Losing Friends

Hongqi Ahan (aka Michael Zhang) - Preschool Friends
© Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) | Dreamstime.com – Preschool friends

When you’re a kid, you never really think much of friends, particularly about them possibly one day not being there as your friend. As a child, “You will be friends forever!” What that means we don’t know, but the emotions that fill that are real and sincere. Then you have a disagreement on the playground, and you hear those oft heard words from the mouth of a child, “I never want to see you again! You’re not my friend anymore.” Usually, this is eventually resolved and friendship is restored.

As we grow older, things change and we have people that walk in and out of our lives. We learn the difference between friends and aquaintences and we may even run into the situations where we find that our friendship is not reciprocated. It is painful. I am sure that many have experienced this. I have had people that told me that they loved me, betray me and my family in ways that I could not imagine. Yet, we go on. It is always hard to lose friends. Whether it be from betrayal or through death. The thing is that it does not diminish the importance of friends and friendship.

Jesus told us the importance of relationship when he told us to “love one another” (John 13:34), he was not meaning for us to do that only because it is easy. He meant us, as his followers, to even love that hard to love person. You know that person. The one that never seems to have anything nice to say, is critical, and may even be rude at times. He, also, wants us to love that drunkard or that addict. Not because they deserve our love, but because he loves them and out of the love that he has for us. That is the tragedy of losing friends. Relationships, as God desires, are not meant to be easily cast aside. Though we may have relationships that don’t remain as close permanently, no relationship with God in the middle is meant to be cast away. The bond that God desires for us to hold with one another is something greater than the worldly understanding of friendship which often is with purpose. In the world, we often become friends because of shared interests. In Christ, our friendships are centered in him and him alone. Interests change, Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

In my faith life, I have many who I have had an immediate bond with and their was a special friendship right from the get go. These bonds were more familial in nature and a

Diego Vito Cervo - Old friends
© Diego Vito Cervo | Dreamstime.com – Old friends, two senior african american men meeting and hugging

special affinity that was there from the moment that we met. This is from the Holy Spirit and as we walk in the faith these relationships will occur. I have also been deeply hurt by those that are said to be followers of Christ. I may have hurt some, also. For that we are called to forgive and ask for forgiveness. It is the trouble of our fallen nature. Ultimately, our Lord desires for us to embrace each other as brothers and sisters and to love one another, just as, I believe Christ loved Judas even as Judas betrayed him and, we know from the Bible, as Jesus loved Peter even as Peter denied him. The love we are to have for one another and what defines our friendship is Christ and Christ alone. May that love carry your relationships into old age.

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Return to Coffee

It happens, things got busy, and I took a break away from writing blogs. Now I am Alone And Communityseeking to return and work on the two blogs that I currently am writing. The one, In Him I Am Made New, will be more on the theological/devotional vain and this one to be more of the musing “coffee talk” about faith and other things. I still love coffee and conversation over coffee is the best. I guess I would make it akin to something Martin Luther said, “When the theological conversation gets too serious it’s time to have a beer.” I would just replace the beer with a nice cup of coffee.

One thing that has been heavy on my mind is the thought of community. In my little part of the world, there is a great amount of the population that is not engaged in a faith community. Along with that, there are a lot of drugs, and for being a small town, there is a significant amount of crime. Personally, I see these things go hand in hand. We have a lot of single parents, mostly mothers. Kids lack stability. It is a perfect brew for trouble. Growing up, I know that I was a kid that needed clear boundaries. These offered me a sense of stability. As a child of divorce who had witnessed a lot of fighting in the home, I was angry. I was also a kid with a temper. This, I believe, was as much biological as well as environmental. So, when I was a kid, I would fight. Another child would push me or say something, and I would react. Then a teacher or an adult would grab me (which was not a good idea), and I would react. The common reactions that many would respond with were the exact reactions that would trigger me to react stronger. I was angry and adrift in my early childhood and didn’t know what to cling to in my life. God was kind and gracious and sent a few people in my life at this time. A daycare provider who, even when I was mean, would not react in kind (I can still see her eyes pleading with me the time I got a hold of her hair), my grandmother, and a first-grade teacher (just to name a few).

For me, I desired, and still do, stability in my connections. Each of the people that impacted my life took the time to know me. They didn’t take my behavior as the only indicator of who I was but saw it as a symptom of the issues and struggles that I faced at the time. This is true with most people. Everyone has a story and whether they know it or not they want to be heard. As Christians, it is our gift to be those ears. Jesus didn’t start a community action group, a food pantry, or a social justice organization. He brought the Gospel to the world. He saw the suffering and as he entered into Jerusalem he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, ESV) My heart has a similar yearning for where God has placed me and for all of us followers of Christ, I believe, he desires the same from each of us.

We all see the signs. You know what I am talking about, the person at a stoplight saying they are hungry and homeless begging for money, “Anything will help.” As a rule, I don’t give money, but what I do from time to time is take a person seeking money for food to lunch. Not all will take me up, but I have had some great conversations with people and listened to their story. There is a cost, it is a lot easier to give the money and be on your way, but in these conversations, I was able to do something that many of those who have fallen into difficulty have often had lost, their humanity. Like I have said and will continue to say, people have a story that they need to hear and in hearing them they can hear the story that gives new life. Jesus modeled this in his time on earth as he ministered. The early Christians knew this, too. The most important thing that we, as Christians, have to offer is the Gospel. It is the most important thing and it is not meant to be used as a condemnation against others, but a tool to set one free. It won’t make things easier, but it is the only thing that matters even more than life itself. This we see witnessed in the modern martyrs of today, but also in the early church when they were used as torches and food for wild animals.

That is one thing I like about coffee. I can enjoy a cup on my own and often do, but the best times I have had have been when I have been in a great conversation over a cup of coffee. These are not conversations about weather or sports, honestly, I am not great at small talk though I will politely listen, I find those types of conversations to be dull. Now start to tell me about your life, you’ll have me hooked. In hearing the story of another, it is fascinating to see how God has been working in a person’s life, whether they are aware or not. If you are in a conversation with me, I believe, God led you there. God also leads people into your life, share yours with them and let them share theirs with you. I guarantee you that you will be more often blessed in that time. So, enjoy a cup and see where God leads you.

A Time for Peace

I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks when I wake up in the morning and hear about violence in the streets. It seems to be all to common, especially with the 24/7 news cycle that pervades our society today. It is a tragedy of the brokenness that we find ourselves within. It is no different than what has happened in the past in the sense that what is going on has truly changed, the only real difference that can be seen is that it is being put in front of us and we are more aware of what is going on in our world.

Keith Bruce - Breaking News Graphic
© Keith Bruce | Dreamstime.com

I could only imagine what it would have looked like if we would have had the news cycle and the media in the centuries past when we have an oppressed people rise up. When we honestly look at this much of what we see is the direct result of oppression, whether perceived or real (that is not a debate I wish to enter into with this because I know that we have a variety of views prevalent in our society and I will say that there is merit on all the views, though, in my opinion, they are all flawed). The formula is odd when we think of things rationally, but an oppressed mind does not think rationally. This is seen within the destruction of property, looting, and the shuttering of businesses and services that are, in the eyes of the oppressed symbols of their oppressor, the means that may be used to help elevate the position of people.

Oppression occurs when one set of people put themselves above another. Historically, we see this happening cyclically and it is always a symbol of our fallen nature. It is also often the goal of the oppressor to destroy a group of people that they see as being less than them. In the Old Testament we see it with the Egyptians versus other cultures in Exodus through Deuteronomy, then in Joshua as they enter the Promised Land and the Canaanites, and other nations in Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, through to the New Testament. Of course, we see this seed placed at the Fall with Cain feeling anger and jealousy of his brother, Abel, and taking his life up through the flood. Even after the flood with the Tower of Babel. The center of sin arises when one finds themselves above another and begin to worship gods of their own creation. God desired to protect his chosen people, the Israel, from being influenced by these gods and desired to destroy those that were idol worshipers from the land that he desired to give to his people, but we see the failure there as these groups are spared yet put under the Israelite people – creating an oppressed group. The Bible is full of this sin of the people and we are created with a sense of value given to us by our creator and it drives us to find death a better alternative to being oppressed. That’s why there are those that will do extreme acts when they feel oppressed.

Jesus entered into this oppressed world with his birth. At his birth we find that he challenges the oppressor and his parents flee to avoid the persecution as the leader, Herod, has all male children two and under in Bethlehem killed. Herod felt his power challenged and did what he saw as right to keep it. Just as the oppressed are not rational, those who hunger for power are equally irrational when they feel their power threatened. We saw this with Pharoah when Moses called for the release of his people and Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who feels the need to appear more powerful than his father, and others throughout history. From the beginning Jesus came with a different message. Throughout the Gospels as he walks with his disciples he teaches a different message. His disciples and those who hear about him think he is going to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her glory they recall under King David. Yet, we know, that Jesus presented something greater, a promise of restoration to having things the way God intended for us from the beginning. The people of history that are arguably the most oppressed are the people of Israel. Prior to the coming of Jesus we can find that they had historically risen up against oppression only to fall back again. The historical books of 1 -4 Maccabees are an account of an uprising against Greek oppression, that is where Hannukah has its roots. Genocide has been attempted against the Jewish people throughout history with the creation of Ghettos, to pogroms throughout Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust (which all of us should be familiar) yet God’s promise has been maintained and their are more people of Jewish heritage today than in any other time in history. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations and the hope is that all of creation, including his chosen people Israel, would be restored. That is the difficulty of Jesus’ words in Luke 12, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51, ESV) These words as well as those that surround them are troubling, especially when put in context of what is said surrounding these words. Family divisions, we know, arise in our world today as well as struggles when we desire to share our faith. Sometimes a hard word is to be spoken, in order for the truth to break through.

Engraver - Jewish holocaust.jpg
© Engraver | Dreamstime.com – Jewish holocaust

The greatest truth is that we are sinners, all of us, in need of a savior. That savior is Jesus Christ who came not only to save, but to redeem, to make things right. In accepting this reality it does require a strong sense of humility and acceptance of the sinful self.

Sin is the ultimate oppressor. It causes division in relationships and within cultures. It causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we should and we forget the neighbor. During the Holocaust it was not a great secret that Jews were being gathered up and being taken to the concentration camps. Those cities in the shadow of these camps were confronted with the smell of bodies being burned which is a smell unlike any other. The reality of what was going on was undeniable, yet many ignored and denied any knowledge. Churches near the tracks where people were being transported in response to the sounds from the rail cars responded by playing the music louder and calling the people to sing louder. It is sometimes easier to feign ignorance than to face the issues that are before us. We can argue the same today. In Christ Jesus, we can find opportunities to speak. The deep question is how do we overcome the irrational violence and be voices of peace? It is hard, but necessary. Unfortunately, more than fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” our nation seems more divided in this racial divide and Sunday mornings are still very segregated. A general distrust continues to pervade those that are darker skinned and those that are lighter skinned, my wording is thoughtful of an excellent program of Ken Ham. As Christians, we can come along science that came out in the beginning of the 21st century which deconstructs this concept of race and shows the history of its creation as well as tying it to our biblical understanding which we find beginning with Babel.

As we begin to see one another as brothers and sisters wonderfully created by God and equal in honor given us as those created in the image of God we will see the spirit of oppression break down. As we trust and follow the words of Jesus Christ we will see a breakdown of these oppressive tendencies that continue to divide. Our faith is not naturally an oppressive faith, though there are those that would argue differently. Our faith has, historically, done more to fight oppression. Yes, we have examples in history where the Christian faith was misused and abused to oppress another culture. This, however, is more of an anomaly and not analogous of the faith as given us through Scripture. There are many, I know, that will take umbrage with this statement and will cite the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the forced conversion of indigenous peoples by the taking of children to private schools, and the oppression of women. Knowing these things, I will still say that they are not the norms. Our faith has a great heritage of giving oppressed people hope and releasing them from oppression as the culture around them became Christian. Women, in many cultures, found greater freedom and respect by their families and the cultures also. Hospitals and medical care were brought to areas that did not have it because of Christians. Christians have taken in those that were rejected by the people of an area and given them dignity and life. Jesus gave us that example in John 4 and John 8, just to name a couple though I can think of more I could write now. When Christianity is practiced as presented in Scripture we can find great opportunities for transformation of culture. Dignity is central to our faith.

In humility, we will find peace through faith in Jesus Christ. When fellow followers of Christ feel oppressed, we all are called to suffer with them and come together in prayer for them. Peace comes when we put ourselves in the life of the other and do not discredit their pain. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, blessed to be a blessing. Our skin color does not speak of our character in Christ, but it is the depth of where our Lord ranks in our living. If those who hate us come after us, we are called not to respond in hate, but in love. We are to pray for those that persecute us. Brothers and sisters in Christ united in prayer is powerful. Let our faith dictate how we look upon the other. For those of darker skin, it is undeniable that they are often viewed and treated differently in communities and for those of us that are lighter skinned should stand against that and speak out about it. They are our brothers and sisters and it is only right that we do so. When we truly center our lives and our faith in Christ Jesus our hearts are called to turn to caring for the other and setting aside our own suffering. We could learn something, too, from what he did as he was beaten and mocked and ultimately nailed to the cross. He did not curse the persecutors, but prayed for them. Sadly, we don’t do that enough either. I pray for those that feel that they are being oppressed and I pray for those that they believe are oppressing them. I pray for a stop of this violence and I pray that more hearts no the love that Jesus Christ has for them. Violence will only breed violence. Hatred only breeds more hatred. Peace comes not from our own will but looking to the Prince of Peace and praying that he first transform my heart and then praying for others to know that transformation too.

I pray for the day that the Breaking News be about a community coming together and how one person saved another from a natural disaster or some other danger. I pray for the Prince of Peace to reside in all hearts and that we, together, as brothers and sisters regardless of the tint of our skin, see each other as God sees us, his most beautiful creation.

 

Do you hear me?

The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

Luke 10:16, ESV

I don’t know about you, but I am saddened when people I love turn away from the faith in Jesus Christ. It hurts me to my core. Sometimes I can take it personally and wonder what I did wrong. Unfortunately, this is a reality that the majority of us face. I am most troubled when I see the pain in the eyes of a parent and grandparent that feel helpless and hopeless when they see their children deny and reject the faith in Jesus Christ and they watch as their grandchildren are being raised outside of the faith of Jesus Christ. The words most commonly heard are, “I don’t know what happened, they were raised in the faith.”

As a pastor, I have often been told by those that walked away that the reason they left is “I was forced to go to church and didn’t like it.” Some say this that later return and raised their children with an understanding of choice. I have read some great statements on this and how silly the logic of that statement truly is when we think about what the role is as parents. I know my parents made me do a lot of things I didn’t want to do. I mean I had to eat regularly, brush my teeth, go to bed, go to school, do my homework, clean my room, etc. The list is long and each person may have different things that were expected of them. As parents we are called to raise up our children in the faith in Jesus Christ. We are reminded in Deuteronomy of this:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV

This was written as the people of Israel were preparing to enter into the promised land (it is important to note that God was a visible presence then – a pillar of smoke (or cloud) by day and a pillar of fire by night – one would only have to step out of their tent and look to the tabernacle to see God’s presence. Since it was important to remind parents to do this then, imagine how much of a greater importance it was to do this when he wasn’t as easy to point to with the children. Even with that we also know that the  Israelite’s were rebellious in the wilderness and that rebellion didn’t stop their.

Our hearts are rebellious when left to our own thinking, that is where the Word of God and our continual reading and study of it alongside our prayers and our worship. In doing so our lives are reshaped and directed in the way that God desires. The word of God certainly does not fall flat and through our study and prayer the Holy Spirit will work. Unfortunately, not all hearts will move to follow Christ Jesus. There will be some that will be repulsed by the Holy Spirit and driven to their own sinful desires. That, however, does not mean that we stop praying for them or reaching out to them.

lightstock_63393_max_revcbyars.jpg

Having personally walked away, I have some experience in knowing the pain that drove me away, but also know the power of prayer as I know that many people prayed for me. The greatest witness of the faithful that I received was from those that never pressured me to believe but were faithful and open in their daily witness and interactions. I had people that came with a salvation message and pressured me to “pray the prayer” and believe in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t very effective for me and, even worse, made me more resistant to the Gospel. With this understanding, my heart softened for those that are hurting because a loved one has walked away as well as for those that have walked away because of hurt and/or disenchantment with the Christian faith.

So, what can we do? First, let us listen. Let us listen to God’s Word and his call for us in our witness. Listen to those that have been hurt and hear the issues that they have had in the faith. Second, let us pray. Let us pray for those whom we love that have fallen away. Let us pray for those around us that may never have known the faith and love or our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that God give us the words to speak into peoples lives and, also, give us the ability to be silent when should say nothing at all. Third, let us live our lives as a witness to our faith not only in what we do well, but also in where we err. Let us honestly live out our Christian faith in such a way that it may have a transformative influence in the lives of those that we encounter, especially in how we are when we err. Let our lives be real and not just a mask of how we think we should appear. Often, as Christians, we try to hide our errors and shortcomings, we don’t show our struggles, and our lives may seem to be unattainable for those struggling (which if all they see is the ideal it truly is unattainable). It is good to remember that their was only one person who walked the earth that lived a perfect life and they crucified him. We, as Christians, are not perfect and that is why we need a Savior.

For this reason, I began Christ Over Coffee to offer a safe place for conversation for believer and unbeliever alike. We can also talk about different traditions and beliefs. Being Lutheran in my Christian faith offers a different perspective which may or may not be known by others. Questions are a good place to begin any discussion and no question of faith is off limits. Let us search the Word together, let us discuss the faith together, and let us praise our Lord Jesus Christ together. We, as Christians, are united in our Triune God, – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  –  and in that we can find areas of agreement. That is the thing that differentiates us from other faiths. Washed in the waters of Baptism, we are also united. There are differences in how we understand these gifts of grace – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – but the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ remains. Let us speak of that faith, that grace, and enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or another drink. Let us find comfort in Christ and his holy Word.

Holy Encounters

Christ Over Coffee is a growing concept and one thing that I have found that is for certain is that each time I find holy encounters. People are always there for some conversation and each one is interesting and fruitful. It is fun to have these opportunities and the fact that I am open to them makes that all the more affirming when they come. How often do we miss these opportunities, these holy encounters, just because we are not open for them? I wonder that in my life. I know there are days and times that I am just not in the mood or have other things to attend to, so I may not be paying attention. There are also times when I just observe people. It is interesting how isolated we are as a people. It seems that in public the rule is to not make eye contact. Isn’t that interesting?

Unfortunately, that is how we have developed because we often don’t want to encourage interaction with the “wrong” people. I understand this since I have had some interesting encounters in my life. I have a man sing “El Shaddai” on the beach and kiss both my wife’s and my hands and feet after he talked to us and found out I was going into the ministry. I have had an uncomfortable encounter with a woman my wife spoke to in a restroom who then followed her and her friend to our table and inserted herself in our group at the table. I have had some very rich discussions in lines at the grocery store and the Wal-Mart. It is always a risk though. Sometimes people will go in directions that may make one uncomfortable and it will be tricky in trying to extricate onesself from the conversation. Isn’t that what it’s all about, though?

As I look in Scripture, I see in both the Old and New Testaments encounters between prophets, Jesus, the Disciples, and the Apostles that I would have to believe were not the most comfortable for them, but they were necessary. Sharing the Gospel with anyone is not a comfortable task, but it is something we are all called to do. Jesus began this when he sent out the disciples and the 72. It was the beginning training ground and I am sure they didn’t go out relishing the idea of being out and not knowing what they may encounter. God gave them many opportunities to heal, to cast out demons, and share the Good News. We also see our Lord doing his work with those that were without hope.

As I sit and write this I am have taken moments to look away and reflect and as I have done that I have been able to observe. Sitting here I see the other way of avoidance as I watch people sit down and stare at a screen either on their phone or a tablet. I know I have been guilty of this and in my awareness as I type I see to see if I can make eye contact and greet. Admittedly the opportunities have been few and the greetings have been short. It is sometimes hard to find something to maybe use as a starter and even then some will quietly defer from having any type of conversation. It is our age. We often are more open to share our lives (sometimes overshare) on some form of Social Media or in a blog but not in a face to face interaction. Sometimes strangers far away know more about our neighbors than we do. It is an interesting age that we live in, full of wonders and opportunities.

I still believe that there is nothing better than to sit over a cup of coffee and talk. That is why I choose to go and seek out these opportunities while sitting at a local coffee house. Social Media shows us the hunger for connection and the need to be understood. It can be healthy or unhealthy, my hope is that more of these connections are made in healthy ways. My favorite healthy way is sitting across from another face to face over a nice cup of coffee enjoying the conversation and the sharing of life. It is these moments that are truly holy and I am ever thankful for every holy encounter that our Lord offers up. May you find some holy encounters in your life. If you are ever up for it and close by give me a call or drop me a line, let’s have some coffee and talk about those things that are holy.

Welcome to Christ Over Coffee

At the end of August my family and I moved to Washington, IN and I became to pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. As I have had the opportunity to get to know some of the leaders and pastors in the community I have been very blessed by the friendliness that I have encountered and as my family has explored parts of the city I was struck with an idea. As a pastor my calling is, by nature, public as I am called to a part of the community in which I find myself. Sometimes this can become difficult because of the way life happens. In order to be more out in the community I am starting a time of open discussion at the local coffee house on downtown Main Street, the Cherry Ghost Coffee House. Beginning Thursday, December 2nd at 11:30am I am hosting Christ Over Coffee. The purpose is to be able to create a safe space for conversations about faith, the Bible, and Christianity. All are welcome to take part and nothing is off the table for discussion as long as all parties are respectful of each other in the discussion. In my life I have been hurt by the Church and those that are a part of her and I know that there are others that have been also. Sometimes in that hurt we aren’t able or feel that it is safe to discuss the issues that may have occurred. This can be out of fear, shame, or a variety of other reasons. Whether you are a devout follower of Christ, a person who desires to learn more, or if you feel that the Christian faith is hypocritical – all are welcome. If anything you may find friendship and have the opportunity to enjoy a good cup of coffee and hopefully some good conversation. If you would like to discuss things further you may go to my blog www.christovercoffee.wordpress.com to ask questions and discuss further. I look forward to seeing you and hearing from you.