Thursday, June 28, 2007

Holy Spirit - Wind

Holy Spirit – WindI would like for us to spend four weeks thinking, praying, and learning about the Holy Spirit. There are three main illustrations of the Holy Spirit that are used in the scripture:

Holy Spirit – Wind
Holy Spirit – Water
Holy Spirit – Fire
Holy Spirit - Wine

The Greek word for Spirit (pneuma) comes from a root word that means “wind,” or “to breath, or blow.” The Hebrew word for Spirit (ruach) is translated spirit or wind depending on the context. For example, God parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites by causing an east “wind” (ruach) to blow. One scholar counted that nearly 40% of the time, “ruach” means “moving air” (as in wind, or breathing).

Genesis 6:17: “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruach) of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”

Exodus 15:8: “And with the blast (ruach) of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.”

Jesus links the Holy Spirit with wind while speaking to a Pharisee name Nicodemus, in the middle of the night:

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3)

In Acts 2, the arrival of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the sound of a “rushing, mighty wind.”

On the cross, Jesus quoted a psalm that said, “into your hands I commit my “Spirit” (Pneuma). The gospel of Mark doesn’t include that quote, but says that he “breathed (pneuma) His last. " Some have suggested that when Jesus said “I commit my “pneuma,” He really meant “my every breath” not “spirit.”

Clearly, the connections, or similarities between the Holy Spirit and wind or air that is being moved / blown are VERY strong in the Scripture. I am of the opinion that this is not mere coincidence. This close association is intended to reveal critical truth about the Holy Spirit. What can we learn based on this close association between moving air (wind, or breath) and the Holy Spirit?

Genesis 1:2: “...and the Spirit (ruach) of God moved upon the waters.”

Genesis 3:8: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy (ruach) time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard.” (This is from the NET Bible… I like it because I think “breezy” or “wind” is more closely related to “ruach,” than is the traditional “cool of the day.” Some scholars have suggested that God arrived in the midst of a might wind storm. That might be part of the reason why Adam and Eve hid.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Healthcare Needed

I saw the pictures this morning of Paris Hilton walking out of the LA county jail. I must say that I was appalled at the behavior of the press. I’m not talking about them crowding around like a bunch of ants over a scrap of dried meat on the sidewalk. I’m not talking about the flashbulbs and shouting. I’m talking about their stunning disregard for her physical health.

The poor girl is sick!! Doesn’t anyone remember that? Just a few weeks ago she needed more medical care than the LA county jail could provide. There should have been an ambulance waiting for her! She should have been whisked away to a private emergency room facility where she could get the medical care that she needed but could not receive in the slammer!

There was no ambulance. There was no emergency team prepared for triage. The heartless beasts at the hoosegow actually refused to provide a wheelchair, forcing the poor, sick emaciated child to walk through the gauntlet of press vultures. Were they taking pictures hoping catch one of her falling from the wasting effects of her unchecked illness. Heartless paparazzi ! Heartless jailers ! Heartless family !

The poor sick child’s own mother waited inside an SUV on the other end of the gauntlet. One can only hope that the cruel police were forcing the family to stay that distance away as one last blow of vicious hatred from the establishment against one very, very sick, young lady.

America, where is our sense of outrage. We rightly get upset when police manhandle and abuse suspects. Does this poor girls neglect and abuse go un-noticed, un-mentioned? Please, please, I implore you, get this poor girl to a doctor. Even the sheriff agreed that she needed more medical care than could be provided in the slammer! Why can’t she have that desperately needed care, now? Immediately! Somebody start an I.V. !

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is this wrong?

So, we’ve been talking about conflict for several weeks. And based on those lessons I can, with some confidence, answer the question “What do we do when there is a conflict?” The answer is, “not what I have done the past two weeks.”

Before I clarify what I mean, I need to explain that some people that aren’t in our church see this. So, I’m a little cryptic with no names or specifics.

Week before last, I was uncomfortable with a disagreement that came up between two of our people (I’m related to both of them). It’s a situation that, in my opinion has just dragged on far too long. At this juncture, years later, the victim and villain roles are deeply entrenched from all sides. When the conflict has been going for so long, no-one can possibly be blameless, so it’s easy for everyone else to justify the view that the others are villains. I was uncomfortable with the discussion so I clammed up.

I was uncomfortable last week for a different reason. I felt like our consensus (“bless his heart, the poor thing doesn’t know any better”) missed two big points.

1) A member of our body has been devalued, maligned, and mistreated. She should be supported, encouraged and praised by us. The person avoiding her is costing himself tremendous blessing for his grace-less approach. She is being wounded because he is behaving badly. (Please note that I harbor no resentment or ill will towards him in that. I join his family in praying only for God to bless him bounteously. But my prayers add that a tremendous blessing would be his if he would restore the relationship with her. She is wise and delightful, I’m praying that God would bless him with a restored relationship.)

2) 2Th 3:14, 15 “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of him. Have nothing to do with him so that he will feel ashamed. Yet, don't treat him like an enemy, but warn him like a brother.” There are many other passages, including Matthew 18 that can be summarized “if the sinning brother refuses to repent, shun him.”

Our discussion Sunday yielded a pretty clear conclusion that sometimes you just “put up” with people as an act of grace, turning the other cheek, and repaying evil with kindness. But, it’s also clear that sometimes we need to do like Jesus and rebuke Pharisees, and throw out money changers. Sometimes we need to do like Paul teaches and refuse to associate with someone.

Even in Matthew 7 we are to “not judge” and to remove the beam from our own eye. But Jesus gives a reason for this “self-surgery.” The reason is not to just “overlook” real failures in the lives of other believers. He says to do the “self-surgery” to remove the beam “Then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (vs. 5) Sometimes, it’s wrong to leave the speck unaddressed.

The body reflects Christ best when it is unified. Conflicts occur. When conflicts occur, they must be urgently addressed. It is important to address conflicts with the perspective that

· “I have contributed to the conflict and I must confess and repent of my contributions.” (I am not entitled to the victim chair.)

· “I will assume that the other party is attempting to act in a reasonable and decent manner and desires to follow the Holy Spirit” (They are not likely a villain.)

· “God has empowered His people to be unified.” (We have an advocate and a defender who empowers us to be in unity. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”)

The conclusion to be long-suffering with mistreatment is absolutely right in some instances. But it seems to me that we sometimes settle for that as a solution when we don’t have a firm enough grip on the third perspective. God Himself, in the person of Holy Spirit, is battling for unity. Sometimes that battle must go through a stage of separation, for unity to be real.

If it’s sometimes right to overlook an offense, and sometimes right to gently rebuke an offense, and sometimes right to refuse to tolerate an offense, how can we tell which is right when?

I Corinthians 5: 9-13 “I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn't make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn't mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue- or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You'd have to leave the world entirely to do that! But I am saying that you shouldn't act as if everything is just fine when one of your Christian companions is promiscuous or crooked, is flip with God or rude to friends, gets drunk or becomes greedy and predatory. You can't just go along with this, treating it as acceptable behavior. I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house.” (The Message)

Does the scripture give us any direction to determine when is the time to “repay evil with kindness,” when is the time to “rebuke in gentleness,” and when is the time to “shun the evildoer?” Was it right for me to be silent when I was uncomfortable? Is it wrong for me to argue another perspective now? (although it’s clearly foolish to put it in writing… OOPS) Should you all shun me if I insist on posting this?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

When to delay the immediate

Do your best to maintain the unity of the Spirit by means of the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit. In the same way, you were called to the one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, through all, and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

All you need to be convinced that maintaining unity is difficult is a re- read of the first three words in this text. I did a pretty extensive search and didn’t find a single verse that said that this unity happens easily.

We had some lively discussion last week because the command to deal with brewing conflict immediately seems completely unworkable and has been disastrous in some particular examples. Before discussing these situations I think it is imperative to emphasize two reasons addressing brewing conflict without delay is important.

Jesus commands it (Matthew 5:23-26). That should be all the reason we need. But it’s also true that when we are in conflict we generate victim-villain-rescuer versions of the situation. Delay gives time for this version of the facts to become entrenched. Delay makes it more difficult to discern our contribution to the conflict. Delay makes it more difficult to discern any explanation for the position of the other person that does not include the words “stupid, or mean.” Paul wrote (Galatians 6:1 & 2 Timothy 2:25 & Romans 12:18-20) that we must approach the other person in gentleness and kindness.

A key idea is that Matthew 7 says there are times when we need to do something else before we talk with the other person. Specifically, we need to take the log out of our own eye BEFORE we go talk to them.

“Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:4, 5)

I think the main “log” being mentioned here is probably the inability to talk with them in gentleness and kindness.

There may be 3 or 4 times when a delay might be appropriate. But I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about it.

To get you thinking, I remind you of a Sunday conversation we had way back in August or September. We were talking about this same pattern we all have or interpreting conflicts in light of the victim, villain, and rescuer scenario. I mentioned that God reveals a different scenario in the Trinity. The three persons do not function as victim, villain, and rescuer. They function as giver, recipient, and the agent through whom the gift is given. I think that might give us some insight as to how we can break out of the version of reality we trap ourselves in and some good ideas about when delay may be appropriate.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Resolving Conflict

I Corinthians 1:10 gives a wonderful "big G" goal for any group of believers. "Brothers, I urge all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to be in agreement and not to have divisions among you, so that you may be perfectly united in your understanding and opinions."

Unfortunately, real world experiences in the body of Christ indicate that conflict is inevitable.

The trouble is that when any of us get into conflict situation (or a potential one), we create a version of the situation that…

A. Makes me a "victim"
1. not to blame
2. justifies all sorts of evil because “I was mistreated”

B. Makes someone else the "villain"
1. they are to blame, reinforcing my blamelessness
2. justifies even greater acts of evil (I can kill Abel)

C. Seeks a "rescuer"
1. an advocate that will right the wrong on my behalf
2. or at least confirm the victim and villain roles I have created
3. justifies gossip as a coalition building strategy

That's humanity's plan A for dealing with a conflict. If you carefully consider human conflicts from minor disagreements to marital spats to world wars, you see that we use this approach all the time. It is not God's plan at all.

Matthew 5:23, Matthew 18:12-17, and Galatians 6:1, detail three times when you absolutely must drop everything and go talk to a member of the body one-on-one to get things straightened out; (1) when you have offended the other (Matt. 5), (2) when the other has offended you (Matt. 18), and (3) when anyone has been doing anything wrong (Gal. 6). It reminds me of something my grandfather used to say. "I'm only afraid of 3 kinds of snakes; live ones, dead ones, and any other kind."

Anytime there is any conflict, potential conflict, or brewing conflict it is a Biblical command that the people involved must talk about it immediately, and face-to-face.

It does not say "wait until the worst of the storm blows over." The reason delay never works is that "giving it time" accomplishes little more than letting the "victim-villain-rescuer" version of the situation, that both sides are creating, have time to become entrenched. Don’t delay. Drop everything. Address it at once. That's not my comfort level. That's the Bible.

It does not say "talk to 4 or 5 other people and ask them to pray about it." Or "double check that you're not just making something little into something big." As we have said, talking to anybody other than the person involved is continuing in the "victim-villain-rescuer" version you are creating. You are most likely looking for people to be rescuers or at least supporters that will reinforce your version of the situation.

It does not say "send an e-mail" or "send a letter." It says, seek them, find them, and talk to them. (I prefer the more distant and detached e-mail... But I am wrong.)

The Bible also makes it clear as to the attitude we need to have. Matthew 7:3-5 says to "look at the log in your own eye first, then you can see clearly to deal with the speck in your brother's (or sister's) eye." Notice it does not say, look at the log in your own eye and then don’t worry about whatever problem the brother may have.

We have talked about the "victim-villain-rescuer" version of the situation that we all create and have said that we need to challenge the "victim" portion of the tale we construct by asking the question "what is my role and my contribution to this conflict?" That's because while we must talk face-to-face and immediately, we must also do it humbly, with our own faults in clear perspective.

We must approach the other person recognizing our own faults which refutes the “victim” role we prefer. We must also approach the other person in kindness, gentleness, and respect, assuming the best in them. Which refutes the “villain” role we like to assign. We suggested asking yourself the question. "Why would a decent and reasonable person act this way?" It may help you see the other person's perspective more readily.

An example is the potential conflict between Paul and Philemon. Paul was in prison and could not go to Philemon face-to-face. A letter was the best he could do. Philemon would be well within his rights to severely punish Onesimus, his runaway slave. Paul did not say to Philemon. "I know you can be harsh and demanding, and you're within your rights to be very harsh here." Paul said "So, although I have quite a lot of confidence in Christ and could command you to do what is proper, I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love…. Since I was confident that you would obey, I wrote to you, because I knew that you would do even more than what I am asking you to do." Paul assumed that Philemon was well-intentioned and wanted to follow Christ.

This is another reason to address conflict and potential conflict immediately. The longer you allow you version of the situation to remind you what an unreasonable jerk the other person is being, the harder it is to approach that person assuming them to be well-intentioned and genuinely seeking to follow the Spirit.

Because we all fear that these things won't go well. The next question is always, "what do I do when they won't listen and things just escalate and get worse? Matthew 18 answers the question. You call a halt to the meeting and then meet again with one or two other people. These people do NOT need to be witnesses to the entire potential conflict. They need to be witnesses to the discussion between the people directly involved. They need to listen to both sides with both sides present. They need to help each side see how they are contributing to the conflict. They need to help each side see how the other is well-intentioned and trying to follow the Spirit. They may need to mediate a resolution. Or simply help lead to amicability and restored trust in the disagreement. Sometimes complete harmony is not possible and the disagreement accomplishes the purpose of God (Like Paul and Barnabas who separated over Mark) as long as it is done with loving and prayerful support for the heart and intent of the other.

But sometimes, none of that works. What do you do then? Again, the Bible gives us clear instruction, but that's for next time.