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Monday, February 26, 2018

Introduce Yourself: Some Thoughts on Friendship

It’s happening all the time: at parties, at gatherings, and at churches.

I sincerely don’t understand. Maybe it’s because I live in another country. Maybe it’s because in this culture, it’s considered very unmannerly to walk into anywhere and not greet people. Maybe it’s because I have antiquated ideas of what’s proper and what isn’t.

What’s the problem?

It’s that people can be in the same room and not mingle with anyone outside of their very tiny circle of friends. People don’t introduce themselves to others around them. They ignore others. They don’t even say “hi.”

In my childhood and all my growing up, and in Spain where I live, that is considered incredibly rude. You always say “hi.” You always greet people. That is just basic.

But now, kids refuse to say “hello” to anyone. Young couples can’t even greet the old people in the room. Families go to a party and don’t mix with the other side of the family. What is going on? Have the rules changed?

I read a short, true post from a person who entered a church. No one said “hi.” No one smiled. No one did anything—besides ignore him.

It happens all the time.

It happened years ago to my husband and me—and we were members of the church. It happened in our home church. Granted, most people don’t know us, since we’ve lived overseas almost all the time and aren’t home that much. So, okay, they don’t know us.

This is what happened: we were assigned to a small group Sunday school class. The first Sunday, we went in, sat down, and not a soul—in a group of maybe ten couples our age—said hello. We went to the church service afterwards and sat with my parents. Some of their friends (elderly people) came over and said hello after the service. That was better.

My husband and I talked privately about what had happened in Sunday school, and we decided that, if anything were going to change, it would change with us. The next Sunday, we walked into the same small class and shook hands and introduced ourselves to everyone in the room, including the teacher. Shock showed on many faces. Were we offending them by saying “hi”? Remember, we were the “visitors.” They didn’t know we were missionaries sent from their church. They didn’t know us from Adam and Eve. But, they found it awkward to meet someone they didn’t know.

Something’s wrong with unfriendliness. The Bible says, A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly (Proverbs 18:24).

Yet, in many Christian circles, we aren’t friendly. We don’t look for the wallflower person. We don’t even look at the person beside us.

People can walk into and out of our churches, and they don’t get so much as a good morning from anyone besides the door greeters. That is a crying shame!

We want to reach others for Christ.

Seriously? Then, at least say “hi.”

Friendship begins with being friendly. Friendship begins with showing someone else he is valued. Friendship is one person reaching out to another.

Is it so hard to say, “Hello, my name is Judy. It’s nice to see you today” or whatever’s appropriate for the occasion? At a party: “Hi, I’m Judy. I am Fred’s sister-in-law.”

If you are the host, at least introduce your guests to one another. Remember the protocol: older to younger. “Grandma, please meet my neighbor, Tessa.” You could also go around the room stating names and relationships. That works, too.

In a very large group, I love it when people wear nametags with first names on them. It is so helpful to be able to place a name with a face—or to refresh your memory when it has been a long time.

It’s not so difficult to be friendly.

All it takes is a Christ-like attitude towards others. Think about Jesus, for a second or two. He left heaven to come—because of incredible love—and live among a bunch of no-good sinners and help, heal, and preach righteousness to them. He let them know He was the promised Messiah, and then He died a sacrificial but completely unjust, horrible death to provide salvation for those same sinners—and for you and me.

Jesus was asked what the top commandment of the law would be. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
  1. Love God with everything you have.
  2. Love others as our selves.

There are a few other verses that come to mind:
  • And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise (Luke 6:31).
  • Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:10, 16).
  • Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).

Esteeming others means acknowledging them. It means—at the very least—caring enough to say “hello.”

It’s a reflection of our relationship with God.

Just introduce yourself. You can make a friend today.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Learning from Psalm 46

Perhaps one of the most familiar beginnings to a Psalm is this one: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. I love this. It uses the words refuge, strength, and help. God is that for us. He is there for us in trouble. He’s present.

It’s interesting to note that the first part of this Psalm is the title: “To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.” It was a special song to be sung by soprano voices (Alamoth).

What comes next? Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. I have some friends who have lived through mudslides and floods. Even in those awful situations, the Lord is there. He alone can keep us from fear. God is our refuge in trouble.

The next verse changes our focus to heaven. I think most of us lose sight of heaven when we’re going through hard times. But, look at this contrast with the last verse about mountains being carried out to sea: There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. This is peaceful, beautiful, and glorious—and God’s presence is there, too. He is just as present in our troubles as He is in Glory. Wow!

Now, the Psalm moves to a historical view of God’s power and His sovereign care. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

An invitation follows: to gaze on our victorious God. Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. He brings peace.

Then, this invitation is even more beautiful: Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The wrap-up? The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Is the Lord of hosts your refuge? Do you know that He is God? Are you pausing for a moment to drink these truths into your soul?

I can only imagine beautiful, young soprano voices proclaiming God’s being there—and everywhere—for us. It must have been amazing.

Notice, Psalm 46 doesn’t say God can be a refuge and strength. It says He is. What a wonderful concept! God is our refuge, strength, and help. May we be ever mindful of Him.

And, may we never lose sight of heaven.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: Riven, by Jerry Jenkins

Jerry Jenkins, author of more than 180 books, says Riven is one of his favorites. On that recommendation, I bought this book. To say it’s not at all what I expected is one of the understatements of the century.

Jerry starts off by telling two stories. One is about a pastor named Thomas, married to Grace (double meaning, there), who takes a new pastorate. It falls through before he even gets started. It’s another personal failure on top of a whole list of failures. Thomas begins to doubt his effectiveness—even though he’s been faithful to his divine calling. An opportunity opens up for him to be a chaplain at a maximum-security prison. He accepts, desiring more than anything to make a difference. The only problem is, the prisoners have to petition to see him—and not many of them are interested. Make that almost none. After witnessing his first execution, Thomas hits a low point. Adding to that, Grace has leukemia.

The parallel story is about a young high schooler named Brady. He’s a mess. Brady’s from a broken home. His mother is a drunk and rarely home. His little brother Petey is his best friend. Even though Brady is a terrible example, he wants to protect his brother. Brady’s attitude basically is, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Brady finds he has a talent for acting. (It probably comes from a lying habit, but he is good. If only his grades would let him act and make it big.) Brady’s life is colorful but not happy, and his habits and desires lead him down a path he would never recommend to his little brother.

In order not to spoil, I can’t reveal more of the plot.

There are multiple layers of meaning in this book. Many pastors and their wives can identify with Thomas. Many church people need to identify with him—and pray for their pastors. Many can also fall in love with Brady. I know I did, and I wanted to believe in him, just like his aunt and uncle and two others. I wanted him to succeed. Perhaps, he did.

There are several clear presentations of the gospel in this book. I loved the different contexts and the emphasis on Jesus and His willingness to forgive anyone. It's powerful.

The last quarter of Riven is about something Brady requests—and is granted. I understand why the author did this. (It’s a shocker.) And, I am glad that I read this book. But, I am not in agreement, and I don’t think a lot of other readers will be, either. It’s about a method of capital punishment. In the book, there’s a reason behind it. But, I believe it sensationalizes someone's death—the killing of this person is televised—and I just can’t approve. The author describes it in graphic detail. I flipped through those pages. Again, I understand Jenkins’ point, and you will, too, if you read the book. This part wasn’t for me, though, and it’s not for the squeamish.

I was also disappointed in the title. It’s one of those one-word titles in vogue today. The problem is that Riven is not represented in the story. It's outside the story.

Riven grabbed me from the beginning. It is well written, though not literary. I loved the characters—all of the main characters. This book made me think and analyze and mull it over in my mind. It is strong, and its impact is amazing. What a concept!

This book is for adults only. I believe some of the thematic elements would be disturbing to young people and to young Christians. There are no curse words (though cursing is mentioned), only passing references to sexual conduct, and it is clean. There are: lying, cheating, stealing, mocking religion and Jesus, the graphic description of a horrible death, and another disturbing death scene.

If you’ve read Riven, I’d love to know what you thought about this book.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Are We Extending Too Much Grace?

I enjoy being on the receiving end of grace.* If someone is nice to me, if they’re willing to overlook one of my many bumblings, if they pray for me, and if they genuinely care … without any personal interest in doing so, then they’ve shown me grace.

I also like to give grace—being kind when the other person really doesn’t deserve it. Acting like a Christian. (I wrote a whole post about the biblical meaning of grace. You can access it here.)

Grace is a lovely thing. It’s a reflection of what Jesus did on the cross for us. He didn’t have to pay for our sin. He loved us, and because of that, He offered Himself. Grace is reflecting Christ. Grace is one of the most Christian things we can do.

But, I wonder if we sometimes extend too much grace. Let me explain what I mean with a few examples.**

Joey grew up in a Christian home and in church. He always had an attitude, and his parents despaired. Why was Joey so against everything they’d brought him up to believe? He was churlish and nasty. Before his eighteenth birthday, he moved out of the house and lived with some other guys. By twenty-one, he was out of work, doing drugs, and living in sin. All this time, his parents kept in contact and showed him love and care. They paid his part of the rent, kept his credit cards paid off, and gave him cash to live on. His parents gave Joey too much grace.

Francesca was in a bad marriage. She knew it before she eloped, but she couldn’t help herself. He was so handsome, and she was overwhelmed with love … or besotted with the idea of having him; she wasn’t sure which. Francesca let him talk her into a hasty, justice of the peace marriage—not the wedding she dreamed of—and he promised her a beautiful life. She knew he was lying, but she loved him. The abuse started on their “honeymoon.” She had no idea anyone could be capable of such cruelty. The words he said, the beatings …. Francesca didn’t tell a soul. She wanted to cover up for him, she wanted to hide her own bad choices. One day, he went too far, and Francesca ended up on the floor, bleeding to death. She gave her husband too much grace.

Mr. Johnson, the bookstore proprietor, often cheated Susie. She was certain of it. Every time she made a purchase, she’d get home, count the change, and come up short. It wasn’t a lot of money—a dollar here, fifty cents there. She figured Mr. Johnson knew how much he could cheat on each order so that it wouldn’t be missed. But, about the fourth time, Susie got wise. Being a Christian, she thought it would be best not to make waves. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to forgive and bear the hurt? She never confronted or reported Mr. Johnson, and Susie was sure he kept on stealing. She gave him too much grace.

Grace can enable, when it should strengthen by withholding.

Grace can suffer abuse, when the abuser should be reported.

Grace can cover theft and other sins, when those sins are crimes.

But, you might be thinking, doesn’t the Bible say:
  • If thy brother trespass against thee, forgive him? Yes. Look at the rest of the passage: Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him (Luke 17:3-4). Notice both rebuke and repentance.
  • Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ? Yes. And, three verses later, it says, For every man shall bear his own burden (Galatians 6:2, 5).

Read these verses that apply to the situations we mentioned earlier:
  • Joey is living for his own pleasures and desires. He has rejected his parents’ teachings, God’s directions and standard of morality. Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:29-30, 32). His parents clearly should not be paying his bills. This enables him to continue in his sinful lifestyle. He doesn’t even have to take responsibility for his personal finances. His parents should, though, remain in contact with him and assure him of their love.
  • Francesca’s husband beat her. He ignored the biblical teaching, Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil (1 Peter 3:7, 11-12). It is against the law for someone to physically and mentally abuse another. Francesca should have gone to the authorities the first time it happened. If it happened again, she should have left the home and reported him the second time. It might have saved her life.
  • Mr. Johnson is a thief. He ignores one of the Ten Commandments, which is repeated several times in the Bible. Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another (Leviticus 19:11). He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor (Proverbs 28:8). Susie should report him to the authorities. He should not be free to cheat people.

Should we extend grace and be kind? Yes, of course.

Should we be wise and discerning? Yes, that too.

Be ye kind and remember that this verse is also in the Bible: When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge (Ephesians 4:32, Proverbs 21:11).

Let’s be discerning and kind. Let’s extend both grace and justice. 

* For the biblical meaning of grace, I wrote a post you can access here.
** These are completely fictitious stories.