Archive for April, 2016

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 311

  1. it would be good if one man died for the people (John 18:14).

The high priest’s apparent utilitarianism had offered a legal strategy for this night’s arrest. Jesus had to be dealt with or the Jewish leaders risked an uprising that Rome would choose to squash–likely squashing their political futures with it. Now, we know that there’s very little “common good” mentality behind their actions. Their public excuse is not a private reality. Jesus must be removed because he is a threat, not the people, but to these leaders. A leader can’t let the voice of Jesus linger in the air if that leader wants to go a different way. But can you really silence God? Jesus had already said enough to spark worldwide and centuries-long pursuit of God. Only the Jews would not hear Him. Much as Adam’s choice launched us all down a wrong and tragic path, so it seems that Caiaphas made a choice for his people–one they still, like us, must overcome.


Defining Moments from Church History…(7)

Let’s remember why we’re engaged in such a series of blogs…

The world around the Church proves to be a complex environment. Indeed, the Church has always had a bit of difficulty knowing the right manner in which to engage its world. Some have withdrawn, believing that holiness would only be achieved through physical separation from the sinful grimes of culture. Others have drawn so close to their worlds that any line of separation is obscured by a thought that relevance demands commonality.

So…how did we get here? And perhaps of equal importance, how did we get the world we have and the relationship we currently experience? That’s where history can help us. Yes, knowing your history can help you make better future choices, but sometimes you just need to know how we got here. And for that, you retrace your steps.

We’ve been considering the eight moments in history that have likely most generated the world as we know it. These aren’t to be confused with someone’s list of the eight most important moments in Church history, though some of these would make that list as well. No, these are the moments that gave us our current reality, and we’re ready for the sixth of these chronologically–the Reformation.

Okay, this event makes every list. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses statements to the door of the church in Wittenberg, he had no apparent desire to split from the Church or become the catalyst for the Protestant movement. He wanted to fix his Church. But the next few years brought something else entirely.

Luther had many observations among his ninety-five, some of the more memorable being his opposition to indulgences (purchased spiritual pardons) and his insistence that God’s forgiveness required repentance. Luther’s friends began distributing his theses likely well beyond their author’s original intent, and a movement was born. Principles like “sola scriptura,” Luther’s insistence that the Bible be the Church’s principle source document, brought a new focus on biblical literacy and even availability to the masses. He translated the New Testament into German to aid such a cause.

Luther was excommunicated within two years and battled back and forth for his status in the Church for some time. Ultimately, his voice and ideas were too strong to ignore. The seeds had been sown for a new and different expression of the Church, the term “protestant” becoming the banner.

Obviously, a full treatment of the Reformation would demand volumes, not blogs. But today’s Christian Church is comprised of two large bodies–the Roman Catholic Church that Luther sought to reform and the Protestant church, represented by hundreds of various groups that, likewise, have subdivided from one another over issues of doctrine and practice.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 310

  1. Then Simon Peter, who had a sword… (John 18:10).

What are we carrying for battles in our strength? Simon Peter chose a sword as his self-styled means of protection for the coming conflict. In fact, Luke tells us that the eleven had two swords among them. But these weapons in their hands were to be as useful in the coming battle as their sailing skills proved to be in some of the storms they had faced. It’s much the same for us. We grab the weapons of our own strength and assume they will be useful in our daily challenges only to encounter an enemy with greater and more abundant weapons. There’s so much that would have confused Peter on this night, and surely this moment baffled him. How would he fight off the better armed and better skilled mob that had come into the garden’s darkness. Better yet, why would a fisherman make his final choice a sword, for surely this won’t end well. But this is what our own strength and understanding look like. And they can easily lead to our own destruction.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 309

  1. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him (John 18:4).

There it is. Young John was certain of it. Jesus knew–no surprises, no uncertainties about the Father’s plan. Once the wheels began to turn, Jesus knew. And still He gave himself. If ever there was a proof of His divinity, it must have been the fact that He knew and the determination He displayed in walking the full path of the Father’s wrath. He knew, perhaps a different posture than the thousands of sacrificial lambs before Him. Sheep go to the slaughter unaware–the knife surprises them seconds before it is wielded. But Jesus knew, which also means He chose the moment ahead. Only one who knew the bigger picture–the have-to of His actions–would be so willing and endure so much. Only the Son of God could be aware of such a plan.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Defining Moments in Church History…(6)

Our journey through some of the most significant moments in Church history is propelled forward some seven centuries to the events known as the Crusades. Remember that we’re not finding the most important moments in the Church’s story, but those that have contributed the most to the world we have today. And for that, it’s hard to omit the Crusades.

Yes, this would be one of the darkest periods on our timeline. After Constantine initiated a merge between Christianity and His Empire, the pursuit of political power began to seep into the Church’s ideology. In some generations, pope’s wielded as much or more power than kings. Money flowed seemingly uncontrollably into church coffers, corrupting the Church’s sense of mission and its connection to the heart of its Savior.

Against this backdrop, Pope Urban II’s stirring sermon served as a call to arms for European Christians as they set out to rid Palestine of the Islamic invaders that had held their Holy Land for some four hundred years. In A.D. 1095 the Pope’s message was clear:

“A horrible tale has gone forth. An accursed race utterly alienated from God…has invaded the lands of the Christians and depopulated them by sword, plundering, and fire…Tear that land from the wicked race and subject it to yourselves.”

While some believe he only intended this speech as stirring rhetoric, but soon the pope’s representatives were mobilizing recruits. Tens of thousands of “knights” headed to the Holy Land. And the subsequent atrocities were underway–unbounded killings, burning property, crimes against women and children, and virtually any form of bloodshed the human heart might create.

Why? What was the reward for such conquest? Most sought adventure, the prospect of battle, and the wealth achieved through plundering these ancient lands. Some were promised spiritual reward, such as indulgence for the remission of sins, but it was soon quite clear that more temporal motives drove the Crusades. The Pope had seemingly launched his own “holy war” against the region and both Jews and Arabs were the victims.

Other than its horror, why does this series of events make our list. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered and the rift between Jews and Christians widened significantly. The Crusades greatly damaged Christianity’s relationship with the Eastern world. The acts of the Crusaders became a means for Muslims to encourage their most militant ideals. Even today, these actions of fanaticism and intolerance continue to dominate Christianity’s reputation in the Holy Land.

Yes, there are a host of other reasons why the Arab world despises the West, including its ideas of democracy, capitalism, and pursuit of equality for women. But the effort to convince followers of Islam that Christianity is a religion of love often can’t uproot the harvest sown by the Crusades. Hatred that endures for centuries requires more than ideology to stoke its flames. To maintain such angst against the western world, one needs evil actions on which to fixate. And sadly, the Crusades (though centuries ago) still provide “proof” of the evil intent of those who come in the name of Jesus.

Are they still relevant? Hasn’t enough time passed for such a wound to heal? Perhaps we would insist it has, but the “perpetrator” doesn’t dictate when his victim should overcome his pain. Forgiveness and healing can only begin in the heart of the victim. And, to date, the Eastern world has not demonstrated a desire for such restoration.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 308

  1. Now Judas, who had betrayed him, knew the place (John 18:2).

He betrayed them all. He knew their places. He’d sat with them in their most challenging moments, engaged their most intimate conversations, and now betrayed the spaces that had become familiar and meaningful in their journey together. Why would Judas hang himself? His realization that he sold the moments of life’s meaning for a bag of coins. On that fateful night, Judas did more than provide intel on Jesus’ whereabouts. He led those with evil intent into their place–that spot where hope and truth had often merged with life-changing result. This wasn’t just a next stop on Jesus’ itinerary, but the place Judas knew Jesus would want to go. And he opened the door for the wicked to intrude…into what had been a treasured place.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Defining Moments in Church History…(5)

As we have seen, the 4th century was a pivotal time for the Western church. Constantine’s Edict, the first of the Church councils at Nicaea, and yet another significant event makes our list of moments that gave us our Church today–the Festal letter of Athanasius.

You’ll remember Athanasius as a lead defender of the nature of Christ at Nicaea. Serving as a deacon at that time, by A.D. 367 he is now Bishop of Alexandria, a position he held off and on for a number of years.

Bishop Athansius wrote a letter each year, distributed throughout Alexandria, setting the calendar dates for the various church festivals. Not unlike a modern church calendar, the letter he sent in A.D. 367 also included another interesting piece of information. In his so-called Festal letter, Athanasius listed the books and letters thought to be acceptable for doctrinal use in the Church.

This list of 27 books he believed to be accepted throughout the church world is the first noted effort to establish a canon of the New Testament. While there would be debate concerning the makeup of what we have come to call the New Testament, and that debate would continue for more than a century, it’s worth noting that Athanasius’ list is identical to the list later finalized at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 481.

Also of great importance is the implication found in Athanasius’ list of a “closed” canon. In other words, he believed that his list included all that would be written, that the Scriptures were complete and no future books were to be included. Though, again, a final decision was more than a century away, it’s fascinating to realize that this great protector of Christian orthodoxy worked from the same Scriptures that we teach from today.

It’s also significant to note that while various reformers throughout the centuries excluded certain books from their own ideas of the canon, the list first construed by Athanasius remains our accepted New Testament.