Relationships

Are We Listening?

As our nation is embroiled in yet another controversy that is sweeping the airwaves and social media, I’m reminded how little I know and how ill-qualified I am to speak winsomely and helpfully to the issues of the day.

Some words from James that seem especially appropriate for white Christians in this moment: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Before jumping into the latest controversy take some time to ask (with a humble, open spirit) someone with a different skin color and perspective what they think about the protest. It’s possible that it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Then consider engaging further in a loving, respectful conversation with an actual person, and leave the social media outrage to others.

“If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).

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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.

One Church’s Response to White Supremacy in Charlottesville

Many of us are aware, while some possibly are not, that there were marches and protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend. Chants, flags, racist symbols, and violence shouted as loudly as the protestors themselves that white supremacy isn’t merely a figment of black America’s imagination. Today, I’d like to share some words regarding racial events that have increased in violence and visibility.

At times I haven’t known what to say. The truth is that I’m insecure about speaking into racial issues. My experience has taught me that people from all ends of the spectrum are upset—some because they think I talk about nothing but race and others because I don’t really know how to talk about it at all. And there’s some truth in that; I’ve made a muddle of it enough times to know I don’t really know. It’s easier to just be quiet. But I do know Jesus, I do believe the gospel, and it seems that the gospel is intersecting public life at this pressure point.

So I’d like to take a moment to speak for all of us here at Morning Star.

Scenes like the ones we saw this weekend grieve us. They should grieve all Christians. Men and women made in the image of God publicly and brazenly demeaning and attacking other men and women made in God’s image is a deeply disturbing, anti-Gospel image. Because we believe the gospel, we condemn racial sin of all sorts and the lie of white supremacy in particular. It is an abomination worthy of eternal punishment in hell. We hate it because God hates it. It doesn’t need to be soft-pedaled and shouldn’t be given any modicum of acceptance in Christian churches, and it’s not acceptable here.

God has blessed our congregation with a number of families and individuals of different ethnicities and skin colors. It’s one of the things I love about our church family. It’s like a little taste of heaven. But most of us don’t have the shared experience of being black in America. Because of this, it’s easy to be blind to much of the experience of people of color within America. So we should be humble in our response to these events. We must grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep. We must also condemn what God condemns. We must not allow our brothers and sisters of color to fight these battles on their own. There are some moments that aren’t clear. The events of this weekend were crystal clear.

God hates the fallacy of racial superiority. He hates racism enough that he poured out his anger on his own Son to punish the sin of racism and to redeem racist bigots who repent of their sin. Jesus shed his blood to unite all people—equally condemned before the justice of God and equally gloriously redeemed by the grace of God. Revelation 5:9-10: 9 And they sang a new song (to the Lamb), “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

So how do we respond to this weekend?

First, we declare that our unity is in Christ and that all people of all color are welcome and loved here. We eat of one body and drink of one cup. And to you who have been threatened by these events, know that it’s not you, it’s we—or more colloquially … us. We are one in Christ, we love you, and we stand with you.

Secondly, we deny that any human being is inherently superior to another, and we gladly affirm the dignity of all humans—whether we differentiate by race, mental ability, gender, age, or any other measure. Because all people are created in God’s image, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We gladly condemn racism in all its forms and white supremacy, in particular, including its most recent iteration in what’s become known as the “alt-right.”

Thirdly, we cry out to God for mercy. We pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus. The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

So let’s take a moment now and pray for peace and pray for our gospel light to shine brightly in a world shrouded in darkness.

Will you pray with me?

“Father, our hearts were grieved this weekend as we saw what unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. We pray for your peace to reconcile divides that seem unbridgeable right now. And we ask for wisdom for the events of today. On the one hand we’re inadequate and small, yet on the other we want to love and serve those we know, those we can help. Root out the vestiges of superiority of all sorts that remain in our hearts, whether that relates to gender, race, religion, income level, or anything else. Have mercy on our nation, we pray. And give us courage to stand firm in the gospel even when the cost of discipleship seems near and dear. So we pray for wisdom and grace and courage and above all for peace. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, amen.”

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.

The Beauty of Criticism

Do you hate criticism? I guess a better question is, who doesn’t hate criticism? In his book Tribes, Seth Godin notes that fear of failure could often be more aptly titled fear of criticism. We fear being criticized so much that we don’t even make an attempt.

But criticism can be a good thing. Criticism can come from soul-sucking negativists who don’t care a bit about you. But criticism can also come (and should come) from trusted advisors, good friends, and people that love you. Feedback, even when it’s difficult to receive, makes you stronger and wiser. Every person has blind spots and needs to hear about them.

As Godin notes, even criticism from negativists has an upside—it means you are doing something worth taking note of. If you are boring and completely unremarkable, critics won’t consider you worth their time. So, don’t have a pity party or be debilitated by criticism. Listen to it; learn from it; move on.

Good criticism can foster a culture of constant improvement, of building on good things that can become great things. Good criticism can give you courage to attempt something more audacious and awesome that you’d have ever attempted without it. 

So listen to your critics … but not too much … and let the feedback motivate you, teach you, and strengthen you. You’ll be glad you did.

Do Something Great! (Even if It’s Small)

Ever wanted to do something that changed the world … or at least the world that you know? What keeps you from acting on your ambition? Perhaps it’s a lack of clarity or a lack of good ideas. Often, though, it’s fear of failure that keeps us from pursuing our passion.

For the Christian, our mission was set by Jesus before He left this earth: make disciples by speaking the gospel to every creature. Being part of accomplishing that mission is something great! What, then, is the most effective, most aggressive way you can help accomplish that mission? What can you pray for and pursue that only God can accomplish? How long have you prayed for your neighbor without sharing the gospel? How long have you developed a relationship for “relational evangelism” without ever speaking the gospel?

Perhaps it’s time to do the thing that you fear. Perhaps it’s time to risk a venture that may fail. Perhaps it’s time to speak the gospel to someone who may reject it and may even reject you. Maybe it’s time to embody and speak the gospel boldly in your community in a way that you haven’t before. You see, the fear that keeps you from doing something great (even if it’s small) is the same fear that keeps you from truly taking part in God’s mission for the church: speaking and living the gospel boldly.

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41, ESV)

The apostles rejoiced in rejection, because they were part of something great. Sharing the worth of Christ and the good news of the gospel may seem small, but it is a great thing to do. So … do something great! (Even if it’s small.)

When Fear Is Cute

Kids are cute.

One of the cute things about kids is their innocence. My three-year-old makes my life more enjoyable because so much of life is a discovery of something new and exciting. We walked through a store recently, and it brought so much joy to see her so excited about things I walked past without a second thought–a zebra on a shelf, a poster of a tiger, a football.

Kids are afraid. But not always.

Because children are innocent, they are often scared of things more educated people are not … like being scared of the dark. And sometimes it's cute.

On the other hand, children don't have the fear of man that more “worldly-wise” people have. Ever been with a small child in a library or a nice restaurant? You may be paralyzed by the child's loud laughter, but the child just knows the enjoyment of that moment, without the fear of what other patrons may think (I'm not advocating poor behavior for children in public places!). The beautiful thing about childlike innocence is that he/she may just be naive enough to miss pressure a more “educated” person would experience.

Adults are like big kids.

What about adults and fear of others? That's not cute.

The thing about fear of man is … it's fake. Others have power over you only insomuch as you allow them to have power. What sophisticated library patrons think doesn't have ill effects on a child secure in the love of his parents. And the approval of others shouldn't affect children of God who rest secure in the love of their Heavenly Father.

Was Jesus an Introvert?

I've read a number of articles in the past few years on introverts vs. extroverts. The commonly agreed upon definition of an introvert is that an introvert is someone who gains energy by being by himself/herself. An extrovert is a person who feeds off of being around other people. People who have aspects of both introverts and extroverts are called “ambiverts.” The idea is that based on your assessment along the introvert/extrovert scale, you can more effectively recharge and work in your field.

I'd like to take just a few moments and reflect on this line of thinking from a biblical perspective. I'm not questioning that there are different personality types in the world (I tend to be more extroverted than my wife). However, I believe that God has designed every person for a rhythm of time alone and time with other people. God has called every believer to rest and recharge, and He's called every believer to reach out in love to others.

It seems fair to say that Jesus is the only perfectly balanced ambivert in the history of creation. In the gospels we see Him ministering to crowds (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10), and we see Him taking time alone to pray and recharge (Mark 1:35; 6:46). Was Jesus an introvert or extrovert? I think the answer is that God designed every human being who has ever lived–including God-incarnate–for a balance of pouring out to others and recharging in private.

God established a pattern of rest and work at creation. Jesus Himself engaged in personal recharge, as well as public ministry, and He established a pattern for His people to pursue both rest and work.

It's not more holy to be either an introvert or extrovert. But every Christian should spend some time in personal rest, recreation, and worship, and every Christian should be actively pursuing ministry to others. The balance will be different for each person, as those made in God's image reflect different aspects of God's creative design in different proportions. And sometimes the balance for an individual will vary based on his/her stage in life.

Pray for wisdom to know how to engage in personal worship and proactive ministry to others. Was Jesus an introvert? Sometimes… Was Jesus an extrovert? Sometimes… Remember this as you minister to others and as you seek to help those around you know how to balance life and ministry. And remember this when you are tempted to judge those with a different balance of introvert/extrovert than God gave you!