‘Ethos’ And Why It’s Still Essential to Communication

In ancient times, Aristotle taught pathos, ethos, and logos as essential components in persuasive communication.  Pathos describes a person’s ability to move the emotions of their listener.  It usually requires authentic emotion on the part of the communicator.  Ethos describes the communicator’s credibility.  Does their life match their message?  Logos refers to the content, or the words used.  All three are important, but we need to look closely at ethos.

In an age of drop down screens and on-line videos, ethos has become the less emphasized of Aristotle’s three.  When we watch a video, we don’t have physical access to the communicator.  When a screen drops in to our satellite location, the speaker does not know if we smile, frown, laugh or jeer.  The speaker will certainly not be shaking our hand, asking us how our week was, or inviting us back for tea and cake.  We often naively accept the on-line, or on-stage, persona to be in harmony with the complete person.  In contrast, the increasingly popular alternative to accepting the on-stage persona is to become cynical and dismiss media as plastic, prefabricated, and false.

Image result for big brother on a screen

Big Brother communicating from a big screen in ‘1984.’  Why did movie-makers use Big Brother on a screen? 

The importance of personal access in personal communication needs reexamining in the public sphere.  The great stories of great teachers involve them doing life with those whom they teach.  Not only did they invite unsuspecting individuals on an adventure, they traveled with them on a great portion of it.  In this way any future communication had the background of a life lived in accordance with the teaching.  The teacher was credible.  Teachers on screens and teachers on the internet who want us to live life like them are not as credible as teachers who have us in their homes.

This is one way college, church, or work-training can be such a varied experience for people hearing the same information.  Some colleges have professors who focus on research, publishing, and media rather than on the students.  They do not eat with students, and they certainly would not have them around to their house.  Some pastors increase their influence by broadcasting to multiple campuses, publishing books, and preaching on radio and T.V.  However, the current scandals negating the credibility of these influential pastors undercuts the ethos of all Christian teaching.  The work-training by the ‘expert’ who has not been on the shop-floor, got their hands dirty, or conversed with entry-level workers is easily forgotten.  In personal, religious, and professional circles a new credibility needs to be established.  We see it happening through social media with the rise in popularity of unpolished, unedited videos and posts.  The public is looking for authenticity.  Of course, this is a two-edged sword.  Some people show increased virtue when they are unpolished and unedited – others look ugly and twisted.

Who are we trying to influence and what access do they have to us?  How does our life enhance or negate our message?  How can we communicate our strengths and weaknesses so people appreciate our humanity?  How can we bring ethos back on line with our pathos and logos?

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I wrote this entry after reading 1 Thessalonians.  Paul went to great lengths to establish the character of himself, Silas and Timothy when writing the letter.  If you scan the list below you will see the following character traits Paul claims for his co-workers and himself.   The Thessalonians had personal access to him when he was in town, so they could verify whether the claims of Paul were true.

  1. Paul, Silas and Timothy endured suffering.
  2. They communicated the gospel in the face of opposition.
  3. They did not use flattery.
  4. They did not cover greed with a mask (not hypocritical).
  5. They were not looking for praise.
  6. They were gentle among the Thessalonians.
  7. They shared their lives with the Thessalonians.
  8. They worked hard, so as not to be a financial burden.
  9. They encouraged, comforted and urged the Thessalonians onward.

Having access to real-life evidence of these claims, the credibility of Paul’s message is enhanced.  The Thessalonians are more pliable because of their shared life with Paul.  This is a problem Willow Creek and other megachurches face as I write this.  Behind the scenes the leadership has been in shambles.  Bill Hybels reputation as senior pastor has crumbled.  The credibility of one of the biggest churches in the world is undermined.  In micro-churches a pastor can not hide – ministers more often do life together.  Of course, it is harder to develop a superstar charisma when people have access to us, but the opportunity is there for ethos to enhance the message.  The mega-church tries to deal with the problem in many ways – pastors make visits to campuses when they are not preaching, small groups compensate for the impersonal way Sunday services proceed.  However, as Bonhoeffer stated very clearly, the Christian life is ‘Life Together.’ Jesus came incarnate (in the flesh).  He took twelve people and let them walk with him for three years 24/7.  His disciples adopted similar models.  Why don’t we?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.  We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God,of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

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6 Characteristics of the Thessalonian Church We Should Look for Today

I have been reading Michael W. Holmes on Thessalonians and have been enjoying it.  He lists six characteristics of the Thessalonian church we should look for today.

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  1. It was a community rooted in God’s grace, love, and election.
  2. It was a community committed to Jesus Christ.
  3. It was a community empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  4. It was a community that bore witness to the gospel.
  5. It was a community characterized by faith, love, and hope.
  6. It was a community clearly differentiated from other religions.

These are good markers to have in mind when evaluating the health of a church.  I do not advocate church hopping – church shopping.  I do not advocate thinking of membership to a church like membership to a buyers’ club.  We do not take our dollars elsewhere if the church does not meet our exacting standards.  That kind of mindset leads to people being permanently unsettled and churches being under supported.

If our church is lacking health in one of these areas, I advocate as a member our church is healthy in some of these areas, we should give thanks.  We should praise God and broadcast to others when our churches are healthy.  If our church lacks health in one of these areas, we should develop a strategy.  We should take on the challenge of moving in the Holy Spirit’s power to upgrade the Lord’s house.

Say, for example, you think your church sacrifices love for truth in the current culture wars.  The preaching denigrates the opposition in the battle for public policy on issues of social justice, abortion, the environment, the economy, or sexuality.  It is not time to leave, but time to talk quietly with those who preach without love.  It is not time to attack them, but it is time to reason from scripture about speech seasoned with salt and full of grace.  All the churches I know can improve a little bit, so let’s get discussions going about how we can work together for change.

***

The post above is written after reflection on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

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A Word of Caution about Singular Leadership

J. P. Moreland in his book Love Your God with All Your Mind makes a case against the North American Senior Pastor model of leadership.  He argues that it is more in line with the corporate model of a CEO and a board of directors than it is with models of leadership found in the Bible.  Of course, the Bible does have great men of singular vision and singular leadership like Moses, King David, and especially Jesus.  However, does this mean it is how our churches should be run?

There are certainly great figures who stand out in the New Testament apart from Jesus.  Peter, Paul, Jesus’ brother James, Titus and Timothy were all church leaders in some sense.  Peter, Catholics claim, was the rock upon which Jesus built the church.  He was the first Pope and subsequent popes lead because of apostolic succession originating with him.  Paul wrote authoritative letters directing churches how to act.  James was head of the church in Jerusalem.  He seems to have presided over important decision-making moments in the early church.  Titus was the overseer of the churches in Crete.  Timothy oversaw the church in Ephesus.  So, surely we should have singular leaders just like them at the top of a pyramidal structure of hierarchy.

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In the biblical accounts, though, it gets a bit messy.  Peter was appointed, some say, as the head of the church, but the Bible gives account of how he was held in check by Paul (gal 2:11-13).  Paul and Barnabas parted ways over John Mark.  Neither of them seemed to have the definitive authority to dictate what course of action had to be taken (Acts 15:36-41).   James organised meetings and managed decision making, but councils were held in Jerusalem to make decisions for the church (Acts 6).  In other words, James did not make the policies of the early church by himself.  Neither were the early apostles merely consulted on their opinions.  The early church in Jerusalem made hard decisions through the hard debate of equals (Acts 15).  Titus helped to organise the churches of Crete, but it was a purely temporary role.  He was called by Paul to Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).  He then went on to Dalmatia.  Timothy, similarly, was sent to a church for a task rather than a position (I & II Timothy).  With Timothy in particular, it is clear that he advised a group of elders who really had the running of the church.

Within the teams of the New Testament, there are visionaries, prophets and teachers.  They hold great influence, but they are not the heads of organisations in the same way we tend to establish head positions.  The success of the early church was that the vision for the church was embodied in the DNA of the membership – the laity.  People could run church without a bishop, vicar, senior pastor, or an apostle present.  This is why it could survive the martyrdom of its great ‘leaders.’  The missionary work they did was so effective it made them non-essential.  They motivated and equipped the early church so thoroughly that it hardly missed a beat when the leaders were removed or traveled elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said of the church today.  Church membership rises and falls based on the charisma of the senior pastor.  The most successful senior pastors become celebrities.  The senior pastor is often a professional minister who is expected to maintain a spirituality superior to the membership.  He or she is often judged by his or her capacity to preach, maintain the church, feed the homeless, and visit the sick.  The church may assist the minister in his or her many tasks, but the early church had the responsibility the other way around.  The apostles primarily existed to mobilize and equip the church for its own ministry.

The local churches of the New Testament did have leadership, but the evidence we have is more in line with a plurality of leaders consisting of overseers, deacons, ministers, pastors, or elders.  Some of these terms are used interchangeably, but two tiers existed.  The deacons (and probably deaconesses (Romans 16)) took care of the administrative tasks and the custodial work.  The elders preached and taught the apostles’ teachings when the apostles were absent..  The church made more decisions as a body than many churches do today.  They sought God’s guidance on issues and looked for agreement.  They believed the Holy Spirit would lead into unity and truth.  A person could prophesy about God’s will for the people, but someone with the gift of discernment would verify whether the word was truly from God.  There were multiple layers of accountability.  There  were checks and balances.

The body of Christ is comprised of many interdependent people who use gifts to support each other.  In the early church each member would prepare themselves for the worship services.  When they met together daily, one would bring a song, another a word of prophecy, another a hymn.  Something was expected of everyone.  People did not come as passive consumers of a weekly service but active contributors of an interconnected way of life.  In this way the Holy Spirit coordinated mutual service.  In the New Testament, the singular head of the body is not identified as a particular apostle, elder or deacon – the singular head is Christ.

In summary, as people sought God through prayer and worship, an interconnected, shared leadership emerged.  Those who were more mature in the faith had responsibility to guide and develop those who were less spiritual.  Jesus’ hand-picked Apostles had an initial role, never to be repeated.  Later generations of disciples and apostles lacked a singular head who could easily be decapitated and cause a church to end.

This model of leadership is being rediscovered in the corporate world.  Collective Genius, Team of Teams, and The Starfish and the Spider all advocate more nimble and agile leaderless organisations.  They seem to have found the structure that the church might have lost.

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***

1 Thessalonians is a joint letter from Paul, Silas and Timothy.  In response to the first verse, Michael W. Holmes writes:

Team Leadership. If the Pauline pattern of team leadership is indeed worth repeating today (even though it may not be normative), how might one go about applying it?  For one perspective, the matter of team leadership can be seen as a matter of church structure.  This is probably not a fruitful line of approach, however, because most of is already have substantial commitments, both as individuals and as denominations, to one or another of the different forms of church structure that have developed over the centuries for a variety of reasons (historical, theological, sociological).  Moreover, even if we were somehow to slip free from these commitments and agree to start from scratch, there is in the New Testament no definitive model for church structure to guide us.  There may be a principle that should guide our thinking about church structure (specifically, the structure should serve the needs of the congregation, not the reverse), but there is no definitive model as such.  So approaching this matter as a question of church structure is not the most practical way to proceed.

Instead, we might begin by thinking about the Pauline model in terms of how it contrasts with a common feature of many churches today regardless of their particular structure.  Whatever their formal structure (congregational, presbyterian, episcopal, or monepiscopal), many individual churches are hierarchically structured in a way that typically concentrates power and authority in the hands of one person.  In this respect, they are more like a pyramid-shaped, hierarchically organized corporate structure or military command model than the models of the New Testament, whose dominant images with respect to leadership are those of the family or servanthood.  Consider, for example, the many churches today in which the senior pastor functions  essentially as a CEO, with staff and church board subservient to him, or how often (and how quickly!) the latest fads in business organization filter their way down into the church, or the extent to which the jargon of business infiltrates our thinking (e.g. , a “business manager” of a church who boasted of turning his day care ministry into a “profit center”).

There are not insubstantial dangers associated with this pattern of leadership.  As Gordon Fee observes, “leadership, especially of the more visible kind, can be heady business … The great problem with single leadership is its threefold tendency to pride of place, love of authority, and lack of accountability.”  The last point, accountability, is particularly critical in view of significant temptation and moral failure (sexual or financial, in particular), temptation to which a distressing number of pastors and Christian leaders have succumbed in recent years.

Team leadership, which can be instituted informally within the constraints of any number of different formal structures, offers  important advantages in this respect.  Accountability to other members of a leadership team works to reduce the chances of a leader falling into sin.  Moreover, even in instances where there is significant moral failure of a leader, the presence of a team rather than a single individual leadership reduces the odds that the failure will devastate the congregation.  

The advantages of team leadership, however, are not merely practical.  Team leadership reminds us that in the New Testament the critical matter is not office or formal structure but giftedness.  In this respect it better models the New Testament idea of what church is.  As Klyne Snodgrass observes, “the body of Christ does not have two classes of members – clergy and laity- or two sets of expectations.  Everyone has the same task of building up the body, even though responsibilities vary.”  Team leadership is one concrete way of modeling this point for the rest of the congregation.  (NIV Application Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians p. 42-43)

The verse Holmes is commentating on is:

1 Thessalonians 1:1

Paul, Silas and Timothy,  To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace and peace to you.

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Defining Socialization and How It Effects All of Us.

Image result for socializationHow did you become who you are?  Why do you make the choices you make?  Why do you do what you do?  In large part, we answer these questions using the term ‘socialization.’  Socialization is the conditioning of people by institutions.  We live in groups and the groups develop society.  The groups develop their own rules about the right and the wrong way to do things.  What is an acceptable way to consume food?  Do we eat dogs and octopodes?  Is the plural of octopus octopi, octopuses, or octopodes?  Also, without moral overtones, the group in which we are raised has behaviors it passes on to the next generation.  We might pledge allegiance to the flag.  We might stand up when a lady comes to the table.  We might use water as an alternative to toilet paper.

The first social unit to socialize us is our family.  For my family, we celebrate Chinese New Year and the Calendar New Year.  We have popcorn with movies in the basement.  We use the word ‘stinks’ instead of ‘sucks’ to describe a bad situation.  In my family of origin, anger was in the background of everyday life.  I learned to deal with anger by keeping my head down and trying to appease the most angry person in the room.  In our house now, busyness is a virtue.  If a person sits and relaxes, he or she is wasting time which could be spent productively.

The second unit to socialize an individual is often schooling.  Many a Kindergartner comes home from school and defends their teacher to their parents.  Mommy holds her pencil wrongly or writes her letters wrongly because it is not the way the teacher does it.  As a teacher, I introduced Roberts Rules of Order as a way of discussing contentious issues.  A parent later told me the students were using Roberts Rules of Order on play-dates to resolve issues.  It is fun when the processes and values of school support and enhance the perspective of the family, but what if they stand in opposition?

Alongside the socialization of the family and the school comes the socializing institution of media.  By media we mean print, audio, and visual media.  As each generation has been socialized over the last hundred years, saturation in media has risen exponentially.  In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century literacy began to rise and more people had access to books.  As public schooling made literacy a priority for more people, newspapers and books became more important in the socialization process.  Speeches have always shaped people at key times in history and songs have been passed on around the piano in the home or tavern.  Being able to record speeches and songs made the ideas embedded in them available to everyone.  Songs are particularly powerful as a shaper of people because people do not necessarily the song’s distinct stance on values and truth.

Movies are modern ways to tell stories.  Myth and story have shaped cultures for years.  We see that clearly in Greek Mythology or Norse Mythology.  We look into the past and see how culture shaped the stories and the stories shaped the culture.  We are not always aware, though, of the same processes at work today.  Modern parents do not really assess whether a story is told from a secular perspective.  They just marvel when their ‘Christian’ child becomes a secularist.

Another socializing institution is peer groups.  The mob mentality is real.  Fashions sweep through schools leading to bulk purchases of fidget spinners, slime, or Taylor Swift music.  Some things become in and others are condemned as out.  Some people are popular and others are bullied.  Some language helps a student fit in.  Other language gets a youth group member shut out.  There are key influencers in the group, but the power of the herd is real.  We are carried along by the majority, even when it means falling off a cliff.

Socialization is a name given to a powerful process observed every day in society.  For genuine conversion to a different culture or belief system to take place a rewiring needs to occur.  How would you go about rewiring a generation?  Is it ever desirable?  Are the majority culture’s behaviors and values already in line with your own?

***

These thoughts result from reading a commentary on 1 Thessalonians which claimed the book was a resocialization manual for the church in Thessaloniki.

 

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Distinctly Christian Living

Image result for christian livingChristians should stand out because of their values and actions, but they do not.  Os Guinness has pointed out that the ‘progressive’ wings of the church often adopt the values of the majority culture.   He says you can predict what actions and values the church will adopt in five years by watching what the surrounding culture values today.

So, what should we be pursuing?  What should we be looking for?

  • Sacrificing idols

What is an idol?  Anything that sets itself up in opposition to God, or in dominance over God.  Christians are firstly people whose lives are founded on and centered around their relationship with God through Christ.

  • Loving community

Christians do not look only to their own growth and development, but also to the growth and development of others.  They consider others more highly than themselves.  This involves putting aside the many distractions of twenty-first century living and being focused on others for their good.

  • Sexually pure

Sex was created by God for enjoyment within a faithful marriage.  With contraception and sexual ‘freedom’ people have less frequent and less satisfying sex.  Married couples have a foundation of mutual consent and constant access.  It is no wonder married couples have more sex in the long run.  There are times when couples get into a rut or become too busy or distant.  However, healthy marriages have regular sex.

The downgrading of sex to a commodity for purchase has led to an explosion in the sex trade.  The evils of sex-trafficking and pornography have mushroomed in recent years.  Multiple meaningless partners seems attractive in our lusting culture, but the reality of meaningless hook-ups does not fit the billing.  Christians have good news for the culture, sex is best within the security of a life-long commitment.

  • Obeying authority

Good leaders are first of all good followers.  They command respect because they are respectful.  Obeying a chain of command promotes law and order.  A promotion of law and order brings peace.

A misguided view of autonomy and freedom is bringing increased anarchy to the United States.  It looks like Rome at the end of the empire.  A fierce individualism and a pride which does not sacrifice self for the greater good will be America’s undoing.

  • Working hard

Grit is shown to be the marker of successful adults.  It is hard to train people in grit, but the Holy Spirit is meant to give Christians uncommon endurance through hard times.  Modern Americans are less resilient and more coddled.

In education, teachers are learning to establish a growth mindset in the disposition of students.  It is a mindset that sets goals and then makes plans to achieve them.  Christians have goals set by God and supernatural empowerment to get the job done.

  • Rejoicing

Joy should mark the Christian life, but Christians are often known as kill-joys.  The result is that many successful youth groups manufacture a hyped, jacked up joy which resembles the emotional high students achieve at a rock concert.  A deeper Christian joy has been sacrificed for a plastic imitation.

True joy comes from a true faith.  True faith is often developed from quiet contemplation of God and a vulnerability in his presence.  There is a joy that is fruit of the Holy Spirit – we need to rediscover it.

  • Praying

People who are aware of their dependence on God increase their communication with God.  People without a thought for God cease to pray.

North Americans lack skill in prayer because they lack mentors.  You can not do what you don’t know to do.  We need more immersive development of prayer.  Skilled prayers need to invite others to pray.

  • Giving thanks

People who see their limitations and their dependence on others are thankful.  People who are isolated and self-sufficient lack gratitude.  Gratitude is less than it can be because people do not reach out, they do not accept help, and they do not operate outside their own capacities.

We are created to be in a team with others.  We are created to depend on others’ giftedness and production.  Our teams are created to be dependent on God.  When he achieves his ends through our limited resources, we thank him.

  • On fire

When God works his will through inadequate humans they get fired up.  The Holy Spirit is a fire who burns in the heart of an active believer.  Set the bar low and we quench the fire.  Cut down others in an atmosphere of pessimism and we pour cold water on the community.

Like coals igniting each other in the hearth, church should be a place glowing with warmth and welcome.

  • At peace

God is in control.  He is on the throne.  The world has been sustained for millennia without our help.  A posture of surrender at the foot of God’s throne is a posture of peace.  We were created to be free from anxiety – free from worry.

A church should be a place where the heavy laden come to rest.

***

The previous thoughts are reflections on 1 Thessalonians

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How the Gospel Became Diminished

In the Middle Ages, the gospel became overshadowed by rote following of traditions and rules.  It has been argued by many that the church often degenerates into a tool for control.  So, the result of ‘the gospel’ is conformity to an external code of self-righteousness.  People desperately hope that their good behaviors will satisfy the standards of the church, and so eventually they will get to heaven and avoid hell.

The Reformation occurred when these layers of tradition were stripped away and scholars like Erasmus, Zwingli, Calvin and Luther read the Bible with fresh eyes and called people out of a system of hypocrisy and corruption.  They emphasized that we are saved by grace through faith.  No person has to perform for God in order to be saved because no works can justify a person before God as judge.  God judges all people and finds them guilty, but he provides forgiveness for sin through the death of Jesus Christ.   All people, regardless of past conduct, can gain access to heaven.

Image result for christians behaving badlyThe unintended consequences of Reformed belief are very sad.  The code of conduct advocated in the Bible has been lost to many believers.  Because we are not saved as a result of our works, good works are not part of the gospel in the way we tell it.  In the Bible, though, Paul and other authors emphasize a new way of life which emerges for the Christian.  The ‘work of faith’ and the ‘labor of love’ sets Christians apart from surrounding people.  Jesus insisted that people would see his followers’ good works and praise his Father in heaven.  Quite frankly, that is not happening in the West these days.

The gospel should lay out the best life – what some people call the ‘good life’ – and it should call people to live it.  The best life is one lived with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It can not be entered into by merit, but only by the grace of God.   The emphasis in the gospel of the last century has been to do with punishment.  It has also been very much centered on individuals rather than God.  It focuses on the sin problem that people live with.  Our sin stops us from going to heaven and getting our great reward.  In fact our sin sends us to hell and the images of hell are horrific.  Everyone wants to go to heaven and no-one wants to go to hell.  Removing the barrier of our sin gets us to heaven.  End of story.  So, converts say sorry for their sin, ask God to take it away and wait to die so they can sip lemonade next to the pool in the eternal vacation in the sky.

The problem is that the New Testament gospel does not read like this.  Jesus’ gospel calls for repentance.  It calls for a new way of life.  He builds upon John the Baptist’s call for repentance.  The new life of the gospel is centered on new relationships where people love God with all they have.  In short, the gospel is a call to worship.  Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount the kind of conduct that must be eliminated and the kind of conduct that must begin.  He calls people to a life free from anxiety and full of faith.  The good news of the gospel is that this faithful, loving, and peaceful new life will never end.  It is given by God and it is maintained by him.

So conduct is part of the gospel.  People are released from the captivity of sin and self-centered living into a new life focused on God and serving others.  Paul recounts to his converts how his gospel taught others to walk worthy and to please God.

We need to show that God’s way of life is good and true.  Then we need to call people into that new life – a life where sin is forgiven and a new perspective is created.

***

Written after reflection on 1 Thessalonians.

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8 Lessons from Philemon

Philemon received a letter from the Apostle Paul asking him for a favor.  That favor may have been to release his slave, Onesimus, or perhaps at least to send him to Paul as a companion.  We don’t learn much about slavery from the book, even though we’d like to.  But we do learn at least eight other things.

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  • Churches in the first century were small

The early church grew from small bands of committed people working hard together.

The idea you need a megachurch to thrive is a very new concept rooted production-consumption expectations of goods and services.   The micro-church is also thriving today and always has.  It’s a church where everybody knows your name.  Unfortunately you can’t hide.  It requires commitment.  With so few people, you are probably going to be asked to do something.

  • Love and Faith result in thanksgiving

When evaluating a person or a group of people, their take-home-pay, their many qualifications, and their busy schedule don’t count for much.  The measure of a person is how committed their heart is to God and their neighbour.  Their faithfulness to their beliefs and to their relationships shows how good a person is – not what car they drive.

If we have friends and family who love well and are full of faith, it would be good to thank God for bringing them into our lives.  An encouraging card in the mail wouldn’t go amiss either.

  • Growth means more knowledge

If we want to grow, increase what we know.  A rebellion against stuffy know-it-alls reading the Bible has led to mindless know-nothings filling the pews.  Stupidity is not a virtue.  C.S. Lewis once said, “God wants a child’s heart, but he wants an adult’s mind.”

We spend time investing in education for our careers, but we don’t invest as much rigour into the education of our spirits.  It might be good to spend a year or two studying at somewhere like Moody Bible Institute to gain a grounding in the Bible.  How valuable is education in the Bible, in the Spirit, to us?  Does our Bible education dig as deep as our professional education?

  • Appeals are better made in love rather than authority

Pulling rank emphasizes a power differential.  People don’t really like to be reminded of being lower in a hierarchy.  It leads to resentment.  The better way is to show a subordinate how we care for them and the organization we both serve.  We can show them how they will benefit from the proposed action and how others will flourish.

  • God can allow negative circumstances for good ends

Negative circumstances, even things that are clearly evil, can be reframed as forming events.  God can allow a series of events to transpire that don’t make sense at the time.  In retrospect all the events fit together like a jigsaw to create a complete picture.

I have had athletes who suffer injuries tell me that without their injury their lives would be consumed with sports.  Although the sports injury is not a good thing, the resulting redirection was worth it in their opinion.

  • Christians’ relationship as brothers and sisters trumps social hierarchy

Churches should be full of bankers, beauty queens and the homeless all equally cared for and living together.  Unfortunately, segregation still occurs on Sunday morning.  Class distinctions in neighborhoods often result in class distinctions between local churches.  Although the issues are complicated, all people are equal at the foot of the cross.  God shows no favoritism and neither should we.

  • Christians can be confident in the character of other Christians

This should be true – unfortunately recent years of scandal among Christian leaders has made us less confident.  Christian leadership is not about power and control, it is about servanthood.  It is not about the exploitation of the weak but their strengthening.  People who are fighting to serve each other should be able to trust one another.

Confidence in the character of Christians should be higher than confidence in the character of the local Mafia.  However, the Mafia have a code they live and die by and Christians have a code they often ignore.  We were saved by God in order to be better people.  Time to embrace change.

  • Churches practiced open hospitality

In England, my friends and relatives might drop in at any time for a cup of tea.  In America a visit has to make it on the sacrosanct schedule – anything else is an intrusion on privacy.  There at least has to be a phone call before ringing on the doorbell, to make sure the visit is convenient.  Preferably visits are arranged weeks in advance to make sure no-one is a loser with an open schedule.

In ancient times, when prior communication was limited, people practiced hospitality more spontaneously.  They lived life in constant expectation of visitors and tried to outdo each other in their welcome.  This is a challenge to our modern disposition.  I would not say it is a biblical imperative but simply a challenge to our individualistic and private mindset.

***

Philemon

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to berestored to you in answer to your prayers.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

 

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What is True Peace?

Peace, to many, is simply the absence of conflict.  When a war ceases, we have peace.  In life, some people are content with life if it is free from a fight.  They think they have peace, but peace should be so much more.

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The word for peace in ancient Hebrew is shalom.  The Arabic word salam also means peace.  Both words have a much broader meaning often hidden by our one word translation.  The peace of old includes true wholeness.  Well-being is part and parcel of true peace.

The first goal of finding peace, then, is to remove the conflict obscuring the path forward.  Once the conflict is resolved, those who seek wholeness need to find deeper harmony and well-being.  The harmony is both external and internal.  External peace works on the environment to conform it with ideals.  All cultures have some form of the good life which informs the ordering of internal life.  If the culture’s ideas are faulty, the internal peace will be more difficult to achieve.  The human being works on both the external world and the internal world to bring harmony.

Although peace, in this sense, informs the ancient religions of Judaism and Islam, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are not known for harmony and well being.  Images of wholeness and completeness are often associated with Confucianism and Zen in the common consciousness.  In fact, some Christians, unaware of their roots dismiss quests for inner peace and harmony in the world as New Age or worse.

Christians would do well to search their scriptures to find ways ancient role-models found harmony with their environment and harmony with each other.  They would do well to see how people like Jesus could sleep in the middle of a storm.  How does someone arrive at this peace and rest?  What is it in our society that leads to frenetic activity and economic production as a path to happiness?  What if we unplugged, sat in a meadow for a while and communed with nature as a gracious gift from God?

***

I wish grace and peace to you.  However, what I mean by that is influenced by what I believe Paul meant by his greetings to Philemon

Philemon 1-7

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

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Is Slavery Supported in the Bible?

The Bible tells stories of many people with slaves.  Wealth was often measured by the amount of slaves a person had.  In twenty-first century consciousness we have a strong image of slavery.  It usually involves the subjugation of the black population by white plantation owners.  People were treated savagely and inhumanely.  Black people were separated from their loved ones.  They were chained and they were slaughtered.  The Bible condemns man’s inhumanity to man.  We are told to love and to be gentle and kind.  Slavery, of the kind we picture, has to be disallowed by God because of its cruelty.

Slavery in the time of the Bible was often milder.  It was not limited to one race.  A much higher percentage of the Roman world were slaves than were slaves in 18th century America.  However, just like American slavery, masters had absolute authority over their slaves.  Slaves were not their own people.  So why doesn’t Paul condemn slavery and pen directives for its abolishment once and for all?  Paul’s aim was not to disrupt the social system of his day.  In his letters Paul declares there is no difference in status before God of the slave and the free.  This was a radical elevation of the slave for the time.  Some slaves, commentators think, were already bringing disorder to their households.  This was bringing the gospel into disrepute.  The gospel, so it seemed to outsiders, caused discord and chaos.  Paul directed people, within the social institutions of the time, to live orderly and harmonious lives.

The fact that Paul didn’t dismantle slavery at the time does not mean Paul supported it.  In his own value system, he just had bigger fish to fry.  That seems easy for a non-slave to say, but the slaves Paul would have seen would have been in milder conditions than the slaves of the American South or modern trafficking.  Paul had a lot to say about bringing heart-reform and only a little to say about social reform.  He had a lot to say about church politics, but like Peter, he had little to say about developing a new system of government.

The abolition of slavery is a derived imperative of the gospel.  It is a necessary application of biblical truth.  For example, in the Old Testament the year of celebration, the Year of Jubilee, saw all slaves released.  The Jewish people remembered their years of slavery in Egypt as years of bitterness.  Their emancipation was celebrated as a great and wonderful thing.  If people have power – or can gain power, to overthrow slavery – they should.  It is an evil.  God did not design the world to have slaves.

In  2017, the United Nations reported that 40 million people were trapped in slavery and 152 million children were subject to child labour.  The cry of our heart should be, “Let my people go!”  We are part of a common humanity and so the plight of people near and far is all of our concern.  Have you looked into what you can do about this?

Note:  Written after reading Philemon in the Bible.

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Three Essential Elements in Persuading Others

With cultural divides growing wider and deeper, it is best to know how to effectively talk through disagreement.  One common strategy is to pretend everyone in the room agrees.  Another strategy is to insist no-one really knows much of anything.  A third popular strategy is to insist everyone is entitled to their own truth.  Life in a 21st century context is exposing the shallowness and danger in these approaches to argument.  We need something else.  We need to disagree with each other and to disagree well.

  • A gracious and respectful tone.

Contempt kills relationships.  Giving an air of superiority turns people off.  It is best to assume the person who disagrees with our perspective has a brain, has used it, and has come to a different conclusion from us.   Asking questions with genuine interest and affirming the other person’s ideas, where possible, help an opponent in a discussion feel more open.  Nothing ends an argument quite like a roll of the eyes, a tutting sound, or an attack on someone’s mother.

Ask a friend whether your tone is harsh when you discuss with others.  Ask them if you sound open and safe.  What is really at stake in the conversation?  Do you really want to win the argument and lose the relationship?

  • Wit, humour, or cleverness

The Harvard Business Review writes, “The workplace needs laughter. According to research from institutions as serious as Wharton, MIT, and London Business School, every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.”

In conversations humour breaks down barriers.  The safest place to start is to make fun of yourself or your own position.  When a positive and playful atmosphere arises, it is easier to be witty and clever about both positions at play.

  • Research

Not knowing what you are talking about is an obvious disadvantage.  It saps confidence and increases anxiety.  Many people supplement their initial knowledge by researching their own point of view more fully.  Some individuals make the effort to research their detractors views equally thoroughly.  Pulling quotations and data in support of other people’s positions can undermine those positions quite quickly.  If you understand the position you disagree with as well as anyone else, it begs the question, “Why don’t you agree?”  It provides a platform without fighting to be heard.  Others become curious and ask you what you know.

There needs to be more conversation

There needs to be more conversation across a variety of issues.  Solid conversations involve both speaking and listening.  Although pundits are speaking as vehemently as they ever have, I am not sure they are listening well.  Perhaps we should listen well to our opponents, articulate to their satisfaction what they are saying, and finally give our own opinions.

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***

the church at Colossae was under great pressure from outsiders.  No-one believed this new religion of Christianity had any real credibility.  Paul gave guidelines about how to have conversations with outsiders to the faith.

Colossians 4:2-18

 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

 

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