Tag Archives: Fight

From Spiritual Mountain Top to Relational Valley

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.
1 John 2:9 (NIV)

A topic of much conversation in our home and circles of friends of late has been that of community. It’s a topic our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been pushing into. In short, we’re talking about how we all do life together and related to one another. It doesn’t take long for the conversation to bring out three common observations:

  • “It is messy.”
  • “It is hard.”
  • “It is complicated.”

Yes. It always has been, and it always will be living East of Eden.

Along this life journey I often encounter those who love the description of believers in the heady first days of the Jesus’ movement as described by Dr. Luke in his book The Acts of the Apostles:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is often held as an ideal to which all of us should strive and aspire. Striving for unity, sharing, and love in life with others is a worthy goal. I have actually had experiences that feel a lot like what Luke describes.

This idyllic experience usually happens at a camp or some kind of retreat environment. It’s that long weekend or week with other like-minded individuals in beautiful natural surroundings. I often hear it described as a “mountain-top experience.” You want to stay there. You want to bottle it up so you can can continue to consume the experience over and over and over again. When you’re at camp having a mountain-top experience you don’t want to leave and go back to “real life.” You’d love to “stay here forever.”

But, that doesn’t happen.

It didn’t happen long-term for the believers in Jerusalem, either. Jesus’ twelve disciples were scattered across the known world sharing the Message. Most of them endured violent ends. Despite the mountain-top experience of that early period of time, history tells us that the believers in Jerusalem eventually faced persecution, conflict, disagreements, strained relationships, and struggle.

Most of the books of what we call the New Testament were originally letters. The letters were by-and-large addressed to individuals or small “communities” of Jesus’ followers. What motivated the authors of the letters was typically problems that were being experienced in community. There were disagreements, relational struggles, theological controversies, moral controversies, personal controversies, persecutions, attacks from outside the community, and attacks from within the community. Leaders such as John, Peter, Paul and Timothy took up their stylus and papyrus to address these problems.

The letter of 1 John is exactly that. A philosophical movement known as gnosticism had sprung up both outside and inside the community of believers teaching things contrary to what John, the other disciples, and the leaders of the community had originally taught about Jesus and his teachings. John was writing to directly address some of these issues. Breaking down today’s chapter, I find John addressing several of them in and between the lines of almost every sentence.

What struck me this morning, however, was John’s bold claim that anyone who claimed to be in “the light” but hated someone in the community, that person was clearly not in the light, but in darkness. In other words, if you are part of Jesus, the “Light of the World” then your life will be marked by love. Jesus taught that we were to love both our friends and our enemies. John is reminding us of the utter foundation of all Jesus’ teaching. Love God. Love others. Everything else is built on these two commands. We have to get that right before anything else.

This morning I’m thinking about some of the disagreements, controversies, relational strife, strains, and struggles I know in my own life, relationships, and community. I experience the “mountain-top” for a moment or a period of time, but eventually I find myself back in the valley of relationship. Community is messy. Community is hard. Community is complicated. John’s reminder is apt.

As a follower of Jesus, I have to accept that there is no exemption from the command to love. If I’m not ceaselessly, actively working to get that right every day with every relationship, I’m not sure anything else really matters.

 

Of Twisties and Pantry Lights

Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. Aaron shall set it up in the tent of meeting, outside the curtain of the covenant, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
Leviticus 24:2-3 (NRSV)

Wendy and I live together quite comfortably, but we are no different from every other couple on the planet. We have our differences, which don’t always become acutely clear until you live together for a period of time. Wendy and I were both raised in our Dutch heritage, and we both exemplify the legendary frugality of Hollanders. Our frugality, however, is exhibited in very different ways.

My wife’s frugality is exemplified in the hoarding of things that might  be useful in her kitchen. For example, one should never throw away a “twisty” (the little colored paper covered wire that binds the bag on a loaf of bread). You never know when you might need a million or three of these incredibly useful utensils. The same principle can be applied to sacks (especially the ones with little handles on them), and zip-loc bags. I may roll my eyes at the piled rainbow of twisties in the kitchen drawer, Wendy will remind me, but I know without a doubt that there is one (or 12) available when I need it, and I know exactly where to find them.

My frugality (thank you, Dad) is exemplified by my compulsive desire to turn out lights that are illuminating empty rooms (and the accompanying rage that rises in my soul when I see it). Wendy has no problem keeping a room illuminated if there’s the possibility that she might enter it some time during her waking hours. When I see lights on in empty rooms I go into panic just short of cardiac arrest. After all, the unnecessary illumination of empty rooms will certainly be our financial ruin. They will drain our retirement fund of necessary pennies and lead to us living in a dark, cold, rat-hole of an apartment in our old age in which we will rock in our chairs and grieve long hours over this stark reality: If we’d have simply turned out more lights in empty rooms all those years, we might be able to afford turning on the furnace to ease our frigid, arthritic appendages.

So, where am I going with this? Well, just yesterday in the middle of a bright, sunny summer day I walked down to the kitchen to get a cold beverage. Sure enough, I found that the light in our empty kitchen pantry was on. Wendy was in her office working away at her desk. My frugality alarm went off and, as usual, my blood pressure went into its rapid, steep ascent. In a moment of lucidity, however, I reminded myself that entering an argument over turning out the pantry light was futile. We’ve been down that road to nowhere before. I am also frugal with arguments (especially those I’ll never win).

I asked myself: How do I get over my obsessive frustration over turning out the pantry light so that I can live in peace and avoid the cardiologist’s bill?

That’s when I remembered the eternal flame.

Growing up in the Methodist church, there hung a large cross over the altar at the front of sanctuary. From the bottom of the cross hung what looked like a large candle holder. I was taught as a child that this was the “eternal flame” which was always lit (except, of course, when the light bulb burned out) as a word picture of God’s eternal presence and Light.

I laughed as I thought to myself that I needed to stop thinking of the pantry light (which is the light I find most commonly lit unnecessarily) as the bane of our financial freedom. Instead, I need to think of it as the eternal flame that illuminates God’s blessing and provision (as evidenced by a stocked pantry).

In a moment of synchronicity, this morning’s chapter is the source of the “eternal flame” concept. It began with the Levitical law commanding that the high priest (Aaron) keep a lamp burning in the temple, just outside the curtained area which metaphorically represented God’s presence.

Today I’m thinking about frugality and eternal flames. I’m thinking about our individual differences and the compromises we learn to make in living together harmoniously. I can think of compromise as a negative (e.g. I’m having to “give up” or “give in” to something) or I can choose to find something beneficial in the process. The illumination of a pantry void of humans is also a pantry illuminating the evidence of God’s blessings and faithful provision. Perhaps that reminder is worth the pocket change it costs me.

Dramatic Roles and Required Wisdom

kenobi vader fight

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:13-14 (NRSV)

A few weeks ago Wendy and I watched the original Star Wars episode with some young friends at the lake house. We reached the dramatic scene when Obi-Wan Kenobi is confronted by Darth Vader and the two have a light saber fight while the others escape. You know the outcome. Obi-Wan chooses to shut off his light saber and accept death from his former padawan.

The scene prompted a discussion between us about Obi-Wan’s motives for doing so. He clearly realized that there was a larger story playing out and his sacrifice was his assigned role. His words to Vader reveal that he knew his death was not the end but simply ushering him into a new and more powerful role. It’s a dramatic moment.

There is no shortage of drama in today’s chapter as Paul, the lightning rod who has stirred up passionate opposition wherever he went, is determined to return to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he is a wanted man by the Jewish leaders who see him as a turncoat and a troublemaker. Paul’s friends beg him to avoid this trip to Jerusalem and the dark fate that has been prophetically foreshadowed, but he will not be persuaded. Like Obi-Wan, Paul knows that he is part of a larger story being played out, and this is his assigned role.

I am reminded this morning of Solomon’s wisdom. There is a time to run from trouble, and a time to confront it head on. Wisdom is knowing and discerning the time you are in.

Different Times, Same Human Challenges

source: kurt-b via flickr
source: kurt-b via flickr
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:36-41 (NRSV)

On occasion I will run across fellow believers who hold the early church with high esteem and want today’s church to look and behave in the same way. As I mentioned in my post the other day, I think it’s a bit silly to presume that it is even possible in most respects. Today’s chapter, however, reminded me of a couple of things:

The early church wasn’t perfect nor was it some kind of utopian organization. Read between the lines and you find that the entire period was marked by controversy, politics, arguments, and interpersonal conflicts. Today’s chapter starts with a controversy (i.e. should circumcision be required of all followers of Jesus) that broils into a debate among factions. Those Jesus followers who were of the Jewish sect of the Pharisees were vocal pro-circumcision. The Jesus followers who were non-Jewish Gentiles (and really didn’t want to go through the pain of a very intimate surgical procedure for no good reason) were passionately anti-circumcision.

The church, then and now, is made up of fallible people who inevitably find themselves in conflict. Today’s chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas having a such a sharp argument about whether to bring John Mark on their trip that they part and go their separate ways. Paul had written John Mark off because of an earlier falling out (Where was the forgiveness?) and Barnabas wanted to give J-Mark a second chance. It appears that there was no sweet agreement and reconciliation. There was no idyllic conclusion of unity. There was anger, sharp argument, and division. That sounds like every group of Jesus followers I’ve ever been a part of. So,  maybe we’re more like the early church than we sometimes realize.

Today, I’m reminded of things that change and things that never change. Daily life, work, and culture have changed drastically in the last twenty years let alone the past 2,000. At the same time, our human challenges of love, kindness, understanding, reason, acceptance, and reconciliation have never changed. They simply takes on new guises in changing times and places.

Don’t Let Evil Off the Hook

source: jared polin via Flickr
source: jared polin via Flickr

But if people are bound in chains,
    held fast by cords of affliction,
he tells them what they have done—
    that they have sinned arrogantly.
Job 36:8-12 (NIV)

As I have read the words of Job’s friends, I find the theme has remained largely the same despite the nuances of their arguments. Elihu thinks he’s adding to the argument, but I find him regurgitating the same: If you’re suffering it’s because you’ve sinned against God. Repent and your suffering will be over and you will be blessed.

As I read through these words, I can’t help but think of the endless examples of innocent humans suffering inconceivable, undeserved cruelty. My mind recalled the three women in Ohio who were kidnapped and enslaved inside their kidnappers home. I think of the young ladies Taylor worked with in Uganda who were terrorized, raped and “wed” to members of the LRA terrorist group. I think of the girls whom Madison met in Asia who were sex slaves. I think of Jewish children terrorized, herded liked cattle, and marched to the gas chambers. I could go on, and on, and on.

I find it interesting as I look back across all of the debate between Job and his friends that the presence of evil has not once been raised. At the beginning of this poem we find that Job’s sufferings begin when the evil one, motivated to destroy Job’s faith in God, seeks to afflict the righteous man. Job, his friends, and his wife have spoken only of two parties in this drama: God and Job. They remain blind or ignorant to the presence of evil who was at the source and plays an active part in Job’s circumstances.

Growing up in the latter part of 20th century America, I was raised to believe in the goodness of humanity. I learned to walk as Armstrong walked on the moon. Nothing was impossible. The generation of peace was putting and end to Vietnam, the corruption of Watergate, and ushering in a new utopian era of love, peace, and ecology. If we embraced our inherent goodness, loved our fellow man, and cared for the Earth we could build a world where there is no violence, war, hatred, or prejudice. And, no one talked about evil. We didn’t discuss the necessity of confronting and overcoming forces (spiritual, physical, mental, educational, religious, social, corporate and/or political) who seek to destroy, dominate, steal, hoard, enslave, and kill whether for twisted, self-centered ideology, lust for personal power, or senselessly for no reason at all. It seems to me we continue to make the mistake of Job and his friends.

Today, Job has me once again mulling over senseless suffering and human tragedy. I am thinking about evil. I don’t want to be blind to it or ignore it. I don’t want to let evil off the hook or leave evil out of the conversation. I want to expose the darkness to Light. I want to confront that which diminishes and seeks to destroy both Light and Life. I desire to fight the good fight each day armed with love, forgiveness, joy, peace, patience, random acts of kindness, goodness, gentleness, fidelity, self-control, a pen, a paint brush, a blog post, a computer keyboard, and an internet connection.

Who’s with me?

Responding (Not Reacting) When the Answer is “No”

9731139389_f244ca7b9c_z“And now, Lord, let the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house be established forever. Do as you promised.” 1 Chronicles 17:23 (NIV)

When I was coming into my teen years, I remember observing exchanges between my peers and their parents. My friend would ask for permission to go here or there to do this or that. The parent would say “no.” My friend would blow up and start arguing. The parent would dig his or her heels in and the argument would escalate. In the end, my friend would  never have won the argument, the parent would be even more pissed off and distrustful of their child than they were before, and nothing of any positive value resulted from the argument.

Mulling this over in my mind for a while, I made a decision not to argue with my parents. If they said “no,” when I asked for something I would not argue, complain, roll my eyes, throw a tantrum, or indicate that I was angry in any way. I would simply respond “okay,” and walk away. It was a conscious choice not to react to my natural emotions but to willfully respond in a predetermined way. Sometimes I would walk to my room, shut the door and vent my frustration in private, but I vowed not to let my parents see me rattled. I’m sure I didn’t have a perfect record with my willful compliance, but I did pretty well.

I remember the first couple of times I did this I could see my mother brace for an argument and the surprise when I simply said “okay.” I could imagine her confusion and wonder, thinking “Wow, what’s up with him?” as I walked away. In the end, I think my strategy had a positive effect in a handful of ways. Things were more harmonious at home without the arguments. Because there was less escalation of arguments there was less of the regular punishments that came from yelling or being defiant with my parents. While I can’t quantify it, I also think my parents became more likely to say “yes” when I asked permission because of the way I handled their “no.”

I thought about that this morning as I read of David asking God to let him build a permanent temple in Jerusalem to replace the tent (or tabernacle) that the nation had used for centuries since the time of their wandering under Moses. David’s response was “Okay.” He didn’t throw a fit. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t rebel. He praised God, he thanked God for blessing him in so many ways, and he went along with the plan.

Today, I’m thinking about my own attitude and response to God when things don’t go my way. I think that perhaps I sometimes act as if I have forgotten the lesson I learned in my youth. I wonder if I’m a more petulant child with my Heavenly Father as an adult than I was with my earthly parents as a child.

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My Part in Unity

Flight Class by Prof ShorthairHow good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!
Psalm 133:1 (NIV)

On the way back from my weekend at the lake with the guys, my friend Paul told me a new one. A church his parents attended split in two and died a slow, painful death because of a conflict. The big issue that caused so much division, anger and consternation: Whether it was okay for the pastor’s wife to have a job outside the home.

Seriously.

I have a long love-hate relationship with the institutional church. I must confess that when I read the opening lyric of today’s psalm a sarcastic and cynical chuckle left my lips. While I agree with David’s idyllic homage to unity, both he and I know that the more common experience is for God’s people to waste emotional energy in silly conflicts.

Nevertheless, I recognize that the lyric reads “when.” David seems to acknowledge that it’s not an ever always occurrence. I also realize that as a follower of Jesus I have a responsibility to my brothers and sisters. If we are to experience peace and unity then I am required to contribute with a right attitude towards the leaders and those I worship with each Sunday. I am called to act and speak out of loving kindness, deference, forgiveness, grace, and gentleness. I can only control my own thoughts, words, and actions, but if I do my part then perhaps we’re one step closer to a good and pleasant outcome.

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