Hold the Truth Tight

Conflict. Bleh.

With so much conflict in the world, one could hope the church would be a conflict-free zone.

Far from it. The Bible speaks clearly about the Church’s enemy who stirs up discord and strife. And if you’ve been around the Church for even some time, you’ve likely seen it.

I’ve been involved in Church my whole life and in leadership since I reached an age where leadership opportunities became available.

I’ve seen…
Small groups, pretending to be friends, treat their own members brutally.
People poised to react rather than respond, attack rather than listen.
Individuals assume a leadership role for the specific purpose of taking others down.
Abuse of power, its personal and corporate devastation.
The hard work required to attempt to heal backfire on the very ones working to bring peace.
Bad leadership, bad followership, political infighting, and church splits.

All that and I still love the Church. I’m still involved, still in leadership. But why does it seem the Church is hell-bent on living out that old question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

We can blame it on the enemy, the Church’s enemy or our perceived human enemy. We can blame it on circumstances, constraints, resources, human nature.

Truly, I think it comes down to one thing: conflict erupts when those in the Church take their eyes off Jesus Christ.

When we agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully God and fully human;
that He came to show us the way back to our Heavenly Father, to take the punishment for our sins;
because He loves us that much;
that He sent us His Spirit to guide us day in and out;
and that He calls us to love Him and others as ourselves…

…well, that ought to result in reliance on Him to help us love one another even (especially) when it’s hard. It ought to bring about unity and the willingness to put aside our agendas to listen well. It ought to shape our prayers and our behavior as we look at one another with God’s loving eyes.

We can disagree on a lot of other issues if we agree on that.

When conflict erupts, it would sure help if we got back to basics.

Walk in Love
Week 5: Hold to the Truth
1 John 2:18-27

Connect
Reflect a recent conflict you’ve encountered and how you handled it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:18-27.
How does John explain what has happened in his church (vv18-19)?
What is “the truth” and what is a lie (vv20-25)?
How does John use his followers’ “anointing” to equip and encourage them (vv20, 27)?
What is the relationship between knowing the truth and remaining in the Son?

Live
Have you ever experienced a church split or other significant split of Christian community? What did you learn from the experience?
Why does it matter what we believe about Jesus?
What does your anointing mean to you?
How do you ‘remain’ in the Son?
Reflect on this quote: “Christian life is not merely a cognitive embrace of Christ; it is an engagement, an encounter with Christ in the Spirit.”—Gary M. Burge.
How could someone try to lead you astray today?
What significance does ‘the end’ have for you? How might you live with ‘the end’ in mind?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with knowledge of and experience with His beloved Son.

Note: I highly recommend the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. For more information, check out Peacemaker Ministries.

Advent 3 – Making Peace

9197523314_d3eb934e5d_nOur friendship burned hot and fizzled furiously like a sparkler on Fourth of July. I can’t explain it, but the first time we laid eyes on each other we decided to become fast friends. Within a week I had invited her in to all of my intimate circles. We had coffee so often Guy asked if we had a standing date. Thinking I was helping her settle in to life in a new town, I spent more time with her than anyone outside my family.

Months later, a switch flipped. I had an uneasy suspicion something was wrong. She didn’t respond to my texts, but showed up at a gathering I had invited her to and tried to pretend away the conflict. Not one for pretense, I left in tears of confusion and spent the next week moping like a brokenhearted teenager.

Soon after she met with another friend who confirmed my hunch: like a character from The Twilight Zone, she was pleasant one minute and smiling yet nonsensical the next.

She called, eventually. She apologized but couldn’t explain; she tried, and when her words made it worse, she stopped trying. Still, she wanted to be friends. Grateful for her apology, I forgave her – I can genuinely wish her well – and explained that she had broken my trust and I couldn’t trust she wouldn’t do so again. I set a boundary, and I’m pretty sure it’s a healthy one.

She texted me after we hung up the phone:

Peace be with you.
I responded, And also with you.

She broke peace. Then she faked peace. With her apology she made peace, but she couldn’t restore friendship. And it’s okay.advent wreath

Advent Week 3 – Making Peace

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Romans 12:18

Read: Conflict comes to every relationship. Even with those we love most, maybe especially with them, our interactions can lead to disappointment, irritation, frustration. What do we do? We can be peace-fakers, denying our problems. We can be peace-breakers who angrily manipulate others. Or we can follow God’s lead and rely on His grace to become peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Pray: Dear God, may we love one another well so that the world will know we belong to you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 133:1 Share about a time when you experienced unity among God’s people.
Tuesday Matthew 5:9 What does it mean to you to be God’s child?
Wednesday John 13:34-35 Why is love a distinguishing characteristic for Christ’s followers?
Thursday Romans 12:16 How does pride get in the way of peaceful relationships?
Friday Ephesians 4:2-3 How is patience related to peace?
Saturday Philippians 2:2-4 To what “interests of others” can you pay more attention?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.

 

Advent 1 – Expecting Peace

Stating the obvious: we do not live in a peaceful world. War and rumors of war. School shootings. Crime in all its variety. Job stress. Illness. Divorce. Even in my everyday mundane suburban life, peace seems elusive.

So today’s title made me wonder: do I expect peace?

Maybe my faith is too small. Maybe my focus is off. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and I’m a tightly-wound stress ball.

Maybe I’m operating with the wrong definition. The peace promised in Scripture is shalom, wholeness. It has less to do with lack of conflict or strife and more to do with God’s presence. Emmanuel, God with us.peace

Filled as it is with gatherings of family and friends, candlelight, holiday food, gift-giving and receiving, Christmastime may be the busiest – and least peaceful – time of year. Celebrating Advent helps us to refocus on the Prince of Peace, to be intentional about Christ in Christmas. During Advent (Latin for “coming”) we celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we look forward in hopeful anticipation of everlasting life with God.

The Advent wreath candle lighting tradition is one meaningful way to celebrate God’s coming. The wreath (a circle) signifies eternity – God is, was and always will be. Three purple candles represent royalty and repentance; one pink candle (for week three) represents joy. The white center candle represents the divine nature of the baby Jesus. Evergreens represent everlasting life in Jesus and His everlasting love for us. The candlelight itself symbolizes Jesus, the Light of the World. Each week we light one more candle, lighting the center candle on Christmas to signify that the light of Jesus Christ has come into the world.advent wreath

 

My prayer for this season? To expect peace as I set aside time to worship the Prince of Peace. As The Message puts it in Philippians 4:6-7, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness [peace, shalom], everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” I want Christ to displace worry, for me and for you, and so I offer these Advent readings. May Peace be with you!

Advent Week 1 – Expecting Peace

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ezekiel 37:26-27 and Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: The prophets spoke God’s words of promised peace to distressed people. Walking in darkness, living in deep darkness, the people had lost their joy. Hold on, declares the Lord, I’m coming. I will shine my light in your darkness. I will establish my peaceful kingdom in your midst. I will send the Prince of Peace to rule over you with justice and righteousness. I will do this because I am your God and you are my people. I am zealous for you. Expect my peace. It will come.

Pray: Dear God, we look forward to your arrival and we eagerly expect your peace. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Tuesday Isaiah 9:2 How have you seen God’s light during a dark time in your life?
Wednesday  Isaiah 9:6 What does it mean in your everyday life that Jesus is the Prince of Peace?
Thursday Ezekiel 37:26-27 How can you remain aware of God with you?
Friday Micah 7:7 How has God responded to your hopeful watching?
Saturday Luke 12:40 How do you prepare for the Son of Man’s return?

Gather

Some years ago I worked as a church receptionist. Lydia held a volunteer position that brought her to the office frequently. Unfortunately, Lydia was a true Grumpy Pants. Nothing pleased her and she was quick to let everyone know.

I cringed inwardly when I saw her coming. She took all my patience and then some.

Lydia also sat near me in worship. If you attend church regularly, you know that people tend to sit in the same seats week after week. I sat on the aisle, and she sat on the opposite side of the same aisle a few rows back. In a small-ish church, that made it impossible to avoid her.

I can’t remember why now (except that I will happily credit the Spirit’s motivation), but I made a conscious decision to offer Lydia a hug every time I saw her in worship (impractical in the office as I interacted with people through a sliding glass window).

I’m sure she was surprised the first time I extended my arms to embrace her, but she didn’t resist me. Better yet, she didn’t slug me. Over time, she started to smile. More time, and she not only smiled but spoke kind words.

The hugs changed us both. I overcame the resistance of my heart to hug her and saw God smiling on my decision in Lydia’s own smile. She must’ve really needed a few good hugs! Oh, sure, she still grumped now and then but she also chit-chatted. One might have even called us friends. When Lydia eventually moved away to be closer to her grown children, instead of being glad to see her go as I once might have, I felt her loss.

God made a decision to deal with our much worse than Grumpy Pants condition when He offered the outstretched arms of His Son on the cross, embracing us in love and grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t even know we needed it, but oh how we needed it. How we need Him.

Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He made peace between us and God and between us and others. Relationships that seemed hopeless have become possible, better yet, peaceful. Because of Jesus, our Peace, life can be peace-filled.

[Just for kicks, watch this video of a seemingly impossible but completely sweet relationship.]

The potential for conflict lurks any time people gather. Some shy away and prefer to do what they can to grow in faith on their own. While I’m all for solitude, it’s truly in relationship with one another that we learn to more fully love God and receive His love.

Tsh Oxenreider writes, “Being in community is about doing fun stuff together, sure, but in my opinion, the real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-share life happens with each other in the mundane. In the everydayness of life. When it’s hard, and you’ve got to collectively power through the rough stuff. Or even when it’s plain old boring.”

For those who follow Christ, the possibility of peace gives us hope. It causes us to extend our arms toward others in reflection of Christ’s arms extended toward us. It’s not easy – like Christ, we may at times pay a high price – but it is good.

Connect
Reflect on a relationship in which you have experienced hostility. What can you learn from that experience?

Study
Read Ephesians 2:11-22.
Describe the “former” relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Are there any parallels to this dynamic today?
Describe what Jesus did to change that relationship.
How is God’s “new humanity” (the Church) intended to be different from the world (v. 15)?
Culturally, Western Christians have tended to emphasize personal salvation. Where in this passage do you see individual and/or corporate identity in Christ?

Live
How does individualism in our culture create barriers to unity among God’s people?
How would someone who is not a Christian be able to tell that Christ is the cornerstone of your life?
Which of your relationships is most in need of Christ’s peace at this time? What will you do differently this week to invite Christ to bring peace into that relationship?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the peace of Christ will rule in your hearts, in your worshiping community, and in the world.