church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… (not because I’m perfect) but because I’m following Jesus Christ.

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Racism and Racialization

Most of the people I know are not guilty of racism, but many (whites) like me, and including me, are culpable of racialization – the collective misunderstanding of cultural position or unintentional misuse of power which causes racial division and results in diminished life opportunities for other racial groups.
Racialization is so embedded within our culture, it seems so normal, and it’s so difficult for some to see that the intentions our words or actions don’t have to be racist to contribute to racial division and inequality. Because our racialized society often both produces and reflects misunderstanding, hostility, disorder, unequal treatment, conflict, violence, compromised life opportunities, and other social problems, our nation has historically, with varying degrees of intensity, searched for ways to overcome it. And, yet, our nation still struggles with it.
Racial reconciliation with others will never happen by simply pursing love or unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God so that we can be reconciled with each other (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

That’s why I’m committed, as a white man by God’s creation and a follower of His Son, Jesus, by faith, to pursing multi-cultural relationships, multi-ethnic reconciliation among them, and multi-facited collaboration within and among local churches as a part of Threaded.

As we meet together and share our lives together (who we are), I’m constantly challenged in my thinking and perspectives, I’m continually encouraged by other fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and I’m completely loved (when I ask stupid questions or same dumb things) by amazing men and women who by God’s design are different than me.

Follow me… not because I’m perfect… but because I’m following Christ.

 

Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Racial Reconciliation

Achieving racial reconciliation is challenging and seemingly impossible — both in our country and within the church. The stipulations imposed on us because of our differences should not determine how we relate to one another, but sadly, it seems they do.

The most recent deaths of Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, LA) and Philander Castile (St. Anthony, MN) by police and the deaths of 5 police officers (Dallas, TX) by Micah Johnson have once again ignited lingering embers of hatred and fear within our nation. We hear cries of “Black Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter,” and more — each with their own allegations, critics, and followers.

Reconciliation 6When it comes to racism in America, it seems like our country hasn’t learned from the past or grown up from its failures of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and social bias. We can point fingers, blame politicians, scoff at social activists, and become hardened to the problems. We can remain ignorant to it or try to ignore it. But the problems of racism and the realities of its hatred are only increasing. Today, racism in America is no longer just a black and white issue.

Racism comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Racism isn’t just a southern problem, an urban problem, a Middle-East problem, or a American problem. Racism is a human problem. And it has always been a sin problem. It can be found in every culture but, it is most visible when cultures clash and inequities are felt.

At its core, racism begins with selfish pride and can be flamed into selfish hate when influenced over time with experience. Its siblings, classism and elitism, come from the same selfish, sinful, Satantic origins.  Racism won’t be eliminated from the world until sin is cleansed from our hearts and removed from the world in God’s time.

Human history, especially American history, demonstrates that diversity can too often complicate life and contradict holiness, but in Christ, a place where by grace we belong, we find unity. Lord help us, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Reconciliation 4With this prayer, may we who belong to God’s family by faith in Christ alone always celebrate and prioritize our Christian family identity in Christ above ALL else (including our view of police or our stance on politics) and find our unity in Christ as the truest definition of our lives regardless of our skin color, cultural differences, socio-economic backgrounds, family status, or political leanings.

We need to live the way Christ wants us to live— united in Him. Diversity within the body of Christ has been the DNA of Christianity from the first century, and especially of the church—and the Lord delights in it!

Our reconciliation with others will never happen by pursing unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God.

Consider the following Scriptures:

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him. (Romans 5:10-11)

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19–20)

Only when we are reconciled with God through faith in Christ as our death substitute can we have hope of reconciling with others through life’s sojourn.
Reconciliation 1Since the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, our country has become a tinder box of racial tension, division, and fear. Over the last week of the latest racial conflicts in our country and here in our community, we’ve heard some rhetoric that seems way over the top. We’ve experienced the anger and fears between the black community and law enforcement. We’ve been horrified by the vengeance of misguided individuals. But, should the overreaction of some cause us to overreact or worse, not react at all?

What can I do?  What can you do? WHAT CAN WE DO?

Intercede through prayer. Ask God to soften our hardened hearts, reveal our racial blind spots, and heal the deep festering wounds. The Lord God is the only one who can do so (Psalm 139:23–24). We know that reconciliation is God’s will according to His Word (Romans 12, Ephesians 2, and 2 Corinthians 5), so let’s pray without ceasing that we will be His ambassadors of peace and ministers of reconciliation. Let’s pray for those who are grieving deeply today over the loss of lives and weep with them. Let’s pray that we will respond to God as we reach out in grace to others – even those who are different and see the world differently than we do. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters who are living in fear because of the color of their skin. Let’s pray for our police officers and other first responders who are serving faithfully during days of intense scrutiny and pressure. Let’s pray for the Lord to give wisdom to our governing authorities as they lead our country, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Instruct your own heart and mind through clear teaching of God’s Word under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must recognize that the misinterpretation of the Bible has been utilized as a tool of prejudice and the misuse of Scripture as weapon of racism throughout American history, so we must approach Him in humility to learn from the Lord rather than reinforce our anger, justify our distrust, or rationalize our sinfulness. Let’s read more of the Bible to feed our souls with God’s heavenly perspective (could I suggest Ephesians?) than refreshing your newsfeed on social media which is filled with the vitriolic bias of humanity’s limited viewpoints.

Interact with others who are different. Let’s build intentional relationships (friendships), with neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and, especially, fellow members of God’s family who are different ethnically or racially. Let’s be those who are quick to listen to others who view the world differently because of their culture or their experiences, slow to speak our mind and share our opinions, and slow to become angry with those who are different than us. This starts with believing the best rather than assuming the worst of others who like us, bear God’s image. Verbally acknowledge the hurts and fears of others and seek reconciliation in Christ.

Reconciliation 5I confess, the outlook of this ongoing racial conflict which has been embedded in our nation since its beginnings and within our sinful hearts since the Garden (Genesis 3) looks hopeless. But, with God, nothing is impossible (Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37, 18:27).

Please, Lord Jesus, hear our prayers, transform our hearts, and reconcile our relationships.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Who are you following?

Social Media

Who are you following? Not just on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram.

Who is influencing your life? Is it your favorite writer or author? Is it a particular blogger that puts words to your thoughts? Is it a specific actor or a favorite show? Is it a musician or band that is always playing in the background? Is it an artist that paints your world? What about a teacher or professor that challenges your thinking? Is it a politician that voices addresses your issues? Is it an athlete that is a role model for you?

Who is influencing your values? Who is shaping your beliefs? Who is impacting your behavior? Whose life is your life imitating? And most of all, who is reaching your heart?

“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

ShipwreckIn our media saturated society, we can’t avoid or escape the Sirens’ Song that lures the unsuspecting to shipwreck their lives on the rocky shores of self-achievement, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and self-indulgement. All around us are “godless enemies” (Philippians 3:18-19) who feed their appetites, find satisfaction what should cause embarrassment, and fall with gravity’s destructive force to the physical, material, and sensual things of this world.

With so many influences that threaten to bring our lives crashing down, we need to follow the godly examples available to us that encourage us to set our hearts on Jesus and things above (Philippians 3:8-10Philippians 3:20, Colossians 3:1-2). In his letter to his friends in the prestigious Roman colony of Philippi, Paul wrote,

“Join in imitating me…” Philippians 3:17

Paul could encourage others to follow his example because he was passionately following Jesus Christ himself. Paul had one clearly defined goal in life on this Earth: to get to know His Savior more and more until he saw Him face-to-face. Knowing Jesus was the greatest, most important thing to Paul. That’s why he could say the same thing to the Corinthians,

“Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Paul’s own example encourages us to make knowing Jesus Christ the focus of our lives. But his example of following Jesus was not the only one available. He went on to say,

“Observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

Who are the godly examples that God has placed in your life that you should follow? Teachers in your school? Parents in your home? Leaders in your church? A mentor or a friend?

Over the course of my life, God has brought so many godly men and women into my life who have dramatically influenced my relationship with Jesus: Jack Reeves has modeled Christ-like love and compassion to me since I was in high school — when I needed it the most. Ken Carozza, Rick Smith, Allen Frans, Mike Cahill, and Russell Allen when I was in college. Walt Baker greatly impacted my life on a mission trip to Haiti and first encouraged me to consider ministry as a pastor. There are so many professors from Dallas Theological Seminary who have my influenced walk with Christ in the classroom, on the racquetball court, around the table, and especially, in the local church: Doug Cecil, Bob Chisholm, Tom and Mary Constable, Charlie Dyer, John and Karen Grassmick, Hall Harris, Bob and Pearl Lightner, Mike and Penny Pocock, and many more. The influence of pastors Don Geiger, Steve Faubion, Roger Raymer, and Neil Ashcraft will forever impact how I serve Christ as a pastor. Faithful friends, like Jonathan Baker, Tony and Lisa Evans, Derek and Tammy Hughes, David and Carol Morgan, and Stan Willis (and his wife/my sister, Lori) have walked beside DeeDee and me and carried us through some of life’s dark days. Likewise, there are faithful people who are a few years older and much wiser, like Dan and Jodi McEvilly, Doug and Linda Salser, Philip and Heidi Graham, Gary and Dionne Coppinger, and Rich and Julie Thomas, who have pointed me to Jesus continuously and always encourage me to trust in Him. The godly examples of faithful servant leaders and friends at PlanoBibleChapel are, also, lives well-worth imitating. Of course, DeeDee, our kids, our parents, and our siblings (Lori and Debbie) are the ones who know me best and see me, most often, at my worst, serve as the greatest examples of Christ-like humility and love because I see them up close, too.

The examples of these great people, and so many more, as well as their passion to follow Jesus continue to impact me today. In fact, if you’re still reading this reflective rambling, you are probably on my heart and mind, too, because you’ve encouraged me to follow Jesus and live for Him.

ClimbingThis week, let me challenge you to take three practical steps of following the examples of godly influences in your life.

1.  Meet with at least one person who has been a Christ-like example to you. Meet them for coffee or lunch. Share with them how God has used them in your life to encourage you in your desire to follow Jesus. Be specific in how their life has been a model for knowing Jesus more and more.

2. Write a note to at least one other person who has influenced your life with Christ, but lives out of town or is, otherwise, unavailable to meet face to face.

3. List at least two ways that you will imitate the Christ-like lives of those people and then live like them, like Jesus, this week.

We all need living examples of following Jesus and, more importantly, we need to imitate their lives to find joy and fulfillment.

“I consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

Follow me, too… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Kingdom of Priests

telescopeSo often, especially in the US, our identity seems to get wrapped up in our possessions (homes, cars, finances, etc..) and our value is usually related to what we do (teacher, engineer, manager, etc..). But God has called us to find our worth and our purpose in our relationship with Him. He has set us apart as believers in His Son, Jesus, to magnify Him like a telescope (bring God closer) or a microscope (make Him larger) for others to see and trust Him.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

All the figures that Peter chose to describe the church originally referred to Israel. In contrast with the highly regulated, highly structured responsibilities and duties of the priests of the Israelites, however, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today has a direct access to God through the Savior. We are all priests; we can come near the presence of the Lord without an intermediary. Yet our privilege as believer-priests can only really be appreciated against the background of priests under the Old Covenant. When God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, He said that Israel would be a kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:5-6) who would stand between God and the rest of humanity representing people before God. Within the tribes of Israel, though, God set apart Aaron and his descendants to serve Him as priests to Israel.

“The Lord told Aaron, “You will not have an inheritance in their land; there will be no portion among them for you. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites.'” (Numbers 18:20)

microscopeReading this passage (Numbers 17-18) in my personal Bible reading this morning, I was reminded that God gave all the other tribes of Israel physical land as an inheritance to possess, rule, and manage, but to the tribe of Levi, God promised to provide for their physical needs through the offerings of His people. Most importantly, God said their personal identity and their real worth was to be found in Him: “I am your portion and your inheritance.” Likewise, as believer-priests today, our identity and our worth is not determined by what we possess or even by how we perform, but by our life is hidden in Jesus Christ. In order to discover our true identity, our real value, we have to look for it, but it’s there, revealed in Christ.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

In Colossians 3:3, Paul, likewise, says, “For you have died,  and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.” In fact, Jesus is your life (Colossians 3:4). God has provided all we need for acceptance with Him and godly living in Jesus.

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. “(Revelation 1:5-6)

What is Advent?

Advent_WreathWhat is this thing called Advent?

In 4th and 5th century Gaul and Spain, Advent was a preparation not for Christmas but for Epiphany. That’s the early-January celebration of such diverse events in Jesus’ life as his Baptism, the miracle at Cana, and the visit of the Magi. In those days,  believers spent Advent’s 40 days examining their hearts in worship.

It was not until the 6th century that Christians in Rome began linking this season explicitly to the coming of Christ. But at that time, and for centuries after, the “coming” that was celebrated was not the birth of Jesus, but anticipation of His Second Coming. It was not until the Middle Ages that the church began using the Advent season to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. And even then, this newer sense of the Lord’s advent or coming did not replace the older sense—the Second Coming.  The muted, somber anticipation of waiting remained alongside the joyous celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

So, modern liturgy divides Advent into a period, through December 16th, during which the focus is Christ’s Second Coming, and a period, from December 17th to the 24th, focusing on His birth. We light candles in anticipation of His Second Coming and in celebration of His incarnation. It starts with the Old Testament passages foretelling the birth of a Messiah and New Testament passages trumpeting John the Baptist’s exhortations and the angels’ announcements.

Christ came with great anticipation and with plenty of prior notice! See Simeon in Luke 2:25-35. Prophets and angels joined to proclaim his coming! And now we can join too, with the cloud of witnesses in the same proclamation!

Waiting in the LordAnd in the protected, quiet times of meditation, I can respond as I imagine believers have done on every Advent since the tradition began: I can bow my head and prepare for the return of the One who is always present, but who seems distant in my mind during the busyness of the season. I can mourn for my hardness of my heart. I can hope in His grace. And I can rejoice that in answer to the cry, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” He came.

During Christmas, we’re rushing around, busy with parties and programs and presents and plans. It seems like there’s hardly time to wait. But celebrating the waiting and longing for “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ? (Titus 2:11-14) is precisely what Advent is all about.