Our Inward Sickness

by Brian Carpenter
My sister-in-law got remarried not too long ago. Her new husband seems like a good man, and we have high hopes that their marriage will be a good one. Her first marriage was deeply unhappy and she was grievously sinned against in it. My wife had to shop for a wedding gift, of course. While she was doing that, I noticed that the famous love passage from 1 Corinthians 13 is a prominent theme on many of these gifts. You know the one. It begins “love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast . . .” It ends with the words, “love never fails.”

Now, these are true words, and I believe them with my whole heart. The problem is that they are being subtly applied in a wrong way most of the time, and it has led to an epidemic of heartbreak. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves shows us that the Greeks had four words for love. Storgē, or “affection” is exemplified by the love between a parent and child, though it is much richer than that. Philia, or “friendship” has its own special meaning. Eros is “romantic” love. And there is Agapē, or “spiritual” love. Agapē is the love that God gives to His children and then commands them to give to everyone else. Agapē is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Continue reading “Our Inward Sickness”

How to Have Humility When Both Sides Stop Listening

In a previous post, I claimed that humility is a healing balm for political discord. If we can learn to value others with whom disagree, show them respect, and listen, then we can create a better and more peaceful community without sacrificing any of our convictions.

But what happens when both sides stop listening? What happens when you’ve tried everything and someone will not be at peace with you? What happens when all that’s left is coercion or, in the case of nations, war?

Before I give an answer, let me say this. There are very few who have tried to listen in the way we should. I have found that people regularly think there is no way forward, but there is almost always a failure to listen, to think beyond old ways of doing thing, or to respect the other side.

Have you really given humility an honest try?

But back to the main question, what happens when you have and you still find yourself in entrenched conflict? I think not just of politics. Right now, I’m thinking of a split family where one side does nothing but attack. The result is that their family is like two armed camps. How do you exercise humility in such situations? Continue reading “How to Have Humility When Both Sides Stop Listening”

Humility: A Healing Balm for Political Discord

You don’t have to be an astute observer to recognize the intense political discord in our nation. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are merely dramatic examples of that phenomenon.

Long before Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, however, Americans were becoming less and less capable of even talking with those who disagree with them strongly. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons in their book Good Faith state: “Our research shows that having meaningful conversations is increasingly difficult for many of us. This is true not only on an individual level but also society-wide” (Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016], 17. Check out the book to see their research on this point. For one example, they report that 87% of evangelicals don’t feel comfortable having a religious conversation with a Muslim!).

Social media has only made this worse. In a recent interview, NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggested that with social media present, there is little hope of healing our political discord: “So long as we are all immersed in a constant stream of unbelievable outrages perpetrated by the other side, I don’t see how we can ever trust each other and work together again” (read the whole interview here.)

Strong ideological opinions and religious views always seem to lead to conflict.

This is not surprising. If someone believes that their viewpoint is absolute, then shouldn’t they seek to give it political prominence? Wouldn’t it lead to an attempt to dominate all others in the name of one’s absolute?

Some suggest that we can deal with this is to abandon our strong religious and ideological perspectives. At the least, we should just not talk about them. This is just what many people have chosen to do. As Kinnaman and Lyons explain, “An uncomfortably large segment of Christians would rather agree with people around them than experience even the mildest conflict” (Good Faith, 18).

But there are significant problems with this. First, pride and not the views themselves are the real problem, and pride is just as likely to assert itself in other areas. Rejecting strong ideological and religious views could simply lead people to fight over their own economic interests or preferences without any recourse to values that could connect opposing parties.

Second, it leaves some of what makes us most human out of our political discourse. To be human is to think of bigger things: God, beauty, morality, and a vision for things being better than they are.

Third, how can we ask people to embrace views that are simply contradictory? As John Dickson in his insightful book Humilitas puts it, “Can we seriously ask Buddhists to accept as valid the Hindu doctrine of ‘atman’ or eternal soul when the Buddha himself rejected the idea and taught that there is no soul, and ultimatley, not even a self?” (Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011], 165).

Is there a way that people of strongly divergent views can come together in a democracy in a way that is productive and provides helpful discourse?

Yes, there is. The answer is humility. Humility is a healing balm for our political discord. Continue reading “Humility: A Healing Balm for Political Discord”

Hardly Anybody Does This, But Everyone Should

Most people are concerned about their own interests, and it is hard for any of us to think much beyond them.

I remember one pastor had a plaque on his desk with a saying on it, “People are not against you. They are for themselves.”

As the Apostle Paul thought about the churches he had planted, he lamented, “Everyone looks out for his own interests, and not the interests of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21).

Isn’t this true? How many of us are really able to think beyond our own prosperity and comfort? How many of us can sacrifice for a cause that is truly bigger than ourselves?

As a Pastor, I need to ask this, too. Would I care about the prosperity of the church I serve if I was not its Pastor? How much do I care about church in general? Do I participate in church activities when I’m not being paid?

If we’re honest, as Pastors, a lot of our interest in church is more self-interest than we realize.

Truly, everyone looks out for his own interests and not the interests of Jesus Christ.

Why are we so obsessed with our own interests? Continue reading “Hardly Anybody Does This, But Everyone Should”

Why General Assembly?

This year, I attended our denomination’s General Assembly. I don’t plan to attend every year, but I really enjoyed it this year, more than I thought I would.

It would be easy for someone not familiar (or even those familiar with) General Assembly to wonder why anyone would want to go to General Assembly. Why go to a big church business meeting? Why spend all that money? Why take off of work or spend time away from your family and local church?

For those who watch or sit in General Assembly, you can get even more frustrated. At times, it seems like a total mess. Motions and counter-motions and points of order. “No thanks,” you might be thinking.

(Note: you can watch some of the mess here.)

So, why should a local church support the broader assemblies of the church?

Here are a few reasons.

First, it reminds us that the Church is bigger than our local church. When representatives from all over the nation and world come together, it is a good and helpful reminder that God is doing much, much more than we are aware of.
Continue reading “Why General Assembly?”

How to Live by Grace

In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that he prays to God that their love would increase (v. 9). This means that love is a gift of God’s grace, and we should ask Him to give us that gift. We can’t just manufacture love on our own.

This is further confirmed by what Paul goes on to say in the same passage. The fruit of righteousness “comes through Jesus Christ—to the praise and glory of God” (1:11).

In addition, the Philippians can be assured of the grace of God because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6).

Our virtues are gifts of God’s grace.

This is more controversial than it should be among Christians. One reason for this, I believe, is that people take these truths out of the broader context of Scripture.

So, Christian A will say, “Did you work out your own salvation with fear in trembling, or was it God who was working in you?”

Christian B responds, “I worked. Christianity has not been easy.”

Christian A responds, “No, it was God working in you.” And the conversation spirals down from there. Continue reading “How to Live by Grace”

The Difference Between Secular & Christian Humility

One of the most surprising things about books on business strategy and organization is the emphasis on humility. These books have given me a lot to think about as I consider the application of humility to daily life.

For example, in Marshall Goldsmith’s helpful book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, he explains his work with successful people who could not move up any further because of some significant character flaw. Most of these flaws were rooted in pride.

Goldsmith provides a list of 21 character flaws that he has seen in working with various executives. They include:

  • passing the buck–refusing to take responsibility for what happens under your watch;
  • the desire to add value to every conversation by throwing in your two cents;
  • continually beginning sentences with the words “no,” “but,” and “however” in a way that makes people think, “I’m right, and you’re wrong”;
  • feeling the need to answer every suggestion rather than just saying “thank you.”

There’s a lot of simple, practical wisdom in Goldsmith’s list (see the whole list here, and I would encourage you to read the whole book which you can find here).

I have learned a lot from these books. They have shown me very practical ways to show humility that I would most likely not have learned in other ways.

In light of that, it’s worth considering: what is the difference between secular humility and Christian humility? In saying this, let me be clear that I’m not describing the difference between particular secular individuals and Christian individuals. Rather, what different perspective does Christianity provide on the subject of humility? Continue reading “The Difference Between Secular & Christian Humility”

Why There Is So Much Conflict in the World and What We Can Do About It

What causes so much conflict in the world?

When you think about it, it’s not that hard to figure out. “Where there is strife, there is pride . . .” (Prov. 13:10).

Behind the conflicts we see all around us lie human conceit and selfishness.

Conceit is thinking more highly of ourselves than we should. For example, we believe that we deserve extra attention or resources, that things should never go wrong for us, that we are more competent than we are, or that we are always right.

Selfishness is when we value our own interests at the expense of others. This means that our attention is centered on our own prestige, security, and profit. This sets me up for conflict with another person whenever my desire for prestige, security, or profit collides with his.

The Apostle Paul pinpointed this problem and suggested a solution: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).

If pride is the source of strife, then humility is the way of peace. Continue reading “Why There Is So Much Conflict in the World and What We Can Do About It”

Saying One Thing & Doing Another

Eliza, in the musical My Fair Lady sings:

Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, show me!

Eliza is right. What really matters is not so much what we say but what we do. We can tell our children we love them, but if our work consumes us, the words matter very little.

The Apostle Paul was continually concerned that the churches he loved and served would not only talk about the Gospel but live a life that was appropriate and consistent with the Gospel. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27, cf. Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12, 2 Thess. 1:11). Their walk needed to match their talk.

What would a life worthy of the Gospel look like?

  • They would live in humility, recognizing that they were sinners saved only by the grace of God.
  • They would live in trust, recognizing that the same Father who gave up His only Son would not fail to give them all other things as well.
  • Continue reading “Saying One Thing & Doing Another”

Would You Prefer to Die?

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Rather shocking words. Death, according to the apostle Paul, could actually be a good thing.

Some people feel this way because life is so bad that they want escape from it, but that’s not what Paul was thinking at all.

He was not tired of life, and he had no morbid fascination of death. Instead, his desire for death was based in his firm belief that death would bring him closer to Jesus. He loved Jesus so much that he could say that being closer to Him would be “better by far” (1:23).

Paul’s thinking may seem rather strange to you. Why would anyone think this way?

In order to understand his thinking, let’s ask this question: what makes life worth living at all?

Let me suggest that it is primarily one thing: relationships. Whatever else we may enjoy, without relationships, they are pretty much worthless. We desperately need people.

However, people can never satisfy us. Even at their best, they cannot supply the love we truly need. This points us to a more fulfilling relationship with our Creator.

Jesus Christ is a human being, born 2,000 years ago, but He also claimed to be the eternal God and proved it by His resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus is no mere man, we are not talking merely about devotion to an historical person. We are talking about a human who is also God. This is the basic claim of the Christian religion.

In light of that, here are a few reasons why someone might consider death “gain” to be closer to Jesus.

  • He is our Creator. He made us and wants to have a relationship with us.
  • He is the ruler of the universe. There is no one who can do more for us than Jesus Christ to whom “all authority and power in heaven and earth” have been given.
  • Continue reading “Would You Prefer to Die?”