Tag Archive | community

A Monopoly of Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

The church is filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Let’s not be prideful about our problems and prudish about the problems of others. 

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Look before you… Entertainment

There is something about physical harm and pain that reminds us to look before we… leap. Why? Because we leaped one too many times without looking and our brain has trained us not to do that again. That’s the way our brains work. And our brains work well. That is, at least, for a lot of things. However, our brains may work against us when it comes to others things.

We sit down and watch a cute, funny dog video on YouTube and that’s fine; no pain. Actually, we quite enjoy it. Our brains do not tell us: Look before you… watch. So, we don’t. We don’t consider what we watch or how often we watch because, after all, we like it.

Plus, entertainment is everything.[1] But, is it? Or, should it be? We would do well to consider this question as (likely) the most entertained people in all of history.[2]

What is “entertainment”? What does that word mean? It has been defined in this way: “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” So, entertainment gives us pleasure, enjoyment, and diversion; especially by a performance of some kind. For instance, I was entertained at NitroCircus when Travis Pastrana did a double backflip on a dirt bike.

To quote someone from a different arena, it would have been fitting for Pastrana to scream out:

“Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!”

There is a danger that people will die in entertaining us but is there also a danger for us as we are endlessly entertained?

Neil Postman wrote in 1985 about the danger of, as his book title says, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and that was before public internet, let alone social media and the smart phone. It is not an understatement to say that we are likely to amuse ourselves to death. There are serious health risks for us when all we care about is entertainment. There is the further danger that we’re not living and loving as we should. We’re liable to amuse ourselves until death, and never do anything worthwhile with the time we’ve been given.

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Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 2)

What do we learn about Onesimus?
Paul calls Onesimus his child, as he often does with converts, especially, it seems, those whom he had a special connection with through discipleship (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2).

Onesimus, had a common slave name, his name meant “useful.” Paul makes a pun here. He basically says, Useful was useless to you Philemon but now he is useful to both you and me (v. 11).

So, how was “Useful” previously useless? What did he do that explains the remark from Paul? He ran away from his master Philemon and likely stole money from him to pay for his voyage and new life. He used to be useless but not now, now Paul says, he is indeed useful.

We have already seen that Paul used a term of endearment by saying Onesimus was Paul’s child. However, Paul does not stop there. Paul says, in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, he is sending his very heart (v. 12). Paul has a deep bond with Onesimus, he has been helpful to Paul (the old man!) in prison. As Paul says, “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel” (v. 13). So, Paul is making the case that Onesimus, though once deemed useless, is indeed useful both to Paul and Philemon.

Onesimus, proves his new usefulness, as we’ve seen, by helping Paul. But not only that, he is repentant. He is willing to go back to Philemon his master, a bold step. In that day, slaves could be branded with the letter “F” for fugitive or “T” for thief (if they had a “gracious” master). Other masters may have their slave executed, perhaps even on a cross. There was a near contemporary of Philemon, a very wealthy slave owner, that was killed by a slave so in order to punish the slave and make an example all of the man’s slaves were killed; all four hundred of them (Hughes, p. 161-62). In fact, in Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion there is a chapter titled “the ‘slaves’ punishment,” and in this chapter he tells about one occasion after a slave rebellion where there were six thousand slaves crucified (p. 55). Read More…

Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 1)

We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians[1] that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).

But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Read More…

A few thoughts on loving our neighbors…

God is a missionary God. God sent prophet after prophet and even sent His own Son (cf. Matt. 21:33ff). And now Jesus the Son is sending us into the world (Jn. 17:18). The task was dangerous for the prophets and deathly for Jesus. We shouldn’t expect anything less (Christians are the most persecuted group in the world). We were sent into the world, not a Christian conclave. And we were sent into the world not to win the world over to our side but to love the world, to love our neighbor. To implore the world on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). 

We are not to hide in Christian castles, build castles, or lob missiles at the outside world from our castle. The commission from Christ did not include a castle, it included sacrificial—boots on the ground—compassion. God showed His love for us through the amazingly tangible incarnation and cross. There is a sense in which we too can give love flesh.

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Gospel Friendships

In the army there is a thing called a “battle buddy,” or at least at Basic Combat Training, there is. A “battle buddy” is someone that is always around you; someone you’re always helping and receiving help from.

At Basic Training you do everything with your battle buddy, and if you don’t you get in trouble. You do pushups together, you make sure your uniform is right, you… do everything together. My first battle body could do like 170 pushups in two minutes, he was a beast. He did MMA previously. However, there was still stuff he needed help with. And there was certainly a lot he could teach me.

We all need a “battle buddy.” They drill this into new recruits heads because you can’t fight a war on your own. You have to have people cover your back. You have to have people around to help you. And this is no less the case when it comes to our lives. We have an enemy that is out to get us. We need gospel friendships to help us in the fight.

There are a lot of things that we can rally around. People can become friends because they like Pokémon or for any number of reasons. We could become friends because…

There is something that makes us friends that goes beyond hanging out and beyond Pokémon. So, what makes us friends ultimately?

The Gospel Makes Us Friends

Paul [with Timothy] writes “to all the saints in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 1:1). Paul is writing to “the saints” and they are the ones who are his friends. The gospel makes us saints and gives us friendships that Pokémon, sports, and where we live cannot. What does it mean to be saints?

Saint means “holy one.” So how can you be a saint, a holy one, set apart from sin? Are you holy by yourself? No! We are sinful by ourselves. Left to ourselves, we are stuck in sin. We do not receive grace from God; we receive punishment. We do not receive peace from God; we receive war and wrath. Look at the verse, it says “saints in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t say, “We’re saints in ourselves.”

We are made saints, holy, and receive peace with God through placing our faith in Jesus. Jesus was holy and never did anything wrong and yet He died in our place. The gospel is the “great exchange”: Jesus takes our sin upon Himself and dies the death we deserved and He gives us His righteousness and we get eternal life as we don’t deserve, and this all comes through faith in Jesus. That’s the gospel. And the gospel unites us. It makes us friends. Paul wrote to “the saints.”

Saints, those who believe in the gospel and treasure Jesus Christ, have something beyond this world that unites them.

Christ befriends us and because Christ befriends us we are all friends through Him. We, through Christ’s work, have God as our Father. We’re family! We all have the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit connects us.

The gospel makes us friends.

And notice who Paul wrote to: people at Philippi; a lot of different people. Some of whom were not considered “cool.” Maybe Paul was a book nerd, we know he read and wrote a lot; or maybe he was into sports, he does talk quite a bit about them. Whatever the case, there were people in Philippi that he would not naturally get along with. There were Gentiles in Philippi and Paul was a Jew.[1]

But, it was the gospel that made them friends. It is the gospel that makes us friends. So, let’s be friends because of the gospel. Jesus has shown us love and reached down to us so let’s show each other love, no matter how hard it may seem.

So, we’ve talked about what makes us friends so now let’s talk about characteristics of gospel friendships.

Gospel Friends Are…

Thankful (Phil. 1:3-4)

Paul thanks God for his friends. That is, Paul does not take his friends for granted. He appreciates them. And we see he thanks not just them for being his friends but he knows whom it is that gave them to him, God; and so Paul thanks God for his friends.

So, we as gospel friends should be thankful for each other. We should thank God for each other. And through that, we see that we should also appreciate each other. We shouldn’t take each other for granted.

Partners (Phi. 1:5)

We see here that Paul is not just thankful for his friends but thankful for them because they are partners together. And not just partners for anything, but “partners in the gospel.” So, a huge characteristic of gospel friendships is that they care about the gospel and the gospel going forward. They don’t just have a partnership or friendship formed around Pokémon or whatever but formed around the gospel.

Later on, Paul talks about “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27).[2] Gospel friends are intentional and even “strive” together for the advance of the gospel. Our friendships are not to be shallow. They are to be about the life changing and eternal truth of the gospel.

Encouraging (Phil. 1:6)

Gospel friends have a healthy and encouraging outlook with each other that’s grounded in the gospel. Gospel friends realize that the world is fallen and we will hurt each other and sometimes friends will sadly talk behind your back but gospel friends realize that God is working on His saints. So gospel friends are realistic but hopeful.

So gospel friends don’t give up on each other… they encourage.

Faithful (Phil. 1:7)

Paul’s friends were with him and for him even through his imprisonment.

Jesus, our Savior and also our ultimate example, is reliable. He is with us through thick and thin. All other friends will finally fail but Jesus never does. However, we are called to be like Jesus. We want to be a reliable friend even when it is hard for us or unpopular.

It was popular for the Philippians to be friends with Paul and help him. It was actually likely dangerous, but they remained faithful friends. Let’s also remain reliable and faithful friends. Let’s love like Jesus loves. And be there for others, like Jesus is there for us.

Affectionate (Phil. 1:8)

Paul said, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” This verse is quite amazing. In what way does Paul “yearn,” in what way is Paul affectionate? Does his affection or love change depending on how cool, fun, or nice his friends are? No!

It says “with the affection of Christ.” What is the “the affection of Christ” and was it easily killed? Jesus’ affection took Him to the cross and He died before His affection did. He died because His affection would not. #truelove

That’s the kind of love and affection that we are called to. We are to love like Jesus. We are to die before our love does. Let’s love like that!

Caring (Phil. 1:9-11)

As friends, we are to care for each other and want what’s best for each other.

What can be hard, however, is actually knowing how to best care for each other. Paul helps us here. He shows us what it really means to care. It means that we don’t merely care about external issues. It is actually not even about being concerned with our friend’s physical wellbeing. It goes beyond that.

Being gospel friends means caring about each other’s spiritual well-being… That’s what we see in these verses. That is what is most important.

Conclusion

We’ve seen that the gospel makes us friends and we’ve seen some characteristics of what it means to be gospel friends. Now, let’s purpose to live as gospel friends by the power of the Holy Spirit in light of the gospel.

Gospel Friendship in Philippians

1:5 “partnership in the gospel”
1:7 “partakers with me of grace”
1:14-19 “through your prayers’
1:27 “striving side by side for the faith”
2:22 “served with me in the gospel”
2:25 “my brother, and fellow worker, and fellow soldier”
3:17 “join in imitating me”
4:3 “labored side by side with me”
4:15 “partnership with me in giving and receiving”

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[1] “Paul’s friends were made up of a pretty diverse group of individuals—a former slave, a doctor, both Jews and Gentiles, etc.” (Adam Holland, Friendship Redeemed: How the Gospel Changes Friendships to Something Greater, 70-71).

[2] “The heart of true fellowship… is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision… Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment” (D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 16).Go

Technology: Connected and Out of Touch

How surreal, I am sitting in a Starbucks and there is an older couple sitting across from me. By all appearances they do not know each other. Their “date,” from what I can tell from spying, consists of looking at their cell phone (maybe the new iPhone 6s), touching it, and occasionally showing each other something on their phone; no doubt a new high score on “angry birds” or some other profound thing like a YouTube video of a monkey.

This is surreal for two reasons: 1) When this couple got together and started dating they could never have imagined the technology that would be available in the palm of their hand. Maybe this partly explains why they are so captivated by their phone and not by the actual person setting beside them. 2) When this couple got together, maybe thirty years ago, they could not have imagined wanting to hold some device in their hand rather than their loved ones’ hand.

Yet how things change. Affections fade and technology grows. And perhaps there is a correlation between the two distancing polls. If we hold a device in our hand instead of our loved ones’ hand, if we have “facetime” instead of real face time, if we have “facebook” and not time with real faces, if we have tweets and not conversations there will necessarily be a distancing effect from technology. And it will likely be that as technology advances so will be the chasm between relationships. However, if we start to put the work in on our relationships that any computer programmer puts in on technology then we may be able to keep pace with the discordant dissidents of technology. But this will require the intentionality and work ethic of those that are bringing us these great advances in technology.

In all of this realize that I am by no means saying that technology and advances in technology are bad, they are not in and of themselves (For instance, things like Skype can help relationships). Yet we must be very conscious in our use of technology. We must consider, am I playing “Tomb Raider” (or whatever it is called) when I should be looking deeply into my loved ones’ eyes? Am I “iTexting” when I should be talking to the person beside me? When I turn on my phone do I turn off my head? Does the “feed” on Facebook or Twitter feed my soul and intellect or does it leave me malnourished and hungry for something of substance like a book? Does being connected to the internet connect me to the world or allow me to be safely removed from it? 

I have found these questions surprisingly relevant and present but often unheeded in my own life. I have noticed on more than a few occasions when my family is visiting that we will set around in the living room with more than one person on a technological device. We’ll be “hanging out” yet the majority of the people in the room are on a computer or some such thing. This form of “hanging out” is much different then I remember growing up, and I’m only twenty-eight! My kids will have to be especially careful in their use of technology.

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