Tag Archives: conflict

God’s People, part 223: Leaders

Read John 7:32-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Trial-of-Jesus Part 223: Leaders. For someone often referred to as the “Prince of Peace”, Jesus sure did find himself in the midst of quite a lot of conflict. In fact, it is safe to say that, out of what is known, much of Jesus’ life was riddled with conflict. When he was born, Jesus had to be snuck out of Bethlehem in the dead of night because an angel warned Joseph that Herod was going to attack Bethlehem and kill every newborn make up to 2 years old. So, the first part of Jesus’ life was living as a refugee, seeking asylum in the foreign kingdom of Egypt.

When Jesus was twelve, he slipped away from his parents, who just assumed he was somewhere in the caravan they were traveling home from Jerusalem with. Meanwhile, Jesus was back in city carrying a theological discussion with the Temple leaders. When his parents realized he was missing, they went back to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days before they found him. For those of you reading this who are parents you can imagine the horror and the anger running through Mary and Joseph’s veins.

All throughout his ministry, Jesus ran into conflict. He ran into conflict with his family, with townsfolk who didn’t quite know what to think of him, with village farmers for casting demons into pigs, with demons (obviously), with local Rabbis, with the Pharisees, with the Sadducees, with Herod, with Herod Antipas and, of course, with the Romans. It would be more than justified to say that Jesus’ life was full of conflict.

In this account within John, a conflict arose between Jesus and the Pharisees because they had heard the crowds whispering among themselves that Jesus was the Messiah. The notion of this man, who had challenged their authority before, being the Messiah was not only outrageous, it was completely scandalous as well. This man was a peasant from Nazareth in Galilee. How could he possibly be the Messiah, this uneducated man from a place that no prophet, let alone Messiah, was likely to be from. What’s more, the Messiah was supposed to be of the line of David, yet this man from Nazareth could not possibly be a descendant since David and his family was from Bethlehem.

It was bad enough that people were looking to Jesus as a prophetic figure and, while the Pharisees couldn’t even stomach the notion of that, there was no way they were going to tolerate this rabble rouser to get hailed the “King of the Jews” (aka the Messiah). That would simply anger God, as they saw it, and God’s wrath would come down upon them all through the might of the Roman Empire. It would not be the first time God’s wrath came down upon Israel through a foreign empire, and the Pharisees, as leaders among the Jewish people, did not want to be the one’s responsible for stoking God’s anger by allowing this riff raff to spread his deceitful teachings.

Thus, these Rabbinic leaders, along with the Temple Priests, sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus. When they arrived, they found Jesus waiting for them and ready to teach them: “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going.” (John 7:33-34, NLT) The leaders were puzzled by this. They began to question what he could possibly mean. Was he going to leave Jerusalem and Judaea and go other Jews out in the land of the Gentiles, among the Greeks and the Romans? Would he bring this obscure message to the Greeks themselves?

The leaders were at a loss as to what he could have possibly meant by his words, so much so that he evidently slipped away from them without even getting arrested. These leaders had been stumped by a supposedly uneducated simpleton from Nazareth in Galilee. How embarrassing that must have been. How much more they must have wanted to find this man and have him arrested, especially since they had him in plain sight and, yet, were unable to take him in custody.

The question for us is this, do we think we know more than Jesus. Do we think that, because of our place in the 21st Century, that we are superior to Jesus and the ancient world. Do we look at his miracles as being mythological because we, in the 21st century, know that natural science doesn’t work that way? Do we think that we somehow are in a place to pick and choose which of Jesus’ teachings are worth following and which aren’t?

The truth is that if we take such a position we find ourselves in the place of the Jewish Leaders. The challenge is for us to look to Jesus with new and fresh eyes. The challenge for us is to accept Jesus for who he claimed to be, and to let go of our modern-centric cynicism. Remember, that Jesus is either who he said he is, or he is not worth our time in listening to and following. I personally have experience Jesus Christ as Lord, I have come into his real, living presence, and you can too if you open yourself up to it. I pray you do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to grow in my knowledge and experience of you so that I might also grow in my faith and in my faithfulness. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryFWORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions. In the last devotion, I wrote about dissension in the church. Also, I have in the past written about cliques as well. So, why write about factions? Doesn’t cliques cover it? The answer is no, not quite. While cliques are certainly not healthy within the church, and they can end up growing to be a faction if push came to shove, but on their own cliques are no more than pockets of people who gravitate together, often times gossiping about others and putting others down. A faction, on the other hand is a much more organized and intentional group of people who are gravitating together in order to achieve a common goal. Factions are often the result of subversive dissensions.

Think back to Julius Caesar. It was a subversive dissension that ended up causing factions to rise up and splinter the Roman Republic. The end result of that was that whatever freedoms were under the Republic, and I am sure the dissenters had good reasons to question Caesar, were completely obliterated by the rising up of an empire under the absolute power of a tyrannical emperor. And that tyranny eventually led to even more tyrannical emperors who caused more subversion, which led to more factions seeking to stab the life and the power out of the emperors.

Clearly, factions are detrimental to any government or organization; however, factions are even more detrimental to the life of the Church and they go against Christ who is the very head of the Church. Paul is clear that factions should be a “no go”. For Paul, the Church was an ORGANISM not an organization. It is the resurrected and living BODY OF CHRIST, not a religious institution. In terms of your body, what good would it be if the heart took sides with the lungs and brain and stood in opposition to the lower extremities? All of the blood would go to the top half of the body and the lower half of the body would become necrotic and die. That may not sound like a big deal to the heart, lungs and brain; however, necrosis slowly spreads and eventually even the heart, lungs and head would die.

This may seem like a silly illustration, but only because IT IS A SILLY ILLUSTRATION. Body parts DON’T form factions against other body parts because it is not good for the whole of the body. A body is designed for self-preservation, growth and life. If the Church is the BODY of CHRIST, and if we are the individual parts that make up that body, then we are not designed to form factions against other parts; rather, we are to find harmony and work in cooperation with other parts for the good of the whole. Factions are like cancer and are not good for the body. Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that healthy, constructive dissent is a cancer…it is not, and it does not lead to factions; however, subversive, undermining dissension does lead to factions and will destroy the body. The Good News is that the Holy Spirit is our immune system and if we choose to live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will not take part in factions even if we are being led to be an honest voice of dissent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 3:24-25 NRSV)
PRAYER
Lord, steer me in the opposite direction of factions. Help me to be a healthy and vibrant part of the body of Christ. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Strife

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” (Galatians 2:11 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FierySWORKS OF THE FLESH: Strife. If there was anybody who knew what strife was out of the authors who wrote the Bible, Paul was certainly on the top of the list. We love to look back at early Christianity, as if it was a singular, cohesive, monolithic religion gelled together by peace, single-mindedness, harmony and accord. We sing songs like “Give me that old-time religion” as if the discord and strife we have today never used to exist, but that could not be further from the truth. All one has to do is read Galatians, the very letter that this devotion series is pulling from, to see that Paul certainly was well acquainted with strife in the church.

Paul believed that the risen Christ had been revealed to him by God and that in that revelation he found his true calling: to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Following a few years in training in Saudi Arabia, and following a meeting with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, Paul set out to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. What was that Good News, you ask? It was that salvation had come to the rest of the world through Jesus the Christ and, through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were now included in the covenant made by God to Abraham.

This is truly good news, right? Wrong! Or so thought James and the Jewish church in Jerusalem. For them, only Jews were saved by virtue of the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Yes, following Jesus was the ultimate expression of their Judaism; however, faith in Jesus was not enough. One still had to obey the laws, including restricting his or her diet to kosher foods and through circumcision (for males). Those things set one apart from the Gentile world and marked the Jews as God’s people. James and the Jerusalem Church were very much opposed to Paul’s version of the Gospel; even Peter had his reservations because of James’ position, leading Paul to publicly call Peter a hypocrite.

Yes Paul knew much about strife. Paul also did everything he could to eliminate it. Though he disagreed with James and the Jerusalem church, he still tried to partner with them and find common ground. He still called his Gentile churches to support the Church in Jerusalem, which had taken a vow of poverty. Our challenge is, even in the midst of controversial and heated debates, to work harder to maintain a sense of harmony with other Christians who see things differently than us. The church today is divided on a host of different issues. Human sexuality, marriage equality, abortion, social justice, church and state, as well as theology and other things have all been issues that have proven to bring much strife in Christianity. While these are important issues, and Christians need to take a stand for what they believe in, God is calling us to do so in a way that does not demonize Christians who disagree with us. Remember, there are Christians on either side of any given debate. Let us, while holding fast to what we believe, approach each other with that kind humble understanding. Let us join Paul in his quest to eliminate strife.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When you are full of pride on the inside, it makes you stiff, stubborn, and creates strife with others.” – John C. Maxwell

PRAYER
Lord, inspire me to be a person who balances the need to fight for what is right and the call to see you in my Christian brothers and sisters who are opposed to the dictates of where, in my heart and conscience, I believe the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. Amen.