Category Archives: relationships

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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Choose a Side That Does Not Divide Us

I feel like I am in a Doctor Seuss story – like we are all in a Doctor Seuss story – a story I know. My kids and grandkids know it too: The Sneetches.

In The Sneetches, Dr. Seuss presents a race of furry yellow, long-necked, narrow-footed creatures that are nearly identical to each other in appearance. The only difference among them is that some have a star shape on their bellies while others do not. By the third paragraph, we understand that the starred sneetches feel disdain for their plain-bellied cousins.

Into the story comes the ethically challenged grifter Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He sees an opportunity to use the sneetches’ self-righteous contempt for one another to his advantage. He builds a machine that can change a sneetch so that it looks like every other sneetch.

A sneetch, at a cost to itself, goes into the machine and comes out looking just like other sneetches. The grifter, of course, cares nothing for the sneetches, only for their money. He reshapes them for his sake, not for theirs.

Sylvester has reappeared. This time around, he has created a propaganda machine that imprints ideas rather than stars. All day long, people go into the machine – that is, into network, print, and social media – where they are made to look like every other person who accessed the machine through the same entrance. Continue reading

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The Costly Substitution of our Values

The author Max Lucado related the story of some clever thieves who were able to rob a department store in a large city without hiding any items in purses or clothes or taking a single item from the store that was not checked out by a clerk. They received a receipt for everything they stole.

The band went to the store, dispersed and, like other shoppers, quietly browsed through the merchandise. Unlike other shoppers, they furtively removed barcode tags from less costly items and swapped them for the tags on pricier items. They exchanged the tag on a $395 camera for the tag on a box of stationary. They put the price tag from a paper-back book on an outboard motor. Then they left the store without taking a thing.

When the store opened the next morning, there were displaced price tags everywhere. One would expect chaos to ensue but, surprisingly, the store operated normally for some time. A few customers (the thieves were likely among them) got away with steals while others, outraged by what they considered ridiculous prices, refused to make purchases. It took four hours before management noticed the mix-up.

Something is happening in the larger world that mirrors that department store. A hoax has been played on us that has been generations in the making. Price tags on values have been switched and few people have taken notice. Possessions are treasured more highly than people. Greater importance is attached to careers than to children. Fulfillment is esteemed above faithfulness.
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So Much for June Cleaver: Mother’s Day 2020

I once thought of Mother’s Day as an innocuous, greeting card kind of holiday. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate moms? Just the fact that she went through labor giving birth to us is cause enough to say thanks. She fed us countless meals, clothed us, put cold washcloths on our foreheads when we had a fever, and laid awake at night when we were out late as teenagers. Everybody ought to celebrate moms.

Then I got to know people – not one but many – who had a mom that did not always see that they were fed, whose five-year-old had to pick out her own clothes and get her own breakfast. Moms who either were not home to put cold washcloths on foreheads or were not sober. Moms who didn’t give their teenagers a thought, except when they were angry.

Then there are the women who ached to be a mom but were not able. Mother’s Day is an annual reminder of what they were denied. Not everyone wants to celebrate moms.

Even moms might not feel like celebrating Mother’s Day. If celebrating requires energy, mom may need to decline. Energy, like bandwidth, is in limited supply. If mom uses too much, she may start buffering and then freeze up altogether. Continue reading

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Good News for Today

The humorist and actor Robert Benchely once wrote, “There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.”

Benchely then drew the droll conclusion that “Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.”

Benchley’s characterization of the world is funny because he, by dividing people in such a way, has unwittingly placed himself in the first of the two classes, among those one cares very little to know. But, of course, there was nothing unwitting about it, which is what makes his remark so witty.

With his self-deprecating humor, Benchely was taking on a serious subject: the human proclivity to exclude people who differ from us. If we can classify someone, put them into a box and label them, it becomes easier to discount them. They are, after all, just liberals … or conservatives … or whites … or blacks … or Mexicans … or …

In recent years, some politicians have used this human inclination to “otherize” people to their advantage. It has become part and parcel of the political playbook. It is, however, nothing new. Continue reading

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Was Shakespeare Right: Is Love Blind?

Okay, so someone is bound to tell me it wasn’t Shakespeare but Chaucer who coined the phrase that love is blind. I’ll give you that, but Shakespeare popularized the phrase by his repeated use of it: The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry V all include it.

Before someone has the chance to object that some Persian poet who predated Chaucer really composed the line, I’ll concede the point, but the question remains. Was Chaucer and Shakespeare (and whoever else) right? Is love blind?

The answer depends on what one means by love. Eros, I think, is often blind. Friends and family watch the lover as he ignores glaring signals and stands poised to fall into a deep ditch. Love has made him blind to his situation and deaf to his friends. Continue reading

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The Man Who Led the Attack on Pearl Harbor

December 7th is the anniversary of the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, a day which, according President Roosevelt, would live in infamy.

My friend Hugh Hansel was an adolescent in 1941. He had gone fishing on a sunny Sunday in northwest Ohio and, when he returned home, he found the adults agitated and fearful. Over the next couple of years, Hugh watched older schoolmates go off to the war. He saw how they and their parents wept at their parting, and his young heart developed a deep hatred for the Japanese.

Fast forward to the next decade. Hugh had himself seen combat in Korea. After returning home, he and his wife Phyllis moved to Upland, Indiana, to attend Taylor University and pursue a degree in education. While he was there, it was announced that Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, would be on campus to speak. Signs began going up around Upland, calling on people to boycott Fuchida’s speech.

But Hugh wanted to see the monster who had attacked an unsuspecting enemy. He was filled with hate toward the Japanese generally and toward Fuchida in particular. Yet, by the time Fuchida’s speech ended, he had experienced a complete change of mind. He waited for Fuchida, not to give him a piece of his mind but to shake his hand.

The story he heard Fuchida tell was remarkable. Continue reading

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The Forgiver

During the closing song at a special service in an Indiana state prison, Chuck Colson noticed one of the inmates, a man named James Brewer, singing out at the top of his lungs. Colson says the man’s face was radiant. James Brewer had come to know Jesus Christ in prison and his life had been transformed.

As soon as the song was over, the Prison Fellowship Team began shaking hands and saying goodbye. Brewer returned to his cell, walking shoulder to shoulder with a Prison Fellowship volunteer. Colson was meeting the governor in Indianapolis in just two hours, so he followed them and urged the volunteer to hurry.

“We’ve got to go!” he called to the volunteer, but the man answered, “Just a minute, please!”

Colson shook his head. “I’m sorry, but the plane is waiting. We have to go right now!”

The volunteer said, “Please, please, this is very important. You see, I am Judge Clement. I sentenced this man to die. But now he is born again. He is my brother and we want a minute to pray together.”

Colson said, “I stood in the entrance to that solitary, dimly lit cell, frozen in place. Here were two men – one black, one white; one powerful, one powerless; one who had sentenced the other to die. Yet there they stood, grasping a Bible together, Brewer smiling so genuinely, the judge so filled with love for the prisoner at his side.”

Forgiveness. God is the Forgiver: he can forgive anyone – even me; even you. And because we are the Forgiven, we are called to forgive, just as God does. “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). To forgive like God does puts us in a place where remarkable things can happen in our lives. Continue reading

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Is Christianity a List of Dos and Don’ts?

A few of Jesus’s many commands can be kept, even without faith.
For example, no one has ever sued me for my tunic, so Jesus’s command to give such a person my cloak as well has never been a problem for me. However, the
command to stop worrying has been a problem. So has the command to love my
neighbor as myself, to guard against hypocrisy, to get rid of all bitterness, and to do everything without complaining or arguing.

As it stands, it is simply impossible to check off these and
the other New Testament commands in the way one checks off items from a to-do
list. To consistently do these things and, more to the point, to be shaped in heart and mind in such a way that doing these things becomes natural, a person must have faith. This kind of faith is not mental assent to a doctrine, even a
doctrine about God, nor is it a belief that God exists and that everything will work out in the end. It is not that these things are wrong; it is that they are not what Jesus and his early followers meant when they spoke of faith. Continue reading

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Key # 2: No Turnovers (listening time: 22:19)

http://lockwoodchurch.org/media Families can allow “turnovers” – losses of opportunities that take away their chance of achieving something for God. In this sermon, we learn five causes for “turnovers”: when we get lazy; when we’re just going through the motions; when … Continue reading

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