Relationships

Relationships

Principles for Wise Discipline

Wise discipline of children…

1. Knows and respects the child.
There’s no place for discipline that demeans children or serves as a vent for an adult’s frustration. All people are made in the image of God, and God commands parents to rear their children in a way that doesn’t provoke or frustrate children. Discipline serves God’s ends, not our own, and should lead children toward the loving embrace of God through the love and respect of their parents.

2. Sacrifices being liked for a moment to do what is best.
Most parents are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their children, but many parents refuse to tell their children “no” out of fear that their children won’t like them or might (gasp) be upset with them. The loving and direct application of God’s truth to a child’s life is worth your child’s disapproval.

3. Varies by age and situation.
Wise discipline is consistent but not rigid. If children never know what to expect, the lack of consistency will drive them crazy. But if parents never adapt to situations and individuals, they can press “a square peg” so hard into “a round hole” that they can do harm to the child.

4. Prepares hearts for the gospel when it’s done in love.
By bringing consequences in a temporary, yet tangible way, we model the holy anger of God against sin. By loving our children warmly, relationally, and unconditionally, we model the loving care of our Heavenly Father. Understanding the character of God helps children understand the necessity of the cross for dealing with the pain of sin and the love of the cross, as Christ died for our sin. Teaching children that there’s no pain in sinning cheapens the sacrifice of Christ.

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What Are “The Wounds of a Friend”?

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

1) The wounds of a friend come from a posture of humility.
If we have something difficult to say, it’s communicated best after we’ve dealt with the beam in our own eye. It’s hard to sense humility from someone who approaches us when we’re hurting, so we tend to lash out because of pain. But a true friend identifies with us in our pain, even when they’re telling us hard truths.

2) The wounds of a friend are best built on a foundation of relational trust.
The only way to build trust in a relationship is time and personal investment. Sometimes the threat is so great that you must speak, but if at all possible, wait to speak until you’ve loved faithfully and sacrificially.

3) The wounds of a friend are rooted in a desire to benefit another,  not fix something that irritates me.
We often tend to address what’s personally annoying, but a true friend is willing to cover irritations in love, while lovingly addressing patterns that are harmful to another person. A true friend bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, when it’s a matter of personal irritation (1 Corinthians 13:7). When a matter threatens someone’s soul or personal wellbeing, a true friend attempts to restore in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2).

4) The wounds of a friend are the fruit of courageous love.
It’s hard to tell people something they don’t want to hear. Someone who humbly and lovingly opens your eyes to blind spots in your life is a loving and courageous friend, one worth hanging onto.

5) The wounds of a friend come with healing balm (even though they hurt).
Wounds hurt. There’s no way of getting around this. But because we’re approaching a friend in love, we also stick with our friend to help salve the wound, bind it, and help it heal.

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

5 Keys to Building Relational Trust

Leadership is about building relationships, and the key to a good relationship is trust. This is true in any relationship – family, friendship, organizational leadership, etc.

In the middle of this interview, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn quickly summarizes fives keys to building relational trust. You can see the keys below, along with a brief comment about what each one looks like.

Keys to building relational trust:
  1. Integrity: do the right thing, even when it costs you.
  2. Compassion: make sure people know you care.
  3. Competence: get the right job done in the right way.
  4. Consistency: strive to live predictably according to your values.
  5. Empathy: take time to listen and understand both sides.
“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”
-Abraham Lincoln

If You’re Bad at Sharing the Gospel, This Is for You.

How are you doing with mission #1?

God’s plan for spreading the message of the gospel is for His people to speak the message to others. In other words, it’s our responsibility and privilege to share the gospel with other people. Let’s have a moment of honesty here. We’re often not very good at sharing the gospel. But when we consider our responsibilities as God’s children, our number one mission is calling people to follow Jesus.
2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Paul says that we carry the gospel treasure in jars of clay. What’s implied by this kind of jar? It’s breakable; it’s ordinary; it’s replaceable; it’s useful; it’s normal; it’s everyday. By nature, it’s fragile and relatively unimportant. If you carried a treasure around in a clay pot, would you ever be tempted to wonder whether the treasure or the pot was more important? God uses ordinary people to spread the gospel.

Why does God use ordinary people to spread the gospel?

The gospel is built around grassroots movements—ordinary people captured by the light of the gospel, carrying the treasure of the gospel around with them and spreading it like seed on a field. Some falls on good ground; some doesn’t. God uses ordinary people to remind us that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
You see, if we were awesome, people might get mixed up. They might start to think that we are the point … when we exist to point to someone greater—to point to the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer of sinful men. The eternal worship of the triune God is the point of the gospel! We exist to point to Him, to call people to worship Him! If the light is about us, if we’re the treasure, then people won’t clearly see the One whom life is truly about.

What are the implications for you as you share the gospel?

  1. If you’re bad at sharing the gospel, that’s ok. It’s not about you! (Do it anyway.)
  2. If you don’t share the gospel, you’re acting as though you’re the point.
  3. If you share the gospel well, that’s because God delights in using ordinary, humble people. You see, it’s still not about you; it’s about God.
  4. We should share the gospel everywhere we go. Because we carry the gospel in us, we should speak it to those around us.

How can you get better at sharing the gospel?

  1. Pray for God’s help.
  2. Get comfortable with the idea that it will be awkward. And that’s ok.
  3. Talk with someone else about your fear and awkwardness, and ask them to pray with you and encourage you.
  4. Talk about God as though He’s real. Talk about Jesus as you talk about the Super Bowl, your job, your favorite movie, your family. But talk about Jesus more. It’s not a special category that requires a switch into “spiritual” mode. It’s something that you can do everywhere you go.
  5. Get to the gospel. At some point, commit to sharing the gospel with your friend. What if they reject you? They probably will. Don’t be rude, but be persistent. This is a treasure worth sharing!
  6. Rejoice that you get to carry the gospel with you everywhere you go! If we don’t share the gospel because we’re scared or embarrassed, we’re acting as though we, the clay pots, are the point. Don’t forget about the treasure!

Saying Goodbye

This evening, I read the letter below to our church family. I let the other pastors in our church know of God's leading this way in July. We would appreciate your prayers for God's guidance regarding our next steps. I am thankful to God for the opportunities that He has blessed us with as a result of our time at Hampton Park.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is hard to believe that we are in my sixth year of serving as a pastor at Hampton Park Baptist Church. It has been one of the great joys in my life to serve here and love and be loved by this flock. I thank God for the gifts that He has given this body and the way that you all have used those gifts to minister to Liz, our girls, and me.

I have known virtually no other church than Hampton Park. For the past 32 years, with the exception of a few months away for ministry at various times, I have attended and served in this local body, and I thank God for the influence of the members here in my life. This body has been incredibly generous and gracious to me and my family. Much of who I am today is a result of the ministry of people here. Thank you for your kindness. You wept with us when my dad died, and you rejoiced with us in the subsequent salvation of two of my brothers and more recently in the birth of our two daughters. Space does not permit me to recount all the grace you have shown us. I love you and will forever be deeply indebted to you.

Through a variety of circumstances, the Lord has made it evident to Liz and me that He is moving us on from Hampton Park to pursue ministry elsewhere. We are praying for the growth and continued ministry of this body, and it will always remain dear to our hearts. We greatly desire your prayers for the days ahead, and you certainly have ours.

May God's grace and peace guide you as you seek the health of this body for His glory.

Love your brother in Christ,

Joshua

 

Cross-Dressing and the Christian

Have you ever run into someone in an awkward situation that was precipitated by their lifestyle choice? My family and I were recently eating in town when a man whom I had known from childhood walked in dressed in drag–complete with high heel boots, stockings, and mini skirt. This friend has made lifestyle choices that go along with his dress. We grew up in the same church, under the same preaching, and have much of the same cultural and educational background. My purpose here is not to discuss what motivates someone like this to make the choices he has made. Rather, I'd like to consider what an appropriate response for a Christian should be. How should we respond to a friend or acquaintance in a situation like this? Following are four characteristics that should characterize interactions like this.

Loving

The first thing that should characterize the believer's response to any situation is love. So, we should guard ourselves from mocking, scorning, or laughing in a way that demonstrates we have forgotten this person is made in the image of God. Demeaning behavior shouldn't characterize our interactions with any person, no matter how put-off we may feel by them. We ought to ask God to replace our proud thoughts with true love, with a heart that is concerned for the soul of this person.

Friendly

It seems appropriate in a case like this to look the person in the eye, smile, and shake his hand. To demonstrate that I still value him personally and that I can relate to him as one made in the image of God. Friendliness is not the same as love. Friendliness is also not the same as wholesale acceptance. More on this in a moment.

Reserved

What I'm not saying here is that believers should intentionally act awkward and reserved around those who are different. However, I believe it's also likely that there will be some sense of awkwardness in the greeting and in the relationship. A friend living any sort of inappropriate lifestyle–heterosexual, homosexual, drug-addicted, drink-addicted, etc.–should feel somewhat awkward around obedient Christians. Not because we don't demonstrate love and kindness, but precisely because we demonstrate concern for them while recognizing that their sin causes great harm to the image of God in them. Our response to their open sin should always be moderated by recognizing that we are sinful too and that only the grace of Christ can rescue us from our sin.

Honest

I don't believe that every conversation with an egregiously sinning friend should be about the person's sin–in fact, most of them probably shouldn't be, or you won't be friends very long! However, I do believe that we should take opportunity to lovingly confront sin in light of the relationships that God has given us. Friendliness is not the same as love. True love is opposed to anything that attacks a person's good. If there's never any open confrontation of sin, we are not truly loving our friend. Because sinful choices attack the true good of another human being, we should oppose sinful choices. Sometimes it will result in relational tension, but it should never be because I have rejected a person outright because I don't like what they've done. It must always be about God's holiness and their good. I can oppose sin in a winsome way, in a way that says, “I respect you because you are made in the image of God, but you are doing irreparable damage to that image, apart from the rescuing grace of Jesus Christ.”

Summary: winsome opposition

In summary, I believe we should winsomely oppose sin–in our children, in ourselves, and in those that sin blatantly and openly. I'm giving thought to this because I've encountered several situations like this, and I'm confident I'll encounter many more. I pray that God will help me equip my family and church to respond with truth and grace as we seek to winsomely oppose sin.

 

Christian Celebrity & First Impressions (Part 2)

In part 1, we considered that we have only one opportunity to make a first impression. While first impressions can be undone over time, we often don't get a second chance to demonstrate focused attention to the person right in front of us. The same is true for churches and church leaders.

Reflections for Churches:

What is the impression of those who walk in your doors for the first time? Do you give the impression that you are processing numbers (i.e., people) so that you can get to the main show? Is “checking in” at your church like checking in at the airport or a ball game? “Get these people through so that we can get the show started!”

Corporate worship is vital–you can't have a church without it! But corporate worship apart from genuine care for the people there is merely a show. It's an excercise in “mini Christian celebrity.” The people on the platform are looked at from afar, as people are drawn (or not drawn) to the personalities on the stage.

Have you given intentional thought about how to welcome and incorporate those outside your church who are just getting a first impression of your church? Corporate worship is essential, but it's not sufficient for showing love to those who are part of your church body and for showing true Christian hospitality to those who come in from the outside.

Be on the lookout for ways to actively demonstrate genuine interest and care for those who walk in. Develop a strategy for church leaders and church members to demonstrate tangible love to those who come from the outside. Think about the way you'd like to be treated and welcomed. We often greet and welcome visitors in such an awkward way that it's no surprise they feel conspicuous!

Reflections for Church Leaders:

Brothers, do you demonstrate genuine care for the people in your church? Do you wish that your sheep weren't so obstinate and difficult to work with? It may do us some good to reflect that those we serve may have the same thoughts about us!

We should seek to be where we are, to care about the person right in front of us, to demonstrate to that person that we aren't thinking about the next person in line or the next project or the next element in the order of worship.

We should give intentional time to thinking through first impressions for those outside of our church body and continuing care for those inside our church body. We should repent of impatience and a lack of care for the people right in front of us. When we mess up–or sin outright–we should be willing to repent publicly (when appropriate) and privately. While people may be drawn to celebrity from a distance, the nature of true humility is much more winsome up close than airbrushed celebrity perfection is from afar.

Don't overestimate your value to your church or to the kingdom of God. Recognize that God is doing something much greater than making you and your church look awesome. Love the person right in front of you, and trust that God will grow His church, in spite of your imperfections. He built His church for centuries without you, and He will keep building HIS church when you are gone!