How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

3 Strategies for Parenting

‘Three Strategies for Parenting Teens’

It has been a while since I have provided some parenting encouragement from Paul Tripp. As I was looking through the incredible book Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, I came across something that I needed and thought I would share it with you today.

One of the most important aspect of Tripp’s book is the intentionality with which he approaches the parenting of teenagers. (It is, in fact, the whole idea behind the ‘age of opportunity’!) In this chapter of his book he discusses three strategies, or methods, that will help parents be more successful in their parenting endeavors.

Strategy 1: Project Parenting[i]

The first strategy that Tripp discusses is project parenting. In this chapter he discusses the foolishness of beginning a project without procuring the right tools, materials, and plans. No one in their right mind would attempt such an endeavor! And yet with parenting we often do this. Can I confess something? I do this! I approach parenting in the now. I do not put nearly as much thought into the conversations I will face with my two children the next day. I do not dwell on the heart issues affecting my daughter and son. But when it comes to planning a trip, I’ll spend time researching gas prices, places to stop, and most important, places to eat.

But this is a terrible way to parent and one that will most assuredly lead to failure and frustration. Tripp writes, “The phrase, ‘project parenting’ implies being focused, being purposeful, being goal-oriented in our daily encounters with our teenagers. When we are parenting with a sense of project, we will know why we are going after what we are going after….It means we will parent with prepared spontaneity; we will come to those unexpected, spontaneous moments of parenting with preparedness and purpose.”[ii]

So what does this look like practically? Well, for me, it looks like character development for a four and two-year-old. It means learning how to cultivate my daughter’s heart to be willing to share because she loves others. For my son it means developing his understanding of situational control and the management of his anger. But what about teenagers? This is where you come in the picture. It depends on you and your teenager. What are his or her struggles? What difficulties is he or she currently facing? Determining this information will help with reactive issues. But there are also proactive items that you will want to address. What character qualities would you like to see developed? What type of work ethic would you like to instill? Discussing these type of questions prior to an interaction will be similar to the project manager gathering materials and supplies and drafting a plan. This will not guarantee success, but it certainly will help make it more obtainable.

Strategy 2: Constant Conversation[iii]

The next strategy Tripp offers is that of conversation. The Cambridge Dictionary Online defines conversation as, “an informal, usually private, talk in which two or more people exchange thoughts, feelings, or ideas, or in which news or information is given or discussed.”[iv] Conversations are intentional, meaning they simply do not happen by accident.[v] We, as parents, must be deliberate in our desire to communicate with our teenagers. Tripp made it a point every night he returned from work to spend time with each of his children. If you currently do not hold conversations with your teenager, it may be awkward at first. But keep pursuing it! It is so necessary for your own relationship with them, but also for the development of their relationship with God.

There are many spaces within our daily lives to create conversations. During a trip in the car, while waiting for the food to get to the table, during a game time. One lost art of our busy society is the family meal. My wife and I recently purchased a table for our new dining room. Up to this point, we did not have a dining room or a table at which to eat, so we would sit in our living room and the kids usually would watch a cartoon. But when we moved to a larger home and added the table, we began to eat meals together. We cannot stress enough what a blessing it has been! We have seen a different side, albeit a goofier side, of our kids. It has been amazing. And I imagine that having one family meal a day would grant a prime opportunity for conversation.

Strategy 3: Leading Your Teenager to Repentance[vi]

And here we have our ultimate goal as parents or guardians: restored relationship with God. Tripp gives five steps to help carry this out, but I want simply to elaborate on the idea behind this as opposed to offering another list of ways to accomplish it.

If we are more purposeful in our parenting then we will (or at least should) come to this goal. We want, desire, yearn for our teenagers to be in a thriving relationship with God. With each struggle they face, temptation they to which they yield, angry word they utter, etc., restoration should be our primary goal. This also requires us to be transparent. We need to own up to our own shortcomings. We need to apologize and ask forgiveness of our teenagers. And we need to show them what happens when we repent and God forgives.

Conclusion

Parenting is hard work. It is day-in and day-out, stressful work. But it is also fun! It is exciting when you see your child reach a point in their life when they begin to reason, when they make the right decision, or avoid that certain situation. Imagine if we put as much thought into our own parenting as we do vacations, projects in the home, or the purchasing of a new vehicle. I can picture a different teenager, a wholesome home, and a thriving church.

May God help us to be more proactive in our parenting!

[i] Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 215.

[ii] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 215-216.

[iii] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 222.

[iv] http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/conversation Accessed 13 January 2017.

[v] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 223.

[vi] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 226.

Helpful Tips from the Banner of Truth

I am a subscriber to the Banner of Truth magazine. It is a great blessing, as many of the articles come from sermons preached. They challenge my thinking, warm my heart, and draw my attention and focus to God.

While catching up on my reading of them, I thoroughly enjoyed the July 2016 copy, issue 634. The article is titled, “Evangelising [sic] Muslims: Five Points of Entry” by Peter Barnes.[1] I do not want to review the article; rather, I want to share some of the insights that I gained. I also would like to draw attention to some of the ideas that I have been pondering but have yet to put to paper.

The introduction to the article was perhaps the best portion. Barnes writes, “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[2] In my opinion, some Christians overemphasize the Scriptures. Now, before you write me off as a heretic please read my explanation. It is possible to follow the Scripture to such an extreme that it violates proper interpretation. For example, the Bible teaches that witches should be executed (Exodus 22.18). Some people attempt to place this command to the nation of Israel on followers of God today. Of course there is a lengthy discussion that should take place on why believers do not follow this practice, but many pick and choose what to follow from the Tanakh. Some people follow marriage advice from the Torah (such as the teaching on divorce and remarriage- see Exodus 24.1-4), or dressing advice (specifically the Scripture that commands men not to dress like women and women not to dress like men- see Deuteronomy 22.5), but they fail to follow the command to execute witches. On the same line, some people desire to strictly follow the teachings of the New Testament on the church. An example of this can be found in the first chapter of C. Douglas Weaver’s book In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story.[3]

In accordance with this desire to be Bible-based and Scripture-laced, people want to follow the ‘New Testament guide’. While I definitely believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and is to be sought and practiced, I also see the truth that it is a book with historical grounding in a specific time and culture. This has profound implications on what we practice and how we practice. Zuck clarifies this thought when he writes, “In approaching the Bible it is a self-evident truth that the Bible is a book. Like other books it is written in languages spoken by people for the purpose of communicating ideas from the writers to the readers.”[4] This seems to have been forgotten by many individuals in the church today.

To bring this circle to a close, let us return to Barnes’ statement in his opening paragraph. “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[5] It is helpful to remember that the main method of spreading the Gospel initially (see Acts 2-9) was primarily to and through Jewish individuals. Thus the preaching focused on the Messiah and the teaching of his suffering and death.[6] If we were to strictly follow the practice of the early believers found in Acts, our evangelistic efforts, specifically to the Muslim people, will be borderline impossible. My point is not to delve into the methods of evangelism to the people of Islam. Other writers have done an excellent job at this.[7] My point has more to deal with the need for creative and a freedom for believers to engage in different methods of evangelism. Barnes notes Paul’s various methods as referenced in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23.[8] We need to rely on God’s Word for everything. But we also need to realize that there is freedom within that.

Another part of the article that really impressed me was Barnes’ call for peace in discussions. He writes, “We must be kindly interest in them. We ought not begin with a frontal assault on the character of Muhammad or the integrity of the Qur’an.”[9] Since 11 September 2001 the treatment of Muslims has been poor at best and borderline hate crime at worst. And while Barnes’ article focuses on interactions with the Muslim community, the application can be made broader. People of different faiths, genders, sexual orientations, etc., are all treated with contempt and degradation. Paul encourages us to address people “in love”.[10] We commanded to love one another.[11]

Believers should be incredibly careful in their discourse, both personally and digitally. Disagreeing on an issue is not the problem, it is our demeanor. It is no wonder that people do not have a positive view of Christianity when its adherents are so demeaning, arrogant, and rude. Here are some helpful suggestions that I have utilized and have found to be helpful.

  • Never be rude- while this may seem simple, it is profound. I have seen posts referring to those who are voting for Hilary Clinton suggesting that they raise their hands and slap themselves because they are idiots. How in the world is this helpful? Does one actually think that a supporter of Hilary Clinton will see that and suddenly change his or her views? That is almost as ludicrous as posting such a mean-spirited image.
  • Ask questions- generally speaking, questions are much more helpful in interactive dialogue than statements. Of course, it is possible to be rude when asking questions. But assuming we are starting from that point, questions help further mutual understanding. It implies incomplete understanding, and it takes humility to acknowledge that. It also encourages questions from the opposite party, and thus differences and misunderstandings are greatly reduced.
  • Treat that person like you would Jesus- I do not mean bow down and worship them. I do mean that each person you interact with, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, age, height, weight, favorite band, and so on, is created in the image of God. That means that every human being you interact with in person or digitally is an image bearer of God Almighty. Treat them that way. Oh, and by the way, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That is a hefty pill to swallow.
  • Study other people, faiths, etc.- Ignorance means “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.”[12] Ignorance is forgivable, but only for a time. If you are attempting to dialogue with another individual, learn as much as you can from that individual’s perspective. If you want to learn more about the Democratic Party, do not go to Fox News. Look into the original sources. Educating yourself on issues, beliefs, and practices will help you understand where the individual is coming from and will help to alleviate misunderstandings.

[1] Peter Barnes. “Evangelising Muslims: Five Points of Entry.” The Banner of Truth, Volume 7, Issue 634, 2016, 7-15.

[2] Barnes, 7.

[3] https://books.google.com/books?id=shbpTq7wqAIC&pg=PA9&dq=new+testament+churches&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjssOya0P3PAhVCGz4KHSugAY8Q6AEIRzAI#v=onepage&q=new%20testament%20churches&f=false. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[4] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, Cook Communications: 1991), 59.

[5] Barnes, 7.

[6] Simply peruse through the chapters referenced above and it will become painfully obvious what materials the early evangelists used to spread the good news.

[7] See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2002) and Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 2012).

[8] I preached a message on this titled “Pauline Advice on Blessing Your Block”. You can access that here under that title: http://tnova.org/media.php?pageID=22. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[9] Barnes, 8.

[10] Ephesians 4.15, NIV

[11] 1 John 4.7-21

[12] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ignorance. Accessed 28/10/2016.

Anxiety or Love: How is Your Ministry?

I am working my way through the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Mark Yaconelli. On the jacket is written a telling paragraph, “As youth workers, we get caught up in programs, curriculum, events, and trying to engage and minister to students. But the result is too often needless anxiety, escalating work hours, and blurred boundaries—all while our students remain unchanged and uninterested.”

The book calls for being, living, existing with Jesus and His love. It has been encouraging, convicting, and inspirational. However, one particularly important aspect of the book is found on page 98. He goes through and compares anxiety with love. I wanted to share this with you so that you too may find encouragement and strength to continue to press on in the ministry God has given you.

The following is from the book, pages 79-80.

Anxiety seeks control. Love seeks contemplation.

Anxiety seeks professionals. Love seeks processes.

Anxiety seeks products. Love desires presence.

Anxiety lifts up gurus. Love relies on guides.

Anxiety rests in results. Love rests in relationships.

Anxiety seeks conformity. Love brings out creativity.

Anxiety wants activity. Love brings awareness.

Anxiety seeks answers. Love seeks questions.

Now, there was much written prior to this and after as well. So context is key. Instead of being busy, we need to simply be still (Psalm 46.10). So, are we being still? Are we worried, or trusting? Are we filled with unrest, or are we simply loving? This is a good challenge, and one that I will ponder over the rest of my life.