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For Alice Lakey

My grandmother was called home to be with her Lord on Thursday.  Since I can’t be present at the funeral service today, I’ve asked for this to be read aloud:

Today, I honor the godly grandmother that I was blessed to know.  In 2 Timothy 1:5, the apostle Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”  Paul expresses gratitude for the heritage of faith that Timothy received; a heritage passed down from his godly grandmother.  In a similar way, I have received a heritage of faith passed down from my grandmother, who remained steadfast in her heart for the Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember her love of life.  What a delight it was to see her eyes twinkle as she would laugh!  I must confess that I often tried to say something funny just to make her laugh.  Her love for life’s good times was fueled by her love for others, especially her family.

I am grateful for the gentle kindness that my grandmother showed to others.  Just as she gently held many babies over the years in the hospital maternity ward, her caring hands held me as an infant and held my children too.  Over the years, her gentle spirit never faded.  I’ve met many other people who harbor resentment or display a harsh spirit as a result of life’s difficulties.  But my grandmother did not respond this way; her concern for others seemed only to deepen as she weathered the storms of life.

Through many ups and downs, trials and triumphs, victories and disappointments, her faith endured.  The most visible evidence of this was seen during the most difficult season of my life.  During nearly two decades of heartache as my father turned from the Lord, my grandmother persisted in prayer.  She also persisted in love and in kindness.  While many prayed for my father, for family members, and for me during those years, the prayer of my grieving grandmother is something that I will always hold most dear.  Her trust in the Lord, offered from a broken heart, was the sweet fragrance of worship.

Among her answered prayers are that my brother and I have remained followers of Jesus.  Rather than harboring bitterness and allowing resentment to rule over us, our grief has been turned to gratitude and our pain has become blessing as God faithfully worked even these things together for our good.  I am sure that not all of her prayers were answered in the exact way she asked, but her persevering faith endured as God’s faithfulness over time came into view.

My prayer is that I will pass on this heritage of faith to others, especially to my own children and grandchildren.  Her example of love, kindness, and persevering prayer is one that I will always remember and strive to emulate.  I am grateful to have known her in this life, and grateful for the hope to be reunited with her again in the presence of our Lord Jesus one day.

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Formula For Friendship

giant-chalkboard-in-classroom

Is there a formula for friendship?  I think so.

On the one hand, it seems silly to capture the essence of relational chemistry in rational terms.  It might just reveal that my natural emotional intelligence is a bit on the low side.  But on the other hand, my formula isn’t very formulaic at all: I don’t suggest inserting numerical values into any part of it.  It’s just my way of trying to understand how and why friendships form, endure, or expire.  So here it is:

Friendship = Time Frequency x Time Duration x Common Interest

Let’s push some examples through this formula to explain.  Have you noticed the way close friendships form at camp or college?  When we spend time with someone every day (frequency) for several hours (duration) and share a unique common experience (common interest), a special bond of friendship forms.  That kind of friendship seems to endure even after departure or graduation (no more frequency or duration) because the common interest is so high.  When reunion happens, stories of common interest abound.

What about the classic conversation at a alumni reunion that awkwardly runs out of steam?  That’s probably because there is less common interest now than there was back when you attended school together.  Or what about those special friends that you see far less often (frequency) than you desire, but the friendship just seems to naturally pick up where it left off?  You probably have had a high level of common interest for a long time (duration).

Have you noticed the way friendships form at work?  You spend all day (duration) together every day (frequency) with shared goals (common interest).  But when the conversation ventures outside of work-related topics, the relationship begins to diminish until some other area such as family or a hobby (common interest) is discovered.  And that co-worker you just can’t stand?  The common interest is so low, it functions as a negative value that overpowers everything else.

Do you want to grow closer to someone?  Spend time with them more often (frequency).  Or set aside longer amounts of time (duration).  Or find something that you enjoy doing together (common interest).  I’m sure the friendship will grow.

Jesus was concerned with friendship too.  But his friendship was based on something entirely different:  Himself.  He said that those who obey His commands are his friends and this friendship can’t be based on our own effort because we have failed and will fail.  We betray Him in our sin.  But the obedient love Jesus has for us, having laid aside His life for our sake, enables our obedience to His command; loving others by laying aside our lives for them.  We can’t work that with some formula.  Jesus has chosen us as friends, and our joyful response to His friendship is to live and love after His example.  The commitment and sacrifice needed to love like Jesus is more powerful than any area of common interest.  We love others not because of what we have in common, but because Jesus loves us.

What do you think?  Can friendship be expressed in a formula?  Have you found it difficult to love someone that didn’t share your common interest?

The Gospel and The Redistribution of Wealth

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Twenty years after Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign, the phrase lives on.  And for good reason.  The economy was a central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign and in the current campaign of 2012.  That’s two full nauseating election cycles!  Even if we disagree on how we got to where we are now, it seems we all agree that the economy needs to improve.  Of course, disagreement about how we arrived here also means disagreement about how to move forward and improve.  A singular point of disagreement centers on the redistribution of wealth and how it relates to economic justice.

Some say that the redistribution of wealth through taxation is necessary for economic justice: Those with wealth have a moral obligation to pay a greater share of society’s tax burden in order to lessen the load on those who have less.  Wealth redistribution emerged as an issue in Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, and has emerged again recently as a core value dressed in biblical imagery – if not based on biblical principles.

But conservative economic policies are also based on a form of wealth redistribution commonly called “supply-side” or “trickle-down economics,” in which wealth used as capital for business expansion creates wealth for other segments of society.  While the “supply-side” label is largely identified with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the concept endures as a cornerstone of contemporary conservative policy.

But the central question for Christians to consider is this: Is either form of wealth redistribution reflective of the Gospel?  After all, the redistribution of wealth is a thoroughly biblical idea.  For example, Deuteronomy 26:12 declares the responsibility of God’s people to care for those in need.  This isn’t a uniquely Old Testament idea, however.  Most notably, Acts 2:44-45 records how the early church redistributed wealth in order to meet needs: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (ESV)

As the earliest Christians trusted in the Gospel – the good news of Jesus – one result was a spontaneous sharing of resources.  This generosity brought about something greater than justice; it brought about a unity only possible through reconciliation. The picture we’re given is one of people, now reconciled to God, able to be reconciled with each other (2 Cor. 5:18-19, Eph. 2:14-22).

Our nation is divided in so many ways and along so many lines, not the least of which are economic divisions.  The current election season, from local all the way to national levels, has been filled with promises and claims about fighting for the “middle class.”  While the rhetoric is filled with promises of justice, the soul of our nation longs for reconciliation.  The generosity of the earliest Christians is a model for economic reconciliation, with three important attributes that reveal why political solutions will always fall short:

It was voluntary.

No one was forced to give.  No one was under compulsion.  They gave freely because it was the desire of their hearts.  Government is incapable of producing this.  Government can only produce giving under compulsion, whether via penalty or incentive.  Samuel Johnson’s famous quote captures this well; “How small of all that human hearts endure that part which laws or kings can cause or cure!”  For the redistribution of wealth to bring about reconciliation between people, it must be voluntary.

It was intentional.

Giving didn’t happen accidently or coincidently.  It didn’t trickle down.  Economic systems may be created or adjusted in order to spread wealth, but they cannot replace the relationship-building dynamics of people recognizing the needs of others in contrast to their own abundance.  The early believers gave purposefully and sacrificially for the sake of others.  The wealth didn’t trickle – it flowed to wherever help was needed.  For the redistribution of wealth to bring about reconciliation, it must be intentional.

It was responsible.

It was focused on need.  Our society has become so prosperous, and so infected by entitlement, that we struggle to note the difference between needs and wants.  An increasing number of our “rights” have become detached from the divine providence upon which their existence formed the basis of our independence.  As a consequence, we are increasingly concerned more with what is deemed fair than what is ethical.  The value of work, a principle derived from scripture (2 Thes. 3:10-12), has become secondary to other values.  A system designed to care for those in genuine need has become bloated by those content to avoid work altogether.  We all know it, we just don’t agree on what to do about it.  The early believers gave to meet needs, not to merely increase the wealth of those who had less than others.  In order for them to do this, they had to be willing to discern needs from wants.  For the redistribution of wealth to bring about reconciliation, it must be responsible.

Only the Gospel can create a desire to voluntarily, intentionally, and responsibly give to those in need because only the Gospel can bring about true reconciliation.  So for wealth redistribution to produce reconciliation, far exceeding any justice sought by enforcing law, it must flow from the heart-transforming power of the Gospel.  This is precisely where the Old Testament law came up short; it could change behavior but it could not change the heart.  Only the work of Jesus Christ, proclaimed in the Gospel message, can do this.  Wealth redistribution that is compulsory, merely systematized, and avoiding responsibility will not bring reconciliation: It will only spread bitterness.

Recommended for further reading:

http://www.challies.com/quotes/the-redistribution-of-wealth

http://www.thearizonan.com/2012/02/09/fairness-redistribution-of-wealth-and-the-bible/

The Crazy Cycle

This past Saturday our church hosted an annual Sweetheart Banquet – a special event around Valentine’s Day intended to honor God’s design for marriage.  In addition to enjoying a delicious catered dinner, my wife Jen and I provided some teaching based on lessons from The Language of Love and Respect: Cracking the Communication Code With Your Mate.  Early in the presentation, Jen and I shared how a common conversation can spin out of control, something called “The Crazy Cycle.”  When this happens in marriage, it’s like our spouse’s heart closes and locks us out.  Since we received some good feedback on Saturday I thought I’d share it with you.  My part is in regular font, while Jen’s part is in italics:

I’ll ask what’s for dinner?

I’ll say that we’re having chicken.

I’ll ask what kind of chicken, because there are some ways of making chicken that I don’t like.  And if she’s not giving any more details, it’s probably because she knows I won’t like it.

When he asks what kind of chicken, it’s because he thinks I’m making chicken that one way he doesn’t like it and never fails to let me know whenever I’m making chicken.  When he tells me that all over again, I feel like he doesn’t appreciate all that I do for our family.  And I really don’t want to hear about it again, so I’m not giving any details hoping he’ll just leave me alone and let me cook.  So I tell him it’s baked chicken.

When I hear baked chicken I think, ‘Oh no,’ because the one kind of baked chicken I don’t like is the kind where some cream of something soup is poured all over it.  And I know she likes that kind of chicken, and that she probably wants to make it that way.  So I say what kind of baked chicken?

Now he’s doing it again.  He wants to remind me that he doesn’t like that kind of baked chicken that I like, and that his mother never made it that way, and that makes me feel like his mother is more important to him than I am.  After all, I’m here cooking for our family and where is his mother?  Not here!  So I just say, you’ll see.

When she says I’ll see, it makes me feel like she doesn’t care about what I like.  And didn’t I work all day and earn money to pay for the food and the oven?  She clearly doesn’t appreciate me so I’ll just tell her…well, I’m not that hungry anyway.

When he says he’s not that hungry, I think to myself ‘yeah, right.’  Wait, better for me to say it out loud, “Yeah, right.  You just don’t like my cooking.  It’s bad enough when the kids complain but I have to hear it from you too?  If you weren’t so cheap, you’d take us out to dinner.”

When I hear her call me cheap…oh, it’s on now.  I tell her that I wouldn’t be so cheap if she could stick to our budget.

So I say that I do stick to our budget, which is why I can only buy cream of something soup to make baked chicken.  Of course, I’m not even making it that way because I didn’t want to get into this argument in the first place, but – hey, here we are so I might as well push his buttons a little.

And when I hear her say she has to buy cream of something soup, I say I knew it!  Because I did!  And I say you don’t care about me or what I like at all!

And when I hear him accuse me of not caring about him while I’m making him dinner, I say he must not love me because all he cares about is getting dinner and not about me.  And now, I’m not going to make anything.

And when she says she’s not going to make anything for dinner, my point is proven that she has no respect for what I do for the family.

Together:  So the last thing I’ll ever do is give in to what s/he wants!

OK, does that seem familiar?  Couples easily find communication spinning out of control on “The Crazy Cycle” when love and respect is lacking in the conversation.  To proactively fix – and avoid – this common occurrence, we shared examples from our own life together about how to apply Ephesians 5:33, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (ESV) Honoring God’s design is how we ‘crack the code’ when it comes to communicating with our spouse.

Do you ever find yourself (and your spouse) on The Crazy Cycle?  What do you do to stop the cycle from spinning out of control?  How do you avoid the cycle altogether?

You Are Here – Part Two

At our church, we’re in the middle of a mini-series on how the good news of Jesus (called the Gospel) applies to the needs of our local community.  God has placed us together as His church in this time and place together in order to participate in His mission of reconciling people to Himself in Christ Jesus.  Last week, we highlighted the economic needs in our community and how the Gospel addresses them.  This Sunday, in Part Two, we looked at how relational isolation appears around us and how Jesus’ work addresses it.

We looked at an important scripture passage together; Psalm 68:5-6 reads, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”  This says something vital about how God views relationships; the desire of His heart is to connect us with Him and then with others.  Of course, only in Jesus can we truly find our ‘home.’

For many of us, ‘home’ is a loaded term.  It may be the place we first experienced the relational dysfunction caused by sin.  For too many, the isolation caused by sin’s damaging effects has made home feel like a foreign place.  When we become part of God’s family, we have some new relationship patterns to learn.  It turns out, the way God fathers the fatherless and protects widows and settles the solitary is through those of us who are part of His family (1 Timothy 5:1-3).  That’s right; the fatherless, widowed, solitary ones – the isolated ones – who have found our way home in Jesus.  We’re the plan.  That’s why such an important part of faith in Jesus is about discovering that He is enough to heal the hurt in our hearts.  It’s because we’ll never be able to invite others out of their isolation until we are content in Jesus alone.

In what ways have you experienced isolation apart from Jesus?  How have you needed to relearn what “family” means?  In what ways have you found a new “home” in Christ?