Category Archives: relationships

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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Clearing Away the Confusion Surrounding Forgiveness

In what is arguably the most oft-recited Scripture text in history, Jesus teaches his apprentices how to pray. We call this, “The Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father Prayer,” but it might be more accurate to call it, “The Disciple’s Prayer.” It was given as part of Jesus’ brilliant Sermon on the Mount and was meant to serve as a pattern for the disciple’s own prayers.

Jesus apparently felt one part of the prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” required clarification. Immediately following the prayer, he explained: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” With these shocking words Jesus puts us on notice: Our forgiveness is related to our choice to forgive.

Experience has taught me that many people struggle with this issue. They know, all too well, that they need forgiveness, and genuinely want to forgive those who have hurt them, but they don’t know how. When the pain of the past still washes over them like ocean waves, leaving a residue of bitterness and profound sorrow, what can they do?

The fact that God’s forgiveness is linked to our willingness to forgive can be unsettling, but one can learn to use that dynamic to one’s own advantage. A person who relishes God’s grace in forgiving his sins will find the grace necessary to forgive others’ sins, which is why Paul says, “Forgive, as in Christ God forgave you.” One ought to give thanks for God’s forgiveness, even bask in it. Only those who have experienced forgiveness can fully extend it.

“Forgive . . . as he forgave you.” If God’s forgiveness is the standard, then we must attempt to understand how he forgives. When God forgives us, for example, does he say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Forget it. It was nothing”? Not at all. In fact, he takes sin so seriously that he sent his Son to die for it. Offering forgiveness never minimizes the seriousness of the offense. Continue reading

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Identifying a Cause for Society’s Perforations

President Donald Trump is frequently blamed for the divisions in our society and it is hard to deny that he has been a contributing factor. But the president is like a person tearing a sheet of perforated paper. The perforations were already there.

Those perforations were created by sociological and psychological forces that are constantly at play in our culture. Many of these are well-attested and frequently cited: race and sexual discrimination, wealth disparity, and educational inequality, to mention a few. One dynamic that is often overlooked is the human need for belonging.

Among the life qualities that social scientists and psychologists say contribute to personal satisfaction, none is more important than a sense of belonging. Wealth, goal setting, sexual fulfillment, and even the practice of religion cannot substitute for it. A sense of belonging is a primary human need.

Our church sends students and adults to Tijuana, Mexico to help and encourage disadvantaged children and elderly adults living in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Each year when they return home, they always tell the same story: the people there have nothing compared to us, but they are happy. They belong.

This reality exposes the hollowness of the lone ranger, I-don’t-need-anyone narrative that is so often told in America. People experience the need to belong, whether they admit it or not. That need is not only present in us, it has an impact on our attitudes and actions, even when we are not aware of it.

This has been apparent throughout the pandemic and the run-up to the election. Continue reading

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Forgiveness (part 1): Breaking the Chain

A relationship with God is like a Baroque music composition: there is a point (what God must do) and a counterpoint (what we do in response). The point/counterpoint structure provides the soundtrack to a life of faith. Point: “He first loved us.” Counterpoint: “We love him.” Point: “He gave himself for us.” Counterpoint: “We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Point: “The mercies of God.” Counterpoint: “Present your bodies as living sacrifices.” Point: “He has forgiven you in Christ Jesus.” Counterpoint: “Forgive one another.”

When point is present without counterpoint, the soundtrack of our lives loses its power and our talk about God rings hollow. If that continues – God’s work without our response – our children and friends will naturally tune out anything we have to say about God.

There are plenty of examples of the point/counterpoint composition when it comes to forgiveness. Consider these from the lips of Jesus. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Listen to the same point/counterpoint structure in the words of Paul. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We may be tempted to explain away these challenging words, but we must not do so. This is serious business.

The novelist and teacher Frederich Beuchner writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. Continue reading

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Forgiveness Acts as an Identity Marker

Some of the key markers that a person is truly following Jesus are generosity, truthfulness, and faithfulness. Add to that humility, regard for enemies, and a readiness to admit wrongdoing. These are not things that immediately catch the eye, but, over time, they cannot help but become apparent.

The characteristic that stands out most strikingly against the backdrop of today’s anger culture is the Christian’s willingness to forgive. Self-righteousness is spreading more rapidly than the coronavirus and causing inestimable harm. The self-righteous can boast about many things, but the one thing they cannot do is forgive.

The telltale sign of this occurred when the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston forgave the white supremacist who killed nine of their members, including their pastor. They did so in obedience to their Lord. Yet their forgiveness sparked almost as much outrage as Dylann Roof’s mass murder.

This kind of thing is everywhere evident in our culture. Americans cannot forgive the failings (almost universal at the time) of their founding fathers nor their current leaders’ adolescent faults. Recently, the Sierra Club disowned its own founder for views he held as a young man and almost certainly came to abandon. People cannot even forgive themselves since they refuse to acknowledge their own sins.

Yet Jesus taught his followers to forgive everyone, brothers and sisters, and even enemies. Continue reading

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Church as Family: Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Let’s step back for a moment and survey the first century landscape. The earliest church members were almost all Jewish. They were convinced that Jesus – the crucified Jesus – was Israel’s messiah and believed God had raised him from the dead. This was in accordance with their own Scriptures and it proved that Jesus was Lord of all.

Their confession of Jesus created a gulf between them and their fellow Jews. It isolated them from their communities and often separated them from their families. They were excommunicated from their synagogues. They lost so much, but they kept each other. The church became their primary family.

The older men were fathers. The younger men brothers. The older women were everyone’s moms. The younger women were sisters. They looked out for each other. Helped each other; were each other’s friends.

Then non-Jews started confessing Jesus as Lord and that threw a wrench into the works. As Jews, the church family had looked on non-Jews with suspicion. Gentiles were, and had always been, outsiders. Now these outsiders were believing in their messiah. What were they supposed to do with them? How were they to relate to them? Were non-Jews kingdom citizens or resident aliens? An emergency family meeting was called (Acts 15 tells the story) and it was decided to accept these people into full family membership. Never before had Jews and Gentiles related to each other like this.

Most of these new Gentile family members came from the lower socio-economic classes (1 Cor. 1:26) and many were slaves. This threw another wrench into the works. When someone with money confessed Christ and joined the family, they found themselves worshiping alongside poor people, even slaves – sometimes their own slaves! In fact, their slaves might even be leaders in the church – now their leaders!

In the church, people called each other “brother” and “sister,” but how could a rich landowner call a slave – especially his slave – “brother”? What would the rich man’s peers think if they heard that? What would the other slaves think? Wouldn’t they become presumptuous? Shouldn’t a line be drawn?
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