Thinking Out Loud

December 10, 2020

Don’t Get Caught in the Web of Political Distraction

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:18 am

Today’s post appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

II Timothy 2.4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

I can’t remember the first time this verse was highlighted for me, but it’s often coming under the teaching of a gifted Bible teacher that the verses come to life. In my personal readings, I find they just don’t ‘jump off the page’ to the same degree. I think much depends on how our different personality types process information and learning.

While Paul’s instruction to Timothy has been quoted at Christianity 201 four times, I was surprised to see it was quoted only four times. This year, while returning to past sources of devotional material, I was disappointed to see how many writers had got entangled — Apostle Paul’s word, not mine — the politics of the U.S. election and the related politicization of everything from the race protests to the virus vaccine.

It’s important to be aware of the times. Karl Barth is said to have told pastors, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other;” though the actual quotation might have been, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

We cannot isolate in a Christian bubble and not know what’s going on in the wider world. In Matthew 16: 1-3 we read:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

And it may be that God has called a few of you to be active in what is called the public square; to run for a governmental position municipally, regionally, in your state/province, or federally. (But note I used the word few. This is not a widespread calling or commandment.) Looking at the words of Jesus in Matthew, I can more readily see Christians serving in journalism (making people aware of the times, from a Christian perspective where opportunity arises) or in law (drafting legislation or being judges.)

When I checked back, the most recent look at Paul’s words to Timothy here at C201 was just three months ago in September. At that time, our focus was on avoiding knee-jerk reactions (or feeling you need to say anything at all). James writes,

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (3:6 NLT)

Instead of starting fires, our words should be “a fountain of life.” That phrase is used in scripture to describe the Lord, but Proverbs 10:11 and 16:22 shows that it can be our descriptor, too:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.

If our focus that time was avoiding knee-jerk reactions, our focus in June, 2018 was on the reality that we’re not really part of this world anyway. We don’t belong to it. We’re what the Bible calls strangers and aliens.

Philippians 3.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We see this most clearly in I Peter 2:11 where we’re called

  • immigrants and strangers (CEB)
  • aliens and temporary residents (CJB)
  • visitors and strangers (ERV)
  • sojourners and exiles (ESV)
  • strangers and refugees (GNT)

Consider also Hebrews 11:13-16

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (NRSV)

Shouldn’t our thoughts and our writing be focused on the place where we have our citizenship?

The summer previous, in August, 2017, we looked at how in Samuel’s day, the people didn’t want the distinct identity that God desired for them. The surrounding nations had kings. They didn’t have a king. They wanted a king. They asked for a king.

Interestingly enough, God accommodates this request. In I Samuel 8: 19-22a we read,

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

That article concluded: God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile. He wants us to focus on being the People of God. As Christians, we already have a King.

The oldest instance I could find of Paul’s words to Timothy here at Christianity 201 was one more year prior, in April, 2017. The context that day was spiritual warfare. Do we see this entanglement as a product of a spiritual battle? A battle for us to get stuck in the issues of the world? The political issues? The civic issues? The news-making issues?

I would argue, yes. The person whose writing and conversation has been captivated by political concerns in 2020 has lost a spiritual battle. Consider Philippians 4:8

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

To conclude, here’s how some newer translations (The Voice, and TPT) render our opening verse:

Remember that soldiers on active duty don’t get wrapped up in civilian matters because they want to satisfy those who recruited them.

For every soldier called to active duty must divorce himself from the distractions of this world so that he may fully satisfy the one who chose him.


For a different look at this subject, check out “Never Say the Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics

 

 

August 16, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

We continue sharing a 4-part series from Christianity 201 that was presented there last weekend; a four-part look at the other teaching blocks — since the Sermon on the Mount is so often covered — in Matthew’s Gospel


For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate. –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

May 27, 2018

Your Choice of Friends

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:21 am

This summer I’ve been asked to be part of a preaching team at the church that will be working through the book of Proverbs. One that has stayed with me over the past few years is Proverbs 13:20,

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
(NIV)

Anywhere you see a verse which contrasts wise and foolish or wisdom and foolishness you are effectively seeing a microcosm of the entire book of Proverbs; this is the book’s overarching theme, seek wisdom. It echoes throughout the book in many places including the next chapter:

Stay away from fools, for you won’t find knowledge on their lips.
(14:7 NLT)

Years ago, my parents found me a “youth edition” of The Living Bible’s book of Proverbs called Get Smart. The title is rather pithy — and possibly alludes to a TV show of that era — but this is indeed the message of Proverbs: Seek wisdom. Get wisdom wherever you can find it. Treasure wisdom like a fine possession.

We sometimes use the expression “married up” to describe someone whose life was bettered by finding a companion who could lift them to greater experience and potential. I would argue the Bible is making a case here for “friending up.”

This doesn’t mean we simply toss friendships that don’t meet a certain standard, but at the very least, it demands an awareness of whether our friends are lifting us up or bringing us down. The reason is simple: Wisdom in contagious, but so is foolishness.

Many are the people who would have, at one point said, “I would never say that;” or “I would never go there;” or “I would never do that;” but got talked into something because an influential friend or group of friends was saying/going/doing that particular thing.

We tend to think of peer-pressure and conformity as something that needs to be taught in Sunday School or at youth group. We rarely consider how it continues to impact us as adults. It’s possible that some reading this have heard J. B. Phillips rendering of Romans 12:2 more often than the more traditional version:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

I think it’s important to note that the verse doesn’t say,

  • Whoever walks with the wise is wise and
  • Whoever walks with the stupid is stupid!

No! It goes beyond that and “a companion of fools suffers harm.” We can say that sooner or later, foolish behavior leads to negative consequences. 1 Timothy 5:24 reads:

Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. NKJV

The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. MSG

Time will tell. We see this also in Exodus 34:7b. I know this passage is interpreted many different ways, but I’ll simply toss it into the mix for you to consider:

“…Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

I can’t leave this without remembering the warning of Jesus in the Sermon on The Mount concerning the consequences of becoming foolish:

NIV Lk 7.24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I think it’s also important to remember that to “walk with” or “journey with” people today may mean to journey with them online. Many of us have a great depth of relationship with people online which can affect our worldview or decision-making.

Here are some practical indicators something might be wrong:

  1. when you realize your core group is moving in a direction you want your life to move in
  2. when you find yourself pretending to be someone other than you are
  3. when you feel pressure to compromise (when something that was previously never a real temptation becomes a live option)

Our relationships can set the trajectory for our lives. Someone has put it this way:

Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.

Again, walk with the wise!

April 7, 2018

The Waldos in Your Life

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

Google is running some type of contest involving Waldo on Google Maps. I really don’t have time to figure out what it is, and when we were in a unfamiliar part of a city this week, my wife didn’t care for having more clutter on what is already a small screen on her phone.

Where’s Waldo? For me that question might be, ‘Where’s Tim?’ Maybe you have someone in your life who has disappeared off the map.

It’s weird saying that in an age of social media. There really is a Tim, I played at his wedding and we have a number of people in common, but getting anyone to actually track down an address — email or physical — has proved elusive. I’ve had people write down my info and promise to find a way to relay it to him. Then, more silence.

Can you imagine people of an earlier generation trying to reconnect before Facebook, or even the internet itself? Would they write letters and wait weeks for replies that might never arrive?

The Salvation Army works with street people. I don’t know if they still do this, but for many years they offered a find service, probably mostly used by family members. Of course, you could also run a personal ad in the newspaper and hope the person had a contact who would read it

A few years back there was also a Dave. I managed the band he played in. I sort of knew the where in this case, but I couldn’t get anyone who was in closer proximity to him to forward an email or even a phone number. We finally did connect. He had never received any of the messages. In one case I discovered a pattern of a Christian leader repeatedly ignoring email, not only on this but many other fronts. I know she’s a busy person, but rude is rude…

…I’ve always believed it’s important to stay connected to the people who knew you when. (Yes, that’s a complete sentence.) I think it keeps us grounded to have touchpoints with people who were involved in various stages of our lives. Perhaps it even keeps us humble…

…So who are the Waldos in your life?

Is locating them an obsession?

Do you ever wonder if they’re still alive?

Have you asked yourself if you did something to offend them that would make them want to break contact?

Is there an important message you want to give them, or something you need to get off your chest?

I hope you find your personal Waldo.


image: Anonymous postcard sent to PostSecret in late 2011 or early 2012.

March 15, 2018

“What Are You Like?”

A girl once asked me the question, “What are you like?”

I had basically forgotten this, until I watched something last night where the main characters were updating online dating profiles which basically answered the same question, “What are you like?” Or if you prefer, “Describe yourself.”

It occurred to me that the order of things is now reversed. Back in the day, there was some context in which you got to meet someone: Work, school, church, neighborhood, etc. There had already been superficial contact and visual recognition.

Then you decided to deepen the relationship by probing deeper — getting to know each other one-on-one — by asking questions like the one above.

But today, couples share their self-description of their personality, guiding principles, experiences, aspirations, preferences, etc.; long before they ever come into physical proximity.

Another way of putting this: Instead of the kid you met at camp who agrees to become a pen pal (a dated notion if there ever was one), it’s the pen pal who agrees to meet up (which admittedly did happen from time to time; hence the ‘Pen Pal Wanted’ ads in the back of magazines). Intimacy (in terms of personality and mental insights) precedes contact.

There is a lot riding on your writing ability, and no, I’m not offering to help you draft your profile description. If you can say what you want to say, the way you want to say it, that’s great; but the chances of misinterpretation are many, and with some people, spelling counts as does grammar. It’s the ultimate creative writing assignment.

It’s the same with a picture. Without a budget allocation, your best bet is to at least have someone take the picture for you, and in good lighting. But no picture tells it all. I was once set up on a blind date by a friend with a girl who happened to have 8 x 10 head-shot glossy pictures. (Not sure what you call them in Europe, but the size of an A4 sheet.) I found that rather strange, but she did look good in those poses. So I said yes. She was indeed the same as her picture, but Barry, my friend at the time, had held the picture out to me at the same height as he was standing, whereas the picture should have been held somewhere around his stomach. She was short. Very short. Can’t-get-past-it short. She deserved a guy who was more on her level.

Given an hour of angst to sweat it out writing a description, with thesaurus nearby, you can probably come up with something rather appealing. But asked live and in the moment, “What are you like?” you’re probably going to be more authentic, once you get past the shock of the question itself. And better to do this sooner, than later; better to not like other things — like the physical attraction part — get ahead of really knowing the person.

My answer? I honestly can’t remember what I said in the moments that followed.

May 16, 2017

Letting the Other Person Win

In my younger days I attended a College-and-Career Bible study where the topic for the evening was deferring to others. Note I did not say preferring others. I’ve heard that sermon many times. Holding the door open for the other person. Letting the person cut in front of you in line at the bank. That sort of thing.

No, this was about deferring to others. Surrendering whatever authority you could possibly leverage in the situation in order to allow the other person to have their way. Letting the less experienced or less qualified person have power and control. Even when you know you have a better way.

The best example I can come up with is this: You’re playing chess with a child and you allow the child to win. You’re the better player. You watch them make mistakes and lose pieces. You see them miss an opportunity to put you in check. But eventually you allow them to get your queen cornered and you say, “Wow! You beat me!”

This happens in families. It happens in neighborhoods. It happens over and over again in workplaces. And it can happen in church life, particularly if you oversee a board or a ministry committee. Sometimes, just because the other person has been at the church longer, or their grandparents paid for the Christian Education wing, the people in charge are not necessarily the best chess players. You have experience from how another church did this, or a particular talent or gift you could bring to bear on a given situation, but your suggestions are not appreciated, much less likely to be acted upon.

At that point you have to shrug your shoulders and default to the existing paradigm.

Here’s a consideration: Everybody knows that from a technical standpoint, Beta was a better videotape format than VHS. But VHS won. Some places still sell the videos. But in church life, should we not aim for excellence? Should we not want to present to the community at large, and before God himself, our best?

Yes and no. Jesus never prayed for us to come up with the most attractive programs, or serve the tastiest coffee to visitors, or have the most amazing worship team played through a state-of-the-art sound system. He prayed for unity in the body. (See yesterday’s C201.) Part of the way we achieve that unity is to relinquish control; to let the other person win. In Philippians 2, we read that although he was God, he did not see his divinity as something to be leveraged. That’s my paraphrase. I might have said, something to be leveraged every five minutes.

It’s really hard when you’re facing a situation in church, neighborhood, workplace or family life where two very strong wills collide head-to-head, but the higher calling is to take the lower position.

If the other person, idea or methodology fails, perhaps then you might invoke an ‘I told you so.’ But if things turn out not bad or reasonably well, you can sleep better knowing you took the high road. If it makes you feel better, you can think of it as, ‘I am deferring to you, not because I think you are right, or have the better concept, but because you are my brother or sister.’


Image: WebMD

 

May 11, 2017

“Your Father Was a Big Influence in My Life”

Several times in my life I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people in their early 20s or teens and let them know how one or both of their parents played a big role in my life or a community I was part of. Often the parents are standing there as I tell the story. But sometimes we don’t get to share the story while the parent is still living.

This article isn’t all that old but there are probably many readers today who didn’t see it two years ago. It’s one I really like. The original title was, “When There was No Opportunity to Say Thanks.”

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

September 4, 2015

Friendships Come and Friendships Go

friendshipsIt is said that one of the finest blessings you can experience is to have one friendship that lasts a lifetime. I’m not sure if the writer had your spouse in mind, but I believe that was not the context, which is better since it allows singles, separateds and divorced to play the home version of the game.

In reality however, many friendships last for only a season. In Christian ministry, some turn out to be task oriented. As long as you continue to manage the church nursery, play the guitar or be a youth group sponsor, you’re in. Step down from those positions and watch your social life die. My wife and I have experienced this over and over.

Some friendships are geographically based. Move away and promise to keep in touch and you’ll find it’s a promise that doesn’t always get kept. You’ve been told absence makes the heart grow fonder? Try out of sight, out of mind. You might hear the classic, ‘I think I accidentally blocked you on Facebook.’

But some simply die out. Again, because this is a Christian writing platform, I want to deal with a few that have a church or ministry context:

  • You’ve been a mentor to a person who is growing spiritually by leaps and bounds and you’ve reached that stage where the student has surpassed the teacher. They are now acutely aware of inconsistencies in your life and thus disillusioned, find it best to dump you.

or

  • You came alongside someone at a particularly low point in their life, but now that they are back on their feet, their renewed personality makes them attractive to other people and they receive attention from a far greater pool of people in the church family.

or

  • You taught Sunday School with someone for years but decided in the Spring that you’d like to audition for the worship team. You made it in, but now that person has distanced themselves from you.

or

  • Your friend is part of a church culture that feeds on new blood, and some people have arrived on the scene that are simply more interesting that you are.

or finally,

  • You yourself have been at a particularly low point in life. It may be spiritual, or it may be circumstantial, but now your ‘friend’ just doesn’t want to have to prop you up during a time of challenge.

There’s also a dynamic that takes place in churches — and in life in general — that reflects the nature of the people being unfriended. Some people are simply gregarious. We don’t use that word much today, instead we talk about extroverts. Others are introverts and much has been written about how church culture can mitigate against such people (but also about how they can thrive just the same.)

Example:

  • Dan is a single dad with ties to people in the Men’s group. So is Bruce. But Bruce has six really close relationships to other guys in the group — going to sports events, working on model planes and drones, playing in pick-up bands, etc. — while Dan is really just friends with Bruce. So when Bruce and Dan start to connect on fewer occasions, it still leaves Bruce with five really close friendships, but leaves Dan with none.

And then there is the “couples complication.” Remember the line from Frasier? “When you get the one, you get the other one.”

  • Jennifer and Mark are good friends with Wanda and Jason. Dinners, shopping trips, and watching each others kids when one couple wants a night out. But then Mark gets into a major fight with Jason. Suddenly, Jennifer and Wanda have fewer contexts to connect.

or

  • Rob and Jocelyn are longtime friends of Ben and Katie. But now Ben and Katie have decided to migrate over to the new church plant that’s meeting at the high school. Nothing can kill a friendship as what happens when someone leaves a church.

So…relationships are complex and church life probably complicates this even further. What can you do?

When circumstances change, you need to work twice as hard to nurture the relationship. You also need to be aware of the vulnerability of the relationship during times of change.

Personally, I believe that if superficial circumstances are all it takes to fracture a relationship, it was never there in the first place.

August 20, 2015

Andy Stanley: Love, Sex and Dating

Eschewing the standard Christian Television approach, Andy Stanley and the staff at North Point in Atlanta have been buying time on local NBC stations after Saturday Night Live. The repackaged sermon video is called Your Move, and the website is YourMove.Is

Today, if you have 28.5 minutes; we’re going to watch one of Andy’s most popular messages, which is also a book and a curriculum, The New Rules for Love Sex and Dating. This is the first of several episodes and deals with The “Right Person” Myth.

May 26, 2015

When There Was No Opportunity to Say Thanks

This is scheduled to appear later in the week at Christianity 201, under the title Gifts In Kind.

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

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