What Would Your Brother Do?

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We have been following the story of Jacob. In our last post we asked questions stemming from the plot that Jacob and his mother Rebekah hatched to get the blessing Isaac intended to bestow on his eldest son. Going back farther than where we picked up the story you may remember that God made a promise to Isaac’s father, Abraham that was a pretty big deal. If you look back that far you will also see that God re-affirmed that promise to Isaac.  So, on the surface we have a younger son (and his mother) tricking the father into blessing the “wrong” son, but that big promise of God raises the stakes a bit. We don’t know specifically that Esau had that in mind when we reacted so emotionally, but from our seats it adds intrigue.

By now we have read enough of the story to see that there is a story of reconciliation between these two brothers, and that is where I want us to camp out, but before we do that we need to ask a question or two. There is apparently some dysfunction in this family. There is a father and mother who outwardly make no bones about playing favorites with their sons. It is easy to see the fruit of that in this situation. Even after Jacob flees this family we see broken relationships continue. Is that pattern a result of the behaviors we see from the original family? Could be, but we have no real way to know. It does seem ironic that deception and trickery seem to stalk Jacob wherever he goes. He made an agreement with his Uncle Laban to take Rachel as his wife after seven years of service. Laban tricked him and substituted his oldest daughter Leah and Jacob worked another seven years for Rachel to also be his wife. Then there was a confusing story about spotted sheep and goats. So, is this a story about reaping and sewing? It doesn’t stop there the deception continues into the next generations. I’m sure that there is something here for us to learn about living in deception. We will take time to ponder that in a future post so let’s look at the low hanging fruit.

With the backdrop of all that complexity we see in Jacob a man possessed by fear at the prospect of seeing Esau again.  After all Esau had sworn to kill Jacob. Look at all that he put out in the way to protect himself  sheep, goats, herdsmen, and even his family. In the end Esau was just graciously excited to see his brother once again. Let that soak in. Can you think of a more pure example of forgiveness and reconciliation anywhere? (that is actually a trick question) What can we learn from that?  Think about a time that you faced a reconciliation meeting.  Was it far more dauning and scary in your mind than it ended up being? After you have spent some time pondering look again at the verses describing the scene and who was there. Look at the specific names mentioned and think about why our attention is brought to those people. Come back ready to explore that in our next time together.

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A Stolen Blessing

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Have you ever had a tough conversation with someone?  Have you ever hurt someone?  Maybe you meant to, or maybe like me sometimes you are just a stump.  Here is the real question.  Have you ever hurt someone in such a way that it was hard for you to be around them?  At the risk of drawing the wrong conclusion about you I’ll go out on a limb and say that if you are like me you have.  Guilt and pain are emotions that God designed to help us realize that something is wrong.  I believe that in God’s design they are tools for the transformation of our lives.  Last week on the Christian Unity Ministries Facebook page we started a new series of scripture.  We are looking at Jacob.  Jacob hurt his brother in such a way that not only was it uncomfortable for him to be around Esau he ended up fearing for his life and basically ran into exile.

I hope that you will read along.  In fact I hope that you will read all of the story, because we will be looking a key excerpts.  Bring your thoughts in the way of questions and comments.  Here are some specific issues we hope to explore through the journey:

  • Watch for the emotional toll that this black cloud of a broken relationship takes on Jacob
  • Watch for how Jacob settles for other relationships in the wake of this one big offense
  • Watch to see where God pushes Jacob to go
  • Finally (and this is a big clue) watch to see how this black cloud influences future generations

Stop by regularly and see how we are progressing with our look into Jacob, Esau, and those who follow.

Pete

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The Right Stuff

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In our last post we looked at how we are apparently able to train military, firefighters, and police officers to face situations heads on where the normal human reaction would be to run.  We even train football teams that way.  Look around.  You see it manifested everywhere.  Who do you think created that capacity in us?  Is it the same thing we are seeing in our young men from Judah?

Here is what I believe.  I can’t prove it to you and it expresses one of my biases.  But here goes.  I think that God created us with that capacity.  I think that we can see all kinds of good that mankind enjoys because God created us with this capacity.  We may never know how many people were saved on September 11 because of the first responders.  That is all just from a practical make the world a better place stand point.  We know that God has a higher purpose.  He did in our stories here in Daniel because for a brief time God’s fame stood out in Babylon.  God showed as preeminent.  I believe God wants to use this capacity to bring glory to Himself now through us just as He did in these stories.  I also believe that God wants to use this capacity in us to protect and rescue our brothers, our families and His Church.  God used this brotherhood in Daniel to ensure that before they had to make a decision, they already knew what the answer would be. I believe that He wants to do that among us too.

ephOne last word picture… think about the armor that Paul describes for spiritual battle:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the full armor of God.  That you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

To quote author Jeff Vanvonderen:

“Take up the shield of faith.”  “The Roman shield to which Paul refers was as tall as the person carrying it, soaked in a fire retardant with hooks on the sides so that warriors could actually attach themselves to each other and build a wall. Sometimes, they would hunker down behind the wall to withstand an attack.  But when they decided to advance, the wall of warriors was a more formidable force than many individuals attacking alone.

“If you look at the parts of your body protected by the various components of God’s armor – loins, chest, feet and head – you see that you are protected from an attack from every side but one:  your back.  You still need someone to cover your back.  That ‘someone’ is the Body of Christ.”

We have the capacity created by God to watch each other’s backs.  It is God’s design.  We see it in all these examples.  The evidence is there that relationship is one of the key ingredients in the stories of Daniel.  What does God want to do through the relationships He has planted you in?  What would our churches look like if we figured this out?  Dream with us.  Let’s talk.

So, what are you going to do about it?  Whose back will you watch and who will you let into your life so that someone is watching your back.  These four young men didn’t leave that job to one man.  They depended on each other.

–Pete

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How does a heart get shaped like that?

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Last time I promised that I would suggest a couple of recent examples of the power I see relationships bring to our world.  I warned that these would be examples from outside the Church to illustrate a capacity I believe God has hard wired into people.  As you read this start to picture how powerful it could be to tap into this with relationships fueled by “Christ in you.”

The first example comes from an event that is never far from our minds.  It was September 11, 2001.  If you remember this day, you will quickly get what I am talking about.  On that day, one of the many things that astounded us is that while people were doing all they could to get out of the buildings, there was a group of people doing all they could to get in.  Now after that day, we call them first responders.  On that day, we just knew that firefighters and policeman rose to the occasion.  Sadly, many of them died that day.

You can point to training and responsibility as answers for what they did.  I think that it takes more than that.  I don’t think you can pay anybody enough to condition them to respond that way.  I don’t think you can tell them enough times to make them believe it is their job, but I do think you can knit them so tightly together that you can convince them that they are brothers, family.  Once you get there, you can get them to do almost anything for each other.  That is what we saw.

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The last example is this.  Who can tell me anything about these two names?

Back in the 90’s when we had troops in Somalia, there was a mission to capture a group of men, part of the organization of Mohamed Farrah Aidid.  The delta force operators were flying to the target building. While Army rangers were flying in to set up a perimeter, and a column of trucks and humvees were driving in to pick up the prisoners.  It was all supposed to go off like clockwork.  In and out in less than an hour.

After dropping their troops, the helicopters were supposed to go into an air support role each of the Blackhawks had a team of three Delta Force snipers providing over watch support.  Best laid plans, until the first Blackhawk was shot down.  All of a sudden the rangers had to alter their perimeter role and move to the crash site to protect and retrieve a wounded crew.  The trucks had to go there after picking up prisoners to get wounded soldiers.  Another Blackhawk moved into that position and was also damaged.  The pilot thought his chopper was good enough to get back to base.  What he didn’t know was that his tail rotor was basically gone.  As he moved away from the area of operation, his bird came apart and he crashed.

So here is where it gets hairy.  This second helicopter was moving away when it crashed.  They ended up a good ways from the first crash site where All the ground troops are headed.  There was no one on the ground who could go to the aid of the new crash site and so the airborne commanders and the General back at base send a Blackhawk to the new crash site.

There are places online that you can read about this and there are a couple of books too, or you can watch the movie “Blackhawk Down”.  What I am sharing with you is mixture of those.  My version seems pretty close to what I’ve read but may be tainted a little by Hollywood.  In any case, the snipers on that newest Blackhawk on the scene of the second crash site were Gary Gordon, Randy Shughart and Brad Hollings.  Gordon saw all the people moving toward the crash site to do harm to the crew.  He asked for permission to be inserted.  The command denied his request.  They thought the team would be more effective in the air.  Time goes by and he asks at least one more time and maybe a third.  As portrayed in the movie, the commanding general wants to speak directly to them.  He makes them ask him for permission.  He makes sure that they know that he has no idea when he can send them help.

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They express that they understand and still want to go in.  The documentation indicates that Gordon was convinced that it was the only hope for the crew if they were even still alive.  Brad Hollings had taken over the machine gun on the chopper due to an injury so Gordon and Shughart repel down and get to the crash site.  They find the pilot Michael Durrant alive.  They get him away from the wreck to a safer place and go to work defending the site.  Both are killed.  Mike Durrant survived to write a book about it called “In the Company of Heroes”.  He is convinced that he is alive because even though they could see throngs of people moving to the crash, they still came down.

I distinctly remember the first time I saw that.  I literally prayed “God where does that kind of courage come from?”  John Ortberg asked about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in his sermon “How does a human heart get shaped like that?”  My mind immediately went to the first responders and to Gordon and Shughart.  Call it esprit de corps or whatever.  We as humans apparently have this capability within us.  Somewhere way back in time, probably way before the Roman Empire, somebody figured it out.  For centuries they have tapped into that and trained soldiers that way.  We apparently train fire fighters and police that way too.  Ponder that as we look at Daniel in a den of lions.  Next post we will bring this all together.

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The Furnace

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On the Christian Unity Ministries Facebook page we have been going though passages in Daniel for about a month now looking very closely at how the relationships played a role in these very familiar “famous” stories.  We started at the beginning focused on how our four young men faced a new land and home.  Then we moved 3 years down the road to see that these same young men were still facing life together.  In the third chapter we see three of them again facing a difficult challenge.  Daniel is not part of the story.  We don’t know why.  We do know that even if not present with them, He is a huge part of the story of why they responded as they did.  Their faith was forged in relationship.

Let’s focus for just a second on a key part of the story when they are before the King.

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Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O King.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

Wow, where did that come from?  We can kind of relate to the concept of the first part of their response.  “Our God is able”.  We can relate to that kind of hope.  The second part of their response though tells us that it is faith not hope.  It is faith because it is an “even if not” statement.  I want us to spend some time on this, but first there is something important that we can’t miss.  They know what their answer was going to be.  We need to be in that same position before we are in the pressure packed situation where a decision is demanded.  So, where did that faith come from?  Did it come from their circumstances or from a long list of answered prayer?

Let’s look at that.

Circumstances

  • They are not at home with family.  They are in a foreign land.
  • Yes they had been blessed, but look at how quickly the tables can turn.  There is no stability.  No security.  They are in hot water.

Prayers

  • They probably prayed that Israel would not be defeated in the first place.
  • They probably prayed not to be taken in exile to Babylon
  • They probably prayed that Nebuchadnezzar would repent and relent on the law.
  • Maybe they prayed that law won’t be enforced.
  • Maybe they prayed that nobody would notice if they didn’t bow down.
  • Maybe they prayed that Daniel would be able to get the Jews exempted from the law.

How does their scorecard look to you at this point?

And yet “even if not” is the kind of faith they exhibit.  These young men did not have superficial faith.

I was listening to a sermon that John Ortberg preached about this.  At this point of the story he said:  “How does the human heart get shaped like that?”  That really got me thinking.  I started trying to think of examples from our lifetime of people standing on their principles.  I thought of some examples outside of church that I think can help us picture this concept.  I think we can still find application for our lives.  Hang with me for a couple of more posts.  That is where we will pick up as we look at the verses for our last story about Daniel and some pretty large cats.

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What’s in a dream?

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In our first look at Daniel we were in the 1st chapter.  You will remember it was the story about whether or not Daniel and his friends would eat the royal food.  The young men not only survived that first few days they were more healthy and vibrant that all the others.  They ended up being rewarded with good jobs.  As we transition to the story in Chapter 2 Let’s look at a timeline for just a second.

  • We know that they were together in the beginning.
  • It is possible that by then they had already known each other for years, or perhaps they met on the trip from Judah to Babylon.
  • The text refers to them as “royalty – the nobility”.  They were all from Judah so I believe that there was a strong likelihood that this was a very long relationship.
  • Chapter 1 represents 3 years.
  • We see them still together in Chapter 2.  The text says Daniel returned home and told his friends.
  • We don’t know how much this adds to the 3 years of Chapter 1.

The timeline tells us a great deal.  This was no casual relationship.  This was a deep partnership of mutual respect and love.  Daniel didn’t have to sell them on what he proposed in chapter 1.  It is as if he already knew that they would agree.  Not only did they do it together, but they thrived.  They were the best of the best.  In Chapter 2, there seems to be no hesitation.  Daniel goes straight to them to pray with him about the situation.  He knew that he could count on them.  He knew that they would take it seriously.  He didn’t seem to wonder who to talk to.

This story in Chapter 2 would be easy to read and end up being focused on Daniel.  After all, the king has already ordered the death of all his advisors including Daniel, and yet our hero is able to see the King and convince him to give a bit more time.  Then Daniel is able to go back and not only interpret the dream and describe it too.  No one else had gotten close to either feat.  We have to slow down and see that Daniel was not in this alone.  He went straight from meeting with the king to his small group in essence.  The passage says that he returned to his house and explained to his friends.  They were already there.  They may have lived together.  The four of them prayed all night and God spoke to Daniel.  Let’s start to let that sink in.  Better yet…Let’s talk about it.

–Pete

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A look at Daniel–Where it all started

Tissot_The_Flight_of_the_PrisonersLast week on The Christian Unity Ministries Facebook page we started looking at some scripture passages in Daniel.  The book of daniel might not be the first place that comes to mind if you are looking to read about community and relationships.  In fact, when you read the things that people write about the book of Daniel you find points of agreement and points of disagreement. The disagreement stems from what some of the imagery and seeming prophetic language mean. There is however no disagreement these points.

Daniel is about:
• Doing the right thing
• Standing on principles
• Facing the challenges of a skeptical world
• Obedience in the face of pressure

I also believe that it is about our need for help and God’s provision.  Here is my bias.  When I look at scripture the relationships come alive for me.  So, in the 1st chapter when it lists Daniel and the other three young men as part of the group of young men from “The royal family and nobility” my assumption is that these young men probably knew each other before this.  I can’t prove that in those verses, but when Daniel negotiated the dietary test he seemed to feel like he could speak for the others with confidence that they too were up for the challenge.  So in the next couple of weeks as we explore some very familiar stories I hope that you will begin to see the underlying community that I believe fuels the heroics that we see.  Look for clues about how to face difficulties relative to these questions:

• When do we need to decide what we will do?
• How much of that decision will we allow our circumstances to determine?
• What do we see in Daniel?

Join us and here and on the Facebook page.  Let’s talk this through.

Pete

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A Tale of Two Churches

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,. . . .

                                                                                    –Charles Dickens, “Tale of Two Cities”

Many people can quote those famous opening lines from Dickens’ novel. From the beginning, the reader understands this is going to be a tale of contrasts and conflict. With due apology to Dickens, I invite you to a Tale of Two Churches. It is filled with conflict and contrasts. These are both true stories that occurred a number of years ago. If you happen to recognize one, be assured that my purpose is to teach, not to embarrass.

Like many churches in America, Church A, a mid-sized suburban church, had peaked in the early 1960’s. By the mid-1970’s chronic financial shortages were a source of constant tension. Moreover, changing demographics in the neighborhood were not embraced by the members of Church A. Disagreements between deacons and the pastor were not unusual. But still she struggled on, until one ugly day.  On that day, in the church offices, the pastor hit the youth minister in the face with a fist. The youth minister defended himself momentarily, until he could flee to his car. He drove a few blocks to a business owned by a deacon of Church A. Moments later the pastor arrived and continued to seek a fight with the youth minister as the deacon restrained the pastor.

Church A died that day. Members took sides over the fight, and all of the other issues in that struggling body. Oh, the doors stayed open, the organ played each Sunday, and a new pastor even came to preside for a few years. But Church A closed its doors about three years later. A small group of strangers from the neighborhood briefly used the building as a church, but it, too, soon closed. Within a few years the building no longer had a steeple. A community agency ran a food pantry and part-time dental clinic for needy people. Recently I drove by aSpringBudnd noted the large ‘for sale’ sign in front.

Now, consider the tale of Church B. It was an old well-established downtown church. It, too, had seen better days in terms of both enrollment and finances, yet because of its legacy in the community, it continued to draw just enough new members to be stable. But the cancer of gossip, jealousy, and snobbery was present. These manifested in feverish arguments at deacon meetings and church conferences. The final argument centered upon the pastor’s leadership style and certain business decisions attributed to him. Ugly anonymous letters were mailed. The day came when that pastor was terminated. He immediately moved across town and started a new church. Almost half of Church B’s congregation followed the pastor to Church B2, much to the gall of members remaining at church B. Many of the people in the now-split congregations had been lifelong friends and neighbors. In the next several years, slowly, many members in both congregations began to reconcile. A few in the new congregation moved memberships back to Church B, and a few from that church transferred to Church B2—but not in anger as the first round of moves had occurred. Today, both churches (B and B2) are alive and continue ministering in that city, with each reaching different neighborhoods and groups in that City.

There you have it. Two churches, each with a pastor-centered crises. Similar hurt feelings and deep division. Yet, very different outcomes. Church A closes its doors and disappears from the community. Church B remains despite a significant loss of members to breakaway Church B2. But there was notable reconciliation between many members of Churches B & B2. Even without unanimous reconciliation, that city now has two active churches filled with godly people…many probably unaware of the bad blood that once existed in their joint history.

Why does one troubled church experience the spring of hope and another the winter of despair? Why does wisdom eventually prevail in Churches B & B2, but foolishness in Church A? Why do the lights stay on at Church B while Church A goes dark? The answer will seem elementary, but it is really quite profound.

Church B was humbled and stunned after the split. They undertook a Bible study entitled, Five Principles of Unity. They deeply embraced such notions as: the Church really is the Bride and Body of Christ, therefore each member must be respected. They recognized that there is an Enemy of the church, but it is not the person at the other end of the pew. They learned to keep a focus on and to lovingly relate to the Christ who indwells fellow believers. And when the body is sick (i.e., members not behaving properly), then that problem must be lovingly but firmly tended to, rather than ignored. They rediscovered that holy power enables the church to accomplish kingdom work, despite personal differences. With these fresh perspectives, they began to rebuild personal relationships and thereby, their church. They changed their approach to problem-solving as issues arise. And they forgave the members who went to Church B2. (Certainly not everyone in Church B experienced this transformation, but enough members did so that these others were no longer able to direct or control the church conversation in unhealthy ways.)

Church A had the same opportunity—for three years—to humble itself and return to Biblical notions about how to relate to one another. Instead, they clung to their same attitudes and patterns of behavior. They thought that the problem was “the finances” or  “the pastor,” or “those people sitting over there,” instead of examining themselves and their relationships. There is no known reconciliation among Church A’s scattered former members.

Every church encounters issues. The outcome will always be determined by how members deal with one another as they address the issues.  When I rightly value fellow church members as God does, then it will impact how I manage those relationships and deal with the problems. I will handle church members with kid gloves –with the greatest of care and tenderness—not with gossip, neglect, harsh criticism, suspicion, or worldly attitudes and methods. Instead, I will strive through prayers, tears, humility, and perseverance to do all that I can to first repent of my own failings, and then to be reconciled with my brothers and sisters, for the health of the Church and sake of Christ.

It is our choice. The spring of hope or the winter of despair? We have everything before us.

–Marcus W. Norris

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Principley Speaking – Perceptions are Small but Powerful

Today’s installment of Principley Speaking touches on the Third Principle of Unity, the Principle of Perception.  Marcus Norris is a previous member of the Executive Board of Christian Unity Ministries and has taught 5 Principles of Unity both here and abroad.  When he is not teaching biblical principles of unity, Marcus is the city attorney for the city of Amarillo, Texas.

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Principley Speaking – “His Job is to Divide Us”

Today, Dr. Ann Farris, assistant city manager for the City of Killeen, teaches on the Principle of the Enemy.  Ann is a gifted communicator, longtime teacher for 5 Principles and appears on our audio training materials.  Ann has traveled to both the Ukraine and South Africa teaching 5 Principles of Unity.  Thanks, Ann, for all that you do for this ministry!

Posted in 5 Principles of Unity, Principley Speaking, The Enemy | 2 Comments