Loyalty

prisonLoyalty. That’s an odd word that — with the exception of marketers (loyalty points or loyalty rewards) — is used little in our culture. It is probably demonstrated even less.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae, he mentions several people in his closing remarks.   A couple of those mentions I find intriguing. “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you… Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you…” (Colossians 4:10, 12)

Now you might be thinking, “Wow, Tom, that is exciting… or NOT! What’s your point?”

Well, Paul mentions these same guys in his letter to Philemon. And, by the way, those two letters — Colossians and Philemon — were written in close proximity of time to one another. But in the Philemon letter, Paul refers to Epaphras as “my fellow prisoner” and Aristarchus simply sends greetings.

That’s backward from what it says in Colossians, right?

Multiple commentators suggest that the “fellow prisoner” idea means that Paul had an arrangement — as a non-violent and respected criminal — whereby he could have someone join him in his incarceration.    That person would help Paul, perhaps assist in taking care of him. There is, after all, a strong indication that Paul’s eyesight was failing. Yet, such a person would have to make a choice — at least for a time — to live the life of a prisoner. No special treatment.

So, it would seem that perhaps Aristarchus and Epaphras took turns. Maybe a couple weeks at a time. Perhaps even a couple months at a time. Whatever the actual timeframe, this looks a whole lot like “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

There was a loyalty in Epaphras and Aristarchus that was not only heartfelt but clearly demonstrated.

Oh that we demonstrated such loyalty today in the Church.

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Truth?

truthSt. Anthony the Great, from Egypt, lived during the third and fourth centuries. One of the “Desert Fathers,” Anthony seems to have been a fairly quotable guy. My favorite: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

Apparently every year, the Oxford Dictionaries declare an international word of the year. They look at words that are trending, especially in media, and, based on those statistics and other factors, make a final decision. Their 2016 international word of the year was “post-truth.”

That’s a scary thought isn’t it? If we are indeed post-truth, then truth no longer makes any difference in our society. Whether or not you or I like it, it’s a fact for much of our culture. And yet the very idea that I just said “it’s a fact” is a declaration of truth. What a muddle-headed society we have become. Men have gone mad.

If we are post-truth, then why the uproar about fake news stories? If there is no absolute truth — if all truth is relative — then who cares whether the news media reports facts or just makes stuff up? I mean, really, let’s be honest. (Oh wait. To be honest means we’d have to be truth-ful, so maybe we shouldn’t go there.)

But post-truth means you can identify as whatever you want to, regardless of the facts.  (Uh oh. There’s that truth-ful word again.) You want to be a different race or a different gender, go ahead. Don’t worry about truth. We’re past that stuff. You want to identify as a millionaire and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars you don’t have? Go for it. If truth is gone, I can’t see that the government has any right to prosecute you.

If you think it through, there is no end to the possibilities.

But there’s the rub. All of those possibilities are based on … wait, what’s the opposite of truth? (I’m not sure it’s safe to say that 3-letter word today.)

Amazing! In a single lifetime, we have gone from being a culture where telling the truth was a virtue, to one where — apparently — truth doesn’t even exist.

But here’s a little, well-kept secret for you: Truth still does exist, even if people won’t admit it. Thank God! Be careful though. Anthony the Great was right.

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One Heart and Soul

heart-and-soul

There is a profound statement in Acts 4:32. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…”

It’s not unusual to hear the phrase, “You have my heart.” In other words, I’m fully and completely committed. Come hell or high water, I’m in this for the long haul. It’s not unlike a marriage vow. You have my heart. And the believers were of one heart.

It’s also fairly common to hear the idea of having a “soulmate.” Whether you believe that there is such a thing — one perfect soulmate for someone — is not the point. The point is that the concept of having a soulmate indicates a deep connection, certainly far deeper than you have with most people. So if the believers were of one soul, that’s strong language.

Now, I want to point out that Luke, the guy who wrote this, could have said that the believers “were of one heart” or that they “were of one soul” and that would have been strong. I mean, really, that’s not insignificant, right? But he doubled up the words, signifying that this was seriously serious. It’s stronger than just one or the other. They were one in heart AND soul.

There’s a song from a few years back that was fairly popular. It said, “Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my soul…” That’s a full and total commitment.

And that’s the kind of commitment those early believers had with each other.

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Family Love

love-one-another-4Our youngest grandson was born last year during the spring. For the past nine months, our daughter has struggled with sleepless nights. Not just the normal new-mama sleepless nights, but ongoing, chronic lack of sleep. Her little guy doesn’t seem to like sleep. Daytime, nighttime, it makes no difference. Sleep is a rare occurrence.

Because of her sleep deprivation, our daughter struggles with coping with some seemingly normal situations. (This is not a request for suggestions; believe me, she’s heard them all.) A lack of sleep can impair one’s judgment. It can seriously alter perception.

My wife regularly helps out, taking care of the little guy so his mother can get some sleep. Our daughter-in-law sometimes stops by and takes the little fellow — along with her own three, and number four on the way — so that her sister-in-heart can have some rest time.

It’s what family does. It’s what love does. Love helps. Love cares. Love supports. Love is tangible or it’s not really love.

Have you ever noticed how frequently  the Bible refers to those in the Church as family and says that we’re to love one another?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

What should that look like in the Church?

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Disconnected

disconnectedI recently started reading a book entitled Refrigerator Rights. The basic premise is that in our society we are horrendously disconnected.

The title of the book, Refrigerator Rights, comes from the idea that if you invited someone you don’t know very well over to your house, it would seem weird if that person got up, walked over to your refrigerator and started looking through it. On the other hand, if one of your siblings came to your house, it would likely not seem at all strange if they opened your refrigerator and grabbed a soda. In order to have refrigerator rights, someone must have a close relationship. But that’s rare in our culture.

After tons of serious research and decades of personal experience, the author said, “I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that the core emotional problem of modern life is this: a pervasive personal detachment and aloofness from other people.”

In other words, the core emotional problem is that we are disconnected. That’s quite a statement. And he’s not basing this on Scripture. But I think he’s exactly right, and I’m basing my conclusion, not on tons of research, but on the God’s revealed Word.

Let’s think about this from a different perspective. If we were never hungry, we would likely die. The hunger causes us to go after that which our body needs to stay alive. We can ignore the hunger – act like it’s not real – and we can eventually suppress it enough that we won’t notice it anymore.

In much the same way as hunger pushes us to eat, there is inside us an innate desire/need to be in relationship with others. But, we can – just like it’s possible to ignore the hunger pangs – keep ignoring the impulse for relationship. If we do, we can lose the desire for fellowship with others. If that happens, it does not make the need any less real.

The triune God is the essence of unity. The Lord Almighty has always been in relationship. And if we were created in His image – and we were – then relationship is part of our nature also.

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One in Words

one-in-wordsOne day Philip, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, asked Him to show them the Father, Jesus said, “…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:10) If you really think about it, that’s an amazing statement. Jesus and the Father are so linked together — so unified — that they are “in” each other. There is an intrinsic one-ness that causes them to be part of each other.

And here’s why I think this is so important. It was just a bit later that same evening when Jesus prayed that His followers “may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)

So let me ask you a question or two to make this practical.

  • Do you think Jesus and His Father ever make demeaning comments toward one another?
  • Do you think they ever make insulting or mean, sarcastic remarks to each other?
  • Do you think they ever belittle one another?
  • Argue harshly or cut one another off in midsentence?

Okay those are obvious. But do you think they ever say negative things about each other when the other isn’t around? Alright, they ARE always around. But suppose they weren’t. Suppose that somehow the Father and the Son could be temporarily separated so they weren’t together. They couldn’t hear one another. They didn’t know what the other was saying. Would they, then, make disparaging remarks about the other?

Of course not! The very idea is absurd, isn’t it?

Yet Jesus clearly prayed that we would be one just like He and the Father are one. My goodness! What a request!

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Crime and Punishment

crime-and-punishmentIf you want to know what a particular culture or society thinks about specific crimes, look at the punishment that is meted out for the crime. The more heinous the crime, the stronger the punishment. Throughout history, each culture has decided what they believe to be the most fitting consequences for those who refuse to abide by societal norms.

Similarly, if you want to see what God thinks about certain behaviors, look at what He says should happen to those who violate what He declares about those behaviors.

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…” (Titus 3:10)

If he keeps being divisive — and note that he doesn’t even get three strikes, just two — have nothing more to do with him. Stay away from him. Don’t talk to him. Don’t associate with him.

It should be noted that the letter to Titus is one of the leadership epistles or pastoral epistles. Paul was writing to a fellow church leader. These words were directed toward someone who helped to oversee a congregation.

In that context, these words are even more poignant. Not only should Titus avoid a divisive person, but the implication is that he should also warn others in the flock to do the same. He should advise his congregation that they should keep away from this person.

And Paul even goes on to explain a bit of the why question, helping to give Titus — and us — a more complete understanding. Why do we avoid such a person? Because we know that he is “warped and sinful; he is self- condemned. (Titus 3:11)

Warped. Sinful. Self-condemned. Those are strong words, aren’t they? Paul apparently has no desire to be politically correct on this issue. He’s not lowering the standard to try to keep people from being offended. No, he’s being straight-forward and clear, making sure that the severity of this issue is understood. If you are being divisive, you’re warped, you’re sinful, and you’re self-condemned.

Being divisive is a serious issue with God.

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