Sunday, October 23, 2011

Peacemaking and table-kicking: a guide to conflict resolution.

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."

 What does it mean to make peace?  Answering this question is essential for those who want to be called God's children.  How and with whom do we make peace?

This is not the sort of Peacemaker Jesus had in mind.

Clearly, the first place we must make peace is with God, and yet we cannot do that.  We are powerless to satisfy his just grievances against us -our idolatry, adultery, and rebellion are an insult to a Sovereign God.  Yet this very God chose to make peace with us, through the covenant of the blood of Jesus Christ, so that we are clothed in righteousness.  This peace is a gift of undeserved grace, that we must accept in humility.

We don't get to stop there, however.  We must also make peace with one another, and there is no generous gift of grace there for us to claim in most cases.  We end up being in the position of making peace with people that we really don't want to make peace with, and who really don't want to make peace with us.  Yet this is not an option, it a very serious matter:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We cannot be at peace with God if we are unwilling to make peace with his other children.  Any parent will understand this immediately.  I am not at peace with my children when they are hurting one another.

A typical day at my home.

Does making peace mean that we avoid conflict or confrontation?  No.  The scriptures clearly state that we are to confront error and actively work through conflict.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”   His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

This is not gentle Jesus, meek and mild.  This is Jesus kicking over tables, battling against the injustice of those who would twist God's law for their own profit.  This was civil disobedience.

And don't come back, Yo.

If we want to understand peacemaking, we need to understand that Jesus did not avoid conflict, but rather he sought to resolve it.  Peacemaking is an active process, and Jesus gave his people a very simple formula to follow in personal relationships:
“If your brother sins against you,  go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

This is not a Cowboy vigilante system.  This is a system where believers act under authority.  That's much less fun than kicking over tables.  While the Quixotic Iconoclast endorses kicking over tables when the Gospel is perverted, Christians must also understand that Jesus spent a lifetime, and gave his life, to make peace by more, well,  peaceful means.  However, there are still those table-kicking moments:

Poster-children for "I never knew you."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy this!

The "Occupy Wall Street" movement didn't really capture the attention of this quixotic iconoclast at first. They seemed like just another group of latte-sipping hippie-wannabes complaining about a bunch of things.  I mean, back in my day we had real hippies.  Their first manifesto didn't help matters, because it was a seemingly-unconnected list of social grievances:

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.

Really, seriously, this is about animal testing and cheeseburgers?  Nothing invites mockery and scorn like condemning the cheeseburger.

Yet, as time has brought out more of their complaints, it seems that not all of them are ridiculous.  I recently got a really good laugh out of this column.  If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street has created comedy gold:

As thousands have gathered in Lower Manhattan, passionately expressing their deep discontent with the status quo, we have taken note of these protests.  And we have asked ourselves this question:
How can we make money off them?
The answer is the newly launched Goldman Sachs Global Rage Fund, whose investment objective is to monetize the Occupy Wall Street protests as they spread around the world.

Capitalism is indeed the engine of our great wealth, and free markets are the best system to bring prosperity to our country.  Yet, if we look at the growing divide between the richest Americans and the working poor, we have to ask ourselves, are the working poor being treated fairly in our society?

"The workman is worthy of his wages" says the Bible, and the scriptures are very, very clear that employers should be fair in paying their workers, and should not exploit them.  At the very least, we need to ask ourselves the question "Is prosperity being divided, or is all of it going unfairly to a few?"

Whether you like it or not, we live in a society that was collectively built. The JP Morgans and Warren Buffets created a lot of affluence, but our society was built by a lot of regular, working-class people. Consider this excerpt from the bio of the most recent recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award our nation can offer to those soldiers who exhibit selfless courage in the face of danger:

When President Barack Obama's staff called Meyer to set up a time for the President to inform him that his case for the Medal of Honor had been approved, Meyer was working at his construction job and asked if they could please call him back when he was on his lunch break, which they later did. Dakota then returned to work.

I have great respect for Warren Buffet and his accomplishments, but no one will convince me that he's done more for our country than Sergeant Meyer. Here's a man who not only rushed headlong into enemy fire to rescue his countrymen (members of our society) but now works building the structures that house our society.

Mr. Buffet has had the opportunity to create his immense wealth because of the sweat and blood of many other Americans. Many people have died defending our free markets, people from every social class. Men and women like Sergeant Meyer risk their lives for our freedom.  Policemen guard the streets that Mr. Buffet walks. Firemen protect his buildings. They are paid by his taxes for their services, but they devote their lives to our society.

If you want to operate in our society, respect the society and be willing to pay the cost of doing business here. Every hand that contributes to the building of it should be able to enjoy the fruit of it. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Life Well Lived

All my thirty-something friends are now forty-something friends.  It’s a time when men do crazy things like grow a pony tail, buy a motorcycle, or get that risqué tattoo they’ve always wanted.  As I’ve considered my own mid-lifeness over the last few years, I realize that we’re looking at our lives and wondering if we’ve really lived them.  There’s a difference between being alive, and really living.  The first is passive -breathing air, eating food, yelling at the television on Saturdays.  The second is active, and that means discovering our purpose in life and living it to the fullest.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

God created each of us for something great.  He gave us passions, desires, and talents to aid us in achieving His great purpose.  It’s not the same for everyone.  In fact it’s very individual.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God has a Master plan, and we are offered a place in that.  Even if we reject God, we cannot thwart his plan.  All we can do is rob ourselves of the joy of being the person we were created to be.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Everyone has a different role in the unfolding saga of our world.  Not everyone is a preacher or teacher.  Not everyone travels to foregin lands to share the Gospel.  Not everyone is a leader, Elder, or Deacon -nor should they be. 

God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

Everyone matters.  Everyone has a part to play.  No one person gets all the credit.

My mother spent many years teaching a children’s Sunday School class.  A lot of people would smile and say “Oh, that’s nice.”  When you look at her class, in an ordinary country Church, you see that it has produced extraordinary fruit -preachers, teachers, missionaries, children who have grown up and spread the Gospel in many places.  Her part made a difference.

I recently was able to witness the harvest, as an Iraqi friend gave his life to Jesus.  There’s no greater thrill than welcoming a new brother or sister into the family.  Yet, I don’t get credit for that.  Others planted.  Others watered.  Others tended.  God brought the harvest.  Another of my friends is interested in Jesus, but nowhere near ready to make any decisions about him.  I’m just tilling the ground.  Others will plant, water, tend, and eventually God will bring fruit in his life.  I pray this for him.

One thing about the forties is that people are often in a rut by now.  We get children, bills, mortgages, entangled relationships -many things that make us feel trapped.  A new morotcycle won’t fix that.  The solution for that is deciding not to live another day wasted.  It’s a commitment to find God’s purpose in our lives, and live for that.

You contain the seed of greatness, placed in you by your creator in the womb.  Where we are right now, in our families and communities, we can find God’s purpose in our lives.  Don’t waste another day wandering aimlessly.  Be the Dad who raises godly children.  Be the woman who comforts the hurting.  Be the faithful encourager of broken spirits.  Be the person who prays faithfully, gives generously, and serves diligently.

It takes more than a decision to commit.  Those fail every year after January first.  It takes life change.  It takes surrendering to God, the maker of our lives and purposes.  It means following Jesus wherever he leads, finding the Holy Spirit at work and joining that.

That is the substance of a life well lived.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A "Flypaper" Ministry

I had a fantastic experience last night at "Best of the Blessed," an annual fundraiser for the Christian Women's Job Corps of Guntersville.  I've attended it every year since it began, and this year my dear brother Mark Brickey was kind enough to invite me to join him at a table sponsored by Sand Mountain Toyota.  The event was hosted by the Church at Lake Guntersville, which has been blessed to do this each year.

If you've never been to this event, make sure you get a ticket next year.  If you're a married man, it makes a fantastic date for your wife -unless your wife is like mine and insists on working.  Of course, having such a wife is a great blessing itself.

 The food was good, as it always has been.  This year they raised the bar by serving on real China, though the settings have always been classy.  The musical talent was diverse and entertaining.  A group from Sweet Home Baptist did a fine job opening, followed by the Church of Christ Chorale -a very talented group.  The First Baptist Pickers did a set of songs that reminded me of my younger days in an old Country Church.

The man whole really set the bar, though, was Zac Hicks.  The boy has talent.  He played acoustical guitar, but used a looping box that allowed him to accompany himself in an ever growing arrangement that ended in a crescendo of sound.  He was literally a one man band, and a very good one.  He even managed to make "Old MacDonald" sound good in an impromptu composition.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Nothing, however, compared to the main event.  Two of the ladies gave their testimonies about how CWJC had "lifted their heads."  Every year we get to hear about the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in this ministry.  Women turn their backs on lives of poverty, drug abuse, crime, abuse, and a whole host of evils.  They choose to follow Jesus Christ and be changed by him.  The two ladies this year both told of how God had brought them out of sin and broken homes, and restored their families.

I had a chance to meet one of the ladies who graduated several years ago when I first served on the Board of Directors.  She and her husband, both strong believers in Jesus, were led by the Lord to sponsor a table for $1,000.  She is now serving as a leader and mentor to other women through CWJC.  Truly God has lifted her up and made her a woman of strength and character.

Someone asked me what keeps drawing people to CWJC, and I answered that the ministry is like flypaper.  Once you touch it you're stuck, there's no getting away.  The work of the Holy Spirit, when it is obvious like this, is not something you can walk away from.  I'm already thinking ahead to a group of women coming to Beirut to set up the first CWJC in Lebanon.  Wouldn't that be great?

My hat is off to Site Coordinator Shelia Banks, who is stealing all the crowns in Glory, and to the many volunteers and leaders who serve in CWJC.  Brenda Hicks has been as blessing there, as she is with everything she touches.  Thank you all for your obedience.