An Identity More Secure than Our Greatest Successes

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend. The subject line read: “I love you, but . . .”

So, I quickly deleted it. Just kidding.

It was a criticism of a suggestion that I had made to a common acquaintance of ours.

I called my friend and said, “Don’t worry about it. My identity is not wrapped up in whether my opinions or suggestions are right or not. And if it is, it shouldn’t be.”

In spite of what I said, I know that I do often wrap up my identity in being right about even the most trivial things. I shouldn’t, but I do.

I fear that if I’m not right or don’t have a good suggestion, then I won’t be valuable.

The fact is that I need to see myself this way: I am a man who makes mistakes. That’s just part of the package that is me.

Not only do I try to imagine I don’t make mistakes, but I also try to build my identity on my successes: how well I did, how many friends I have, what people think of me, what I have achieved.

The trouble with our successes is that they are always open to questions like these: How much money do I have to make to be valuable? How big does my church have to be? How successful do my children have to be? How many home runs do I have to hit? How many degrees should I have? What if people don’t like me? Am I still valuable?

We need a better foundation for our identity than our successes. The Bible reveals that better foundation. Our identity should be built not on what we do or what we say but on what God thinks of us. Continue reading “An Identity More Secure than Our Greatest Successes”

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”

How Not to Bore People to Death with a Meeting

We’ve all been to meetings in which we were bored to death. Meetings can also be frustrating and seem like a total waste of time.

At my church, I have a friend named Art Stump. He is on our Church Admin team, plays keyboard in our band, and is a regional manager for Kitchen Collection.

He has a knack for making meetings interesting, profitable, and fun. So, I asked him, what are the most important things you’ve learned about leading a meeting?

He answered by giving 5 suggestions. They are worth thinking about and implementing.

Here’s what he wrote.

Art Stump: In thinking about leading meetings I tried not to necessarily consider “textbook” types of things. Instead I wanted to focus on things I believe I learned through the process of both leading meetings and, probably more so, sitting through meetings. I’m not saying I discovered any of this on my own, nor that I haven’t read and studied meetings, just that I thought mostly about what I’ve experienced myself.

So, here’s my list of 5 things I’ve learned about leading meetings. (This isn’t a Top 5 so there’s not a particular order to them):

  1. Attitude. Agenda. Action. I lumped these all together. The leader has to be positive, enthusiastic, and upbeat about the meeting. A well-planned meeting will always be more successful. Follow up is important to demonstrate to the participants that their time is important, productive, and meaningful.
  2. Don’t confuse straying with spontaneity. You want to allow space for discussion, letting the meeting progress, but you also need to stay on course. An issue or topic might be extremely important but that doesn’t mean it should be a part of that particular meeting.
  3. Continue reading “How Not to Bore People to Death with a Meeting”

Prayer in Preparation for Communion

By Jean Claude (1619–1687), from Self-Examination in Preparation for Receiving the Lord’s Supper

My God, my Savior, and my Father, I prostrate myself at the foot of your throne, to adore your majesty, and to acknowledge your righteousness. I am in your presence but dust and ashes, a worm of the earth, and most unworthy of your turning of your eyes towards me, or employing the cares of your Providence towards my good. For what is mortal man that you should regard him, or the son of man that you should visit him?
Continue reading “Prayer in Preparation for Communion”

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 Best Part About Boonville

By Brian Carpenter

In the summer of 1994 General Mills moved my wife and I to southwest Indiana. She was in sales, and I was trying to go to seminary. As we looked for a place to live, we decided to purchase a small home in a small town outside of Evansville. The town was called Boonville.

Boonville had several advantages. It was 20 miles closer to Louisville than Evansville was, and I was commuting to Louisville four days a week for classes. It turned a two and a half hour drive into a two hour drive. It was also cheaper. We bought a 2 bedroom, one bath house for something less than $40,000 if memory serves. Continue reading “The Best Part About Boonville”