One day Jesus was having dinner at the home of one of the top Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day). As always, there was some lively and interesting conversation around the dinner table. Near the end of this meal, this happened ...
Luke 14:12-14. Jesus turned to the host. "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be — and experience — a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned — oh, how it will be returned! — at the resurrection of God's people."
Who have you been eating with lately?
One day Jesus was having dinner at the home of one of the top Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day). As always, there was some lively and interesting conversation around the dinner table. Near the end of this meal, this happened ...
John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and it reveals what was important to him. After praying for himself (vs.1-5) and his disciples (vs.6-19), he prayed for all who would believe in him – for the church yet to born (vs.20-26). Nearest to Jesus’ heart was his concern for the unity of his followers. So how are we doing at being “united”, as Jesus prayed? The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there were 34,000 denominations in the year 2000 rising to 43,000 in 2012. These are all “Christian” denominations, not those of other faiths or beliefs systems. All declare Jesus as Lord yet each has a distinct approach to areas such as leadership, structure, or a certain doctrine or emphasis. Some see themselves as right and others as wrong.
A Worldview Shift
Back in 1995, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about seven “strategic shifts” that the church needs to make in our time [these are outlined fully in my book Transforming Your Church]. One of the shifts is a “worldview shift” which requires us to shift from a narrow local church focus to a much broader kingdom mentality. The “kingdom” refers to God’s work in the world. It is the domain where God rules. God rules everywhere but the expression of that rule is yet to be fully revealed. That is why we continue to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The “church” is a local expression of what the kingdom is like, made up of disciples of Jesus. It is local yet also global, made up of all true followers of Jesus. We are to preach the good news of the gospel and when people respond they are born into the kingdom of God then added to the church. God’s kingdom is much bigger than any expression of the local church. God’s work in the world is way beyond our small church community, as important as we may be.
How can we work towards helping Jesus prayer for the unity of his church become a reality?
1. Be Humble, not Proud. Each local church is special and unique and we should be proud of our church. It should be the best church - for us. However, we also need to value the uniqueness of others. No ministry or local church has it all or is God’s only instrument or the only one true church. We are a part of the body of Christ, which is made up of every Christian and every church that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. Humility demands that we have a sober or balanced view of ourselves. We all need each other. The Great Commission is too big for any one of us to fulfil. We need all churches and all Christian ministries working together to achieve God’s purposes. Praise God for the huge variety and diversity of ministries he is using today. After all, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.
2. Be Inclusive, not Exclusive. God desires us to seek to include others rather than exclude them. Christian love is expressed by an open, warm, embracing attitude toward other people, ministries and churches. We should look for common ground and not focus only on our differences (Philippians 1:15-18). God wants us connected to others, not isolated from them. God has called us to build bridges, not walls. In the Old Testament, there was only one nation of Israel, but it was made up of 12 different tribes, which were further made up of many different households and families. So it is in the church today. There are many different denominations, associations, networks and groups of churches and ministries. Each is unique and has its own distinctives, but we are all a part of the one true church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We must avoid prejudice against other churches and ministries and watch out that we don’t develop stereotypes of other ministries based on gossip and hearsay, rather than personal experience.
3. Discern, Don’t Judge. It is sad to see the amount of people today who spend their time throwing mud at or criticising other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded not do. The apostles tell us to test all things, to hold on to the good, and let the bad go (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. 1 John 4:1-3). The test is what people say about Jesus - who he is and what he has done. We should, however, place final judgement on nothing before its time (1 Corinthians 4:5. James 4:10-12). God is the true judge, and each person will stand before him (not us) and give account for all they have done. Christian love requires us to avoid a critical attitude that is quick to pull down and point out flaws in other people and their ministries (Matthew 7:1-5). We see this gracious attitude portrayed so beautifully in the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Pharisees when they were considering persecuting the early church (Acts 5:33-39). He told them that if a ministry was not of God, it would die down and come to nothing. However, if it was of God, they should leave it alone lest they be seen as fighting against God. We would be wise to take his advice today as we observe other ministries and churches.
4. Love, Don’t Hate. God has commanded us to love all people but especially other Christians who also love Jesus. We are to pray for God’s blessing on other churches and ministries. We are to rejoice when they thrive and sorrow when they struggle. We are working together for the benefit of God’s kingdom. We are not in opposition or competition with each other. We’re all on the same team. God is actually angry when we fight and hurt each other. Jesus said, “By this will all people know you are my disciples … by your love for one another” (John 13:35). God’s desire is that we come to the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) and eventually to a “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and that is demonstrated by how we relate to other churches and Christian ministries.
It’s a new day. God is breaking down the walls. He is bringing his body, the church, together as a mighty force in the earth. It will take the whole church, taking the whole gospel to the whole world, to complete the Great Commission. The last prayer of Jesus that we would all be one as he and the Father are one is one prayer that will be answered. Let’s work together for its fulfilment in our time.
Reflection Discussion Questions
- Reflect on your experience with the local church. What churches have you been involved in and what have you learned from this experience?
- Consider your experience with Christians from other churches. What have you learned and what do you appreciate about different parts of the body of Christ?
- Read Mark 9:38-40. In what ways can we be like the disciples today? What does Jesus response teach us?
- What are some ways we can avoid the isolation that comes by being totally consumed with only our own church and its activities, needs or concerns?
- “Church-hopping” is a major problem today. What are some key factors a person would be wise to consider before changing churches?
- In what ways is Christian unity a tremendous “apologetic” (witness, defence or explanation) for the good news of Jesus Christ?
Someone once said that “encouragement is like oxygen to the soul”. Each one of us thrives in an environment of affirmation and encouragement. No one likes to be in an atmosphere where we are being torn down or ridiculed.
So think about what you are doing to those around about you. Are you encouraging them? Are you lifting them up with your words?
Occasionally, I’ll sit at a funeral and listen to the eulogy or the tributes that are given and often think, “I wonder if that person knew those things when they were alive?” Don’t wait until someone dies to tell them what you appreciate about them. Take the time now to express your love and your affirmation for them.
The Bible tells us that God the Father burst out of heaven at Jesus’ baptism and said “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”. God is an affirming God and he wants you and I to do the same. Don’t just think good things about people. People cannot read your mind. Take the time, write a note, make a phone call, tell somebody how much you appreciate them today. Encourage them.
Encouragement is powerful!
Well known psychologist, Daniel Goleman has done a lot research on the components of success, especially in the work place. His conclusion is that Technical Skill and Intellectual Intelligence (or IQ) are very important, but that the quality of Emotional Intelligence (or EQ), is the most essential. In fact, it’s twice as important as the other two attributes.
‘Emotional intelligence’ is: knowing how to relate well to a wide variety of people.
How do we do that? Well, Jesus gives us some great advice in Matthew 7:12 when he says, “Do for others what you would like them to do for you.”
Some people call this the “Golden Rule”. Jesus is basically saying to think about how you like to be treated. Think about the qualities and attributes that attract you to others, the ‘ideal friend’. We can also think about the qualities and attributes that repel us from others. You know, the ‘friend from hell’.
Think about how you want to be treated and then you take the initiative. You begin treating other people in that way.
Imagine a world where every one of us follows this basic principle of relationships.
Life can be very rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be very difficult at times. Two of the hardest things to do are handling criticism and confronting people, not that we should love confronting people (!) but learning how to do so in a loving manner. The apostle Paul once wrote in Ephesians 4:15 that one of the marks of a mature church is the ability to “speak the truth in love”. Some people speak the truth but not always in a loving manner. Others are so loving that they never speak the truth. Finding the balance of doing both well is essential.
Being Lovingly Assertive
We all need to be lovingly assertive, when appropriate. Assertiveness is all about being able to assert your rights. Errors in this area can lead to a lot of relational problems. Christian counsellor Arch Hart notes that sometimes as Christians we have adopted a belief that says that it’s not right to be assertive. We should surrender our rights and even be willing to be wronged in the name of love. The key issue is how we define ‘assertiveness’. The truth is that you can be both loving and assertive. Of course, Christian love may involve choosing to sacrifice our rights when appropriate.
Over-assertive people lack tact and sensitivity, hurt other people, steam-roll their ideas and opinions, and tend to be autocratic (‘we’ll do it my way’). In contrast, under-assertive people can’t set limits, they can’t say “no” (without feeling guilty), they are easily manipulated by stronger people, they are unable to express feelings of anger constructively, they avoid conflict situations and shirk responsibilities, they are excessively apologetic (“Oh, I’m sorry!”), they can’t send clear and unambiguous messages, they experience anxiety and guilt when they do not assert themselves, and they tend to fantasise after the conversations (replaying the situation over and over). This often leads to passive-aggressive behaviour. They are always assertive in their imagination (fantasy) but never in reality. How many of us have said some real assertive things in our mind but never had the courage to speak them out! As a result, under-assertive people find that their relationships remain superficial, they develop other unhealthy ways of expressing their anger, and they are often the most stressed people around due to a feeling of helplessness.
There is a balance between ‘under-assertiveness’ and ‘over-assertiveness’. We need to avoid swinging unnecessarily or inappropriately between the two. If you are angry, you have forfeited the right to be assertive. When anger is involved, assertiveness is no longer a healing activity. Aggression is not what assertiveness is about. When you do it right there should usually not be offence.
A Few Thoughts About Confrontation
Confrontation is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult. Confrontation is difficult for a variety of reasons, including: we all fear being disliked, we want everyone to like us, we may be afraid of making things worse (however, usually it is the attitude in which you confront that makes things worse, not the confrontation itself), we may fear rejection, we may find it difficult to share our feelings, we may think that confrontation will destroy love and trust (actually, if done correctly, confrontation can build more love and trust into the relationship) and we may lack confrontational skills. Good leaders learn how to confront in love.
1. Deal with conflicts quickly. Deal with issues the moment they come up. Don’t save all your complaints and problems up and then dump them all on a person. When tensions arise, clear the air immediately and personally. When you let tensions continue without dealing with them, they usually get worse rather than better (Eph.4:26-27).
2. Confront with the right attitude. Don’t be either overeager or too hesitant to confront. Confront, not because it makes you feel good, but because you are committed to seeing people mature in Christ (2 Cor.10:1. 2Tim.2:24. Gal.6:1). Confronting with the right spirit comes out of having the right goal in your confrontation, which is: (a) a better understanding, (b) a positive change, and (c) a growing relationship. The goal is not to ‘win a battle’ or to ‘unload our frustration’. Think Win/Win.
3. Outline the problem clearly. Be open and honest. Clearly define what the other person is doing to cause you a problem, how this makes you feel, and why this is important to you.
4. Seek to understand their perspective. Encourage a response. Get the issue out, then let them talk as long as they need to. Their feelings need expression, so give them time to do this. People may feel shock, hurt or resentment. At this point, your goal is to understand their perspective on the situation. You want to learn and to gain understanding. Don’t automatically assume that you are right and they are wrong. You may not agree with them, but be sure you understand where they are coming from. You may need to repeat or rephrase their comments to ensure you’ve understood correctly.
5. Seek to resolve the issue whether it is an action or an attitude. Re-establish or clarify the issue and ensure understanding or forgiveness. Indicate the desired action be taken. Place the focus on the future at this point. Clearly define what needs to change and what your expectations are. Don’t mistake an emotional release for fixing the problem. Let it happen but move to a resolution.
6. Affirm the person and put the issue in the past. Be positive. Affirm the person, even if you don’t like what they have done (Eph.4:29). Thank them for who they are and what they contribute. Express appreciation for them and your desire to work together. Don’t bring it up again unless the problem reoccurs.
The biggest mistakes we make in confrontation are: failing to get all of the facts (relying on hearsay evidence or subjective impressions), confronting while angry (anger causes you to lose objectivity), being vague about the offence (know what you’re talking about by being - people can’t fix things they can’t see), failing to get the other person’s side of the story, and holding a grudge (don’t keep hostilities but let it go and move on).
Your success or failure as a leader will depend more on your ability to build strong healthy relationships than anything else. Unless you learn to get along with a wide variety of people, your effectiveness as a leader will be greatly diminished. Have the courage and the consideration to learn to confront lovingly.
1. Reflect on a time when a confrontation you were involved in went really well (whether you were on the giving or receiving end). What were the contributing factors?
2. Reflect on a time when a confrontation didn’t go so well. What were the contributing factors?
3. What one insight from today’s teaching or discussion will you apply this next week?
In his best selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey noted that when it comes to healthy relationships, mature people think “win/win”.
Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all situations, agreements and solutions. With a Win/Win solution, all parties feel good about the decision and are committed to the action plan - there is something in it for everybody and everybody wins. Win/Win sees life as a co-operative, not a competition. One person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others - it’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.
It helps to avoid alternative approaches such as:
1. Win/Lose - “If I win, you lose.” Most people see life in terms of dichotomies: strong/weak, big/small, master/servant, win/lose etc. Our society is structured around this type of thinking. In families where there is conditional love children are taught that life is about comparison with someone else or against some standard. In peer groups children are taught that acceptance is based on conformity to a standard or norm. At school there is a grading system which compares each child to the other and determines which is the better. In business, we operate in a “dog eat dog” environment where there is only room for the survivor at the expense of all others. In our pastimes such as sport there is only a prize for the winner. Unfortunately, most of the quality we want in our lives depends on our co-operation with others not on whether we or they are better.
2. Lose/Win - “I lose, you win.” People who think lose/Win are usually quick to please. They seek strength from popularity or acceptance. They have little courage to express their own feelings and convictions and are easily intimidated by others. In negotiations, Lose/Win is seen as giving in or giving up. In leadership style, Lose/Win is permissiveness or indulgence, being “Mr Nice Guy” even if nice guys are walked on.
3. Lose/Lose - Some people are so centred on an enemy, so totally obsessed with the other person’s behaviour that they become blind to everything except their desire for that person to lose, even if it means losing themselves. Lose/Lose is the philosophy of war. “If I can’t have it, then neither will they.”
4. Win - People with the Win mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose - what matters is that they win. This is probably the most common approach to everyday negotiation. Win thinking is in terms of securing your own ends and leaving others to secure theirs. “Look out for No. 1”
5. Win/Win or No Deal - This is a higher expression of Win/Win which says that if we can’t find a solution that would benefit us both then we agree to disagree agreeably - No Deal. With No Deal as an option, you are liberated because you are able to say that it would be better not to deal than to live with a decision that isn’t right for us both. If you can’t reach a true Win/Win, then No Deal is better.
Which option is best?
The most effective option depends on the situation:-
- Win/Lose - This might be used to stimulate business
- Lose/Win - If you value a relationship and the issue isn’t important.
- Win - If someone’s life is in danger etc.
However, in most situations the best result will be achieved with a Win/Win approach - particularly when there are people and relationships involved (interdependence).
Jesus himself taught that we should think about how other people like be treated then grab the initiative and treat them that way (Matthew 7:12). That's win win!
It’s Mother’s Day: a century-old tradition of taking time to thank and honour our amazing mums. Mums are special people we owe so much to - in addition to our very existence! Most mums are faithful, loyal, hard-working, loving and caring people. We honour and applaud them today. Of course, Mother’s Day brings a variety of emotion with it – gratitude, if you had a great mum, some sadness and pain if you had a difficult or absent mum, and grief if you have lost your mum or wanted to be a mum but haven’t yet been able to have children.
What was your mother like? Mothers are highly influential people but no mother is perfect. Ideally, they provide care, love, nurture and protection for their children, but that isn’t always the case. In their recent book, Our Mothers, Ourselves: How Understanding Your Mother’s Influence Can Set You on a Path of a Better Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (best-selling authors of Boundaries) unpack how our mothers shape us – for better or worse, including describing different types of mothers and styles of mothering. These include the Phantom Mum, the China Doll Mum, the Controlling Mother, the Trophy Mum, the Still-the-Boss Mum, and the American Express Mum. It is easy to dismiss the past, but even as adults we need to understand our mother’s pervasive influence on our life.
No matter what our mother was like, we need to give them love and respect, gratitude, and forgiveness. In addition, we need to “leave” appropriately and be who God has called us to be, severing that umbilical cord of dependence, as it were. Then we return, hopefully as friends.
The Art of Mothering
All mothers should seek to be the best mothers that they can be. This includes making a choice to:
- Love unconditionally. True love is not just an emotion but is an act of will to do what is best for another person, regardless of what they are like. Kids aren’t perfect yet they need to know they are loved … no matter what.
- Affirm frequently. Words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21). Use them for good – to build up your children (Ephesians 4:29). Children thrive under encouragement, affirmation and praise.
- Instruct clearly. Establish clear expectations and consequences, then follow through consistently. Teach desired behaviour (what) and the values behind it (why). Example is essential (kids do what they see), as is a loving relationship.
- Discipline lovingly. Loving discipline is about giving appropriate consequences for disobedience, not abuse or harsh, angry punishment.
- Empower fully. As children grow and mature, empower them more to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own lives. Our kids are really not ours. We don't own or possess them. They are gifts …. loaned for a time. Help them become who God has designed them to be. Don’t project your own wishes on them. Then trust God and let go of any unnecessary guilt or condemnation for the choices they may choose to make.
[More BLOG posts on parenting: Wisdom for Parents, Parenting Teenagers, Damaging Parenting Styles and Some Thoughts on Parenting. There are many good books on parenting but I especially encourage you to check out The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee]
God as Mother?
Sometimes mums can find it difficult to see themselves as a reflection of the image of God. This may be because of the number of male references to God in the Bible, such as king or Father. But God is not male! [God created woman so if he was a man this would be impossible because we all know that men know nothing about women!] God is Spirit. He transcends gender yet includes what we know as male and female. Men and women were both created in God’s image. God has both masculine and feminine qualities (see Isaiah 42:14; 49:14-16; 66:13. Hosea 13:8. Matthew 23:37). He has motherly traits of caretaker, comforter and nurturer. That's why it takes both men and women to reflect God accurately. Mums - you are made in the image of God. You reflect his nature and his characteristics … even in your mothering of your children. Walk with a sense of dignity and honour. You matter … just because of who you are!
- Reflect on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. What can we learn from her?
- What does Mother’s Day mean to you?
- Think about your own mother. What are you thankful for? What was difficult?
- Review the five suggested tasks in the “art of mothering”. Reflect on how God is the model of the perfect parent.
- Consider some of the feminine aspects of God’s nature – such as love, care, nurture, and protection. Why do we sometimes struggle with seeing God this way? What do we miss out by thinking of God only in male images?
- Finish by praying for all of our family relationships.
See also: Jesus and His Mother.
The Denial (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72)
The theme of abandonment overshadows many of the Stories Around the Cross. Jesus was abandoned by betrayal (Judas), by indifference (the disciples sleeping three times in Gethsemane), and by denial and desertion (Peter and the Twelve). When Jesus needed them the most, his friends left him alone. They all participated in the supper (Mark 14:23), they all confessed their allegiance (Mark 14:31), and yet they all deserted Jesus (Mark 14:50).
Peter is as impetuous as ever – opening his mouth first and thinking afterwards. But he is hard to condemn and impossible to dislike. He has demonstrated nothing but reckless courage to this point - drawing his sword in the garden prepared to take on the whole mob and staying near the courtyard in a quiet boldness. We should be amazed at his courage not just shocked at his fall. Every person has their breaking point.
Peter is not surprised by the thought of the defection of the other disciples. Perhaps he even expects it of them. He does not defend their cause but strongly defends his own cause, “I will not! (vs.29)” He sees himself as the exception to the rule; where others fall, he will stand. There’s more than a little self-confidence and pride here. Jesus interrupts his bravado and says, “Today … yes tonight … before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times (vs.30).” Peter does not back down. He insists emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you (vs.31).” Notice that “all the others said the same.”
Peter follows Jesus “at a distance” (vs.54) and eventually there is an escalation of three charges and three denials (vs.66-72). After the rooster crowed the second time, suddenly Jesus’ words flooded through Peter’s mind … and “He broke down and wept.” Humiliated, Peter is overwhelmed with guilt and shame, most likely morphing into sorrow and repentance (unlike Judas who was remorseful but not repentant).
Have you ever fallen flat on your face? Have you ever disappointed yourself, others or God? Maybe it was a sin, a mistake or a personal failure. Like Peter, you didn't live up to your own expectations or promises. We have all experienced this, at one time or another. Sometimes, over-confidence, arrogance and pride are catalysts. At others times, they are not.
When personal failure occurs, we experience guilt, embarrassment and at times shame. Guilt is the result of a convicted conscience. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us and it is always specific and aimed at response – remorse (genuine sorrow) and repentance (change – turning away from sin). Shame is from the enemy and moves us from “I did something wrong” to “I am a bad person”. It involves an ongoing feeling of condemnation and self-loathing, with a general sense of not being good enough. Shame is very harmful and engenders a feeling of unworthiness. This often leads to destructive and negative behaviours.
The Restoration of Peter
In John’s Gospel, we learn some more details about how Jesus took time to restore Peter (John 21:1-19). By a charcoal fire on the beach, bringing back memories of Peter’s denial by a charcoal fire in the courtyard (John 18:18), like a good shepherd, Jesus’ heals the wound of Peter’s denial and failure. Gently, Jesus brings this memory to the surface and heals it with love and forgiveness. Jesus gives Peter a chance to profess his love for Jesus, to affirm everything he has denied – three times. Old failings, old sores, old wounds are healed. Jesus not only forgives Peter but commissions him. It's time for him to be a shepherd, to feed lambs and sheep, to look after them. Jesus is trusting Peter to get back to fruitful work. Jesus is sharing his own ministry with Peter. Jesus is after all the “good shepherd” (John 10).
This is the foundation of all ministry – despite our faults and failures, Jesus forgives us and gives us an opportunity to join him in his work on earth. These are not things we do to earn our forgiveness. It’s all grace from start to finish. They are things we do out of the joy of being forgiven.
The Power of Vulnerability
It speaks volumes both for the accuracy of the Gospels and the humility of the leaders of the early church that Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times, in all its graphic detail, remains there starkly in all four gospels - the same man who confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Peter himself is most likely the source of this story. It served as a warning to other Christians who themselves would face persecution that even if the prince of the apostles denied Jesus they might do so also if they were not prepared. Even the best of us can slip and fall, as our human weakness falls prey to strong temptations. Not even the best leader is immune to failure. Nor beyond the promise of grace! We can be honest about our sin … because God’s grace is even greater.
Jesus did not give up on Peter … and he does not give up on us. Who would have thought that Peter’s negative example would have given courage to young and innocent Christians for years afterwards to stand up to questioning, persecution, torture and death rather than deny Jesus. Some even faced lions in the amphitheatre and did not deny their Lord.
Authenticity takes courage and compassion. Everyone around you has the same issues and struggles you do. Perfectionism is often driven by a fear of shame. All this is emotionally unhealthy. It makes your self-worth dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. Vulnerability is the cure for shame. It is the willingness to openly admit failures and weaknesses. It helps you build up resilience to shame and to feel happier about who you are in Christ and what you do have. In fact, the moments we feel most connected to others are usually those in which we have opened up to someone and experienced their empathy. We've all experienced the relief of opening up to others, our problems melting away as we begin to feel understood. This is a truly powerful weapon against shame.
Like Peter, may you know the joy of forgiveness from all sin and failure, of standing unashamed, and of being commissioned to join Jesus in his work on earth.
- Think of a a time when you failed or did something that humiliated or embarrassed you. What did it feel like and what have been the affects since that incident?
- Compare the difference between guilt and shame. How do we know the difference?
- Why are qualities such as openness and authenticity so difficult for us as humans?
- What’s the impact of vulnerability? Why is it so powerful? Why do some see it as weakness?
- How does being vulnerable help us overcome feelings of shame?
- Listen to Brene Brown's TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. What did you learn?
- What can leaders (whether parents, teachers, pastors or managers) learn from Jesus in how to create an environment where people can be open and honest about themselves, rather than building a toxic, shame-based culture?
- What are some indicators that we have made God's grace the foundation of our life and ministry?
- Pray and ask God for complete freedom … from guilt and shame.
[Picture - Rembrandt's Peter Denying Christ]
The apostle Paul worked hard to relate to a wide variety of people. Have a read of this from his letter to the church at Corinth in the first century:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose–living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized––whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ––but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God–saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it. Message Bible
As followers of Christ, we are to the same. This means learning to relate to people of different personalities, background, educational level, religious belief, age, gender and race. When it comes to race and nationality, we now live in a truly 'global village'. Yet people living in different localities still have their unique manners and customs.
Over the last month, for the purpose of both holidays and ministry, I have had the privilege of travelling to Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow), Sweden (Uppsala), Poland, Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) and United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi). What a whirlwind it has been yet what an enjoyable experience visiting different places and meeting different people.
Cultural differences include (noted by David Livermore):
- Individualistic versus Collectivist.
- Low verses High Power Distance.
- Cooperative verses Competitive.
- Punctuality verses Relationships.
- Direct verses Indirect.
- Being verses Doing.
- Particularist verses Universalist.
- Neutral verses Affective.
- Tight verses Loose.
These differences can be seen across a wide range of cultures, including Anglo, Germanic, Easter European, Asian (with many differences between regions), Latin American, African, and Arab ... just to name a few.
A simple example is my recent experience with Indigenous Australians. When two men from Western descent greet each other, after exchanging names, their next question is always something like, "So what do you do?" We derive our primary identity from our work - our doing. In contrast, when two indigenous men meet, after exchanging names, their next question is more likely to be "Who's your mob?" In other words, tell me about your family. In their culture, your family and tribe are the source of your identity - your being. What a difference this makes in how people from these two different go about their daily lives!
Not everyone will travel, like I have had the opportunity to do, but people from different cultures are everywhere around us - in our neighbourhoods, our schools, our workplaces and our churches. Everyone of us should seek to understand people who are different, so we can better love and appreciate them, do life together with them with appreciation, and share the love of Jesus with them in meaningful ways.
Every time I travel to a new place, I do a few things to prepare myself:
1. Read as much as I can about the history, demographics, and local culture. Wikipedia as well as various travel guides are a good source of up-to-date information.
2. Learn about the people - their values, language, interests, education and well-being.
3. Study various maps to understand the geographical area and it proximity to other places.
4. Read about the state of Christian faith in a particular area, as well as the other local religious beliefs. Operation World is an excellent resource for this.
I am always enriched the more I know and understand about the people I am visiting and connecting with.
Here's some recommended further reading for those who are interested in learning more:
- Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multi-Cultural World by David Livermore.
- Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore.
- Handbook of Cultural Intelligence by Soon Ang and Linn Can Dyne.
- The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as they Do by Cloture Rapaille.
- Travel Tips.
- "Friends, I've lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment." Acts 23:1. MB
- "I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people." Acts 24:16. NLT
- "The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith." 1 Timothy 1:5. NLT
- "Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked." 1 Timothy 1:19. NLT
A deep awareness of right and wrong, as well as a desire to do what is right (and an inability to always do it!), is a unique aspect of all human beings, regardless of a person's culture, race or background. Most people prefer justice over injustice, love over hate, peace over war, and forgiveness over violence. We may not always work for it; but we know it's right. It's just the way things are. For people of faith like myself, this is one of those indicators of God's fingerprints in our world. The presence of a 'law' reflects the existence of a 'lawgiver'. He has written that law on our hearts.
Our conscience is that part of us that indicates to our mind and heart whether we are doing what is right or wrong, urging us to do the right.
I heard the story of an American Indian who was asked to describe a 'conscience' to a young person. He described it like this:
"Your conscience is like a wooden triangle on the inside of you. When you do something wrong it turns, causing pain and urging you to stop. If you heed it's warning, it stops turning. If you don't, it keeps turning. However, if you ignore it long enough, over a period of time, the edges of the wooden triangle will wear off. At that time, when you do something wrong, it will still turn, but you will no longer feel anything."
What a profound answer!
To me, living with a clear conscience means:
- No unsettled accounts - with God or people.
- Everything repented of ... and forgiven.
- Finishing each day with nothing left undone.
- Beginning each day with a clear slate.
It means there is nothing that I am aware of between me and God or any other person that I have not done my very best to make right. Oh, the joy of a clear conscience. It leads to peace and an inner sense of well-being, enabling us to live fully present each moment ... without guilt or regret about the past or fear and worry about the future.
The apostle John, Jesus' closest disciple, put it this way:
This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there's not a trace of darkness in him. If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we're obviously lying through our teeth - we're not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God's Son, purges all our sin. If we claim that we're free of sin, we're only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins - make a clean breast of them - he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we've never sinned, we out–and–out contradict God - make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest–Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good - not only ours, but the whole world's. 1 John 1:5 - 2.2. MB
May we know and experience the power of a clear conscience each day.
Ten tips for supporting someone who is grieving:
• Offer practical support such as meals, shopping, gardening, errands, lifts, etc. especially in the early days.
• Accept that everyone grieves differently. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss but everyone grieves differently.
• Don't judge. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Especially don't say "you should..." or "you shouldn't..."
• Accept a wide variety of emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion, fear, guilt, relief, etc. Such varied emotions are a natural response to the death of a loved one.
• Listen well. Bereaved people often need to talk about their grief and sometimes it's okay to just sit in silence.
• Use the name of the lost loved one. Allow the bereaved person to talk of their loved one and to use their name.
• Avoid platitudes such as "At least you have other children", "it was meant to be", 'It's God's will', "Maybe God wanted another angel", etc. Well-meant statements like these are unhelpful and often hurtful.
• Don't say "I understand" or "I know how you feel". Individual grief is so complex that no-one can really understand how an individual feels.
• You can't fix it. No one can take away the pain and sadness but knowing that people care is comforting and healing.
• Don't assume. People who are grieving aren't necessarily showing it.
[Source: The Compassionate Friends Victoria]
Right now, our vision as a church is to see over 10,000 stories of transformation. Recently, we have had a number of moving stories about individuals coming out of domesitc violence situations. These are people who once felt isolated, hopeless, and helpless. Now they feel cared for and looked after. These stories provide hope for anyone affected by domestic violence.
Domestic violence (sometimes referred to as ‘family violence’ or ‘interpersonal violence’) is defined as “a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviours that frighten, intimidate, terrorise, exploit, manipulate, blame, injure, or wound a person.”
It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 women is a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime. There were 65,000 police reports of domestic violence in Victoria last year (almost double those reported in 2010). In Australia, the police deal with a domestic violence matter every 2 minutes. It can happen to anyone, regardless of your background.
“Violent abuse” refers to “using physical violence in a way that injures or endangers someone.” Physical assault or battery is a crime, as well as serveal other forms of domestic violence, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the authority and power to protect victims from physical attack. The victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and their children.
Domestic abuse is dangerous in ALL its forms (not just physical violence) - including willful intimidation, sexual assault, stalking, verbal or emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse and isolation. Physical violence is sometimes easier to recover from than psychological or emotional injuries that cause a person to feel worthless. Threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself.
As a pastor, I need to confess that the Church, in general, hasn't always handled this issue well. We have often failed to believe that it can happen in Christian homes. There has been erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home, as well as misunderstandings about forgiveness and repentance. This has often created a culture of silence and acceptance. Here at CityLife, we are committed to doing a better job at helping to prevent domestic violence, confronting it when it does occur, and offering help to those involved – both the victim and the perpetrator.
Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived amongst us, so that we can have life, and life to the full! Any sort of abuse or violence hurts the heart of God. It is the very opposite of his sacrificial love. Abuse twists God’s good intention for marriage, the family and human relationships. God’s Word contains clear declarations against any form of physical or verbal abuse, including that of spouses or children. Psalm 11:5. “Those who love violence, God hates with a passion.” Instead, we are called to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another.
If you are being abused, you need to know that abuse is not God’s will or part of God’s plan for your life. Enabling one person’s cruelty to another is not the will of a just and loving God. You don’t have to remain silent anymore. Please tell a friend, a family member, a pastor or ministry leader, or the authorities. You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. You are the victim of abuse and violence and it is wrong. You were created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, love and respect You do not need to put up with it. It is not acceptable. If you don’t feel safe, please seek professional help in making a safety plan for yourself and the children. This may include leaving the situation or obtaining an intervention order. No person is expected to continue in an abusive environment.
If you are the one causing the abuse, you need to know that it is never okay to hurt or threaten to hurt anyone. Please get some professional help. Talk to someone you trust. Get some accountability.
Domestic/family violence causes great damage in people’s lives. It has to stop. For anyone affected by domestic violence, we have counselors and pastors trained to be able to help you and offer support and strategies for you to move forward. Please call and ask for help.
Father, you love us as your children and your desire is that our homes, our families, be places of love, care and encouragement – not places where we experience fear or abuse. I pray for wisdom and courage for those affected by domestic violence. Help them to take a step towards freedom today. For those caught in a cycle of abusing others, I pray that you would convict them and bring about change in their life. For us as a church, may we be a community of faith characterized by loving relationships. In Jesus name. Amen.
We fight the drug of porn with the power of love
Steak: We have taken the good gift of sex and turned it into something it is not.
Steak: food is for eating (we have twisted sex into something it isn’t).
1. Think about the ways that sex has been twisted away from God’s intention.
2. The dictionary defines pornography as: Sexually explicit writing, images, video, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal. Think about what kinds of pornography there are in our world.
3. Have a read of the statistics about pornography below. Consider whether these statistics are greater or lower than what you expected.
Scripture: The Bible tells us sex is sacred and is not to be cheapened.
The Bible is a book about God’s love for the world. Sex is a gift of God given with a purpose (Gen 1:26,31) but humanity through sin took it outside of its purpose. People tried to come back to God by their actions but it was the hearts that God was after (Prov 4:23, Matt 15:16-20, Matt 5). Sex is not just physical, it is spiritual (1 Cor 6:15-20, Eph 5:1-14).
1. Read through the Scriptures above. Reflect on why sex is more than just a physical act.
2. Do you think God or the Bible is against sex?
Stats: Porn kills love
Here are some of the main ways that pornography kills love.
1. Brain: When we look at pornography it releases dopamine in our brain that rewires them to crave the feeling more and more. This is like taking drugs. We are the product of our habits (good and bad). Pornography becomes addicted to the good feelings of sex outside of the purpose in a loving committed relationship.
2. Relationships: Looking at pornography creates false perception of reality where we learn to expect what we see/read in pornography over real life. It creates distorted views of men and women. It decreases intimacy in marriage.
3. Injustice: participating in porn consumption creates the need for a system of injustice. While we may not be looking at the terrible aspects of pornography, they are all part of a system that makes abuse against women, child slavery and sexual abuse possible.
4. Spirit: porn pushes us away from the only one who can truly transform us. When you engage in pornography it pushes you away from God and community.
Are these statistics and consequences of pornography something you were aware of?
Shift: Fight porn with love
For those who are struggling here are some great next steps:
1. Choose: change starts with a choice. It may sound simple but what we tolerate we will never change. We need to make a conscious decision to change.
2. Talk: one of the great lies of the enemy is to make those struggling think they are the only ones struggling. We cannot do life on our own. We need community. As a church we need to create space for people to be real about their struggles and help lift one another up. (James 5:16)
3. Walk: Change your habits. There are some real practical ways you can change your habits. You can replace the bad habits with positive ones. Below are some great resources to assist your change
4. Journey: remember that change and growth is a journey. We are being transformed each day. Whatever our struggle, we must follow the example of Paul in Philippians (Phi 3:12-14) by forgetting what is behind and pressing on.
Response to Sin
How we respond to sin (of any kind) says a lot about our understanding of God and His grace. There are two extremes we want to avoid:
1. Rubbish: (kick someone while they are down). When someones is struggling we do not want to condemn them. If our first response to sin is retribution and not redemption than we are living under law and not grace.
2. Reinforce: (pretend it doesn’t matter). The other extreme is to overlook the sin. When we pretend sin doessn’t matter we cheapen the grace of Jesus.
The way that Jesus modelled is the best way to respond to sin (John 8)
3. Redeem (speak to the person they are yet to be). Jesus met people where they were but called them to something more. We want to speak to the potential in people. God met us at our worst and called children of God. We want to be a community that meets people wherever they are and calls them to their God given identity.
As a pastor and church leader, I have a confession to make:
The church has not handled the matter of domestic violence well.
Let me be more specific:
1. We have not done a good job of helping to prevent domestic violence, of confronting it when it does occur nor of helping those involved - both the perpetrator and victim.
2. There has been too much ignorance about the prevalence of domestic violence. Many church leaders have failed to believe that it can happen, even in Christian homes.
3. There has been much erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home. This has led to a culture of silence and acceptance..
4. Preachers have not taught on this subject nor referred to it enough in their messages.
5. Pastors and church leaders have not been equipped to address this matter (I can’t remember learning much about it in Bible College nor in seminary) nor have they equipped their congregation members with proper responses should domestic violence occur.
6. Pastors have often emphasised forgiveness and repentance at the expense of a person’s welfare and safety. For instance, a mid-1980s survey of 5,700 pastors in the USA revealed that 26% of pastors would advise an abused wife to continue to submit to their husband and trust God to honour her action (by either the abuse naturally stopping or giving her strength to endure). More shockingly, 71% of pastors said they would never advise a battered wife to leave or separate from their husband because of abuse. Clearly, greater priority has been given to keeping families together rather than ending the violence.
Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived among us, so that we can have LIFE (John 10:10)! Domestic violence not only causes great damage to the victim(s), it also hurts the heart of God because it is the very opposite of his sacrificial love and the abundant life he desires for us.
The Bible contains clear, unmistakable declarations against any form of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. It repeatedly calls on people to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another, and specifically condemns the abuse of wives and children. Domestic violence cannot be justified through the Bible and/or the Gospel of life and peace. The apostle Paul said: “As much as is possible, live at peace with everyone.” Sometimes, peace is no longer possible and immediate separation may be the safest and wisest option.
Every church needs to adopt a NO tolerance stance towards any and all acts of domestic violence. We need to recognise the serious implications and consequences of domestic violence. This issue needs to be addressed and spoken about more frequently in order to raise awareness and help people break through the fear barrier. Training needs to be provided for all church staff and leaders, as well as the preparation of helpful resources for assistance. Every church needs to be a ‘safe place’ for people to find support and care.
Personally, I don't have all the answers. There is a lot to learn. Our church pastors and counselors are dialoguing about this matter so we can become a greater help to families facing domestic violence as well as be able to continue to help build healthy, strong families where domestic violence is prevented.
Please, join the conversation. Listen attentively. There is a lot of shame and fear involved with all of this. Speak up and speak out. Domestic violence has to STOP.
See also: Responding to Domestic Violence (June 2015)
Other Articles and Resources
- The Bible Abhors All Domestic Abuse by Sandy Grant
- Abuse Inside Christian Marriages - A Personal Story by Isabella Young
- Fixing Domestic Violence Loopholes
- 2015 Australian of the Year - Rosie Batty (Family Violence Campaigner). Watch a recent one hour special interview with Rosie on The Exchange TV with co-hosts Rob and Christie Buckingham.
If you are in an abusive situation:
- Contact the free DV hotline on 1800 656 463 (TTY 1800 671 442).
- Walk into your local police station.
- If you have been assaulted, call 000 immediately.
Christmas is a joyful time for most people. But for some it can be a difficult time, especially for those who have lost a loved one. Christmas reminds them of what or who is gone. The pain of that grief can be quite unbearable.
I had my first major encounter with grief when I lost my mother suddenly back in 1990. I had to navigate through all the ordinary stages of grief and it wasn't easy. The first Christmas after this was a painful time. Mum wasn't there any more and she wasn't coming back.
Let's be sensitive this year to those around us who may be in pain or grief. They may not be experiencing the joy and sense of celebration that we are. Reach out to them in love and compassion.
Prominent American church pastor, Rick Warren, and his wife Kay, experienced the unexpected death of their son Matthew not long ago. Kay recently wrote as article "Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards". Well worth reading and well worth heeding.
If so, husbands, find a quiet time and place and ask your wife these two simple questions:
1. "How would you rate the current state/health of our marriage on a scale of 1-10?" 10 being you should start your own marriage seminar, 1 being you desperately need to attend a marriage seminar. No negative numbers, please. Note, that it will probably be lower than your score. Don't start an argument about that!
2. Then ask her, "What do you think would improve our marriage?" Then consider doing just that. Women often have great relational insight.
[If the husband happens to be the more relational person in the marriage, then reverse this exercise]
Divorce and Remarriage
In Matthew 19:1-9, we have a record of the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus with a question about divorce, a hotly debated topic of his day. Everyone today has or knows a friend or family member who has been divorced and possibly remarried, or maybe we have even gone through that experience ourselves. Stories of family breakdown are usually filled with pain and heartache – for spouses and for children, if they are involved. Here in Australia 43% of first marriages end in divorce and the rates go up with second and subsequent marriages. One in three marriages today are a re-marriage, resulting in an increasing number of step-families and blended families. All sorts of questions emerge for the follower of Christ: What are the options when a marriage isn’t working? Is divorce ever okay? If divorced, what next? Is re-marriage okay or it is “committing adultery”?
People of the Book
The Bible is our final authority for belief and practice. We know what the Bible says, but what does it mean (exegesis) and how do we apply it (hermeneutics) to our lives today? Most churches today no longer follow the first century practices of foot washing, veil wearing and holy kissing. Why do we ignore these instructions yet not others? How do we know what is culturally bound and what is timeless? Is the Bible like a legal constitution providing case law for every conceivable life situation or more like a library of God-inspired stories with insights and instructions for us to glean from? No doubt, two important principles of interpretation include considering the “context” and also the “complete mention” of a topic or subject.
Moses and Israel
To understand the context of what is occurring in this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees we need to go back to some Mosaic Law about divorce and remarriage, primarily recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The purpose of this legislation was to regulate the practice of divorce during the time of Moses and Israel. Though never sanctioned by God, divorce and remarriage did occur during this time. The debate was never about whether divorce could occur or whether remarriage was okay after that but about the acceptable grounds for divorce. The legislation had practical and moral aims (to protect the woman, the most vulnerable person in the marriage, from ‘no fault’ divorce, to give her a written document permitting her to remarry without accusation of adultery, and to protect any subsequent marriage). Moses aim was to control and reduce divorce, not condone or legalise it.
Back to Jesus
The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by drawing him into an argument about acceptable grounds for divorce. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matt.19:3) There were two main Rabbinic views at the time: (1) the House of Shammai said a man must not divorce his wife unless he found her unfaithful (“indecent”), (2) the House of Hillel said a man could divorce his wife even for trivial grounds such as spoiling a meal. Rabbi Akiba went even further saying a man could divorce his wife for no fault at all, but merely because of finding someone more beautiful than her (“she becomes displeasing to him”)!
Jesus, knowing their trap, bypassed their pedantic debate about Deuteronomy 24 and went right back to God’s original plan for marriage in Genesis (1:27; 2:24). What God joined together in marriage was not to be broken by anyone for any reason (Matt.19:4-6). The Pharisees had their answer but wouldn't give up. Next they misquote Moses by saying, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matt.19:7) The form of their question showed that they had taken the lax Akiba position – all that is required for divorce is to observe the legal formalities by putting in in writing. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matt.19:8-9) In reply, Jesus says: Moses did allow divorce; it was a concession to the hardness of people’s hearts; divorce was not part of God’s original purposes; and when a man divorces his wife (other than for “sexual immorality”) and marries another, he commits adultery. Jesus is not attacking or altering the law of Moses, which he did not come to abolish (Matt.5:17-20), but their twisting of Moses’ intent.
So what is Jesus really saying about divorce? Some people interpret his words as forbidding all divorce and remarriage, saying that any re-marriage is a continual act of adultery, because the first marriage is a permanent bond before God. However, this would be a complete contradiction of Mosaic teaching and practice (which acknowledged that divorce could occur and that any re-marriage is a real marriage) as well as Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman (John 4) who had been married five times but now had “no husband” (Jesus did not say that she was still married to her first or any of her previous husbands). Jesus is clearly confronting the Pharisees lax approach to divorce and taking them back to God’s ideal, which is for marriage to be seen as a lifelong relationship characterized by friendship, loving care, sexual intimacy and commitment. To seek a divorce with the specific intent of marrying another person is nothing short of an adulterous act. That’s what Jesus was making a firm stand against. His comments do not deal with all problems or questions related to divorce, nor do they address what people who are already divorced should do or even those who go ahead and get divorced. None of these issues are in view. Jesus wanted them to stop tearing apart (through easy divorce) what God had put together (through marriage). All divorce is to be seen as a tragedy and contrary to God’s will.
Tom Wright, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, notes that car manuals today usually include instructions of what to do if the car breaks down or an accident occurs. That’s not because the manufacturer is hoping this will occur! They want you to drive safely, free of trouble, worry and fear. But sometimes people get into difficult situations and its important to know what to do. Moses, Jesus and Paul did the same when it came to marriage. They didn’t command or encourage marriage breakdown, but did talk about what to do if it occurs.
Whenever there is marriage conflict or breakdown, followers of Christ should make every effort to work towards forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration of the relationship (see for instance Matthew 18:15-35, which immediately precedes Jesus comments on marriage and divorce). The church should always work towards that aim. There may be situations when a marriage has broken down so far as to be beyond repair. God himself eventually divorced Old Testament Israel due to her repeated unfaithfulness. Acceptable grounds for divorce include sexual unfaithfulness (Matt.19:9) and desertion (1Cor.7:12-16), but by principle may also include incidences where a person’s life and well-being are in continual danger. It is interesting that ‘divorce’ is never listed in Paul’s lists of sins. Divorce sometimes simply makes public and permanent the actual breakdown of the marriage. The real sin is in the failure to keep the marriage vows that resulted in the eventual divorce.
When considering the issue of marriage breakdown, while continuing to uphold and work towards God’s ideal of lifelong marriage as stated by Jesus, we also need to embrace the compassion that Jesus had towards hurting and broken people, showing them kindness and forgiveness (see John 8:1-11). God is the God of the second chance. We all gather at the foot of the cross and around the communion table as saved sinners, in desperate need of God’s forgiveness and grace. In Christ, grace and truth meet together in perfect unity. The church is to be a place of healing and restoration – for individuals and families.
1. Consider how divorce may have touched or impacted your life, friends or family.
2. Reflect on the importance of using the Bible as it was intended by applying proper principles of interpretation, such as consideration of context, background and the overall flow of the Scriptural redemption story.
3. Re-read Deuteronomy 24 and Matthew 19. Did you see these passages in any new ways?
4. How can we continue to uphold the ‘ideal’ of lifelong marriage (truth) while also acknowledging that God forgives us when we fail and gives us a second chance (grace)?
5. What are some options for a spouse if their marriage is not going well and their partner is not interested in improving the relationship?
6. What is some advice for someone entering a second marriage, given the high percentage of divorces for second and subsequent marriages?
7. What are some of the unique challenges of step and/or blended families and how can these be navigated?
8. Think of a couple you know who you believe have a great marriage. What are the characteristics or ingredients that make it that way?
9. In what ways can we strengthen and improve the quality of Christian marriages today?
10. A tip for husbands: ask your wife to evaluate the health of your marriage from 1-10 (it will probably be lower than your score!). Then ask her what she thinks would improve it. Then consider doing just that. Women often have great relational insight! [If the husband happens to be the more relational person in the marriage, then reverse this exercise]
11. How can we help remove the embarrassment that sometimes accompanies a couple asking for help from a counsellor or pastor with their marriage?
12. Pray for families, especially for marriages to be strong and healthy.
For Further Reading
Divorce and the Christ-Community: A New Portrait by Dr Gary Collier (online eBook).
Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage by Kevin J. Conner (Melbourne, Australia: KJC Publications, 2004).
Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities by David Instone-Brewer (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006).
Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context by David Instone-Brewer (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002).
Marriage and Divorce: The New Testament Teaching by B. Ward Powers (Petersham, NSW: Jordan Books Ltd, 1987).
“Sexuality and Sexual Ethics” by J.M. Sprinkle in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch edited by T.M. Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003).
“Divorce” by H.R. Stein in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels edited by Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992).
Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views edited by H. Wayne House (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993).
A Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hayes (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004).
Let’s talk about the family. There have been many popular TV families over the years – Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, Friends, The Simpsons and now Modern Family. Some people say that television shapes the culture while others say it simply reflects the culture. A few would even say it is 5 years behind the culture. What we do know is that today’s families are changing and facing tremendous pressure both from within and without. Complex questions are emerging about such matters as blended families, same-sex attraction, as well as divorce and remarriage.
Families in Bible Times
What did families look like in biblical times? In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the sphere of action is the family not the nation. Crucial events occur in the home, not the court or the battlefield. Genesis is a succession of family narratives, ‘family’ often meaning a whole clan or household (not the typical ‘nuclear family’ of the modern world). In primitive times, people lived primarily in patriarchal groups that grew as sons brought wives and children into the clan (e.g. Noah’s ‘family’ included his wife, his sons and their wives). The eldest son (the 'firstborn') was given preferential treatment and this was also a time of arranged marriges for children once they reached 15-18 years of age.
As well as experiencing many good times together, these first families faced a wide range of problems. Cain murdered his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage. Noah got drunk. Lot offered his virgin daughters to the aggressive men of Sodom; later, his daughters got their father drunk and were then impregnated by him. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all played favourites with their kids, causing all sorts of family problems. Their story includes squabbling spouses, sibling rivalry and children being deceitful. Later on, Reuben slept with his father’s concubine and Judah slept with his daughter-in-law who was disguised as a prostitute. And this is the ‘godly line’! It reads like a script from a modern-day soap opera.
The Old Testament presents the family as a deeply flawed institution in a fallen world, highlighting the ups and downs of human relationships. It’s a place of hope and blessing, yet at times disappointment and struggle. It sure shatters the myth of the perfect family! These families were pretty dysfunctional, yet God worked through them. The Old Testament ends with a promise of reconciliation and harmony (Mal.4:6), the opposite of the images of family discord and fragmentation that seem to have been the norm in these ancient stories.
By the time of Jesus, the typical family living in the Roman Empire was a ‘household’ family (Greek oikos), usually consisting of a husband, a wife, children and slaves (all of the latter being the ‘property’ of the man). Household codes served as models for order. The apostle Paul did not seek to overthrow existing social structures (including slavery and patriarchal households) but rather infused them with new kingdom ethics. In his own household codes (Eph.5:21 – 6:9. Col.3:18 – 4:1), after presenting mutual submission as the ideal (Eph.5:21), he commands those in society’s positions of authority (husbands, parents and slave owners) to provide loving leadership and he addresses those in society’s subordinate roles (wives, children and slaves) as persons in their own right and to be treated with dignity, something quite radical for this era in human history. Paul emphasised the interdependent and complementary nature of these roles and requirements, showing that care and compassion for one’s natural family is vital (1 Tim.5:4,8).
Like in biblical times, today’s families come in a diversity of shapes and sizes: the ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family (dad, mum and kids), single parent families, married couples without children, blended families, and extended families to name a few. There are also vast differences between ancient and modern times when it comes to social structures, as well as the opportunity for both men and women when it comes to education and choices that can be made outside of inherited ‘class’ or social status.
Common challenges facing families today include: conflict, communication breakdown, time pressures, mental health issues (including depression and anxiety), addictions (including substance abuse, gambling and pornography), the impact of social media and finances.
God reveals himself as a Father (God also has motherly qualities – Isaiah 49:14-17; 66:13. Matt.23:37) who desires each one of us to be part of his family (Deut.1:31. Eph.3:14-15). His desire is to place the lonely in families (Ps.68:6) where they can experience love and a sense of belonging. Jesus is the way to the Father (John 8:42) and provides the means for us to be ‘born again’ (John 3) or adopted into God’s family. Jesus placed this spiritual family as taking precedence even over one’s natural family (Matt.12:46-50; 10:34-37. Mark 3:21, 31-35. Luke 12:51-53). Family ties were to be respected and strengthened where possible, yet always as secondary to the family of believers (1Tim.5:1-2). Christians are ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ - the most common designation of followers of Jesus in the New Testament – and part of the family of God, God’s household. This family is not meant to be cliquey but one that is always open and ready to welcome new sons and daughters of God. It is a family characterised by equality (even slaves and masters are of equal status and value in Christ), unity and love.
THE Key to a Healthy Family
The core foundation of any healthy relationship or family is LOVE. It’s a love of a different kind – God’s kind of love. Not merely friendship love, affectionate love or romantic love but a love that is a decision to do what is best for another person, even at personal sacrifice. Jesus calls us as his followers to love other, including our family, as he has loved us (John 13:34-35), a love that will prove to the world that we are his disciples, when they see how we treat each other. The apostle Paul puts it like this: “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” [Ephesians 5:1-2. Message Bible]
How easy it is for us to get caught up in the details of daily family life – the tasks, jobs and transactions – and forget its primary purpose: loving God and people. May random acts of kindness become a regular occurrence in all of our homes and families!
1. What was your favourite TV show as a kid growing up and why?
2. What surprises or interests you the most about families in biblical times?
3. What do you think are the 3 most common pressures families face today?
4. In what ways can the church become more of a genuine spiritual ‘family’ for people, including singles, young adults, married couples, single parents and grandparents?
5. Read Jesus’ comments in Matthew 12:46-50 and 10:34-37. Is ‘family first’ a biblical value?
6. Read the description of ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. How does this apply to families?
7. Spend some time praying for your family.
This coming Sunday is Mother's Day.
I realise that this can be a difficult day for some people. Maybe your mother passed away recently, or you don’t have a good relationship with your mum, or maybe you always wanted to become a mum and it hasn’t happened. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.
It is, however, a good time to honour all of the mums. They are amazing people.
Have you ever thought about a mother's job? Check out this humorous video clip showing 24 people being interviewed for an impossible job paying nothing. Then find out who does this everyday.
Happy mother's day :)
Almost a year ago, Matthew Warren, the son of well-known American pastors Rick and Kay Warren commited suicide. It was a sad day for everyone and of course, the Warrens being public figures, everyone had an opinion about the situation. Today, Kay Warren made the following post on her Facebook page and I think it is well worth reading, hearing and taking to heart. Wise words ...
From Kay Warren
As the one-year anniversary of Matthew's death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to "move on." The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.
Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us - other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”
None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.
Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB). The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers … and they never say “Move on.”
Click here to read a further interview with Kay Warren about her experience.
When you give you will always get it back. A father left 17 camels as an asset for his three sons. When the father passed away, his sons opened up the will. The Will of the father stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third).
The youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the 17 camels.
As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, three sons started to fight with each other.
So, the three sons decided to go to a wise man. The wise man listened patiently about the Will. The wise man, after giving this thought, brought one camel of his own and added the same to 17. That increased the total to 18 camels.
Now, he started reading the deceased father’s will. Half of 18 = 9. So he gave the eldest son 9 camels. 1/3rd of 18 = 6. So he gave the middle son 6 camels. 1/9th of 18 = 2. So he gave the youngest son 2 camels.
Now add this up: 9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17 and this leaves one camel, which the wise man took back.
MORAL: The attitude of negotiation and problem solving is to find the 18th camel i.e. the common ground. Once a person is able to find the common ground, the issue is resolved. It is difficult at times. However, to reach a solution, the first step is to believe that there is a solution. If we think that there is no solution, we won’t be able to reach any!
We live in an age where attention deficit affects all of us. We are bombarded with information and messages, each trying to gain our interest. In the process, we tend to skim from item to item, from matter to matter, from person to person ... never really slowing down enough to go deep ... to really listen and connect.
I visited a cafe recently where there was a sign that said: "No, we do not have wi-fi. Why not just sit and talk with your friends!"
Watch this video.
How did it affect you? I was personally challenged.
Which scene did you identify with the most?
Which was the most moving? For me it was the one with the girl getting a strike at the bowling alley, only to turn around and see that no one had noticed and therefore were not there to celebrate this special moment with her.
To love is to pay attention ... and it does cost us ... our time and our effort. But our loved ones are worth it.
Is it time to put the phone down?
In a culture that idolises youth, it's easy to lose the value and joy of aging. Yet, wisdom says: "The glory of young men is their strength; gray hair the splendor of the old (Proverbs 20:29)." Having turned 50 years of age not long ago, I know what it's like to start to feel your own frailty. Those double digit birthdays can definitely take a significant mental and emotional toll on us. Thankfully, we are all aging at the same rate.
The Huffington Post recently posted the following article by Sister Joan Chittister. There's some good wisdom here for us.
The one certain dimension of US demographics these days is that the fastest growing segment of the American population is comprised of people above the age of 65. We, and all our institutions, as a result, are a greying breed. At the same time, we are, in fact, the healthiest, longest lived, most educated, most active body of elders the world has ever known. The only real problem with that is that we are doing it in the face of a youth culture left to drive a capitalist economy that thrives on sales.
So, what we sell is either to youth, about youth, or for the sake of affecting youth. But after all the pictures of 60-looking 80 year olds going by on their bikes fade off the screen, the world is left with, at best, a very partial look at what it means to be an elder.
Especially for those who never did like biking much to begin with.
The truth of the matter is that all of life, at any age, is about ripening. Life is about doing every age well, learning what we are meant to learn from it and giving to it what we are meant to give back to it.
The young give energy and wonder and enthusiasm and heart-breaking effort to becoming an accomplished, respected, recognized adult. And for their efforts they reap achievement and identity and self-determination.
The middle-aged give commitment and leadership, imagination and generativity. They build and rebuild the world from one age to another. And for their efforts they get status, and some kind of power, however slight, and the satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment.
The elderly have different tasks entirely. The elderly come to this stage of life largely finished with a building block mentality. They have built all they want to build. It is their task in life now to evaluate what has become of it, what it did to them, what of good they can leave behind them. They bring to life the wisdom that comes from having failed as often as they succeeded, relinquished as much as they accumulated. And this stage of life comes with its own very clear blessings.
Given the luxury of years, the elders in a society bring a perspective on life that is not possible to the young and of even less interest to the middle aged whose life is consumed with concern for security and achievement. Instead the elders look back on the twists and turns of life with a more measured gaze. Some things, they know now, which they thought had great value at one age, they see little value in later. The elders know that what lasts in life, what counts in life, what remains in life after all the work has been completed are the relationships that sustained us, not the trophies we collected on the way.
The Elders are blessed with insight
For the first time in life, the elderly have time to enjoy the present. The morning air becomes the kind of elixir again that they have not known since childhood. The park has become an observation deck on the world. The library is now the crossroads of the world. The coffee shop becomes the social center of their lives. And small children a new delight and a companion, if not leaders, as they explore their way through life again.
The blessing of this time is appreciation of the moment.
FREEDOM:There is a kind of liberation that comes with being an elder. All the old expectations go to mist. The competition and stress that comes with trying to find a place in today's highly impersonal economy fade away and I can do what I like, wear what I like, say what I like without bartering my very survival for it. For the first time in years it is possible simply to be a person in search of a life rather than an economic pawn in search of a high-toned livelihood. The need to reek of competence and approval gives way to the need to enjoy life.
The awareness of life as liberating rather than burdensome is the most refreshing blessing a soul can have.
NEWNESS: The truism prevails that it is the young, that part of the social spectrum who stand on the brink of adulthood who have the opportunity to make the great choices of life: where to go, how to live, what to do with our one precious and fragile life. But if truth were told it is really the elderly who have the option to become new again. With the children on t heir own and the house paid for, with our dues paid to the social system and our identities stripped away from what we do to what we are, we have the world at our feet again. We can do all the things we've put aside for years: learn to play the guitar, go back to school, volunteer in areas we have always wanted to do more of like become a tour guide or a museum aid, go backpacking or become a children's reader at the local library. We can now get up every morning to begin life all over again.
The blessing of life now lies in the realization that life is not over but beginning again in a whole new way.
TALE TELLING: The elders in a society are its living history, its balladeers who tell the history of a people and the lessons of growth that come with them. The war veteran can talk now about the hell of war that belies its so-called glory. The mothers know what it means to raise children with less money than the process demands. The old couples know that marriage is a process not an event and that what draws people into marriage will not be what keeps them there. These are the ones who raise for the rest of us the beacons of hope that tell us the truth we need, on our own dark days, to hear: If these others could survive the depression, the losses, the breakups and breakdowns of life, we have living proof now, so can we.
The process of past reflection is one of the major blessings an elder can have because it crystallizes the value of one's own life and blesses the rest of the world with wisdom at the same time.
RELATIONSHIPS: In the lexicon of elders, all too often and all too late, a new event begins to take front and center where once work and the social whirl had held sway. Elders wake up in the morning aware that the only thing really left in life after all the schedules have disappeared are the people that have been left out of them for far too long: the adult children they haven't talked to for weeks -- no, months -- now. They remember the last old friend they met in the market who said "We really have to have coffee together some day" and begin to look around for the phone number. They recall with a pang the grandchildren they promised to take to the zoo and wonder with a pang whether or not the zoo is still open for the season--and whether the children still remember grandpa and the promise. Elders have the luxury of attending to people now rather than to things. And out of that attention comes a new sense of being really important to the world.
One of the great blessings of being elderly is not that it isolates us but that, ironically, it ties us more tightly to the people around us
TRANSCENDENCE: Finally, it is the elders in a society who distill for the rest of it the real meaning of life -- and right before our eyes. The quality of their reflections on life are so different than ours, they must certainly be listened to. The serenity of their souls in the face of total change--both physical and social--give promise that behind all the hurly-burly lies a deep pool of peace. The devotion they bring to the transcendentals of life--to solitude, to prayer, to reading, to the arts, to the simple work of gardening, to the great questions of the age, to their continuing commitment to building a city, a country, a world that will be better for us when they move on, may be the greatest spiritual lesson of life a younger generation may ever get as well as the greatest insight they every have.
Indeed, to find ourselves on the edge of elderhood, is to find ourselves in an entirely new and exciting point in life. It is blessing upon blessing and it invites those around them to live more thoughtfully themselves by listening to them carefully now--while we all still have time.
Also, check out Sister Joan's book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.
There has been an interesting amount of discussion recently around the differences between extrovert and introvert personalities.
Susan Cain's best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking kick-started the topic quite considerably back in 2009. This was given further momentum in 2012 when her TED talk on "The Power of Introverts" was released. Have a listen. It is a real conversation starter.
Could it be that we have replaced a character ethic for a personality ethic, especially in leadership selection? Adam McHugh explores this and more in his book Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Take a free test and find out.
Or maybe you are an ambivert?
What about your friends and family members?
Check out 23 Signs You're Secretly an Introvert.
Without doubt, we are all unique. The more we can understand ourselves and others, appreciating the differences, the richer our relationships and life experience will be.
Today, let’s talk about being single. Singles are people who have never married (because they chose not to marry or have not found a partner) or those who have been married but are single again because of the death of a spouse or through divorce. This includes single parents. American theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues that Christianity was the very first religion to hold up single adulthood as a viable way of life. Nearly all ancient religions and cultures made an absolute value of the family and of bearing children, which was seen as the only way to significance and leaving a legacy. In ancient cultures, long-term single adults were considered to be living a human life that was less than fully realised. But Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, and leading theologian, St Paul, were both single. Early Christianity affirmed the goodness of single life as no other faith or worldview ever had, never pressuring people to marry. As part of a church family, singles should never lack brothers and sisters, father and mothers, in Christ. The future is guaranteed by God, not by having a family. Singleness is not “Plan B for the Christian life.” Marriage is not a superior status to singleness or visa versa. Yes, God created marriage but it is not a requirement for everyone. Both marriage and singleness are appropriate options for life.
Jesus, the Single
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus brought about the long-awaited redemption of humanity. His teaching instructs us how to live our life but his entire life itself is an example for us. Jesus was a fulfilled and joyful person, although single and unmarried. Single people can learn a lot from how Jesus lived.
1. Develop a Close Relationship with your Heavenly Father (Identity)
Jesus’ relationship with his Father was central to who he was as a person. They had a close and intimate relationship, Jesus using the term “Abba, Father”, or Daddy (Mark 14:36. John 11:41; 12:27, 28; 15:16; 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). Jesus took regular time to talk to his Father and this relationship was clearly the source of his identity, his security, his approval, his fulfilment and his contentment. This enabled Jesus to face opposition, criticism, fame and popularity, slander, lies, rejection (forsaken by even his close friends), verbal attack, injustice and physical abuse.
Each one of us has a strong need for a sense of identity, acceptance, love, security, approval, and significance. We can easily look for this in relationships, including marriage, or in achievement. But these are unstable sources for these primary needs. Anything, even a good thing, that we make the primary thing in our life becomes an “idol” that replaces what God alone can be for us. Jesus came to reveal the Father to each one of us (John 14:6) and to provide a way for us to have an intimate relationship with him, so that we too could find this strong sense of identity in our relationship with Him. Through Christ we can have spiritual birth into God's family (John 1:12-13. 1 John 3:1-2. Gal.4:4-7. Rom.8:15. 2 Cor.6:17-18. Matt.5:16; 6:1, 6, 8; 7:11). We need a revelation of Father God and an ongoing dynamic relationship with Him, walking in his amazing love for us (Eph.1:17; 3:14-21).
Unfortunately, because of the breakdown of marriage and family relationships, we often end up with distorted concept of God as a Father. However, no matter what our earthly father was like, God is a perfect Father - kind and just in all His ways. Father God loves us unconditionally, not based on our performance (Rom.5:8. 1 Jn.4:7-10, 16-18); he gives us a sense of worth and value; in him we have a sense of identity, security and significance as sons and daughters of the living God; he provides us with appropriate discipline, when necessary, because he loves us (Heb.12:4-11); and he cares for us, giving us his protection and provision. Do you know God as your Father? How is your relationship with Him?
2. Build Healthy Friendships (Belonging)
As strong as Jesus’ relationship was with His Father, he wasn't a loner. He developed many friendships and relationships with other people including his natural family, his twelve disciples (of which Peter, James and John were his closest friends), and a number of women who he had healthy non-romantic relationships with (Matt.27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3). Jesus did life in community with others and thereby experienced a strong sense of belonging in his life.
God created us to communicate and relate to others. No one is born to live alone or in isolation (Gen.2:18). We all need to be accepted, loved and have a sense of belonging. Two are better than one (Ecc.4:9-12) and good times are spent with friends. Our friends influence us probably more than anyone else (Prov.12:26. 1 Cor.15:33-34). Therefore, it is important to choose the right friends. Good friendships don't just happen. They are built over time. They require genuine love, which is putting the interests of the other person before our own (1 Cor.13:4-8a. John 15:12-13. 1 Pet.4:7-8), and loyalty, which includes being faithful and trustworthy (Prov.17:17; 18:24).
Romantic relationships need to be handled with care, understanding the difference between friendship (platonic relationships), romance (dating or going out with a potential marriage partner) and marriage (preceded by engagement). When we move too far, too soon there is the possibility of hurt, pain, broken relationships, and emotional scars. God’s will is sexual purity before and within marriage. When choosing a potential marriage partner, consider compatibility (spiritual life, character, personality, background, physical attraction and life purpose), affirmation from family and trusted friends, and the test of time.
3. Serve a Cause Beyond Yourself (Purpose)
Jesus gave his life for a cause beyond himself. He lived for others, in genuine love, compassion and concern. He focused his energy and zeal into extending God’s work on the earth (John 10:15). He came to serve and to give (Phil.2:5-11. Jn.13:1-17. Mt.20:27-28). Jesus lived and died for others.
Selfishness is a major problem in our society today. Whether single or married, it is easy to spend our time, money and energy on selfish pursuits, to be pre-occupied with our own needs, desires, and interests. Jesus died for our sin and our selfishness, and he desires us to die to self and live for God and others (Mark 8:34-37). Each one of us has unique talents, abilities and spiritual gifts. God wants us to use them to serve others and to advance His cause in the world. This requires us to renew our mind and change our thinking (Rom.12:1-2). It’s a call to be other’s centred living (Phil.2:5). It’s about waking up each day with a mindset that says, "I am a servant". Take initiative. Commit yourself to the service of God and others – at home, work, church, school, and in our world. Serving a cause beyond yourself leads to greater joy, meaning and fulfilment in life.
Sample Reflection Questions
1. Ask the singles how they felt about this message in the Modern Family series. What was most helpful? What else could have been said?
2. How can married couples and families in the church make single people more welcome?
3. In what ways is singleness sometimes considered “Plan B” in our Western culture?
4. Reflect on the potential impact of knowing God as our Father and drawing our identity and significance from who we are, not what we do.
5. What are some important principles for followers of Christ to consider when dating someone?
6. Some singles fear marriage, preferring their independence. How can we help people avoid the “You aren’t a whole person until you’re married” mentality and the “You shouldn't marry until you have professionally made it big and you find the perfect partner who won’t try to change you in any way” message that often comes from our contemporary culture?
7. Consider some ways single people can develop a sense of living for a cause beyond themselves.
The pool of those living beyond 100 – the centenarians of society - is increasing in leaps and bounds (70,000 in USA in 2007 increasing to 834,000 in 2050; over 4,252 in Australia as of June, 2011, up from 203 just 40 years ago). Demographers are now starting to the number of ‘super-centenarians’ – people over the age of 110 (300-450 currently)!
So life can be prolonged, but eventually we will all die … unless Jesus returns in our lifetime. Eventually the life clock must run down and the human body must die.
People at this stage of life need to feel loved and valued, especially in a society that values productivity and youth, qualities that are in short supply among the aged. What a shame it is that elderly are often denigrated by society.
Let’s tap into the historical mind of these people – their memories and experiences, their perspective, their stories, their vision. They have done a lot of living – successes and failures, as well as mistakes and solutions. The greatest gift we can give our elders is our attention. We must simply listen to them once again. In doing so, we can gain wisdom beyond our years.
Late in life, the elderly ask themselves, “Did my life have any meaning?”
1. Think about how you would you like to be remembered.
2. Visit family and friends. Offer your presence.
3. Comfort someone who has lost a loved one.
4. Volunteer your time or contribute financially to a good cause.
As you reflect on the various stages of life that we have covered, where are you? What about those around you? What's happening in your life right now? What is God up to?
In medieval times the Catholic worldview of the human life span was often depicted as a circle. In the centre was the image of Christ. Around this divine hub, were illustrations of the different ages of life from infancy to the grave. Each age, like a spoke, was equidistant from the hub. This suggested that every point in human life existed in the same sacred relationship to the divine.
During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, this symbolism underwent a profound and lasting change. Instead of a circle, the image of an ascending and descending staircase became prevalent. The image seemed better suited to the new importance of work, ambition and changing social roles in the emerging market economy of Protestant Europe. This is where we developed our notion of the stages of life, like steps going upward and then downward. At the highest step was a man or woman at the age of fifty – the peak of life.
The staircase model of human development, which views the fifties as the beginning of decline, has undergone a major transformation of late. Nowadays experts are more likely to conceptualise the life span tableau as five ascending stairs (a decade for each), with a wide platform at the top for those in their fifties and sixties (and even for many in their seventies and eighties), before a rather quick drop into illness and death. At age fifty, most of us can look forward to another thirty years of life. Advances in medicine and education mean that people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are healthier, better educated, and have the prospect of far more able years ahead of them than was the case for their parents or grandparents.
For many people, mature adulthood represents the time of greatest satisfaction. You’ve passed beyond the insecurities of early adulthood (“Will anyone love me?” “Will I find a place for myself in the world of work?”). You’ve reconciled with many of the anxieties of midlife (“I’m growing older!” “Will I achieve my dreams?”). But you haven’t reached old age when chronic illness and concerns about approaching death can take centre stage. You’ve raised a family perhaps, and seen your young ones leave the nest and live independent lives, freeing you up to enjoy your own life more fully. After years of work, you’ve hopefully accumulated at least some degree of financial security. You’ve perhaps begun to take on satisfying new roles as a grandparent, mentor, and/or community leader.
Contrary to all those “over the hill” greeting cards – life in the 50s, 60s and beyond can in many cases be better than what went before. Of course, we need to adjust to an aging body. “At 40, you know you’re not as young as you used to be. At 50, you realise it almost every day.” Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps immensely.
A vital key to successful aging appears to involve the capacity to give back to the community in some meaningful way. Its time to nurture and care for future generations on a more collective basis. Generativity is about receiving something from the past, putting your unique contribution into it, and passing it on to the future. It's what you do when you stand between the generations. This greatly affects psychological well-being at this stage of life.
Many people at this age feel squeezed between two generations. One woman said, “It is as if there are two mirrors before me, each held at a partial angle. I see part of myself in my mother who is growing old, and part of her in me. In the other mirror, I see part of myself in my daughter. I have had some dramatic insights, just looking into those mirrors … It is a set of revelations that I suppose can only come when you are in the middle of three generations.” Role reversal can occur too, where the children become the parents and the parents become the children. For instance, a woman may just finish raising their children then have to care for ailing parents. This can be draining for some.
At some stage, parents die. That’s hard for all of us. Alexander Levy says, “Parents provide a unique spot on this planet, which is called “home”, where we can return, if we need to, to be loved and feel like we belong … after parents dies, its gone.” This is an unfathomable loss, regardless of the location or quality of that place called ‘home.’ No wonder, C.S. Lewis said, “The death of a loved one is like an amputation.” Like amputees, we often reach to scratch what is missing … only to discover there is nothing there.
1. Become a teacher, mentor, referee, or coach. Volunteer. Share your expertise with the world. Avoid the dangers of stagnation and inward-focused selfishness. Cultivate generosity.
2. Find a cause you are passionate about. Don’t retire and die. “There is no age limit to enthusiasm, and retirement is a period in which individuals can discover or rediscover their passionate interests.”
3. Nurture life long friendships and give the gift of love.
4. Have a healthy and active mind. Keep learning.
Like the sun sweeping through the sky, midlife (ages 35-50) is like noon-time, dividing the first and second halves of life. At the stroke of noon, the descent begins. Note that what we consider midlife, was for most of history in fact the end of life for most people. As recently as 1900, the life span of the average adult in the Western world was only 47. We have been blessed to have extra decades added to the average life span in our time.
Midlife is a season that can be like moving through muddy waters. Some people experience what is referred to as a “midlife crisis” during this time (first written about in 1965). Midlife signals that youth and childhood are gone, that maturity is now the chief developmental task in life, and that death is something that looms up ahead as an inevitable prospect. Many undergo a crisis of meaning.
The physical changes of aging begin to occur here – the need for reading glasses, sore joints, changes to hair, changes in energy levels, injuries, weight changes, and menopause for women.
Children start to leave home; aging parents require closer attention as their health begins to decline. Some experience depression and trouble eating, sleeping, and functioning at work. Others have regrets over choices made 10-20 years earlier. We may feel the pain and distance of the lost years of youth. Regret can kick in, due to unmet dreams.
Some midlifers have climbed the ladder of achievement in the workplace toward higher and higher levels. Some find success isn’t all it was cut out to be (or ask, “What now?”) while others discover they have been climbing the wrong ladder.
Time feels like it is moving really fast and there is a good mathematical reason for this. One year in the life of a 2 year old is 50% of her total existence. While one year for a 50 year old, is only 2% of her life span.
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management and renowned author once said, “People now have two lives - Life 1 and Life 2 - and they are over prepared for life 1 and under prepared for life 2. And there is no university for the second half of life”. Are you ready for the second half of your life?
The apostle John tells us the the things the world values will pass away - possessions, pleasure, and prestige - while the person who does the will of God will last forever. What lasts forever? Loving God, loving people, and investing your time, talents and resources in God's work on earth. What really matters to you? How should you live your life in light of eternity?
1. Begin to cultivate what was neglected in the first half of life.
2. Take time to contemplate – engage in deeper reflection and evaluation (life deserves a good mulling over). Reflect on where your life is going and what ultimate meaning is for you.
3. Balance outer achievements with less material pursuits such as family and spirituality.
4. Take a break from the hustle and bustle. Find a quiet space to reflect on the deeper meaning of your life. Get off the treadmill of daily routine temporarily in order to assess the big picture of your life.
5. Modify your goals. Make a new list.
6. Start to give care and nurture to others (“generativity”).
Next: Mature Adulthood
Early Adulthood (20-35 years of age) is a time of leaving the familiar world of family, parents, community, school and entering the big unknown world. It is a break with the past and a move into future. Of course, the very term "adult" is very hard to define. When do you become an adult? When you can drive, vote, drink or when you are married? It is a fuzzy line and for many the transition is a slow process. Some young adults are staying home longer. After all, why leave when there is free rent, cooking, TV and washing?
Young adults often have some kind of life dream - a desire to achieve great things. They have plans and possibly a sense of calling to pursue something important. It is a time of idealism that will eventually be balanced with a good dose of realism. Mark Twain noted this when he said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
This may be a time of further education and then eventually entering the work force as young adults embark on their own career, a time of achievement. Relationally, there is a search for someone to love, then possibly the setting up of a new home. Some become parents of children.
Around age 30, many experience some kind of transition. Maybe there is disillusionment (from still being single), an emotional crisis (possibly from a relational breakdown), or a career change.
Single people are not second class citizens. They are to be given full acceptance and affirmation. They are not abnormal or to be viewed with suspicion. Marriage is not a superior status to singleness, nor visa versa. Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God. Being single is not ‘second best’ or a life doomed to misery and incompleteness.
Singleness is not in any way inferior to marriage. In fact, you are better off happily single than unhappily married. The apostle Paul preferred singleness and encouraged people to consider it as a life choice (1 Cor.7:7-9, 27-28). Jesus was a single too. Singles are not half a person. We are complete in Christ, not through marriage. Marriage is ordained by God, yet it is not obligatory for everyone.
Some of the unique challenges that single people face include loneliness, low feelings of self-worth, problems with identity and life direction, pressure from married people (the 'matchmakers'!), maintaining sexual purity, and possibly or parenting alone.
Reflecting on the lives of both Jesus and Paul, we see that some keys for single people living an enjoyable and fruitful life are: (1) establishing an intimate relationship with God as Father, (2) developing healthy, non-romantic friendships, and (3) having a sense of purpose for life.
Singles, know that God loves you and has a purpose for your life. Marrieds, let's be sure to reach out to singles, giving them heaps of encouragement, care and support. After all, we are all a part of God's bigger family.
1. Find some mentors, teachers and role models who you can learn from.
2. Foster the sense of enterprise of this season of your life. Try new things. Follow your dreams. Learn from your mistakes.
3. Develop lots of healthy friendships.
4. Find a worthy cause to give your time and energy to.
Adolescence (13-19 years of age) refers to the teenage years - the hazardous passage from childhood to adulthood. One way to describe this journey is like ‘rapids’ along a river. Things may get rough for a while but if you hang on and don't panic, everything will eventually smooth out again.
Physically, this is a time of huge change. Puberty brings pimples, sweat, hair in unusual places, new odors, and crazy hormones. Emotions include quickly shifting moods, trying to find an identity, and strong passionate feelings. Mentally, it's a time of growth, taking in the abstract, logic, and an ability to mount a good argument, as well as to spot hypocrisy and inconsistencies at great distances. Spiritually, teenagers are open to experience and giving themselves to causes beyond themselves.
Many ancient cultures had “rites of passage” to aid in the art of adult-making. Unfortunately, today many teenagers lack any meanginful connection with adults. As a result, many young people make up their own rites of passage with destructive behaviors such as binge drinking, drugs, violence, and risky sexual behaviour.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Ecc.12:1)." The teenage years are extermely important as we make decisions that have significant consequences for the years to come. Jesus said that there is a thief who desires to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He doesn't wait until we're old to attack. He starts from the womb and intensifies his tactics during the teenage years, targeting youth with rebellion, fantasy, idolatry, and immorality. In contrast, Jesus comes to give us life, and life to the full. This is found in a relationship with him, where we develop loving relationships, submit to godly authority, discover truth, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit at work.
Here's some great advice for young peoplefrom the apostle Paul ...
1 Timothy 4:12. Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. NLT
Some Suggestions for Teenagers:
1. Read a chapter from the book of Proverbs each day (according to the date), asking God to give you wisdom. In a year you will have read this book 12 times, gaining insight for every important area of your life.
2. Find some adult role models who you can look up to and learn from.
3. Choose your friends wisely.
4. Invest your time and energy in positive activities such as volunteering, learning, sport, and music.
Some Suggestions for Adults:
1. Be a friend to a teenager. Just listen and don't be too quick to offer advice. Build trust and rapport.
2. Volunteer to help with a youth-focused community organisation or church youth group, camp or activity.
3. Encourage a parent.
Next: Middle Adulthood