Celebration of Conflict?

On October 31 we celebrate something that we usually go out of our way to avoid in the church. I’m not talking about Halloween or All Saints day. I am speaking of the reformation. Some groups recognize reformation day every year sometimes having a reformation day party as a Halloween party substitute, but it is getting a lot more attention this year as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. While there had been conflict in the church for some time, that action ignited a conflict that would change Christendom.  It began a great conflict that would have repercussions right up to our current day.

As Protestants we celebrate that conflict because we view it as a necessary correction. The church had lost sight of the true gospel of Christ. The message of salvation by grace alone through Christ alone by faith alone needed to be declared afresh. The overarching authority of scripture alone needed to be re-established all for the glory of God alone. It was and is a good thing. We rejoice in the courage of those who fought in that conflict, and yet we often go to great lengths to avoid conflict in our own day.

There are some legitimate reasons to avoid conflict. Jesus commanded our unity in John 15 and prayed for it in John 17. In Proverbs 10:12 we read: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” And of course Peter refers to that as well. We know the danger of divisive people who can destroy a local church. Certainly most of us don’t want to be bitter, angry, and hyper-critical. We take serious ly what Paul wrote to Titus; “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” (Titus 3:9-10 ESV).

All that being said; there is a proper place and an important role for controversy. There are at least three positive aspects of conflict referenced in scripture. The first is that it is a means of personal growth. Proverbs 27:17 states; “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” My understanding is improved when I am challenged by someone who disagrees with me. I am forced to examine my beliefs and defend them. I grow because sometimes I have needed to adjust my thinking and other times I have thought though issues on a deeper level. There is value in reading and conversing with those who challenge me.

A second reason that conflict can be good is that it can correct not only wrong thinking, but wrong behavior. In Matthew 18:15-17 we are given a pattern to follow when we have a brother or sister who is living in unrepentant sin. Too often we are unwilling to get involved and to challenge them to consider their sin, and yet the instructions are crystal clear. We are to go to them to personally (and lovingly) help them to see their error and correct their behavior. If that fails we are to enlist the help of someone else, and as a last resort, to involve the church as a whole. It is clear that if we don’t follow that practice as individuals and as a church, we are not caring for each other as we should.

The third area in which conflict is essential is when we are dealing with false teachers. When we refuse to point out the serious error of false doctrine we harm the church. It is unpopular to identify someone by name as being a false teacher, but scripture is clear that if we do not, the church can suffer great harm (2Pet. 2:1; 1Tim. 4:1; Jude 4). We have a responsibility to point out serious error and to separate from it. That is exactly what happened in the Reformation.

I appreciate the desire to get along and I certainly treasure unity. But let us be careful not to let our desire for peace to keep us from necessary conflict. Sometimes that is what the church needs!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

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Unique

Often, when I introduce myself to someone I give them my name and then say, “I’m the only Nord you have ever met.” I sometimes add, “You probably haven’t met many Zootmans either.” That usually produces a smile and an agreement from the other person.  My name is certainly unique, but so am I! You are unique as well. It doesn’t matter if there were two other people in your class with the same name or if you, like me, have never met another person with the same name. There is no one like you!

In Psalm 139 David describes how God has formed him and knows him: “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” (Ps. 139:1-4 ESV). Scripture is replete with references to the reality that God knows our inner thoughts (Psalm 44:21; 94:11; Proverbs 5:21; John 2:24-25). That truth is sobering because we can’t hide anything from him and is encouraging because he truly understands us.

It is interesting that at the end of Psalm 139 David asked God to search him to know his heart and to know his thoughts. From what he wrote earlier David obviously knows that God already knows him, but this request I think implicitly includes the idea that David wants God to reveal to David the things that are in his heart. One of our tasks if we want to live well for the Lord is to understand our own heart. We also are given the task of communicating God’s truth to others and the better we understand them the better we will fulfill that task. I still remember the words of one of my professors 45 years ago when he said that understanding our message is only half of the preparation to teach, the other half is we need to understand our audience.  Understanding people (ourselves and others) is essential to living well.

There are many things that make us unique as individuals. We are each “hard-wired” a little different from each other. It can be fun to take a simple personality test and compare the results with other family members or friends. One online test that is free can be found at 16personalities.com. Spend some time there learning about yourself and each other. We are not only born with different personalities, we have been born into different families, cultures, and subcultures. Different economic and social status has molded and shaped us as well as such obvious things as race and geographic location. Even within a family we all showed up at different times (unless we have a twin). Dr. Kevin Lehman has written extensively about how birth order shapes us as individuals as well.

While we are all very different from each other, we are also each created in the image of God. The fall of mankind described in Genesis three has marred that, but it still exists. Since God is infinite, it is not surprising that his image would be expressed in many different ways. We know of God through the perfect revelation of his word and his son, but we also gain insight as we see him in his creation – human beings! It is a great and worthwhile quest to know ourselves and to know others even as we, most of all, desire to know God!

In Christ

Pastor Nord

Soul Rest

I just finished an enjoyable week of vacation and truly feel rested. It was actually a “staycation” as we didn’t vacate the premises, we simply stayed home. We had some things around the house that needed done and some things we just wanted to do locally. I told someone about our plans and they said: “that doesn’t sound like much of a vacation to me.” That brings up an interesting question – how can working on our house be restful?

Rest often comes not by ceasing activity, but by changing activity. We certainly need physical rest (and I did sleep in a couple of days), but often we need our minds and hearts refreshed and our soul renewed. That comes by sitting aside our normal work and enjoying our Lord. We do that by focusing on him, his word, and the many great gifts he has given us. Working on the house can be physically exhausting, as can extended travel, camping, hunting, sightseeing, and a variety of other typical vacation activities. Yet that “change of pace” refreshes us. We come back to our work with a new energy. employers recognize the value of giving their employees time off as productivity increases.

This rhythm of work and rest is built into our very nature. we are created in the image of God who worked (created) and rested. He rested not because he was exhausted, but to reflect on what he had done. It was a pattern he established for us. Of course, after the sin and fall of mankind in Genesis 3 our work became much more difficult and rest is desperately needed. That is why the Lord established a weekly rest from normal activity – a Sabbath.  It was instituted because of our need, and we cannot ignore that principle of life and function well. We benefit from vacations, but we need that weekly change of pace to focus on our Lord and our life.

There is as well a different kind of rest that everyone of us needs. We need the restoration of our souls that only comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. We grow weary of pain, struggle, conflict, failure, and most of all sin. It is a weight we carry with us through life, but it doesn’t have to be so. Jesus said;  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).

Note that Jesus does not call us to a cessation of activity. He calls us to exchange a heavy burden for a light yoke. As we come to him there is much we are called to do, but we will find that our souls are wonderfully refreshed as we now work for him. We are saved by his grace, not by anything we do, but we are saved for “good works.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is in the activities that he  now gives us that we find the rest we truly need.

Don’t make the mistake that many have in thinking that coming to Jesus means you no longer work. That is the spiritual equivalent of not physically working but sitting in a hospital waiting room. You find yourself still exhausted. If you have not yet placed your faith in Christ alone for salvation do that first, but then explore the activities he call us to do. In that work you will find great rest!

In Christ

Pastor Nord

More than good social advice

We all know the feeling of walking into a large room filled with tables and wondering, “where should I sit?” It may be a wedding reception, or a banquet, or a conference. We have learned to look for place cards with names on them. If those exist, it then becomes a simple matter of trying to find our name. If there aren’t cards we begin to evaluate the room. If there is going to be music do I want to be close or further away from the speakers? (That may also depend on what type of music is being played). Where will the speaker be standing? I want to be able to hear. Where are the kitchen doors? I may not want to hear all the kitchen noise. If there is a bar, I might not want to deal with the traffic back and forth. If hungry, we might even quickly evaluate which tables will be served first. Of course, if there is a close friend already seated we may want to sit by them if there is room at their table (or maybe there is someone we want to avoid).

Some people want to hide in the back, but others want to be noticed. They especially want to be seen sitting with “the right people.” That is the group that caught Jesus eye as he was invited to a feast. He speaks about that in Luke 14:7-11. His basic instruction would be, “don’t sit at the head table unless you are instructed to do so.” It would be embarrassing for someone to assume they are to be at the head table, to sit down and perhaps begin to enjoy a beverage and make small talk with the other people there, and then to have someone come up and ask them to move to the back because they are in someone else’s seat! It is always better to be asked to move up rather than be asked to move back.

That is good social advice, but Jesus is not just helping us learn etiquette and avoid embarrassment.  He uses that situation to teach an important spiritual principle. In verse eleven he says, ” For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  He is referring to our standing before God. If we approach the Lord hoping he will notice how significant or good we are, he will help us see our true condition by humbling us. If on the other hand, we recognized that we are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to offer God except our empty hands and great need, he will lift us up in his grace. That is the point James makes in James 4:6 where he states, ” But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” A few verses later he instructs us: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Isaiah says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15).

It is good to learn to reign in our self-promotion in social settings, but it is essential to recognize that our pride will separate us from our creator and savior! “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV).

Lessons from a Peach Tree

We have a peach tree that just won’t die! A number of years ago Christy and I planted a peach tree in our back yard. It grew well for a couple of years and then one summer it started to lose its leaves and dried up. I waited until spring to see if there was any life left in it, and when it truly still looked dead I cut it down. That summer a shoot started growing out of the roots and eventually grew into a tree. It had peaches, but they were different than the ones on the original tree as it had grown from beneath the graft. We harvested peaches off that tree for several years, but last year the tree split in two and ended up resting on the fence. I left it until we could get what fruit there was on it and then cut it down. There is once again a new little tree rowing out of the stump.

I thought of that tree today as I was reading a little book by James M. Hamilton Jr. entitled “What is Biblical Theology?” In a section speaking about imagery in the Bible, the author spoke of the biblical image of a tree. He deals with it briefly – just a couple of pages. I have been fascinated with the trees in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the human race, and those trees that are in the New Jerusalem at the end of time. The entrance to that new heaven and earth is possible because Christ died on a tree. Those are some things to mull over, but that is beyond the scope of what is covered in that small book.

What Dr. Hamilton deals with primarily is the powerful image found in Isaiah. It starts as a bit of a mixed metaphor as Israel is seen as a vineyard that God plants in chapter five. As Israel rejects God, He sends Isaiah in chapter six to preach until their hearts are hard and then, picturing them like a tree He uses the Assyrians as an axe to chop down that tree and burns it. There is, however, a shoot from the stump of Jesse that grows and bears fruit. That is Jesus, our savior, who comes from the “root of Jesse” and who grows and bears fruit. His leaf will not wither nor will His fruit fail. It is through death and new life that he makes our salvation possible.  If we trust in him we can also be like that tree that is planted by water (Psalm 1).

I really should cut that peach tree down and plant a new one. Its fruit is not all that great. But for today, I think I will just go out to the back yard and take a picture of that which pictures Christ: life out of death. I am so glad that by trusting Him I have died with Him and now have new life! In this Easter season as you see new life springing up all over, take a moment to reflect on the reality of the new life that is possible through the resurrected Christ. If you have not experienced that life, ask God for it. If you have come from life to death in Him, praise Him for it!

Stay the Course! An example of how that is done.

We’ve all heard it; “Cheer up, they said, things could be worse, so I cheered up and sure enough – things got worse!” That sounds pretty pessimistic because it is – and yet, there are times in life when we can be fairly confident that we are headed into some hard times. We can only speculate what lies ahead, but we are pretty sure that troubles await us.

The apostle Paul was facing one of those times when he was completing his last missionary journey and headed towards Jerusalem. He had already faced strong opposition in many cities, but he was aware that even greater difficulties lie ahead. We can learn from him how to cope with life when difficulty and even death are on the horizon.

In Acts chapter 20 we pick up the story as Paul comes to a place called Miletus. He knew that he wouldn’t be free to travel through there again, so he sent for the leaders of the church at Ephesus. He had spent three years with these men and had corresponded with them. Even as he faced great trouble his mind was on others. He knew time was short so he decided to use some of that time to encourage and strengthen others. Facing hardship, he knew the value of relationships.

Paul also knew that importance of focusing on eternal truths. When we face difficulty it can cause us to become focused on self-preservation rather than obedience to Christ. Sometimes we must remember why we are here and what we are called to do. It can be good to say those things out loud, preaching to ourselves as much as to someone else. Listen to what Paul said:

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24 ESV)

When hardship or even death approaches, it is important that we recognize that our work is not yet done. As long as we have breath there is a task that must be completed. Paul had served well, even as he testified in the context of those verses, but he also wanted to finish well! There is nothing more tragic than a life lived well that is thrown aside because of fear, doubt, or discouragement.

Paul also remembered that he wasn’t alone. When we isolate ourselves things seem darker and fears grow larger. Paul called these men so that he could see them one last time, could encourage them to stay the course as well, and could pray with them before he traveled on. They prayed, they hugged, they walked him down to the ship, and I can imagine that they stayed and watched as the ship pulled out.

Whatever you are facing, learn from Paul’s example. Continue to live well (make corrections as needed).  Know your mission on earth and say it out loud to yourself and others. Encourage those around you. Pray with others. Maintain relationships by expressing emotion together. Do those things and God will help you all the way home!

A great truth worth learning

I occasionally hear a Christian say something that literally makes me cringe. It is usually something like, “We just don’t get into theology,” or “I’m not concerned about doctrine, I just love Jesus.” I think I know what they mean – they don’t want to get into debates about things that have little or no bearing on everyday life. They have seen some people focus on words instead of people and others talk about God in some abstract way that has little relevance to everyday life.

The reality is, however, that theology is extremely relevant. The things we know about God will have an impact on our lives every day. The better we understand Him, the better we will understand our world, ourselves, and our purposes in life. Our perception of God will have an impact on our everyday decisions and our relationships with other people.

Let me give you an example by introducing you to a word that you may not be familiar with. Theologians use the word “immutable” to describe an important characteristic of God.  The basic meaning is that God does not change. You are probably familiar with the word “mutation” which describes a genetic change. The immutability of God describes the truth that He cannot change. The practicality of that truth is seen in the many scripture passages that express it:

We read in Numbers 23:19, ” God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” God will never say an untruth to mislead us, nor will there ever be a time when God will fail to do what he has promised. That makes our reading of scripture take on a new significance – it removes a lot of the thought that, “that was then, but this is now.” His words are as accurate today as they were two or three thousand years ago.

That same thought is expressed in Isaiah 46:9-10; “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” Since His purposes will never change and since he is all-powerful (another great doctrine), He will accomplish everything He has planned to do!

Because He will never change, He will never retract the grace He has extended to us; “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6 ESV)” We never need to wonder if His grace and mercy will become unavailable because He never changes!

Because He does not change, He always gives perfect gifts –  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17 ESV) And, of course, the greatest gift He has given is His Son who also never changes – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 ESV)

God is immutable, and the more you consider that great truth the more you will trust Him. The more you trust Him and His word, the more you will confidently obey Him. The more you trust and obey Him, the greater joy you will experience! Spend some time today thinking about Our great, unchanging, God.

In Christ, Pastor Nord