“People take time. But in our haste, we size them up or cut them down to what we take to be a more manageable size, labeling people instead of trying to hear, understand or welcome them.”
This statement by David Dark could not be truer. Because, the truth is, people take time. It takes time to get to know them. It takes time to understand them. It takes time to learn about their complexity and their story.
Yet, rather than taking the time, we find it easier to label others. Why? Because it’s faster. Labeling someone short-circuits the distance it takes to get to know them. It allows us to cut them down to a manageable size, and allows us to distance ourselves from them. Labeling allows us get out of the hard work of getting to know someone.
The problem is that labeling people, as a Christian, isn’t our calling. Our calling is to love others. And, to truly love people means pushing past labels and to get to know them.
I know I personally struggle with this. I know that, in my haste, I label people so that I don’t have to listen to people. I might say to myself, “Well they are just a “_____”, or “Of course they would argue that they are “_____”, or “Why listen to that [insert a group of people]?”
And, my point isn’t that labeling isn’t easy – or fast. My point is that it isn’t very Christ-like. Love requires getting to know people. Love requires some time. And, people require some time.
So, I write all this for one reason: the next time you are tempted to label someone, why not take the time to actually get to know them?
We are currently in the season of Lent. This is a time when we would traditionally pay more attention to themes such as confession, sin and sacrifice. This is an important area of our lives because, as I’ve often even wrote here, sin kills things. That’s simply what it does. But, the flipside is that salvation heals things.
Here, though, is what I want to unpack today: Sin isn’t just what we do (actions), it’s also part of our systems and relationships (systemic).
Pentecostal theologian, Amos Yong at Fuller, puts it this way, “Sin itself is undeniably social in character. … Because all creation labors under the bondage of sin, human creatures struggle with sinful relationships, life systems and environments from their conception. But, if sin has this inextricably social dimension, then so has sanctification.”
He goes on to write that “the purification from sin and the consecration to holiness therefore inevitably have to involve the reconciling of alienated relations, the redemption and renewal of social structures, and the healing of the world.”
What this all means in theological jargon is this: Salvation isn’t just about you and your sins; it’s about everything in the world – that in and through Jesus’ death and sacrifice, He wants to save not only us from our personal bad actions, but also the broken relationships we have in the broken social structures around us.
What this means is that salvation isn’t only individual, it’s also relational and cosmic. Meaning it involves everything. And, this is really really good news.
Jesus is not just interested in saving you, but also in saving your broken relationships, and the broken systems in and around us. Jesus is about a salvation that involves all the different aspects of “us.” Sin has a social dimension to it, and so does sanctification or salvation. Jesus wants to save every area of brokenness in the world, including our relationships and systems.
I write all this to remind us of one thing at Lent: That, yes, the world is broken and we can see it all around us – we don’t need to deny it. Instead, we can work against it, because Jesus is interested in saving every bit of creation.
Of course, we should confess our sins and brokenness during Lent. We absolutely should invite Jesus to work in our lives – to convict us, heal us and transform us. But, we should also ask how we might partner with Him in the healing of the world, because salvation has never been about just “you,” but about all of “us.” Sin does have a social dimension to it, but redemption does too.
So, during Lent, as we focus in on our sin and brokenness, let us not forget the broken systems of the world and the relationships around us that need to change. Because, while we might sometimes forget this, Jesus certainly does not, so neither should we.
I’ve been learning the power of submission and submitting to the right authorities. I know it sounds a little odd. I know it sounds a little unmanly. It sounds a little well – like being a doormat. But here is what I have been learning, that the more I learn to submit in the right relationships, the more those relationships flourish.
I know that this sounds counter-intuitive. I know that for many people authority is a bad word, because of how abusive, power-hunger, and wrong some authority structures are. I get that, and we should stand against injustice, we should not acquiesce to abusive authority that dehumanizes and demeans people.
Yet I think in our reaction against bad authority, evil authority, abusive authority we have swung to something also unhealthy: a preoccupation with control.
Because sometimes when we resist authority its for the good of someone else. Sometimes when we resist authority its because its abusive and wrong and we are seeking new and life-giving forms of leadership. Sometimes when we resist authority its because it is oppressive and wrong…And sometimes we resist authority because we are selfish and like control.
The idea of submission is not popular because we have romanticized the idea of being authoritative, self-reliant, in control, and autonomous. We don’t like giving anything over to anyone else. We don’t like letting someone else direct us. So we resist authority, we resist submission, and in the end we harm ourselves and our relationships.
The truth is that in some relationships submission isn’t right, because there is no trust there and the authority is abusive and wrong. But the flipside is also true that there are some relationships where submission is necessary for thriving, where trust is deepened with submission, where love can flow better when we give up control and this idea of being self-reliant.
I have discovered this reality that submission can be beautiful in my marriage, my deep and trusted friendships, and most importantly my relationship with God. That when I give myself over to trusting those who look out for my best interest, give up pretending to be self-reliant and secure, and allow myself to submit to those key relationships around me: my life and relationships are better.
I think we resist the idea of submission because we have seen bad authority structures, and bad examples of submission. Yet when we look to Jesus he practiced this all the time. He submitted his will to the will of the Father, he was self-sacrificing, and only moved in harmony with the Spirit and the Father. And I think that this is a beautiful example of what the power of submission can look like.
Submission is not erasing our identities, giving up on all our wants and desires, or being a doormat. Submission is literally putting someone else first. And I know that this is the only way that my marriage thrives, that my friendships thrive, that my relationship with God thrives: when it ceases to be just about me.
The truth is if we don’t learn to submit (appropriately) we will struggle in life. Because no healthy relationship is based on unilateral decisions. Those are called dictatorships, not relationships. And subtly our resistance of submission can infect and affect our deepest relationships with God, with our spouses, and with our friends.
So all I’m trying to say in this post is really one thing: submission does matter and its got a bad name. Submission, much like authority, has been abused and used to abuse others. But submission can also be beautiful like in a marriage when husbands and wives submit to one another (Eph. 5:21), like in friendships (Gal 5:13), or in our relationship to God (Psalm 40:8; James 4:7) on in any healthy relationship.
So all of this is to say one thing: I think there is a power in submission. Not a top-down power, not a “might-is-right” power, but a power that comes from self-sacrificial and submissive love that is beautiful when worked out in harmony and unison. And I’ve learned that – that type of submission – can be a really healthy and healing thing.
On Sunday we opened up the book of Proverbs to learn about friendships. Friendships are these things that are all around us, that I think we end up taking for granted so often. But this is something that not only do we need to change, that Solomon would argue we must change to have a full life.
So we jumped in looking at various different sayings of Solomon pulling out three key points:
Friendship can matter more than family
Friendship will determine the quality and direction of your life
Friendship based on deep trust is all that matters
So first we looked at how friendship can matter more than family. This is something pretty shocking to say; not only in our day but in Solomon’s day and age. Because in his day and age you had no health insurance, crop insurance, or retirement. Your insurance or safety net was your family. Family was obligated to help in a time of crisis.
And this is actually why Solomon says that friendship can matter even more than family. He writes, “there are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother”. (Proverbs 18:24). Friends can stick closer than family.
And Solomon’s point is that any relationship built on chosen love, rather than obligation will be stronger and better. And this is just true. He’s not saying family doesn’t matter, but that friendship can run deeper than just family relations. Any relationship (family based or not) built on love, and choice will always beat any relationship based on obligation. And this is why we need to invest in our friendships and why they matter because they are formed by love and not by obligation.
Secondly, we learned that friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives. Solomon writes this, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” and this is true. That the people we are close to rub off on us for good or for bad. This is another reason that we need to choose our friends carefully, and invest in them wisely. We choose our friends, but once our friends have been chosen they will choose our destiny. This is why we need to continue to see and raise the importance of the value of our friendships.
And also, but not least, Solomon reminded us that if our friendships are not based on deep trust that they aren’t really friendships. That if someone lies to us and laughs it off, they are worse than a destructive killer (Proverbs 26:18-19). That a true friend will not let us walk into difficulty but will warn us (Proverbs 27:5-6). That true friends provide heartfelt care and counsel, not just what we want to hear.
So on Sunday from these three general themes: friendships matter more than family, friendship determines the quality and direction of our lives and true friends are built on trust; we came to our main theme. Our main idea was simple but needed: We need to choose and invest in good friendships.
We need to choose and invest in good friendships.
If we want to have a strong start we will not regret investing in good friendships, and key relationships. We will never regret strengthening our relationships, and distancing away from difficult ones.
So we gave a challenge to choose and invest in good relationships. To seek out good ones and to cultivate them. No relationship just “starts” and becomes amazing without work and effort. Friendships require cultivation to be forged. So we challenged one another to actually put the effort in. To put the time into the good relationships built on trust, and limit the ones that cause harm. To seek out good friends and invest in them with our lives.
One thing is sure if we want to have a great 2016, a strong start, it won’t happen with poor, nonexistent, or shallow relationships. A great year starts with great friendships, so start investing in them today.
The Chinese have a proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
The best time to invest in friendships was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
Big Idea: We need to choose and invest in good friendships
Three challenges: Serve weekly, connect with God daily, journey with 2 others
“Is it wise” is always a better question than “is it wrong”
Friendships are more important than family
Relationships built on love beat relationships built on obligation every time
Friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives
We choose our friends, but once our friends have been chosen they will choose our destiny
True friends are honest and trustworthy friends
We need to choose good friends
We need to invest in good friends
Friendships are not “found” but forged and cultivated
Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself. C.S. Lewis
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. C.S. Lewis
The best time to invest in friendships was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you thought about friendship being more important than family before? What do you think of that? How have you seen it be true that friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives? Who are your closest friends? Are they trustworthy and honest? Who should you be investing in? And how can you be better investing in them?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
Talk to your kids about the importance of friendship and how it determines our quality of life. Ask them who their best friends are? And ask them are they wise friends? Do they make good choices? Help them to think through making the best friends.
Challenge for the Week: Choose to invest in friendships this year.
I read this other day by Joan Chittister as I’m working through one of her books. She writes this,
“Love is not a model that makes two people the same person. Love is the dream that enables both of us to be our own best person – together”
And I wish every single couple I’ve ever done a marriage for, or will do a marriage would sit and think about that.
So often in our world today love is seen as making the same, rather than cherishing differences. We love to make people into carbon copies of ourselves, to find compromises where we become almost indecipherable, where we try to find ourselves in other people, and this is well…it’s not love.
Not love in the way that the Bible talks about it. Love is what binds people together and holds them together, but it doesn’t make them the same. Just go read 1 Corinthians 13 – the well known “love chapter”. This chapter is all about how to love and hold people together, but it’s people who are different. This chapter is set right in the middle of a discussion about how to hold together people with different gifts, ideas, and opinions? Paul’s answer is love can do that. Not love that reduces people to common denominators. Not love that erases all differences. Not love that makes carbon copies. But love that enables both people to be their best.
Love, when it is truly love, doesn’t erase differences; it finds a way to hold onto those differences in harmony. Love actually loves people as they are, without tyring to make them into something else. We have a different word for people who try to change others into their version of perfection. We call that coercion, we call that conquest, we call that wrong when we’ve done that throughout history (see the Crusades, “settling” of the new world, or lots of other examples).
The point is that love doesn’t seek to squish and squash someone into a mold of sameness. Love is a dream that enables people to both be their best. And that’s something worth striving for.
So in your closest relationships today – is there a way that you can help them to reach their dreams? Is there a way that you can both move towards your best? Does it start with a conversation saying – I want you to find the best and be part of that? Does it start with a surprise or a gift? It certainly starts with some effort, so why not give that a shot.
Sunday is a bit of a special day for me. We will be dedicating our beautiful little girl on her 1st Birthday. And one of the great benefits of being a pastor is that when your child is dedicated you also get to preach.
So what I’ve done with our other kids, is to preach a sermon geared to them.
For my special little girl, I’m going to be talking about relationships.
Because here is the thing – relationships are sacred and special things. But they are also so prevalent and so infected by self-interest that we forget that. We so often use relationships for entertainment, our own needs, or self-interest that we forget the biggest thing about them.
Relationships are a gift – and that’s what I want to explore.
The truth is Eden doesn’t “do” a lot for me in any tangible sense of things. She can’t get me a drink, and I spend a lot of time caring for her needs. But because relationships aren’t about “meeting needs” but spaces where grace happen, she has changed me. Because she is a gift, and all good gifts are life-changing.
So that’s where we are going but before we get there take a moment to think through this important question:
Are there any relationships you’ve been neglecting?
It happens so easily, and so quickly. And if you’re tempted to skip past that question or are too busy then there are probably relationships that you might have skipped past in your busyness. So think it through and change it because relationships are gifts. Gifts of grace, God, and life.
Andrew Root writes something that is both simple, and beautiful:
Prayer is a relationship because prayer cannot be done alone.
And that is true. When you are praying it is never done alone. It is done with others, in the power of the Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to God the Father. Prayer is a relationship, because it is based in relationships and changes relationships. So the next time you are praying, remember you aren’t doing it alone. And remember most of all prayer is a relationship, and it’s a relationship worth investing in.
Eugene Peterson writes something brilliant. Okay most of what he writes is brilliant but especially this:
“In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.
What Peterson is reacting against is our technique-driven mentality. That if we just get the technique right, the outcome will be right. That all we need to master is the mechanics for us to muster up the right result.
And this is fine in some things, but this doesn’t work in relationships.Relationships aren’t a means to an end. Relationships aren’t about efficiency and effectiveness; relationships are about intimacy. And this matters in prayer.
There is nothing wrong with trying to grow in prayer, and devoting yourself to it. But if all you focus on is the “right techniques, tips, and tricks” your prayer life won’t grow but will become stagnant. Because techniques do not develop a relationship, time does. Tips don’t make a covenant, commitment does. Tricks don’t increase intimacy, interaction does.
So while there is nothing wrong with techniques, tips, and tricks in some things – it doesn’t relate well to prayer. Because prayer is fundamentally about a relationship. It is a conversation, it is an intimacy, and it is an interaction with God. And Eugene Peterson is right when we come to prayer first from a standpoint of technique, we’ve already missed the point. And I would say we end up missing God. Prayer isn’t a technique but a personal relationship that needs to be invested in, cherished, and grown in. Techniques can help, sure, but they are not a substitute for time and growth.
So my challenge to all of us, myself included, is this: rather than focusing on the techniques, and methods of prayer ~ focus on Jesus and the relationship. Because I think Peterson is right “In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.
Recently I was reading some of my notes on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s excellent book “God in Search of Man”. I came across this quote that I’d wrote down. I thought I would share it because of its depth, its challenge, and I think its truth:
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – it’s message becomes meaningless.”
What do you think about it? When I read this quote, it so convicted me as a pastor, because the life of faith shouldn’t be dull or insipid. But I wonder how often faith moves from a living fountain, to a dead pool? I also wondered how am I ensuring that the faith I preach is living? That the love I espouse is active? That the relationship I have with God never becomes irrelevant, dull, or oppressive. These are the questions that this quote brings up for me that I’m thinking through today.
What about you? What do you think about it? What questions does it bring up?
I was reading my sermon from my computer aloud talking about Jesus when Hudson runs up to me and shuts my laptop saying, “Silly Daddy, Jesus isn’t in the computer”
And it’s funny, because it’s also sort of true.
My guess is that you would more likely discover Jesus in playing with your kids, than playing on Facebook.
My guess is that you would more likely discover Jesus in a deep conversation with a friend, than checking Instragram.
My guess is that the you’re more likely to discover Jesus while reading the gospels, than checking Twitter.
I know the irony of me reminding us to look for Jesus outside of the computer while I write on a blog, which will post this post to Twitter and Facebook. The truth is that many wonderful connections can be made, insights can be garnered, and depth gleaned from Facebook, blogs, and the Internet. Yet as I look back on this past year I realized most of my real in-depth encounters with Jesus didn’t have anything to do with a computer or twitter. They had a lot to do with friends, family, food, and fun.
So have fun on Facebook. Check Instragram if you’d like. Tweet because I will keep tweeting, and please do continue to read my blog. Let it all impact and deepen your relationship with Jesus. But here is my point, maybe it’s wise to every now and then learn from my son…to shut the laptop down and remember Jesus isn’t just found online and to invest in those relationships all around you.
So the next time you’re with friends and are tempted to play angry birds on your phone, when you’re with your kids and want to check Facebook for the 17th time, or you’re with your wife and want to fiddle on Twitter – Maybe you can picture Hudson running up to me shutting my computer and reminding me that he’s right in front of me…and just maybe Jesus is too…