Who Are My People?

Standard

Who Are My People?

Exodus 2:15b–22

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

Matthew 26:6–13

The Anointing at Bethany1

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

We live in a tribal world, and Donald Trump is not the cause of it. The racial division in our nation goes back before our foundations… inherited from every nation that populated our country, including the Native Americans, some of whom engaged in tribal warfare even before European colonists gave them a common enemy. If there was one thing that the English, and perhaps the Spanish as well were able to do, it was to draw groups of people together, at least temporarily, under a common enemy. I say English and Spanish because up until the early 1900’s the Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. were not considered “white”. After WWI and WWII Germans were judged with much suspicion, even though it was their nation that helped market the idea of a superior “white” race. Scandinavians, French, and some of the Northern European cultures could pass in this country until they spoke, after which, their non-American, Non-British accent would give them away as a foreigner. So what we have called racism has really been more about hundreds and thousands of tribes that cannot seem to get along.

It goes even further when you factor in lifestyles. Economic status, job type, home neighborhood… these are all markers of identity by which we judge one another, and while someone from small-town Kansas might not care which part of New York City a person lived in, you better believe New Yorkers would. And they might judge the small-town Kansas person as being backward, unprogressive, and a whole line of prejudices that go along with it. Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.Tweet: Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.

Writers, musicians, and other artists celebrate this growing emergence of tribalism because it simplifies marketing and allows the artist to create and perform for their own chosen group, rather than diluting their work down to a more general appeal. Seth Godin makes a living teaching this very concept.

There is loads of tribalism in Scripture, and a lot of sin that stems from it going all the way back to Cain and Abel – brothers (or sisters) who cannot tolerate being part of the same family. Jesus retells the story as that of a family reunion… of every tribe gathering together to worship God.2 I don’t see an explicit condemnation of tribalism, certainly not enough to be consistently repeated. If anything, the prophets and Paul, in Romans 2 imply that God speaks to us in our own tribalistic language, letting us all know that we belong to the wrong tribe and need to come join His own group.

No, I think that our unique edges are something God celebrates. They are not wrong, but they are incomplete. We are all like puzzle pieces, and God is the only one who can see the big picture of how we all fit together. We can exist on our own, but we miss our true purpose. It makes us all like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys who never really grow up, wanting to stay just as we are forever, but after awhile we begin to see that it just means that we don’t really fit in anywhere but among ourselves.

God wants our tribes to grow up. The tribes of rich and poor, the tribes of political alliances, the tribes of ancestry and neighborhoods… we all need to figure out how we fit together. We need to learn from each other and we need to lift each other up, because I am convinced there will come a day when the truth will be revealed: that we need each other.

Who do you identify as your tribe?

What other tribes do you interact with?

How is God leading your tribe to bring others closer to Him?

Click to Tweet!


  1. (Mk 14:3–9; Jn 12:1–8)
  2. See Revelation 7:9 and Prodigal Son
Advertisements

Prayer for Comfort

Standard

Prayer for Comfort

Genesis 8:13-19

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Confession and comfort are two sides of growth in prayer. Together, these two kinds of prayer encompass steps 4-10 of the way to recovery and spiritual maturity.

This kind of prayer involved more than wires whispered at a bedside. It is prayer with hands and feet. We go to Jesus as our mediator between God and ourselves, but we also need to go to Jesus to mediate between ourselves and others. It is confession that follows along the line of the teaching Jesus gave in a general sense I response to paying taxes. If you owe your neighbor an apology, God expects you to give it to her. If you owe your neighbor more than an apology, Jesus expects you to pay that as well. Zaccheus it’s a phenomenal example of this from the gospels and Paul writes to the Romans the same thing. Owe no one anything but love.

This kind of full-bodied confession is costly. Between the jabs of confession we need comfort. We need reassurance that, even if we have not been and are not okay in the present, God is meeting us and making a way. There may be no more beautiful and concise picture of this than what James, the brother of Jesus wrote to the churches: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

It is terrifying seeking reconciliation sometimes. It does not always go well. Sometimes it seems to make things worse because it is often easier to ignore a problem than to address it, especially if there is no convenient solution within our grasp. The healing comes not from our own strength, but from God. The promise we have about comfort is not that we will not suffer, but that we will not suffer alone and that healing and joy will follow.

John 14:27-29

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Prayer of Confession

Standard

Prayer of Confession

Acts 27:13-38

The Storm at Sea

When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. Since the ship was caught and could not be turned head-on into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and so were driven. We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.”

When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.

Confession is good for the soul. It lightens our load. But many times it is lightening our load during a storm – done not for convenience, but for survival. Confession is also the 5th step to recovery and the more thorough we are in taking it, the more healing and redemption we open ourselves to receive.

Paul knew, through his prayers for guidance and discernment, that it was unwise to set out to sea, but no one listened to him. I wonder, had he not been a prisoner of Rome at that time, if he would have stayed back and let the others perish at sea. This particular time, he was not given the choice.

How often do you find yourself facing the consequences of actions for which you had little choice? Sometimes it may seem unfair to go to God in confession for those sins. Paul led that time of confession for the crew of the whole ship! Many of us have a romanticized vision of Paul, but from the perspective of the soldiers and crew on this prison ship, Paul was a political dissident and a criminal. Perhaps his calm demeanor put them at ease. Or maybe, it made them even more suspicious.

In the middle of that storm, it didn’t matter. People will naturally follow the clearest, calmest soul in the midst of such chaos. It takes a clear soul to lead others in confession. Our own junk has a way of cluttering our vision and giving us wrong vision of how we to lead others around us. Sometimes it even hides itself in false modesty, convincing us that we do not want to lead ourselves, just give helpful advice. I heard Beth Moore speak on this topic once in reference to the scripture:

Matthew 10:27

What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

She spoke about the temptation to take what we hear from God and immediately share it with everyone around us before we find out how to actually apply it to our own lives. I have experienced this to be true in preaching especially. My best sermons are the ones that I learn to live before I preach them.

You have to pray your own prayers of confession before you can lead others in them. And sometimes we have to pray them in the storm, not just when it is convenient. Like Paul, God is not going to save us from all the consequences of our sin, but He will spare us from some of it and He will redeem the situation to show everyone around just how marvelous a God He is.

What do you have to confess?

Death

Standard

Death

Acts 7:55-8:1

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

Stephen would have made a great preacher.

He was willing to serve with his hands and feet, but he was not afraid to stand up and speak his mind when he was given the opportunity. In fact, I think his single greatest characteristic was his courage. He was also a foreigner. I think that gave him a huge advantage over the twelve apostles, who all hailed from Galilee and had much more distinguished Jewish roots. They were battling over 500 years of captivity and the political theology (yes, it is a thing) that plagued their worlds. For them, you could not talk about how God could be good and powerful without questioning why Rome still ruled Jerusalem. For Stephen, who grew up in the Roman culture, perhaps in a Roman family though, he did not see the problem.

So when he confronted the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, trying to speak truth into their lives on their home turf, they would not stand for it. He, a tainted foreigner could never understand what they had been tackling for generations. He, an undereducated, Greek-speaking servant could never teach them. He was as bad as the carpenter that they had crucified just a few weeks earlier. This time, they did not have to deal with the politics of Passover and winning the crowds over. This time, they had the upper hand… and they lifted up and heaved stones at him until he was dead.

Instead of keeping Stephen safe to teach a new generation of disciples (and possibly due to Stephen’s own rash nature) God took him home after that first sermon. Perhaps It was so good, there was no act to follow it. But something happened that day that was more important than a sermon and more important than Stephen himself. Luke tells us that there, in the midst of those angry Jewish scholars and leaders, a certain man named Saul was watching over the proceedings. Saul was also a passionate man who had been taught and groomed from a young age to become the next president of the Jewish Sanhedrin. (That is like the Jewish Pope, so to speak). Paul would have been excellent at it as well. He was well versed in the Jewish scriptures, but he also had a bit of Greek background himself. He probably stood the best chance of anyone at bringing peace to the Middle East in the constant battle between the Jews and Rome because he could stand in both worlds and speak both languages. Luke tries so much to tell us this in the Book. of Acts and sometimes we westerners miss the crucial fact of Saul /Paul’s identity.

This Saul, would have an encounter with Jesus just a few days later that would change the history of the world as we know it, and Luke shows us that this occurred in part because of Stephen. It was not his words, or presentation. In fact, there was nothing about Stephen’s last act that inspired Paul enough to even try to save his life. It was his death, in fact, the way he died, that I think left the biggest impression on Saul. He was a man who understood conflict, and one who would not have been surprised to face execution by the Romans himself if things got out of hand. He saw his job in part was to prevent things from escalating that far. But looking into the eyes of this dying man Stephen, Saul saw none of the fear he faced himself. Instead he heard these words:

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

No anger, no bitterness, not even a cry for relief. Instead, he saw compassion for Stephen’s enemies… for Saul himself.

We all face enemies. We all will face death. Every single one of us. How we do so may be the greatest act of leadership of our entire lives. Long after our words are gone. Long after our friends and family have moved on to new relationships and routines, those who were with us at the end will remember how we faced the moment we lost everything and showed our true colors.

Years later, Saul would follow Stephen, leaving his potential for bringing peace to the Middle East for a crazy mission of bringing Jesus to the rest of the world. He left the one place he fit in the most, to go where he never fit in, where politicians would pass him around like a hot potato, until he would speak before the emperor of the Roman Empire itself about the saving and life transforming grace of Jesus Christ. There, as Paul stood before one whom the early church would deem an anti-Christ figure, I can’t help but believe that he saw those compassionate eyes of Stephen again as the executioner walked toward him.

How do you face adversity in your life?

What, if anything, do you think would take away your fear of death?

What can we do today to prepare ourselves for facing our enemies and facing our own death?

Good Neighbors

Standard

Editorial Preview

Good Neighbors

Ephesians 4:25-32

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

I’m not normally one to dig into the Greek text and focus on individual words much, but I was surprised in finding the word translated “neighbor” here in this passage. I expected the word “brother”. The word Paul uses here – πλησίον (plēsion) does not refer to someone you share kinship with, it refers to someone with whom you share space. It means the person nearby. So, here Paul means neighbour in the same sense that Jesus meant neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

I have heard a lot of talk about diversity and cultural boundaries the last few years, but I have heard a lot less about being good neighbors. Perhaps we have been more dependant upon peyote like Fred Rogers to keep us neighborly, and in his absence we have reverted back to our natural state of suspicion towards those nearby. I don’t know. I’m not a very good neighbor myself. It might not look like it, but I live in a neighborhood that has drugs, prostitution, meth labs, and plenty of scenes that could have made it into the old television series “Cops”. When I get suspicious of neighbors it is not only due to issues of diversity, it is because I hear the shouting in the middle of the night as they fight in the street and I can remember the house next to us burning down when the meth lab exploded. Those memories are all challenges to my small attempts at being a “good neighbor”.I can understand Robert Frost‘s admonition about building fences and by extension, I can understand the nation’s desire to build walks around ourselves.

Maybe Paul had neighbors like me. I appreciate that he did not begin this passage with a generic slogan to love our neighbors. No, instead he challenges us to speak the truth to them. Building a fence is a way of speaking about separation and disconnect. This is where I end and you begin. Yet the next sentence from Paul says that is not truth but a lie. Paul claims we are all members of one another. Again, remember this is not family or even church family. He is shedding about the person nearby… your neighbors. Either the walls are lies our Paul is lying (or just wrong on this account).

He continues on and writes that it is ok to be angry, but not ok to keep that anger in without speaking about if. Could it be that this treasured piece if marriage advice was actually intended to be used between neighbors?
Paul writes that we should not steal from one another, taking advantage of one another, but instead we should use our words in particular and our deeds also to build up our neighbors. We need to put away our bitterness and forgive our neighbors as Christ forgave us.

What do you communicate to your neighbors?

How do you build them up?

How do you show them forgiveness as Christ had shown you?