LentBlog 2015, Day 27: Peace, again…

Colossians 1:1-2, NRSV:

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.


I ran out of Ephesians, so I’m starting Colossians tonight to continue through Lent. I figure I started in an epistle, why not stay with one?

As with my post about the first few verses of Ephesians, “grace and peace” jump out at me again with this passage. Only this time, specifically “peace” is working on me. The Teknia online Greek dictionary defines εἰρήνη as “peace, harmony, tranquility; safety, welfare, health; often with an emphasis on lack of strife or reconciliation in a relation, as when one has peace with God. Often used as a verbal and written greeting.”

Lack of strife.

Reconciliation in a relation.

We were once at war, but now we are at peace. With God… with each other… In Christ.

I think it’s way too easy to say we are at peace with God when we are at the same time in unresolved, open conflict with brothers and sisters in the church. I think it’s too easy to say, “sure, I have peace with God” when the life together of “God’s people” is anything but. Not saying that the church is never going to have conflicts or disagreements… it’s not going to be 100% sitting around the campfire singing Kum-Ba-Ya. But it seems like we could be reconciled with one another on a profoundly deep level and still have disagreements. It’s just that the peace among us runs deeper. Or at least it can, if Paul’s blessing applies to us.

Things to think about…

Blessings,

Mark

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Lentblog Day 24: Choose your battles.

Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.


Confession time:  I cannot stand the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This is really too bad, because it gives a decent hymntune a bad rap, but I refuse to sing it. The lyrics glorify some sort of Christian Crusade straight out of the bad old days. I tend to agree with General Patton: “War is Hell.” So, as a Christian, I think it’s a bad idea to view ourselves as in some sort of war with the world, with culture, with folks who don’t believe, with ISIS, or really anyone else. 

This is where Ephesians 6 comes in. Paul reminds us that our struggle is NOT against people. Read it again: our struggle is not against people. It’s NOT. It’s not against the world that does not yet believe. It’s not against culture. It’s not against the Republicans or the Democrats.  We’ve got to understand we’re not at war with anybody, really, and as long as the church keeps trying to find, name, prosecute and persecute “enemies” who are flesh-and-blood people, we will fail in the mission of Jesus, which is to redeem all things. Understand this, church… we fail in being like Jesus when we participate in demonizing other people. 

I’ll admit, this is a tough one for me, but in regards to a totally different people group. Folks outside the church don’t aren’t threatening to me any more. I do not see non-believers, hard-core atheists, or folks who a disillusioned with church as my enemies. (I believe in prevenient grace.)  See, for me, my enemies tend to be “church” folks: folks who claim Christianity, but for various reasons don’t live really at all like Jesus. I have a serious problem with the clergyperson or layperson who preaches or says the right Sunday School answer in a church gathering, but then lives as if none of it is true. I’d rather have a conversation with an honest atheist than with a church person who is just playing games.  So perhaps I too am in danger of failing in the mission of Jesus, because it’s easy for me to think my battle is with those people.

So. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to discover a different way. A more Christlike way. A way that remembers who the real enemies are and who they aren’t. I’m not saying we just need to spiritualize every single thing and blame every bad thing that happens on the Devil or something, excusing peoples’ terrible choices and full-blown sin as OK or something. That position is theologically bankrupt. But. We could better understand this passage from Ephesians, I think, and that might lead us through this present darkness. Inside the church and out.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 18: It’s That Neighbor Thing Again….

Ephesians 4:25-32, NRSV

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.


This one’s tough, because here in this typical Pauline virtue list I hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 22: Love the Lord with everything, and love your neighbor.  I hear the sermon on the mount: Bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse… And that’s tough for me sometimes, especially visa-vis those who have gone out of their way to hurt, damage, or slander you. See, the catch with this whole love your neighbor thing is you don’t get to pick and choose who is your neighbor. Your neighbor is just as much the person who might have hurt you the most in this world as it is the nice grandma-type neighbor who bakes cookies for your kids.

So yeah. This one’s tough for me, because this is not some pie-in-the-sky, unattainable vision for Christian utopia or something. These are Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus, trying to get through to them what the “grown up” Christian life looks like.  That means it’s God’s will for my words to be gracious, even to the “neighbor” who talked junk about me recently to a friend. No room for bitterness. Be angry, but do not sin. Be a people who speak the truth in love. Don’t grieve the Spirit. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

Just like everything else in Christian life, methinks to live that out consistently will take miracles of God’s grace. Lots of them. So I find myself asking the Lord to keep having at me. Change me into the type of person who actually embodies this stuff. Make our church into a people who embody this stuff. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 10: Our Need to Win is Killing Us.

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,[b] called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[e] 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[f] into a dwelling place for God.

NRSV


I think sometimes our need to win gets us in trouble. In fact, were it not 11:00pm after a long week, and I were to spend some more time really considering that statement, I don’t doubt that I would say something like, “Our need to win has disastrous consequences for us on all kinds of levels.”

It’s the leader who can’t see the obvious failure they’re promoting… because they have to win. Two friends in a disagreement putting their friendship in legitimate jeopardy because the both have to win. A businessman or CEO putting the company at risk with bad decisions… because he/she has to win. A nation that drops bombs on civilians in retaliation for something… because of a need to win.

I’m reading this passage in Ephesians tonight, and the thought crosses my mind again: Jesus brings about reconciliation, in this case between Jewish and Gentile Christians. And he does it all wrong.

See, the way our world tends to resolve conflicts is one party in the conflict eventually proves themselves stronger, more powerful, more numerous, or more cunning, and forces the capitulation of the weaker party.  The weaker party surrenders to the stronger, and a sort of peace can be reached. So if a terrorist bombs you, the way to end terrorism is to bomb them into submission or something. Hence the desire to win.

But God brings about reconciliation in Christ… through his death and resurrection. Reconciliation comes about not through show of force and forcing the weaker party to surrender– God could do that any time God chooses, right?– but through the infinitely stronger and more powerful party humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant, and dying. He wins… by losing. He brings unity… through surrender and humility.

I wonder what would happen if pastors, churches, and people modeled this kind of reconciliation?

Worth thinking about.

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 5: A Church with a Reputation

Ephesians 1:15-17.

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[e] toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…

NRSV


I read more than just these three verses tonight, but the later section spoke of something I want to consider more tomorrow and hit in another post.

What kinda got me tonight was when Paul says he has heard of the Ephesians’ faith in Jesus and love towards all the saints. It turns out the Christians in Ephesus had a reputation. In their case, having a reputation was a good thing. I was reminded of the passage in John 13 where Jesus taught his disciples the world would know they are his disciples because of their love. Sounds like the folks at Ephesus were known by their faith and love. Not a bad rep to have.

In light of this, can I say what I’m tired of and convicted by this evening? I’m tired of hearing about churches (and larger denominational structures) who have a reputation of unfaithfulness and not love. I’m tired of hearing about churches where dysfunction is rampant because folks love getting their way more than they love the Lord and their neighbors. I’m tired of the reputation churches have as places where people fight over stupid non-essential junk. I’m tired of some churches that flail around, beating the air with their fists, because sometimes their pastors are asleep at the wheel. I’m tired of seeing churches who are being led out of fear and not faith and love. I’m tired of hearing from my non-Christian friends the reason they aren’t involved in church is because of how the church lives out its so-called faith. ::end rant::

I’m convicted by these verses, because I am so. totally. ready. to pastor a church with an Ephesians kind of reputation, and our church plant isn’t off the ground yet. I’m convicted because I, too, live out of fear sometimes… fear of failure, among other things.

So let me ask you, so you can join me in this self- and church- examination: What’s your church’s reputation?

Blessings,

Mark