Category Archives: relationships

Things I’m Glad My Dad Didn’t Teach Me

(For Father’s Day I am posting a piece first published in 2015 by Gatehouse Media.) After reading an article by Peter Scholl, a forty-something married man with kids, living in Australia, I find myself grateful for the things my dad … Continue reading

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“I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins”

Many people find the extravagant breadth of Christian forgiveness objectionable. Should even Hitler, if he has expressed “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” be forgiven? What about the sexual predator? The murderer?

I have had to be clear about this in my own mind. The forgiveness of sins is easy enough to believe when you are sitting in a church pew. It is another matter when you are sitting in a jail cell with a man accused of molesting a two-year-old child or a woman who shot her sleeping husband and then decapitated him so she could be with another man. In such situations, could I honestly say that I believe in the forgiveness of sins?

Yes. I have been able to believe in the forgiveness of sins – even in those cells – because I believe in the God of Jesus. I am, however, in doubt about whether the people I came to see believed. They didn’t stop making excuses long enough for me to find out, but people who believe in the forgiveness of sins make confession, not excuses. Continue reading

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An Eye for What Others Miss

The biographies of Jesus tell a fascinating story about his encounter with a man named Levi Matthew, a tax collector. The evangelist Luke makes a point of stating that Jesus “saw” him. Other people saw him too, but not in the same way.

They saw him the way motorists see the toll booth worker on the turnpike: most took no notice of him. Those who did tried to avoid him. But others looked at him with disgust. He was a tax collector. People have never cared much for the company of tax collectors – then or now. But people working for the IRS are a hundred times more welcome in our day than tax collectors were in Levi’s day.

A tax collector was a citizen of Israel who went to work for Israel’s conquerors, the Romans. He collected tax money from his people and gave it to the Romans to fund the military occupation of their own country. And he did it for money. When people looked at Levi, the more generous saw a greedy and dishonest low-level bureaucrat. Most saw a traitor. The rest just saw a loser.

St. Luke says that Jesus saw Levi Matthew. He had his eye on him. He saw the things other people saw, but he saw something they didn’t see: He saw what Levi Matthew would become. Not a traitor who sold his life for money but a saint who would sacrifice his life for God; not a low-level bureaucrat but a high-level apostle; not a loser but a saint.

It is unlikely that other people saw this. Continue reading

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When it Comes to Love: Know the Operating Specs

We often assume that 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a is telling us what we are ordered to do – or at least what we should do. But read it for yourself: There are no commands here—not a single imperative (or even subjunctive) mood verb in this entire section. Paul is not ordering us to love; he is describing love to us. The 15 active voice verbs in this section provide us with love’s operating specs, which we can then use in our own lives. This is intensely practical stuff.

Look at the first spec: love is patient. That lets us know that if we are living in love, we will be seeing patience. But what if we see impatience instead? That is also helpful. It means an adjustment is necessary – not that we need to try harder but that we need to come to God in trust and possibly repentance, so that love can start flowing again.

The same thing works for each of these actions listed. Love acts kindly. That is an operating spec. If I am living in love as I was designed to do, I can expect kindness to be part of my life. On the other hand, if I am easily angered or am keeping a record of the wrongs, that is an indication that I have moved out of love and adjustments need to be made.
Can you see how helpful this could be? Continue reading

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What it Takes for Love to Last

Hundreds of years before people began celebrating Valentine’s Day, the holiday du jour for February 14 was Lupercalia. The philosopher Plutarch refers to Lupercalia as a time when “young men of noble families run through the city naked and …strike those they meet with shaggy thongs.” They were history’s first streakers.

Though respectable people no longer took part in it, the festival was still being celebrated in the middle of the third century when a priest named Valentinus – we know him as St. Valentine –lived in Rome. Fast-forward to 496 AD. Lupercalia is a distant memory. February 14 is now the day to celebrate the Feast of St. Valentine. Continue reading

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How Can I Talk with Others About Faith?

Do you have friends and family you’d like to talk to about your faith? A good place to start is with talking to God about your friends and family. Ask him for opportunities to speak with them. If that is … Continue reading

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Direct Evangelism and Responsive Evangelism

This is the Apostle Peter. “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be … Continue reading

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And We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden: The Church as Proof that Jesus Is the Way

Ever since humans were banished from the garden, they’ve been trying to get back: back to God and back to each other. The church is living proof that Jesus is the way back. Let me bring this home. Gospel people … Continue reading

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Ahem, Your Assumptions Are Showing

There are times, however, when people’s arguments are so thin that their assumptions show through, like the ribs of a famished child. This has frequently been the case during this past election cycle. When people engage in thinly veiled ad hominem arguments, their assumptions show right through.

Assumptions may be true or false, solid or porous, a helpful support or a useless frame. The beginning of 2021 is a good time to check our assumptions, make sure they are solid and are where they should be. To do this will almost certainly require a friend to look us over and tell us if our assumptions are showing. An enemy might be even better.

Inaccurate assumptions can lead to improper actions, painful emotions, and harmful results. A woman was stuck in the airport, waiting for a delayed flight. As her layover stretched into hours, she got hungry. Because she had pre-purchased an inflight meal, she bought only a bag of cookies, hoping they would tide her over. She sat down at a corner table in a crowded snack bar, opened a newspaper, and began to read.

She scanned the world and national news, then flipped through the lifestyle section. Just as she took up the business section, she heard the rustling of plastic. She lowered her paper to find a well-dressed man sitting across from her eating one of the cookies. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

She glowered at him, pulled the cookies to her side of the table, and conspicuously ate one. She then raised the paper to check what was happening in the markets. Almost immediately, he was back into the cookies. She lowered the paper again and glared at him but, the moment she raised it, he was at it again. This time she stared long and hard at him. In response, he broke the last cookie, slid half across to her, put the rest in his mouth and walked off.
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Thankfulness Is a Predictor of Spiritual Vitality

t can be hard to understand what’s going on in a story if you don’t know the backstory. This is not only true in the movies; it’s true in everyday life. The dynamics of the workplace will confound you unless you know that the woman in HR who is married to the boss used to be married to your department supervisor. Knowing the backstory is also important when it comes to understanding the Bible.

One of the fascinating backstories in the Scripture has to do with the relationship between Jews and Samaritans – as in the “Good Samaritan.” The northern Jewish kingdom of Samaria was conquered in the Assyrian War, its inhabitants deported, and the land resettled by people from other conquered nations. The new residents, known as Samaritans, and their southern Jewish kingdom neighbors did not get along.

When the Samaritans offered their help in rebuilding the devastated Jewish temple, the Jews refused and told them they were unworthy. Later, according to the biblical scholar William Barclay, a “renegade” Jew married the daughter of a well-known Samaritan leader and preceded to build a rival temple to the one in Jerusalem. A famous Jewish general led a raid into Samaria and destroyed the temple. The Samaritans responded by vandalizing and contaminating the Jewish Temple.

This is the backstory to the Bible’s chronicle of Jewish-Samaritan relations. It helps the reader understand why Jesus’s disciples wanted to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village. It also explains why Jesus’s disciples were shocked to find him speaking to a Samaritan woman – something no other Jewish rabbi would have even thought of doing. Continue reading

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