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Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

6 Helps for Meaningful Conversation

Conversation is a dying art in our culture. Eyes are unfocused, words are undisciplined, and attentive engagement is often non-existent. The majority of our conversations are hidden under screens of constant social media and shallow treatment of life and community. Our ability to see each other in thorough and delightful conversation lies buried under the mask of self-image and projected self-worth. So, what are we to do? How do we have good conversations that engage with the community while simultaneously freeing us from the constraints of social media? Here are a few simple practices to have a good conversation.

  1. Put your leash (phone) away. Most of us have a phone that tethers us to a fictional world. If you want to have a good conversation, you need to put this leash away. Set your phone to airplane mode when you begin a conversation or at least turn the volume off. Anything that is definitely in need of your attention will still be there when you turn it back on. Most things do not need your immediate attention. So, take the leash off for a bit and enjoy the moment. The better thing to do is to leave the leash at home. Let yourself run in conversation and let your mind race in response to boredom! You’ll find yourself enjoying people a little more and being a little less anxious.
  2. Listen to others and assume they bring some value to life. Stop trying to be the smartest person in the room. Most of us enter a conversation for what we can contribute. Instead of listening well and considering the ideas of our conversation, we plot the next thing we are going to say. In order to overcome this tremendous gulf, we must assume that the other person has something to contribute. Recognize that everyone has a unique experience that can contribute to your own life in some way.
  3. Overlook the ideological and tribal affiliations in favor of honest discussion. Honest self-reflection is in short supply these days. We are tribal people who determine our worth and value by those to whom we find a connection. Often our discussions are stifled because we connect ourselves or others with a tribe of people and therefore all the ideological nuances assumed about that affiliation. However, people are not numeric collections of data. They are individuals with unique thoughts and individual ideas that may or may not be informed by their particular tribe. Assume they are individuals who come by their ideological affinity honestly and strive to investigate those points with integrity.
  4. Talk about ideas, not people. It has been said that great people talk about ideas. Try to focus your conversation around deep thoughts and ideas. Stay away from talking about other people. I am a pastor and spend a great deal of time counseling with people. Often it is my goal in these sessions to get the person to move from identifying people to identifying the deeper root issues. I will ask questions that will attempt to lead the other person to identify the “why” of a feeling and this can lead to some incredibly constructive conversation about ideas and ideology. In like manner, when you are having a conversation with someone, try to press past the “who” and get to the deeper more philosophical questions. This will lead to a deeper and more productive conversation.
  5. Ask unassuming questions. For example: ask, “how are you doing?” and not “are you ok?” Ask, “what’s one thing you’re excited for this year?” rather than “what have you been doing?” Ask questions that allow others to talk about themselves with a broad spectrum of specificity. Avoid questions that assume something negative about the person or are narrow in scope. “Are you feeling ok” is not a good question unless you think the person is sick. “What are you reading?” is a great question, if the person reads or if you have a book you’re wanting to talk about. Better questions are ones that engage the person’s mind and are open enough to allow for variation. Some conversation questions I like to ask are: “What is your favorite Jesus story?” “What is one thing you’re excited about this year?” “What is one of your most prized possessions and why?” and “what is your favorite activity for relaxation and why?”
  6. Finally, try to see the other person. Your goal in conversation is to reveal the person to whom you are speaking. Try to SEE them. Try to know their condition. I have some friends who are really skilled at doing this. I will call them on the phone and before I know it, they have asked questions that have revealed my personal struggles and thoughts and I have spoken for about an hour. They have worked hard to see me and know me. Often these conversations end with me saying something like, “Man! I talked the whole time! Next time I want to hear about how you are doing!” This is refreshing and uplifting to me, so I want to do it to others.

Accepting The Cup

Great thoughts by Stephanie Elkins.

Moments Matter

Imagine for a moment that you are at a very formal dinner party and your very important host has personally poured individual cups for each of the guests. They are handed those cups, one by one, by the host himself. Some of the glasses are fancy, others are plain, some are fuller, some hold less, and some appear to even come with differing types of drinks in them. As the host makes his way around the table, you wonder a bit nervously what your cup will be like. Will you know how to hold the glass correctly? Will you actually like the drink? If so, how in the world can you appropriately ask for more? If not,…you know instinctively that in this setting, your tastes don’t matter. Whether you like the drink or not, your role and your responsibility is simply to take the cup, receive it graciously, and drink…

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Philemon 21-22; Brief thoughts

21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

There is no more intimidating visit than a man who has laid his life down for the gospel who has asked for a favor. Consider for a moment Philemon’s position. He is a leader in a church that lives in relative ease and is surrounded by a great many brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul is a man who has surrendered every comfort in effort to spread the gospel of Jesus. The magnitude of such a character could intimidate the strongest of men. By concluding his letter with a clear statement of expectation followed by a promise of his own appearance, Paul is expressing both hope and issuing a warning.

Paul’s hope is based on confidence that the gospel does and will transform Philemon to live contrary to the world’s system. The nature of the gospel is transformation. Because Philemon has claimed to follow Christ, he ought to be transformed and thereby compelled by his own new nature to defy the world’s systems. If he truly believes, Philemon will obey. Do not misunderstand, Philemon is not compelled to obey because Paul is somehow forcing obedience. Philemon is compelled to obey because the gospel demands that Christians exemplify the freedom of the gospel in there everyday life. Thus, slaves must be released and made family in the same way that Jesus has done for those who believe. Christians can be expected to manifest a changed life because they have been given a new nature that is free from sin and is being renewed after the image of God (c.f. Rom. 6:1-11, Col 3:9-10, Rom. 8:9-11). Confident that this change of nature has been wrought in Philemon, Paul trusts that he will do “even more than [Paul] say[s].”

Simultaneous with his expression of confidence, Paul issues a warning – “I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (v.22). He is coming to visit. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, the first church planter, the founder of the church in Colossae (where Philemon lives and hosts the church). Paul intends to follow his letter with his presence. The colossus of Christian missions is coming to visit following the letter he has sent with his “child” Onesimus. What can Philemon do except grant the request? If he denied such a request, then the gospel has not taken root in his heart and he is not a believer.

Paul’s warning is couched in surrender. Notice the language – “I am hoping through your prayers to be graciously given to you” (v.22). Paul is surrendering his right to command and acknowledging that Philemon’s prayers and efforts have value. Paul hopes to be “given” to Philemon. His efforts to visit are in order that he might pay the debt of Onesimus (c.f. v18). Paul is coming to take on the debt of his child, Onesimus. Yet in his coming he recognizes that Philemon’s prayers have contributed in some part to Paul’s own success. Further, he is aware that Philemon is in a position to refresh him and to aid him in the ministry. He has surrendered his right to command and has entrusted himself to the hands of Philemon. He is coming and he is coming in grace.

Paul’s concluding statements to Philemon exemplify how Christians are to treat each other in difficult situations of reproof. Note the structure of his appeal in verses 17-22.

  1. He establishes Philemon as a fellow leader (v.17).
  2. Accepting Philemon’s point of view, Paul takes on the debt of Onesimus (v. 18-19)
  3. He provides a clear statement of expectation (v. 20).
  4. He assumes the best response from Philemon (v. 21).
  5. He submits himself to Philemon’s hand and acknowledges Philemon’s efforts (v. 22).

This conciliatory attitude ought to be present in all Christian community. Christians are to be marked by our love for each other (John 13:35). So that love should be evident in Christian interactions within the church. Here are three things that Christians ought to take from Paul’s example.

  1. Assume the best in other believers. Because the gospel has transformed the hearts of believers, Christians ought to assume the best of one another. Further, Christians should express that assumption in words that are obvious and unambiguous. We ought to tell each other what we expect with transparency and forgiveness.
  2. Make expectations known. The world tells you to manipulate those around you. So great is the pervasive nature of deception in this world that entire academic degrees hinge on learning to manipulate and deceive people into doing what you desire. Christianity demands honest transparency. Christians are to be honest and open with those who they interact with. In this way a Christian lays everything out before others and entrusts him or herself to the work of the Lord.
  3. Prepare to speak in person. Paul’s confidence in Philemon is not the only step he takes to ensure Philemon’s obedience to the gospel. He is also coming to visit. In his visit, he will most certainly discuss Onesimus’ condition and offer to pay whatever has been lost. This kind of direct communication is common in Christianity. As those who have surrendered pride in favor of grace, we are uniquely suited to have loving discussions that engage each other with honest integrity.

Just short encouragement.

This is mere short encouragement for you today.

Christians are defined by their love for one another (John 13:35). Today, let these scriptures inspire you to love well:

  1. Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50),
  2. Love one another (John 13:34),
  3. Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10),
  4. Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16),
  5. Cease to pass judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13) ,
  6. Accept one another (Rom. 15:7),
  7. Instruct one another (Rom. 15:7),
  8. Greet one another (Rom. 16:16),
  9. Serve one another (Gal. 6:2),
  10. Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2),
  11. Be patient, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2),
  12. Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32),
  13. Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32),
  14. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19),
  15. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21),
  16. In humility consider one another better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),
  17. Teach one another (Col. 3:16),
  18. Admonish one another (Col. 3:16),
  19. Encourage one another (1 Thes. 5:11),
  20. Spur one another towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24),
  21. Cease to slander one another (James 4:11),
  22. Cease to grumble against one another (James 5:9),
  23. Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16),
  24. Pray for one another (James 5:16),
  25. Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5).

3 Tips to be Present

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and then realized that you’re not actually paying attention to what is being said? Perhaps you’ve drifted off to follow some thought squirrel that has decided challenge your intellectual consistency over something you read four years ago. As you ponder the significance of stability within the recipe for ketchup, you suddenly realize you’re not present in the conversation. Now your mind snaps back in to engage the conversation again. As you struggle to re-engage with the friend who has been patiently awaiting your response, you suddenly realize that you’ve missed the last several minutes of discussion. Frustrated and slightly annoyed, you consider your options.

Option one: continue to try and fake it through the conversation.

Option two: make an excuse to end the conversation abruptly and flee from your friend.

Option three: admit you have not been present and ask them to repeat themselves.

Being present is not always easy. Sometimes we’ve been drained of intellectual stimulus for so long that it is nearly impossible for us to focus on anything other than the thought spirals that are flying through our minds. Sometimes we’ve been deprived of human interaction (or adult interaction) that we simply cannot hold the floodgates closed and our minds just race without hope of stopping. And sometimes, just sometimes, we don’t care about the conversation we are in. None of these are valid reasons for not being present. Don’t get me wrong! Being present is hard. It takes effort to care for the concerns of other people and to lay your own cards down in effort to love and listen well. But we must be present if we are to love well.

Here are three short things to do in order to maintain presence in a conversation.

  1. Lead the questions. If you ask the questions, you are less likely to drift away from the answer. So, ask questions that matter. Try to stay away from short answer questions that lack specifics. Instead of asking how someone is doing, ask “what are you most excited about in the next month?” Instead of asking “What’s been going on?” Ask, “What is something you’ve learned recently that has really shifted your thinking?” Then ask good follow-up questions that can help progress the conversation. A good conversationalist will be able to ask questions that lead to more valuable topics of discussion. So start practicing. Start asking questions that matter. Invest yourself in others by asking good questions.
  2. Get better sleep. Without a doubt, I am awful at tracking with a conversation or a person when I don’t sleep well. I have a naturally nervous mind and I am a relatively anxious person. Now I’m a pastor… so I spend a good bit of time trying to talk with people. If I am not rested, I can go a whole conversation and miss 60% of what is said. The person begins to talk and I begin to drift off into a form of contemplation of some theological reality I wrestled with years ago. Once this has happened, it is nearly impossible to catch up with the conversation. The greater my exhaustion the weaker my ability to focus. One easy way to remedy this is to take a nap before you go to meet with someone. About two hours before your meeting, take a thirty-minute nap. That way you’ll have plenty of time to wake up and more energy to focus when in the meeting.
  3. Write down the needs and prayer concerns of others. Perhaps the root issue of your lack of presence is a genuine lack of compassion. It’s ok to lack compassion. Compassion is something that you cultivate over a long period of time. So you should make strides to develop it. One way I have learned to do this is through prayer journaling. As I talk with people about their needs, I often take notes on my phone. When I get home, I transfer those to a prayer journal. The next time I meet with that person I have been developing compassion for them and it is much easier for me to be present with them.

Is there anything specific you do to be present? Put it in the comments.

6 Lessons from the Jo-Bits

Hi! My name is Jo-Bits! I’m “the boy!” Tootie the Poots got to post one of these yesterday, and I want my turn. So I made Daddy do some household chores (destroyed stuff that he has to fix) while I wrote this bloggy thingy.

IMG_59591. Always be prepared! When I leave the fortress (house), I always bring my sword You never know when the trumpet blast will sound for battle! I have three sisters and I am their protector. Daddy says, “God gave us hands so we can protect others.” So when we go on walks I like to be prepared to protect. You never know what kind of whether you’re going to encounter either. You should be prepared for all types. I sometimes wear shorts, a winter jacket, AND a hood of some sort! This way I prepared for whatever rain or cold or hot comes my way. Don’t tell my sisters, but this preparation is for the purpose of serving others. I carry a sword so I can protect my sisters. I have a raincoat to offer them if it rains and if they don’t take it – I scream at them (then Daddy talks to me about loving my sisters). I dress and outfit myself to help others. I think if big people would think of the things God gives them as opportunities to help others, maybe we wouldn’t need to carry swords around all the time.

DSPB41992. My hands were given to me to defend the weak! My sisters, Tootie the Poot and Bus Bus sometimes get scared… Ellie is seldom afraid, but sometimes she is scared too. When my sisters are afraid, I transform into Warrior Jo-Bits! I will smash bugs, destroy buildings, and generally wage war on anything that threatens my sisters. God made me mighty and I must use that might to protect the weak and stand up for justice!

IMG_59453. Make faces for fun. Be silly for the good of others! I like making faces, especially when Daddy says, “smile for the picture!” Making faces and being silly can be helpful too. When a sissy is upset, I like to try to make her laugh. Sometimes she is really sad and it is hard to cheer her up… that’s when I bring the silliest of faces out! Daddy says, “don’t sweat the small stuff and always remember, everything is small when you’re far enough away from it.” I like to make people back away from whatever it is that is making them said by making them laugh. As they laugh, their emotions get farther away from the circumstance that is causing them hurt and they start to see that the cookie that fell on the ground is not such a bad circumstance.

IMG_59634. Noise making is awesome, as long as you are contributing to the ruckus! I like people to know I am here. I think everyone ought to know I exist. So I make noise! I shake stuff and make sounds and bop around the room! Everyone sees me and I get to laugh with people at the silly sounds I make. I think God likes this. Daddy says, “There’s an appropriate time to add to the rhythm and music of life and an inappropriate time.” I think every time is appropriate to add to the noise of joy! You should try it! Go make some noise and let people know you exist. Write a poem (its not that hard… Daddy does it!), sing a song, dance around the room, grab to sticks and play drums on something (note: it’s best not to do this on your sisters… trust me, it doesn’t end well.) Make some noise, because silence can be golden, but noise is fun!

IMG_59375. Always check the stability of the fence that keeps you out. When we walk to the beaver’s house, I check the local fences to ensure their stability. It may seem odd, but I like to make sure that my neighbors have strong fortifications… even if they are there to keep me out. You see, I need to protect people with my hands, AND I need to protect people FROM my hands. I want to help my neighbors to be strong so that I will not accidentally hurt them or wander into their yards. Big people sometimes forget that we are responsible for protecting others from ourselves. This is part of loving people well. If I love my neighbors, I will protect them from others AND I will be careful to protect them from myself as well.

IMG_59306. Don’t forget, some of God’s greatest treasures are found in the dirt. I find all kinds of amazing things in the dirt – feathers, toys, pecans, bottle tops, moneys, etc… I think that God sees amazing things in the dirt too! So I like to look close and pick up the treasures He has left for me. Often, Daddy tells me to stop picking up trash (but that’s a discussion for another day). In the fall, I find pecans in the dirt. In the spring I find amazing rocks! In the summer, I complain because it’s hot. There are treasures in the dirt… you just have to look to find them. The dirt seems like it’s not valuable… but if you dig a bit, you find treasures (and sometimes trash)! It’s the same with people, I think. Sometimes we forget that the treasure is not when we see people at their best, but when we have to dig to find the treasure of their heart in the dirt. Just a thought – maybe we should spend a little more time looking for treasure in the dirt of our lives rather than trying to stay out of the mess of living?