Category Archives: heal world

Bothered about slavery in the Bible

If you know someone who doesn’t trust the Bible because it seems to accept slavery (Paul told slaves to obey their masters and didn’t tell masters to free their slaves), here are thoughts that might help them.

● When we evaluate something, we look at the direction it is moving—toward or away from the ideal. The movement is what matters. And clearly Paul and the early church were moving away from slavery. roman slavesWe see Paul urging Philemon to treat the runaway slave Onesimus as a brother (Philem. 1:15-17). And Paul viewing slave and free as having equal worth: all are one in Christ (1 Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11); masters are not higher in God’s eyes and should not threaten their slaves (Eph. 6:9). And this change Paul asked Philemon and the others to make was sufficient to, in the end, change everything. As F.F. Bruce said, in moving persons toward a master-slave relationship where the master does not threaten slaves and sees them as sisters and brothers, Paul was creating “an atmosphere in which the institution of slavery could only wilt and die.”

● This analogy has helped me. Suppose a good friend moved into a rough neighborhood to befriend the people there. When I stop in to visit, I see ashtrays in the house. I wouldn’t conclude that my friend views smoking as good. Rather, I would assume that the ashtrays are part of a commitment to relate to neighbor, that my friend knew that some would stay away if they couldn’t smoke. In the same way, Paul did not advocate slavery’s elimination because then he would have become so far ahead of his culture that persons like Philemon might no longer relate to him and hear him. Highly regarded historians (such as Kyle Harper) say that not even the “enlightened observers” in that day “could imagine a world without slavery.” The friend was willing to sully his reputation with the ashtrays; Paul (the Spirit of God within Paul) was also willing to stoop to meet people where they were at, in hopes of moving them further. Wise coaches and mentors know that it’s not wise to confront everything that needs changing all at once, for that would overwhelm and alienate those they’re trying to help.

● From my (limited!) understanding of history, Paul had 2 options:

– Insist that Philemon and other Christian slave-owners measure up to the highest ideal (“free all your slaves immediately”), almost certainly straining his relationship with them beyond what it could bear, losing opportunity to continue to influence them; or

– Aim for the highest response he could realistically hope for (“treat your slaves as brothers and sisters”) so he can continue to relate to Philemon and the others, shaping how they relate to their slaves.

Historians give data that suggests that scenario as accurate. If so, it would have been wrong for Paul to choose to be the idealist who insisted on all or nothing and ended up with nothing. If Philemon had perceived Paul as too impractical, too radical, he would have rejected Paul’s letter with its revolutionary counsel about his runaway slave. Interestingly, Onesimus may have gone on to become bishop; at least one by that name followed Timothy as bishop at Ephesus.

God helps us be decent persons

What do you think of these tips found on the internet?

View a picky person as one who “loves quality.”

See one who is boring as “consistent and stable.”

Instead of calling a person gullible, call them “trusting.”

Not weird but “unique.”

See a setback or failure as a “learning experience.”

It’s not a crisis but a “challenge.”

Not criticism but back-handed “advice or guidance.”

You’re not overwhelmed but “in demand”!

As you settle back in your favorite chair after a busy day, don’t see yourself as exhausted but as “recharging.”

We can find many suggestions for how to make our lives a bit better. I’m glad there are articles like “9 Easy Steps to Becoming a Decent Human Being.” a decent person(Step #1 – Realize when you’re being a jerk to someone and stop being a jerk. Maybe someone offers an idea in a meeting that you disagree with and you immediately, without intending to, shut them down. Maybe it really was a terrible idea, but a bit of common courtesy is required in everyday life.) And glad for “10 Tips For Raising Decent Human Beings” (Tip #1 – I do not sugarcoat my words if my child loses. Of course, I try to be as kind as possible but the hard truth is, most times, there is a winner and loser in almost all sports/competitions, and my kid needs to accept that.) We welcome any wisdom that helps improve our lives.

I believe, however, that we need the resources of our Christian faith in any project seeking to form persons who are decent and good. We humans have difficulty being good without God. Here are a few of the reasons:

  • We need someone smarter than us to determine which behaviors lead to human flourishing. For example, Jesus was the first to call us to love our enemies and forgive those who wrong us, a call that yields such marvelous fruit in human relations. Yet that stance seems foolish—surely we should instead treat people according to what they deserve! We would never come up with wisdom like that on our own.
  • The secular world believes in a sense of mutual human dignity. This is a very good thing and has fueled humanitarian efforts like hospitals, disaster relief, initiatives against racism, etc. However, how much does that sense of shared human dignity build on (and borrow from) Christian teachings? Followers of Jesus helped supply the critical mass for beginning all those benevolent efforts.
  • If self is our ultimate concern, we end up selfish. If our family’s good is our highest concern, we will care less for other families. If our ultimate goal is the good of our nation, we will end up with nationalism. If we focus on the good of our race, we end up racists. Only Christianity gives an ultimate concern that encompasses the whole world in selfless love: a God who looks like Jesus, willing to love even those acting in rebellion.
  • Awareness of being loved by God energizes us. The love we discover from God fills us with love that then spills over to others (1 John 4:19).

We should learn from those in our culture who have wisdom to share. But let’s never stop drinking deeply from our faith!

A Coptic light in the Mideast darkness

The Middle East has experienced much darkness during the last years. But a light is drawing attention.

Christians make up between 15-20 percent of the population of Egypt; most are members of the ancient Coptic church. The nation’s leaders talk about all citizens being part of one family, but reality has been otherwise. Muslim demands are often appeased at the Christian minority’s expense.

How should the church respond? Surely they should call for fairness and justice. However, efforts by young Coptic Christians to demonstrate for equal rights after the 2011 Arab Spring were literally crushed under military tanks. Now a different response from the church is having dramatic impact.

On Palm Sunday ISIS suicide bombers attacked two Egyptian churches, killing 44 persons and injuring over 100. At St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the bomber was prevented from entering the sanctuary by a guard, Naseem Faheem. Coptic funeral after ISIS suicide bombing in April 2017So when the bomber detonated, Faheem was the first to die in the blast. A few days later Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, aired an interview of the widow saying “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’” Adeeb sat in stunned silence, searching for a response. Finally he said, “Egyptian Christians are made of Steel! … How great is this forgiveness you have! If it were my father, I could never say this…” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

Such a word of forgiveness differs radically from the prevailing Middle Eastern culture based on honor and shame, demanding revenge.

Christian forgiveness began to rivet Egypt in 2015 after ISIS executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and the victim’s families publicly forgave the terrorists. This grace is winning the hearts of the nation. Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt, told a CT reporter that many Egyptians are seeing Christian forgiveness to be exactly what their country needs to “keep Egypt from becoming like Lebanon during its civil war.” Forgiveness, not justice, is the only possible path to peace in Egypt. An insistence on justice can never bring about reconciliation since each side tallies justice differently than the other. What one thinks would even the score, the other would see as a new injustice to be avenged.

Jesus is still the light of the world! And the darker the world, the more brightly we see the light of his way of love and grace even to one’s enemy.

Love invites us to change

How does healing and transformation come to broken people?

In her novel, Crooked Little Heart, Anne Lamott writes about Rosie. Those watching her play tennis saw a girl “thirteen years old and seventy wiry pounds, hitting the ball as hard as almost any man they knew, thick black curls whipping, Siamese blue eyes steely, impassive, twenty bullets in a row, over the net and in, frowning almost imperceptibly if she missed.”

But Rosie has a secret. tennis line callShe has been cheating on close line calls to win crucial tennis matches. Her shame grows as she is unable to stop herself— she’s trapped by her compulsion to win.

Another character in the book is “a man named Luther who had started following the girls from tournament to tournament.” Rosie soon realizes that Luther sees her cheating but that he will not tell. Instead he identifies with her: “I did what you did.” And invites her to change. As they continue talking, Rosie calls herself a cheater. “No,” he says, “you cheated.” Her identity doesn’t need to be one who cheats. She is one who makes choices and can make different choices.

She begins to change. In a championship game, Luther sees her call a line shot correctly and stands up to leave. “Aren’t you going to stay and watch Rosie win?” her mother asks. “I already have,” he responds.

All of us have places where we are broken, ways we fudge the game of life for our favor at the cost of neighbors. Things we want to hide. Into our world comes one who spends even more time watching us than Luther. He sees all, and the sin in our life. He knows how easy and natural it is, and how destructive and hurtful, and calls us to change, to “repent.” Not with a threat to bring in the sportsmanship committee—“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” But like Luther to Rosie: in love, inviting us to turn from choices that diminish life and turn toward the life that will be lived in the coming new heaven and earth.

Our tendency when someone does wrong is to pressure them, to face them with consequences, make it so they are forced to change. But Jesus looks deeper and takes an opposite tactic. He wants persons to choose the new, to want it from their heart. Love forced is not the love he desires. So he continues to come, even to us sinners. He gives us his Word, teaching us. And gives his Spirit, prompting us toward right choices. When we spurn him, he keeps on reaching out to us. When we turn and confess our sin, he forgives us. And then if we sin again, he in love tries again.

That’s how Jesus brings healing to broken people like us. So should we.

Can Coke heal the world?!

All of us could quickly start a list of things that are wrong in our world: mornings that are cold and damp, flu viruses, entertainment that is increasingly sexualized and violent, reckless driving that snuffs out a young life. And we can add to the list by looking into our own hearts and actions.

Coca-Cola had an ad during the 2015 Super Bowl that started with a bunch of clips of people using technology in cruel and hateful ways, like nasty online comments and bullying text messages. Then comes a fortuitous accident. bottle of Coke spilling on internet wires We see one of those rooms that “runs” the internet with a worker in it who is drinking a Coke … that spills onto some of the wires. You can picture what happens next (or watch it on YouTube!)—an exuberant (Coke-red) surge of energy flows through the world’s connections, replacing the blue (suspiciously Pepsi-colored) instances of hatred, cruelty, and just-plain-meanness with instances of love, encouragement, and affirmation. Drink Coke and all the world will be renewed and restored!

The idea is laughable, of course. But I love that image of something that can heal the world. What if there is something or someone truly able to set the world to right?!

Indeed we believe there is. And that the process of healing the things that are wrong in us and in the world has already begun. A son was born; and he was named “He saves” (Matt. 1:21). “Let all creation rejoice before the Lord,” the psalmist declares, “for he comes, he comes to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:11-13; also 98:7-9). When something is badly out of kilter, we rejoice to have it fixed, for someone to come and sort things out, put things to right.

God has entered our world and is working to redeem and heal its suffering, greed, and violence slowly but surely—three steps forward, two steps backwards (sometimes it can seem like four steps backwards).

God sent Moses and the Prophets to instruct us in what is right. And ultimately came as God the Son to confront the powers of darkness that fracture our world. They killed him on the cross. He did not retaliate but absorbed the pain and violence of human evil. Three days later he triumphed over death and all darkness!

God forgives us and gives us a new beginning when we confess our share in the wrong in the world. And the Spirit of God enables us to follow Jesus and push back the powers of darkness in all of life. All of us have a story to tell: “Something I’m doing differently (than I did in the past, or than secular culture around me) as part of God putting things to right.” (That is our monthly sharing during our year of “What’s our story?” at Trissels.)

And one Day Jesus will return (1 Thes. 4:15-17) and heaven will come to earth (Rev. 21:1-4) and all things will be decisively renewed and restored!

I’ll end this post with a comment that will unsettle—even rattle—most persons in my generation who grew up in the church. At least, it did me when I first learned it. Those last two events—Jesus coming again and heaven coming to earth—probably describe the same event.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV) reads:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

For several generations we typically took this to mean that when Jesus comes again, we will meet him in the air and then continue on with him to heaven. But we now know that when the Apostle Paul penned these words he probably had in mind us joining Jesus as he continues his coming to earth. We have learned that the Greek term “to meet” was often used to describe the inhabitants of a city journeying out to welcome an important visitor. They then would celebrate the honored guest’s arrival by trouping into the city with him. Note: after they “meet” they do not return to the place the dignitary came from but to the place the people had just left. In other words, Jesus’ return is apparently not speaking of the church being caught up to heaven but is another reference to heaven coming to earth. When he comes, according to 1 Cor. 15:24-25, Jesus will destroy “all dominion, authority and power” and “put all his enemies under his feet.” Sounds like heaven indeed will have come.

Not in Coke, but in Jesus all the world will be renewed and restored!

Why we welcome sinners (a story)

Author Paulo Coelho created the story of a young woman named Athena. She dropped out of college at age nineteen to get married and have a baby. Then her husband left her when the baby was still young.

One Sunday the local Catholic priest, who was her friend, watched as she walked toward him to receive communion, and his heart was filled with dread. Athena stood in front of the priest with her eyes closed and mouth open. She was hungry for the grace given to her in Christ’s body. But he did not give it.

The young woman opened her eyes, confused. The priest tried to tell her in hushed tones that they would talk about it later, but she would not be turned away. She persisted until she received an answer. “Athena, the Church forbids divorced people from receiving the sacrament. You signed your divorce papers this week. We’ll talk later.”

She stood there, devastated, numb. People began to step around her, an obstacle in their path.

Naomi Zacharias, who retells this story in her book The Scent of Water: Grace for Every Kind of Broken, imagines people saying, “Don’t you know that God hates divorce?” and Athena answering, “I know. So do I. Possibly even more than you.” It had been so hard for her to come to church that day. And now, driving a knife into her already anguished heart, the church says she is no longer worthy to come to Christ.

As the priest finished giving the sacrament, he slowly stepped back to the altar. conversation around Bibles Athena was still standing where he had left her. Then she cried out against those who had not listened to the words of Christ but transformed his message into a stone building: “Christ said, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Well, I’m heavy laden, and they won’t let me come to him.” She turned and left the church, tears streaming down her face, her baby crying.

Years later the priest cannot forget her face, the forlorn look in her eyes, and the poignancy of those words of Christ. He now says, “I like to imagine that when she left the church, Athena met Jesus. Weeping and confused, she would have thrown herself into his arms.” And surely Jesus took her broken heart and held it carefully, gently.

It comes to me that this is what we as a church are to do: speak the truth about sin, making clear the direction toward which the wisdom of God nudges us sinners; and welcome with great patience and gracious compassion any sinner who wants to come to Jesus.

Doing both is hard. But we must try with all our heart.

Wired to share good things that happen

What is the best thing that happened to you last month?

Maybe a thrilling game. Or a great beach or park discovered on vacation. Or a new favorite book and author. Maybe you received a commendation at work. my daughter and husband and grandson Miles Maybe you became a grandfather and got to hold a new grandson a couple hours last week. (Top that!)

Another question. Did you tell anyone about it?

Odds are, you did. An old marketing adage says we tell several others when we have a great experience with a new product. A recent study says that we tell 7.44 people, to be exact. I definitely told many about little Miles the last couple weeks!

James Choung, a favorite author of mine, observes in an Outreach article that it’s as if we are wired to share positive news. In the retelling, we re­experience the wonderful moments and also have the fun of spreading those good vibrations around.

Now another question. As a church, do we or do we not have good news to share? Do we know about the greatest expression of love in the universe? The best hope for humanity?

Yet many of us find ourselves hesitant or plain resistant when it comes to sharing this Good News. Perhaps we worry that the other person won’t receive it as good news. But maybe they will! If it’s our story, most persons will listen with interest.

Or perhaps we are unsure that the church’s good news is true. Many of us have doubts that surface from time to time. I invite you to share any doubts with me. Let’s talk! I’m sure that we as a church still get some individual doctrines wrong. But I’m sure the overall message of our Christian faith is true. I have seen so many ways that our faith helps us

give dignity and respect to every human being we meet,

be good neighbors—ones who can replace selfishness with caring, and

inspire bad neighbors to become good.

How can anything so wise and able to make the world a better place not have some truth worth retelling?!