In the aftermath of Trump, trials and tribulations

Image result for trumpEven though I live in Canada I hear many people talk with great concern over the presidency of Donald Trump. I recognize there are many who welcome his inauguration also. Even so, for both sides there is discontent and worry.

Even Christians find themselves concerned, maybe even distraught by such events of this world. C.S. Lewis once noted how little he had grown in fortitude despite his conversion to Christianity. The terrible events the world in his day still caused him great anxiety.

However, these trials and tribulations in this life helps us recognize how idolatrous we really are and how much of our happiness depends on “tolerable” external conditions.

C.S Lewis noted this:

…I see more clearly, I think, the necessity (if one may so put it) which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted—so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.

– C.S. Lewis: TO BEDE GRIFFITHS: On fortitude and trust in God in the face of war (29 April 1938)

Jesus Christ, the one who died for our sins of unbelief and overcame death through his resurrection calls us back to the peace He offers in the midst of this world’s trials and tribulations.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

God’s kingdom is near

Image result for Matthew 4:12-17Read Matthew 4:12-17

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In this short sentence we have the summary of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Here is both the law and its judgement (“repent”) as well as the soothing and forgiving words of the gospel (“the kingdom of heaven is at hand”). There is both harshness and healing in these words of our Lord.

In these words is Jesus’ invitation to come into the promise of God’s mercy and out of the darkness of sin, death and the devil. This is indeed Good news! The kingdom of heaven is near!

But there is this matter of repentance – the turning away from all that opposes the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is not without its struggle and sorrow, but it is the power of the good news that Christ declares which leads one to repentance.

To hear the word of Christ’s forgiveness, new life and salvation for you is like standing in the presence of a great light. It is nearly impossible to dwell in darkness when the light of Christ shines upon us. It is awfully hard to believe lies when the truth is walking with you. Or as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it: “A lie cannot live.”

If the kingdom of heaven in Christ is near, then there are certain behaviors that just don’t make sense anymore. In Christ, idolatry, greed, violence, racism and other forms of sin are all exposed for the lie that they are. Repentance (“to change or turn around”) is the only Spirit-born and faith-inspired response to the overwhelming power of God’s love and mercy in Christ.

God’s kingdom is near whether we want it to be or not. Jesus’ voice continues to call out to you: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” May the Holy Spirit take that word, plant it deep in your heart and lead you away from your darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ’s forgiveness, life and salvation.

God of light, reveal your brilliance to us in Christ so clearly that we have no choice but to live into that peace that passes all understanding. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

In times of trouble

Image result for Psalm 27:1Read Psalm 27:1-9 (ESV/NIV).

The psalms often speak into existence a reality that has not yet been realized. When the writer asks, “Whom shall I fear?” he could likely compose a very long list of answers to that question. Enemies are surrounding him and there is a healthy fear that God has left him altogether. But in the middle of his desperate situation his question is answered by an almost rebellious hope. The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

In spite of all evidence to the contrary he believes that he will see the face of God and that there is nothing to fear. It is this same gift of faith that enables us to step forward even in these times of darkness.

How many of you are seeing no evidence of a way out of your situation? How many of you are in the “day of trouble?”

Today God’s word says to you, “Seek my face.” In faith we are called to look into the face of Jesus Christ who lived many times in the day of trouble and who rather than escape it, went through the suffering and death of the cross for us that through faith in Him we may have peace in the midst of our troubles.

In faith we can turn to our Lord and Saviour in our time of need and with the Psalmist pray: Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!

In response our Saviour says, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Some suggestions in times of conflict

Image result for church conflictAs a pastor, I’m occasionally confronted with issues in the congregation that are divisive. When they occur each side of the issue is supported by people who may see fear in the opponent’s position and hope in their own.

Like many Christian leaders I don’t do well in these times of conflict. I can easily get defensive or dismissive or hope that it will go away. I know that conflict is normal and can be a catalyst for Christian growth. So how can a leader pastorally attend to the diversity and division conflict often brings?

Allow me to offer a few basic steps:

  • Define the issue. This begins by listening to how the various sides understand the issue. However, beware that the issue may not necessarily be what people are expressing or debating. Sometimes, the issue is subtle and below the surface.
  • Identify the various positions without naming anyone. In controversial matters naming someone can lead to a kind of demonization. In times of conflict it is wise to stick to the issue or position rather than the person or even group representing the issue. Taking this approach will lessen further fragmentation.
  • What are the fears and hopes connected with each position? People take positions on issues because they see some kind of hope or benefit from it. At the same time, they may see the opponent’s position as a source of fear or threat of some kind. Acknowledging the hopes and fears of everyone involved lowers people’s defensiveness and garnishes their openness to finding a solution together.
  • Find a middle way that is biblically and confessionally faithful. A “middle way” is not an attempt to be so narrow that no one can subscribe to it or so broad that it doesn’t resolve anything. A biblical “middle way” identifies the edges where we fall away from the faith while maintaining a path we can walk on together that is both narrow in terms of our salvation through Christ (Matthew 7:13) and wide in light of God’s love (Ephesians 3:14-21). A biblical “middle way” is also defined by our confession of faith – what we confess together as most important about our faith and life as both the local and universal church.

I offer these suggestions not as an easy way to resolve often difficult and complicated conflicts, but as a guide for you as a leader to encourage people to come closer to together rather than further apart. Bringing everyone together around a common solution is ideal, but many times we are left with what appear to be much smaller victories. May the insignificant victory of Christ on the cross keep you travelling together in faith.