Category Archives: Spiritual life

Love: It’s not a Matter of Trying Harder

That way follows a well-worn path to hypocrisy and apathy. 1 Corinthians 13 is not about what we should be doing. There is no “should” about it.

Grammarians describe “should,” “would,” and “could” words as subjunctive mood verbs. In verses one through three, where Paul describes the lengths to which someone might go to be an honorable person, there are ten subjunctive mood verbs. This is the try harder section. But where that leads – to the conviction (verse 2) that “I am nothing” and, (verse 3) that “I gain nothing” is not where we want to go.

In the next section, which runs from verse 4 through verse 8 and contains a description of love, there is not a single subjunctive mood verb. What does that mean? It means that here Paul is not telling us what we should do but what love does do. When we read this as if Paul is telling us to dig deep and be more patient, be more kind, less envious, less angry, we only succeed in frustrating ourselves—and frustrated people do not love well.

When, later in this letter, Paul tells the Corinthians to “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14), he is not saying, “Be more loving!” He is telling them to enter into love and do what they do from there. When he tells the Galatians to “serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13), it’s the same kind of thing. It is not, “Try harder to be loving,” as if we can manufacture love, but “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:21). Since “love comes from God” (I John 4:7) and not from us, “digging deep” usually only leaves us in a hole. We need to go to the source of love. We need to go to God. Continue reading

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What Superbowl Advertisers Teach Us

Sixty-nine commercial spots ran during this year’s Superbowl. Each thirty-second commercial cost two million dollars, which means, if I did the math right, that advertisers spent 138 million dollars to convince us to buy their product during just one television program. One suspects that Pepsi, Anheuser-Bush, Cadillac and others don’t buy into the lingering myth that television content has no lasting effect on viewers.

John Paul II once noted that “Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong and are at the mercy of those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it on others.” I am not sure who the Pope had in mind when he referred to “those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it” but I suspect he was thinking of those in the entertainment industry.

Television and the movies have a bully pulpit in almost every home in America. So what do they teach? For one thing, they teach that religious people are always suspect, usually odd and sometimes dangerous (unless, of course, they are clergy, which almost guarantees them to be dangerous). A recent study conducted by the Parents Television Council found that 25% of the time religious people are portrayed on television, it is in a negative light (22% of such portrayals are positive). But on NBC, the network of West Wing, ER and “Must See TV”, over nine out of ten portrayals of religious people were negative. Apparently someone at NBC is on a mission to warn America that religious people are greedy, mean and, very possibly, sexual predators. Continue reading

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Christians Should Be Different: Here’s Why

How do we make the teaching about God attractive to people who have never given it any thought – don’t even know there is anything to think about? How do we help them trust the unseen God, when there are … Continue reading

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COVID-19: We Could Have Done Better. Why Didn’t We?

We could have done better. COVID-19 might have been a uniter, bringing Americans together to deal with a common threat and to preserve a shared interest. We could have done what America has done before in the face of such threats: put aside what divides us and work together for the common good.

But COVID-19 has not be a uniter. Or rather, we have not been uniters. We have retreated from each other into our political, racial, and religious corners, like prize fighters, impatient for the next round so that we can deliver our jabs or maybe even a knockout punch.

Writers and social commentators are calling 2020 “The Year of COVID” and “The Year of the Coronavirus,” but this is a misnomer. 2020 was “The Year of Division.” The coronavirus merely alerted us to how deep our divisions are.

Before the coronavirus, the division between the races, always painfully present, was front and center. The division between the sexes was also highlighted by the Me-Too movement and the trial of Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men. The division between the wealthy and the poor became glaring in the light of growing income inequality.

The divisions have further divided us. Somehow Black Lives Matter turned into an argument about the value of Blue Lives. The pain and humiliation suffered by the sexually harassed led to the defamation of victims. Instead of raising concern, the income inequality numbers became a sword in the hands of political swashbucklers. COVID didn’t divide us. We were already divided.
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The Role of Witnesses: What Have We Seen?

I was invited to speak at a prayer retreat 40 miles away. The night before I left, I was up, pacing the floor, and questioning whether I should continue as the pastor of this church. We had no money, no groceries, and two kids to feed. I was having a crisis of faith. I was a dad who couldn’t take care of his family. But that night God helped me and I renewed my commitment to him. I told him he was still my portion and my very great reward and that I would trust him.

At the retreat, a woman I didn’t know asked if she could speak with me. She handed me a check, already filled out, and said, “God wants me to give this to you.” When I got home that night, I learned that people from church had dropped off groceries, which was the first time I remember that happening.

Those in-the-moment-of-need provisions became a common occurrence and, the thing is, we never told anyone (except God) of our need, not even our parents – especially our parents. We have seen how God acts in this world for the people of Jesus.

But money is just a little thing (as Jesus himself pointed out), a first-year introductory course. More important is what God is doing in our lives and our family. He has been changing us, even while – even by – allowing us a small part in what he is doing to change the world. Karen and I are satisfied. We are satisfied with life. We are satisfied with God. And with the things we are not satisfied – usually ourselves – we trust God to keep working until he is satisfied! Continue reading

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Disruption: We Hate It but We Need It

God, the theologians tell us, is omnipotent, immutable, and incomprehensible. They should have told us that he is also inconvenient. The eternal and omnipresent God doesn’t step into our little lives without disrupting our plans.

The fact is most of us need a good disruption from time to time. We may not like it – probably won’t – but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Without occasional disruptions, the priority of our convenience, our plans, our schedule remain unchallenged, which can leave us assuming a false independence from God. God uses disruptions for our good, to teach us to trust him, to break us out of our self-centeredness and enable us to know him better.

He also uses disruptions to move us in new and better directions. The business world has a term for systemic changes brought about by the introduction of a new agent. They call it disruptive innovation. God has been managing disruptive innovation since he banished our first parents from the Garden. No one understands it better. Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: Interpreting Circumstances

Noam Shpancer says that most people “interpret all of life by [their] current context.” The current context is the only interpretive lens they’ve got. How sad that is, especially during this time of pandemic, but also at other times. Interpreting … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: Lock Eyes with God

Sometimes, the future is so promising. We want it to come: we want to get married, have kids, go on vacation, get a job, retire from a job. Sometimes the future is so threatening. We just want to get it … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: The Need to Remember

If we are going to trust our God, we must learn to trust his timing. If we do not, we will always be in a hurry, constantly be worried and, in our haste for tomorrow, miss what God has placed … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: The Timely God

In the church, the Advent season has always been a time of waiting. On the Church calendar, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. So, we wait. That is countercultural. Society does not wait. Walmart doesn’t wait. They are plugging Christmas … Continue reading

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