Friday, April 27, 2007


“There are many parts, but one body. Every individual part is valuable and necessary.” (Very brief summary of I Corinthians 12:20 and following).

The perspectives of each one are important to understand the entire picture on any issue we address. If the little toe were cut off, it would die, but the entire body would suffer loss of blood, pain, imbalance, and difficulty walking. If you think the little toe on the body isn’t very important you would not mind cutting yours off to make your point.

“What causes conflict, quarreling and arguing in the body of Christ? It happens when people in the church have the wrong goals. When they are chasing all the wrong things, for all the wrong reasons, they end up fighting over meaningless stuff and it escalates to violence.” (James 4:1 and following, paraphrased)

When we have different perspectives…For example, if I think we need more room to grow numerically while you think we need to grow numerically before we worry about needing more room… that does not inevitably lead to any conflict. Different perspectives are a normal treasure-filled resource for the body. Different goals on the other hand, will inevitably lead to conflict. James, the brother of Jesus, says that we get angry when we can’t obtain the things we want… our goals (James 4). When our goals are blocked we react with anger. In our anger, we act aggressive, hostile, pushy and caustic or we become silent, withdrawn, passive, and helpless. Please note that both patterns of behavior are rooted in anger.

It’s easy to see the aggressive, hostile and pushy acts as hostile. But we tend not to think of silent withdrawal as anger. But, silence and passive withdrawal can be just as much an act of anger as screaming and yelling. What makes silence a hostile, angry act is the principle of “the little toe.”

“I am angry with you, so I will punish you and get even with you by denying you any real access to my heart and soul. That will show you. That will leave you just as lonely and isolated as you deserve to be.”

I remember once on a grade school playground, one little girl had her feelings hurt. She yelled at her friends that had hurt her. “You just wait till I’m dead, then you’ll be sorry!” She then stomped off. Sometimes the angry edge to silent withdrawal is easily evident. Most of the time we are more sophisticated than the grade school level.

Silence is a refusal to share the deep value of the “little toe” perspective. It is theft.

Eph. 4:25-29 begins talking about speaking truth to one another. It specifically says that we need to speak the truth to each other because we are one body. Then it either changes the subject abruptly to discuss anger or the topic shifts to anger because refusing to speak truthfully to one another is rooted in anger. Then it either changes the subject abruptly to discuss theft or the topic shifts to theft because refusing to speak truthfully (rooted in anger) is essentially denying the other person what they really have a right to… i.e. theft. Finally the topic abruptly jumps to speaking to one another in encouraging ways, or it is contrasting the same theme all along. “You owe it to the members of the body to bring your perspective in honesty and humility, rather than lashing out or withdrawing in anger and thereby stealing from them your input, to which they have a right.” I would argue that the Holy Spirit did not jump from one disjointed topic to another (starting and ending with how we speak to one another) but that He skillfully and wonderfully made the connections that refusing to speak truth to others in the body is rooted in anger and is theft.

Once we move past the point of speaking truthfully and lovingly from different perspectives, we set different goals. Once we set different goals, we begin the conflicts and quarrels.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I never spent much time watching the grass grow. I appreciated the fact that it is a slow and barely discernable process. I generally find it more rewarding (and distressing) to look at the grass now and then in two weeks. The impact of growth is much more obvious.

The same is true in personal and spiritual growth, but once in while a moment of growth is noted and should be celebrated. One of the hardest things for me to deal with is when I feel I have been falsely accused. Everything within me screams for the justice that would come from a clear hearing of ALL the facts. (Yeah, I know, I should read the book of Job more often.)

But this morning I got an e-mail that accused me of some things that weren't really an accurate appraisal of the facts. The girl that wrote the e-mail felt like she had a good idea and I took it away and took the credit. (To trigger my defensiveness even more, she copied my supervisor.)My first reaction was to explain that her perceptions were inaccurate. Instead, I took a deep breath and prayed. Rather than clarify the facts my accuser had misunderstood or misstated. I supported and apologized for the hurt she felt from the facts as she saw them. In the process I clarified the ways in which my actions were not intended to take her idea out of her hands, but to put her idea in the hands of people who could much more successfully bring it about. The real difference was that my explanation was not an excuse, it was an agreement. I recognized that her initial idea was great and wanted it to succeed as grandly as possible. So I had put it in the hands of the best people to push it forward. I emphasized that I greatly appreciated her contribution and regretted that her continuing contributions were not sought as others were "given the ball." I recognized her wound, approved of it, apologized for it, and asked for her help to make sure I didn't hurt someone like this again.

It felt clean. I felt clean. She softened, apologized, and agreed to meet. (For what it's worth, she also copied my supervisor on her apology and expressed her appreciation and support of me.)

Why it's so hard for me to remain non-defensive when accusations don't accurately reflect all the facts, is an interesting and profitable topic of consideration. At the same time, however, the explanation is irrelevant. It excuses nothing. Repentance is still called for, no matter the underlying reasons. It is my responsibility to react in an "other-centered" way every time.

I'm just afraid it will be like watching the grass grow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Including the kids

I was recently challenged to work hard for ways to include the kids in everything we do as a church. So, this past week when I knew we needed to pray for one of our members, I asked Caleb, who just turned three to "ask Jesus to help...." He got all shy and silent, so I just prayed outloud on his behalf and thanked him for praying with us.

I just heard from the person we prayed for. A tremendous, wonderful, clear answer to that prayer came last night. I know God answers prayer, but sometimes His clear and timely answers seem more clearly to be the result of a specific prayer. I think this was one of those times. I suspect that letting a three year old lead in prayer played a role. Don't ask me for the doctrinal explanation of that, I don't have one. But I know that it felt right to have a three year old lead the church in prayer, and the timely, clear answer just makes me more confident that God was in it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogging through church conflicts

A local church has been dealing with the very public moral failure of its founding pastor. A local blog has been one resource. It has been healing for some who have had long-term wounds from this man. But much of it has been unfounded accusations against him, and many others that are even marginally involved with his ministry or his failure.

While a public blog has potential to be healing, it also has the potential to be divisive, unfair, backbiting, and false accusation laden. One advantage of a small church is that if we have a conflict, we can bring it up and talk about it openly and publicly. I wonder if a large church could not gain that benefit by creating a discussion page that required all posters to use their real name. That way, venting of emotion as well as an open sharing of all pertinent facts and viewpoints is possible, but there is some safe-guard against unsubstantiated slander, and malicious postings.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Just reading a blog from another pastor:
"Is it just me or is Easter one of the toughest messages to preach? I think I put a little extra pressure on myself :) And it is so hard to approximate the emotion we ought to feel. I really think the greatest truths are the toughest to put into words! No combination of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet can adequately praise God for the victory He won over death. That is when you feel most dependent upon the Holy Spirit to do what only the Holy Spirit can do!"
I included the whole paragraph to make the point that his comment seems very reasonable, normal, and right. He shows good self awareness in the first two sentences. He also shows an appropriate humility and awareness of God's amazing strength and what a necessity it is. But the 3rd sentence confuses me:
"And it is so hard to approximate the emotion we ought to feel."
The assumption that there is an emotion we ought to feel is interesting. I hope it doesn't imply that there are wrong ways to feel. Easter is the height of contradictory emotions. About any of them seems reasonable if you focus on only one thing. But more disturbing to me is the apparent attempt to approximate the emotion that's right. If there is a right emotion, and a pastor is not feeling it, there should be brokenness, confession, and repentance. Not an effort to approximate what's right. The most wrong feeling at Easter is disinterest, or boredom, or numbness. If you feel those, drop to your face in fear, brokenness, and repentance. Don't try to approximate what you "should feel." Jesus has enough pious frauds representing Him already.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Power of Easter

Anybody coming back to life after being dead is a pretty amazing event. I've certainly never seen it, and find it highly unlikely that any reader has. But it has happened. When Elijah laid himself over the widow's son, the boy came back to life. The will and the power of God, in conjunction with the will and the faith of Elijah accomplished an incredible miracle. When the son of the widow of Nain was raised and when Lazarus was raised. It was similar. The will and the power of God, mediated through the incarnation of God accomplished an incredible miracle.

But Jesus' resurrection was different. In a very real sense, there was no living being with the power to accomplish the miracle. The will and the power of God were effective and working when God was dead!

He raised Himself. That means that He could apply His will and exert His power while dead. (He was just as dead as anyone else has ever been dead.) His dead body, like all dead bodies, could not enact its will, or display its power. But God could and did.

It causes me to wonder again at His amazing "otherness." It also re-confirms the reality of conscious existence after death.

This may be obvious and self-evident to every believer on the planet, but me. But I was just struck by this thought during this Holy Week.