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Category Archives: Devotional

It Has Started…

Even before Thanksgiving, trees and decorations started going up in stores and in my neighborhood.  The radio is now full of Christmas music and advertisements for upcoming Christmas specials fill my TV screen.  For the next 29 days I, like you, will be swamped with all things Christmas.  I would like to think the reason we are being swamped is people want us to remember the Incarnation, but they probably just want us to buy more needless things.  Who can survive the onslaught of marketing for 29 days?

Have you ever taken the time to think about the genesis of Christmas?

Much could be said about how the way we celebrate Christmas today got its beginning.  Regardless of what one thinks about those traditions, the fact remains the origin of it all started with the birth of a little baby. Two gospel writers included the story of Jesus birth (Matt. 1-2:12, Luke 1-2:12).  Of all things they could have written about they were lead to include this story.

My knowledge of the origins of Christmas is lacking.  In taking a quick glance, there is no doubt there is a mixture of good and bad.  The exact date of the birth of Christ is still in question and may always remain a mystery.  Regardless of the exact date, a large portion of the Scripture either addresses the anticipation of the coming Messiah or the actual narrative of his birth.  The two writers, Matthew and Luke, believed it was important enough for Christians of their day, and in the days to come, to know the story of how the Christ came to this earth.

Over the next several weeks as you are surrounded with the music, the specials, give and receive gifts, remember that the narrative recorded in the Text is a story worthy of being told.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them [Joseph and Mary], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Devotional, Reflection

 

Aristotle and Jesus on Friendship

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle shares his view on a number of issues in order to explain that the “telos,” the highest good, for humanity is happiness.  One aspect of human nature Aristotle examines is that of friendship. In this essay I want to compare Aristotle’s view of friendship to the view found in the teaching of Jesus in the parable known as “The Good Samaritan.” I will briefly discuss the human want for relationships, share Aristotle’s understanding of the term friend, summarize the three kinds of friendships understood by Aristotle, review the Good Samaritan story (taught by Jesus), offer some difference between Aristotle and Jesus on friendship and share how those differences call followers of Jesus to live at a higher level beyond Aristotle’s view.

Humans were created to be social beings.  It’s our nature to seek the companionship of those we label as our friends.  This is such an incredible drive within the human nature that online communities, like Facebook, have been created.  The purpose of these communities is to give people the feeling of being involved in others lives even while they are physically separated. The importance of friendship to humanity did not go unnoticed by Aristotle.

Aristotle’s understanding or definition of friendship is broader than the modern view.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a modern definition of friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” While Aristotle recognized the intimate bonds of many relationships (husband and wife, father and son, neighbors), and consider them friends, he also included relationships with less intimate bonds.  Aristotle would have spoken about business partners, team members, instructors and students as friends as well. His view is that all friendships can be broken down into three categories: the friendship of utility, the friendship of pleasure and the friendship of good.

Aristotle sees the friendship of utility as being shallow and “easily dissolved” (Aristotle 121).  These friendships are based upon what each person brings to the relationship and how that benefits the other.  An example of this type of relationship in my life is my connection with my mailwoman.  We’re cordial, make reference to the weather but the truth is all I really want is my mail.  This type of relationship dissolves when the relationship is no longer beneficial to one or both of the individuals.  For the last two years I’ve taken my cars to the same auto mechanic.  I’ve recently realized that another auto mechanic can do the same quality work for less.  Hence, my relationship with the former mechanic has dissolved.  Those involved in a friendship of utility have weak bonds with one another.  Aristotle believed that the friendship of utility is most common among the elderly because they are more concerned with what is useful or beneficial.

According to Aristotle, the friendship of pleasure is based on receiving something pleasant from the relationship and is usually established between the young (Aristotle 122).  The reason for this is that their passions and pleasures are great emotional influences in their lives.  The difference between the friendship of utility and pleasure is that the former is about a long-term benefit and the latter is about a present pleasure (Aristotle 122).  Aristotle notes that young people are subject to “erotic passions” and therefore “love and quickly stop, often changing in a single day” (Aristotle 122).  Therefore, Aristotle views both the friendship of utility and pleasure as unbalanced and subject to sudden modifications.

It is argued by Aristotle that the highest form of friendship is that of the good.  In this relationship both parties would focus on each other’s good and not their own selfish gain. This type of relationship is one that requires trust by both parties.  Trust in one another that the things done or said aren’t about gaining but about making the other better.  Aristotle says, “…among good people there is trust, the belief that they would never do injustice…” (Aristotle 124, italics added). Aristotle goes as far as saying the friendship of good is a “complete friendship…” consisting of “…good people similar in virtue; for they wish goods in the same way to each other…” (Aristotle 122).  It’s argued by Aristotle that the “complete” virtuous friendship is difficult to obtain because “good” people are hard to find and it takes a considerable amount of work.  Although, “the wish for friendship comes quickly, friendship does not” (Aristotle 123).

Jesus shares the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  He shares this story for the purpose of explaining who one’s neighbor is, for we are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).  How is one to interpret the term “neighbor?”  Does it refer to a close friend or to every person? Or does it mean something else all together?

The story is being told to a group of Jewish listeners, specifically to a Torah scholar.  It can be assumed that the listeners would have identified the injured man as a Jew, although Jesus never specifically says.  How the injured man is viewed is important because of whom the “hero” of the story is, a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans didn’t care for each other and that is a polite way of stating it.  “When the word ‘Samaritan’ was said among the Jewish people in the first century, no one thought of the descriptive term ‘good.’ The Samaritans were considered enemies of the people” (Young 109).

So in this teaching of Jesus we find a Samaritan, an enemy of the injured man, giving of himself to one he isn’t a “friend” of.  The injured man is saved because of the actions of the Samaritan, who “went to him,” “bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine,” and “put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”  If that wasn’t enough the Samaritan paid the innkeeper to take care of him and pledged to return and take care of any additional expenses.  What kind of “friend” would Aristotle label the Samaritan to be?

From the perspective of the Samaritan this wasn’t a “friendship” of utility.  The injured man had nothing of use for him.  The Samaritan was only giving and promised to give even more in the future.  It certainly wasn’t a “friendship” of pleasure. How pleasurable is it to take care of another’s wounds, change your schedule, and give away your money for someone you don’t know? Based on Aristotle’s views, this wasn’t a “friendship” of the good either.  Even though the Samaritan was concerned with the best for the injured man, they had no history with one another.  They shared very little in common but yet the Samaritan acted in ways that illustrates a “complete” friendship. Aristotle’s view of friendship is limited by preferences, while Jesus taught to love others with no limitations. Soren Kierkegaard said, “the neighbor…is all people” (Kierkegaard 52).

All three kinds of “friendships” described by Aristotle include to some degree each participant receiving from the other.  With Jesus, one of the lessons seen in the Good Samaritan story is to give without expectation of anything in return.  For Aristotle, friendship was based on having something in common with the other. Jesus taught his followers to treat every person they come across with the same respect and care they would have for their friends.  Trust, for Aristotle, was a major ingredient of establishing the “good” friendship. But for Jesus, he taught his followers to give to even those they can’t trust, their enemies.

In summary, humanity seeks friendships.  While Aristotle offered good insight into human nature in regards to friendships, it’s still inferior to that which Jesus calls his followers.  Followers of Jesus are called not only to give to those whom they call friend, but also to give to, to love, their enemies.

Works Cited:

Irwin, Terence.  “Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics.”  Indianapolis, IN.  Hackett Publishing, 1999.

Kierkegaard, Soren.  “Works of Love.” Trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong. Princeton. Princeton University Press, 1995.

The Holy Bible: TNIV. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan. 2005.

Young, Brad. “The Parables.” Peabody, MA.  Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Devotional, Reflection

 

Posting Someone Else’s Post

Have you heard about Chick-fil-A lately? It’s been frustrating watching our community leaders, politicians, commentators and fellow followers acting the way they’ve been the last several weeks…it’s crazy!! I came across a post by Perry Noble in which I thought was well thought out and wanted to share.

         Ben & Jerry’s, Chick-fil-A & Political Correctness

Let me begin by saying I absolutely LOVE Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  (Gonna go ahead and tell you that Oatmeal Cookie Chunk is THE BEST flavor I’ve EVER had!!)

Have you heard about Chick-fil-A lately? It’s been frustrating watching our community leaders, politicians, commentators and fellow followers acting the way they’ve been the last several weeks…it’s crazy!! I came across a post by Perry Noble in which I thought was well thought out and wanted to share.

A few years ago I went to Wal Mart (the closest thing to hell I can imagine…that and the DMV), found my favorite flavor and decided to tweet that I was purchasing some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…and doing so “unleashed the hounds” in a sense.  Honestly, I’ve never experienced anything like it, “Christians” began @ replying me on twitter condemning me and scolding me for buying this product because apparently Ben & Jerry’s supported gay rights/same sex marriage.

Honestly, it bothered me.  Because, first of all…I wasn’t trying to make a political statement I was simply trying to get some chunky monkey and some oatmeal cookie crunch.  I like ice cream…I believe it will be served in heaven (with ZERO calories)!  And second, it has broken my heart the way that many who claim to follow Christ have treated those who are homosexuals.  We’ve yelled at them, ignored them and in some cases damned them to hell without EVER sitting down and actually having a conversation with someone who is gay.

“But Perry,” you say, “the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.”  Let me put my cards on the table and say that I agree; however, for too long the church has seemed to be obsessed with the sins that we do not struggle with; after all, if I am pointing out the sins of others I don’t have to deal with my own.

People have taken me to I Corinthians 6:9-11 before and said, “look, the Bible says that homosexuals will NOT inherit the kingdom of God.”  I always try my best to point out that also included in that list are…

  • The sexually immoral (anyone been watching porn?)
  • Idolaters (anyone love anyone or anything more than Jesus?)
  • Adulterers (see Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Thieves
  • The greedy (uh oh!)
  • Drunkards (tailgating season is quickly approaching)
  • Slanderers (uh oh, a lot of bloggers and women’s Bible studies are in trouble!)
  • After looking at this list I would say we are all pretty much screwed unless Jesus intervenes.

And…while I am at it why don’t I just go ahead and throw out that gluttony is way more of a problem in the church today than homosexuality!!! (Please see Proverbs 23:2…pretty intense!!!  ONLY in the church can people that are huge condemn people who are homosexual and somehow feel like that they are spiritually superior!)

Do I hate homosexuals or have a “homophobia?”  Absolutely not!  (And, let me be VERY clear that as a child I was molested…TWICE…by men who were older than me.  I have no idea if they were or are practicing homosexuals…but I can honestly say that I have forgiven them and do not think that because of what they did to me that homosexuals are bad people!)

So, if a company or an organization wants to support gay rights/same sex marriage I don’t believe that Christians should boycott and/or protest them (come on people, has that REALLY worked for us in the past?)  Jesus went after the hearts of people far from Him through conversation, not condemnation.  Yes, sin must be called what it is, even at the risk of offending people: however, when it is done so with a hateful spirit then Jesus is NOT exalted, thus making the confrontation of sin sinful!

We live in America…and people have the right to say what they want to say…

Which brings me to Chick-fil-A…

I love Chick-fil-A…I probably eat there no less than five times a week (no, I am not making that up!)  The fact that Truett Cathy has built a business from the ground up and has sought to honor Jesus every step of the way is an inspiration to me.  Every Chick-fil-A I’ve ever been in has excellent food and excellent customer service…and I believe I read the other day that they made 4.1 billion dollars last year (not bad!)

Recently Dan Cathy (the current CEO) was asked about his stance on same sex marriage.  He did not issue any inflammatory remarks.  He did not attempt to call anyone by any derogatory names.  He was not hateful in his comments.  He did not say that people who are gay would not be hired and/or served at Chick-Fil-A restaurants. He simply stated that he holds to the traditional/biblical view of marriage (which is his right as an American citizen.)  And it seemed the world lost its mind.

It’s quite sad really that those who scream for tolerance seem to be intolerant of anyone who does not hold to their particular view.

No one in the media screamed “foul” when corporations came out in support of same sex marriage; however, when one company spoke out against it in a non condemning tone people were calling for a boycott…even provoking the mayor of the city of Boston to say that Chick-Fil-A was not welcome in the city.  (Uh…wow, talk about tolerance!  Honestly, I believe the city of Boston needs Chick-fil-A way more than Chick-fil-A needs the city of Boston!)

All I am saying is this…I believe as an American everyone has the right to free speech.  I also believe as a Christian we have the right to speak the truth in love as it applies to the Scriptures and should not fear doing so because we may be perceived as politically incorrect.  Biblical truth (IN LOVE) always trumps political correctness.  Honestly, I respect and admire Mr. Cathy as he took a very unpopular stand on one of the most controversial matters of our day.  AND…as I’ve stated before, he did it with a non-condemning attitude.

It simply needs to be pointed out that people on both sides of this argument have been way less than civil with each other…which does nothing more than proves the insecurity in us if we feel like we have to “lower the boom” on people who do not see exactly as we see.

Honestly, it is my prayer that people on both sides of the argument would stop yelling at each other and talking about one another and actually sit down and talk to one another understanding that just because two people do not agree on an issue does not mean they have the right to hate one another for it.  Conversation is NOT compromise…it’s actually Christ like!  And our world would be a MUCH better place if those who called themselves Christians would step up and lead the way in this, understanding John 3:17 is the attitude that we are called to have!

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Devotional, Family / Life, Reflection

 

The Need For Sorrow

Okay, it has been some time since I posted anything.  I’ve got a few things I’m thinking upon and will post about hopefully in a few days.

In the meantime here’s an article from Relevant magazine that was sent to me by a friend.  I’m curious to hear the thoughts the article stirs up in you.

Why our theology needs room for sadness.

Few Christians are familiar with the term “orthopathos.”

We’re familiar with orthodoxy, which is “thinking like Jesus.” And some of us have heard of the term orthopraxy, which is “acting like Jesus.”

But orthopathos, which means “feeling the feelings of Jesus,” is an idea few of us are familiar with because so few of us may even believe He feels as we do.

It’s said that we become like the object or person we worship. And when you worship God, you become like who or what you think He is.

Do you worship God as patient? Do you worship God as just? Do you worship God as love? You will eventually become all these things if you believe they are a part of God’s character.

But what happens when you see God as immutable—as unchangeable? What happens when you see God as impassible—as emotionless?

So many Christian traditions believe God is utterly unable to change and unaffected by emotion, unprovoked by the behavior of the world He so loves. Should it be a surprise that so many of us become unmoved and emotionally repressed? That we temper our joys and bury our sorrows?

When we say “orthopathos,” most Christians think the proper way to feel like God is to not acknowledge feeling at all—to never grieve, to never have joy, to never get angry, to never grow sorrowful—because the One they worship, the One they are trying to reflect, has no emotion Himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Giving into and being consumed by strong emotion is unhealthy, yes, even sinful; but having emotion in its proper context is good, even holy.

The ultimate example of orthopathos is found on the cross. The prophet Isaiah, in what is perhaps one of the more powerful prophetic utterances of the Old Testament, writes: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. … Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities …”

Laying on of the iniquity, bearing of our suffering, taking of and familiarity with pain—this man of suffering took so much of the world’s grief into His heart that it’s recorded in Mark 13:34: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death! That’s not just being unhappy with your job, losing a friend or facing family problems. That is the height of sadness—a sorrow rooted in love.

This wasn’t Jesus being punished by the Father per se, but Jesus taking the heart of the Father in human form—seeing what God sees, acting as God would act and ultimately feeling like God feels. It was the ultimate act of representing the Father in human form, and it was an anguished display. And then, I believe, Jesus died, not only from the wounds of the cross, but from the wounds of the heart.

Sure, we can begin to understand right thinking, we can begin to understand right action, but who can feel the heart of God and live?

Life is full of trials and tribulations—loss, sin, betrayal, disappointment, illness, death. Why then do Christians resist sorrow? Why do they feel ashamed when it finds them? There’s a couple reasons: 1) Our theology doesn’t allow for it, so 2), we think it’s unlike our God if we do so.

Wendell Berry’s famed literature character “Jayber Crow” states this:

I prayed to know in my heart His love for the world, and this was my most prideful, foolish, and dangerous prayer. It was my step into the abyss. As soon as I prayed it, I knew that I would die. I knew the old wrong and the death that lay in the world. Just as a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow … And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.

Some of us will feel God’s missional love for the world, but all of us will feel the sorrow of death and loss. And it’s high time that we as Christians believe it’s OK to sorrow. It’s high time we believe it’s OK to weep, for when we do so we aren’t becoming unlike our God; in fact, we are worshiping Him.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/26861-even-jesus-wept

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Devotional, Reflection

 

TAKE TO THE WORLD

This is a song that I heard again this past week and remembered how much I appreciated the lyrics.  Listen to it (the lyrics are below) and share with us what your favorite line is.

TAKE TO THE WORLD by Derek Webb

Go in peace to love and to serve
Let your ears ring long with what you’ve heard
And may the bread on your tongue
Leave a trail of crumbs
To lead the hungry back to the place that you are from

And take to the world this love, hope and faith
Take to the world this rare, relentless grace
And like the three in one
Know you must become what you want to save
‘cause that’s still the way
He takes to the world

Go, and go far
Take light deep in the dark
Believe what’s true
He uses all, even you

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Devotional, Reflection

 

Night…Morning…Mid-Day

The “hours of prayer” is one of the oldest surviving forms of Christian spirituality.

While the “hours of prayer” date back before Jesus time, the context in which Jesus found himself was one well accustomed to fixed “hours of prayer.” The Roman Empire was efficient and commerce depended in no small part upon the orderly and organized conduct of each business day. In the cities of the Empire, the forum bell rang the beginning of that day at six o’clock each morning (first hour); noted the day’s progress by striking again at nine o’clock (third hour); sounded the lunch break at noon (sixth hour); called citizens back to work by striking at three o’clock (ninth hour); and closed the day’s markets by sounding again at six o’clock in the afternoon (evening hour).

Every part of daily life within Roman culture eventually came, to some greater or lesser extent, to be ordered by the ringing of the forum bells, including Jewish prayer and, by natural extension, Christian prayer as well. The first detailed miracle of the apostolic Church, the healing of the lame man on the Temple steps by Peter and John (Acts 3 v.1), occurred when and where it did because two devout Jews (who did not yet know they were Christians as such) were on their way to ninth-hour (three o’clock) prayers. Not many years later, one of the great defining events of Christianity – Peter’s vision of the descending sheet filled with both clean and unclean animals – was to occur at noon on a rooftop because he had gone there to observe the sixth-hour prayers.

Since the time of the Apostles, the followers of Jesus have observed the “hours of prayer”.  Though the specific number of prayers and the exact hours may have slightly changed over time, the discipline has been passed down from generation to generation.

Let’s join in this discipline by participating in the “hours of prayer” before we go to bed, when we wake up, and sometime between 12:00pm – 5:00 pm daily.  What should be prayed?  Here is a suggestion for you for each one of those times:

Night: The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11 v.1-4)

Morning: Psalm 23

Mid-Day: Psalm 117

Another option is to pray The Lord’s Prayer at all three times.

Feel free to post your experiences and any question you may have about the “hours of prayer.”

**Our community that gathers on a weekly basis will be taking a Sabbath this Sunday (May 29).  Enjoy time with your family and/or friends and we will come back together the following week.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Devotional, Reflection

 

“…and I, I did not know”

Rabbi Lawerence Kushner wrote a book called, “God was in this Place and I, I did not know.” The title is drawn from the story of Jacob found in Genesis 28.  Jacob is running from his brother Esau after stealing the family birth rite from him and comes to a place to rest.

The Text says that Jacob came to a “certain place.”  This was not a specially marked place or a place of special significance; it was just a place on Jacob’s journey.  It was like just like all the other “places” Jacob past to get here and like all the other “places” Jacob would pass in the future.

It was at this place that Jacob woke up the reality that God was present in this very common place. The worldview at the time was the gods rested in temples, high mountains and altars. Through Jacob’s dream, he realized that his God was present in this “certain place.”  He woke up the reality that if God was present in this place, perhaps God was also present in other places and he was just not aware of it.

In Exodus 3 we find the story of Moses encountering the burning bush as he shepherds his sheep.  This story has often been presented as the miracle of the burning bush but the fact that a bush was burning was not what got Moses attention. Had he seen other burning bushes? Was a burning bush considered something common? What got Moses’ attention was the fact that the bush was not being consumed.

Could the burning bush experience have been a test for Moses?  For wood to be consumed, even dry wood, it takes awhile.  Moses would have had to stare at the bush for some time to realize it was not being consumed.  Instead of being a miracle, perhaps God was testing Moses to see if he had the attention span to notice something special in the common.

Later on in the story of Moses, when we find him about to journey to the top of Mt. Sinai, we find an interesting verse that carries this same theme.  In Exodus 24 we find God saying to Moses, “Come up to me into the mount, and be there” (v. 12, ASV). And be there?  If Moses climbed the mountain to be with God, wouldn’t he be there?  Many people exert a tremendous amount of energy to climb “mountains” but once on top they simply are not there.  God was telling Moses to be wholly present.

Much of life is spent in what is considered “the common.”  We take these moments for granted but the truth is the sacred is found in the common.  God is at work in every moment, every relationship, every person, and every interaction (John 5 v.17).   As we continue to live in this time of resurrection, we must live in such a way we are aware of God’s presence all around us and not take for granted the common.  We must be concerned with how what we do affects God and how what God does affects us.”

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Devotional, Reflection