own opinions into the mix. They heard from the angels, observed the baby Jesus, and then they simply reported what they had heard and observed. They did their job well…God took care of the rest.
As a peacemaker, I could learn a thing or two from the shepherds in the Christmas story. I could learn to remind myself that my role in the peacemaking process is not complicated. More times than not, I am merely speaking the truth in love. The role is actually simple enough unless I find myself beginning to interject my own opinions and speculation about motives and behaviors. That is when I get myself into trouble.
A peacemaker must speak the truth about what he has heard from God’s Word. For this reason, faith-based peacemaking is different from the secular concepts of genuine mediation. It is slightly less conciliatory and slightly more directive, at least in the sense of being grounded in the Word of God as the source of all truth and of all solutions. Among Christ-followers, there is almost always a spiritual element to conflict. Spiritual problems demand spiritual solutions…and spiritual solutions come from God’s Word. For me to be an effective peacemaker in the church, I must be listening to the Word of God and I must be representing it accurately…just like the Shepherds …