Love and the Interests of Others A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Love is all you need.  These immortal words from the Beatles have been sung billions of times (and I feel like that number is conservative!).  But is it true; is love all that we need?

Well, on the surface of things it’s obviously not true.  Love is an abstract concept and as such it cannot provide our needs for food, water, shelter, and clothing.

But love can and does provide much of our emotional needs and can, in certain ways and at certain times, provide for our spiritual needs.

So maybe a more correct line would be “Love is a really important thing you need.”  But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

What Is Love?

To continue our musical theme, love is, as the Boston famously put it, “more than a feeling.”  I like to think of love as a choice, an intentional action which can lead to a lifestyle and not as a fleeting emotional pull toward someone or something.

But, still, what is it?  We’ve categorized it as an intentional action, a choice…but what is it?

Here’s where the Apostle Paul helps us.  In Philippians 2.3-4 he give us the best definition of love I’ve ever read (though, for full disclosure’s sake, he doesn’t use the word “love” in this passage).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Paul’s implication is clear, love is an action that is aimed at the interests of others, not at the interests of the self.  Love is supposed to be others-focused.  It’s supposed to be sacrificial and communal.  It’s supposed to result from humility and not selfishness.

Love is, simply put, placing the interests of others before our own.

Geez, could anything be harder?!?

 

1 Corinthians 13 and Love

Paul gives us lots of information about love in the famous words of 1 Corinthians 13.1-8a.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

I know, I know.  This passage usually conjures up images of mushy wedding services or vow renewals.  And that’s fine.  There are no interests we should put first more often than those of our spouses!

But the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13 make it clear that what Paul means by love here is the love that is shared within the Christian community and that is to be shared and embodied outwardly to the watching world.

But what does Paul actually teach us about love here?  Love is about placing the interests of others before our own.  That’s what he means when he says it’s patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, and not proud.  That’s what he means by saying love doesn’t dishonor others or that it isn’t selfish.

Love being defined as putting the interests of others first is seen in that it’s not easily angered, that it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and that it delights in truth and not evil.  A love that puts the interests of others first is protective, trusting, hopeful, perseverant, and unfailing.

That’s the kind of love I want to experience from others!  And as I learn to put the interest of others first, that’s the kind of love I’ll show them as well!

 

How to Be More Loving

But here’s the rub: How do we become more loving?  How do we put the interests of others before our own?

Well, there’s lots of sound advice out there.

  • Think carefully about how to love those closest to you.  Consider how they would want to be loved instead of simply loving them the way you want to be loved.
  • Learn from other people who love well.  Read the biographies of people who consistently put the interests of others first, no matter the cost.  Spend more time with your friends who love well.  Consider getting a mentor to help you do a better job of loving others.
  • Just try really hard.  Work hard at putting the interests of others first, even when you don’t want to.
  • Do what Jesus did.  He loved people, so you should too.
  • Pray about it.  Ask God to help you.

 

Love as an Aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit

But since love is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, maybe we should seek Paul’s advice there.

In Galatians 5.16 Paul says to “walk by the Spirit” and in 5.18 he says be “led by the Spirit.”  These very similar concepts are set in contrast to the notion of succumbing to the desires of the flesh.

But how?  How do we walk by the Spirit?  How can we be led by the Spirit?  How can we not fall prey to the desires of the flesh?

  • Firstly, we must pray.  Prayer should be the start of any pursuit of living a Spirit-synced way of life.  We must ask God to make us aware of the leading of the Spirit.  In my limited experience and based on the advice of people I deeply trust, the more we pray to be led by the Spirit, the more and more we’re likely to notice him showing up in our lives, guiding and directing us.
  • Secondly, we must stop indulging the flesh at every turn.  Maybe one reason why we don’t experience the fullness of the Spirit in our lives is that we’re so distracted by our flesh.  And with regard to this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit — love: putting the interests of others before our own — our flesh desires our own interests at all costs.  Maybe we should learn to take stock every once in a while by taking a deep look at ourselves and our motivations.  Perhaps as we listen less and less to our flesh, then we will hear the Spirit more and more.
  • Thirdly, we should look at the life of Jesus.  Who in the history of the world was more in tune with the Spirit than Jesus?  No one, that’s who!  So as we read about Jesus’ earthly life, we’ll notice him putting the interests of others first.  Then we should go out an imitate him!
  • Fourthly, obedience, obedience, obedience.  One of the hardest things Jesus ever said was this: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14.15).  Thanks for that Jesus!  But he’s right.  Love is demonstrated by actions.  And our love for Jesus should be shown by obeying his commands.  And what were they, what were his commands?  Love God with all we’ve got, love others as ourselves, and make disciples.  Pretty simple to say but pretty difficult to live out!  Oh, and it’s no surprise at all that immediately following John 14.15 is a long discussion by Jesus of the Spirit.  Obeying Jesus and experiencing the Spirit go hand in hand.
  • Fifthly, do this with others.  The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation.  (Neither was human life for that matter!)  So why do we try to do things like live a Spirit-synced way of life in our own power?  That’s just setting us up for failure.  Instead, call together your friends who follow Jesus, your small group, your missional community, your Sunday School class, your family, whomever, and commit together to pursue the Spirit together.  Then check in on one another.  Tell stories about how the Spirit is moving you to put the interests of others first.  Hold each other accountable.  Pray for one another.  And, above all, love one another because walking with the Spirit is tough because the pull of the flesh is so strong!

What do you think?  When you think about love as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, what comes to mind?  And how can we stay synced up with the Spirit?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Fruit of the Spirit A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

There’s nothing quite like eating a great peace of fruit.  If it’s an apple — which it should be…apples are my favorites! — then its color is perfect and it has just right right amount of crunch and juiciness.  Mmm!

But very rarely do I consider that the fruit that I love to eat is the fruit of a lot of hard work and labor!

Think about it.  An apple comes from an orchard.  And an orchard must be cared for.

The trees need watering.  The weeds need pulling.  The dead leaves, limbs, and fruit need pruning.  The apples need picking.  And the final product needs selling, packing, and shipping.

That’s a lot of work!

Fruit of the Spirit

Well, I think a similar blind spot has been a part of my Christian development as well.  When I read the famous passage in Galatians 5.22-23 about the fruit of the Spirit, I tend to think about each aspect of the fruit as a final product.  Honestly, I rarely think about what goes into the production of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer, whether in me or anyone else!

Maybe it’s the way that Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I mean, they’re just so consumable individually spelled out like that, right?  They’re all there in a nice little row, one right after another.

And in my experience in the Church, whether teaching/preaching/leading or being the recipient of the same, this is the way the fruit of the Spirit is taught.

Let me be a bit more specific: When we think about it, we tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as an opportunity to engage in character development.

Character Development vs. _____________?

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having one’s character developed as he or she follows Jesus.  I know mine needs some work!  I could be a bit more patient (that’s the understatement of the century, just ask my wife, parents, sister, friends, and coworkers!) and exhibit more self-control.

And according to the way I was taught to think about the fruit, my course of action when I realize I’m lacking in some aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is to work on that specific aspect.  So, when I realize that I’m not as kind as a I should be, I work on being kinder.  When I’m not as peaceful as I’d like to be, I exercise my peace muscles.

Unfortunately, this is akin to forgetting the processes behind the fruit at the supermarket.

And, friends, there is a major process behind the fruit of the Spirit — namely, walking with the Spirit!

A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Paul spells this out rather explicitly in Galatians 5.16-18:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Before he gets to the fruit of the Spirit — the things which are brought to fruition because of a life lived synced up with the Spirit — Paul tells us what produces this fruit…walking by the Spirit or being led by the Spirit!

This phrase (walking by/being led by the Spirit) is great for a number of reasons:

  • It implies an active lifestyle of following Jesus as opposed to the popular passive/getting-fed mode that lots of Christians (myself included!) are tempted to fall into.
  • It reminds us that we need to be walked with — we can’t do this thing alone.  We need grace and guidance from the moment we’re first alive until the moment we die.  And God gladly will hold our little hands through that whole journey!
  • And it means that following Jesus isn’t about me, people like me, my church, my country, or my standards.  Nope.  It’s about being led by the Spirit!

So instead of focusing on each different aspect of the fruit, shouldn’t we focus on how walking with the Spirit brings each aspect to fruition?  In other words, shouldn’t we focus more on the process and a bit less on the results?

 

What do you think?  Do you tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as an opportunity to engage in character development?  Or do you tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as the result of Spirit-synced way of life?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Opportunity Taking Advantage of Each Moment

opportunistic

An Opportunity Missed

I’m not even sure that I can tabulate the number of times that I’ve missed out on chances that were right in front of my face.  Tons.  Every day.  From the time I was young up until today.

Today.

I parked my car and walked to our house.  As I did I walked by my neighbors’ place.  They had just moved in and one of them was working in the garage.  I had a thousand things to do, sure, but I could have offered to help.

Or I could have at least said hello.

But I didn’t.

I let the opportunity slip right by.

And what makes this especially bad is twofold:

First, I said hi to two other neighbors and even had a brief conversation with a third.  Why couldn’t I at least say hello to the new neighbor?

And second, I’m the guy that encourages people to be missional and to live life like God has set up divine appointments for us.  Honestly, I feel a little hypocritical right now.

But this little anecdote is serving (and will hopefully continue to serve) as a kick in the pants to take advantage of each opportunity that comes my way!

Jesus Faces an Awkward Opportunity

In John 4 Jesus and his closest friends were tired (even Jesus got tired…see, he was fully human!).  They had been traveling all day and Jesus’ disciples went to go get some food.  Jesus didn’t go with them, instead he went and sat by the well in the Samaritan town named Sychar.

It was the middle of the day.  This wasn’t the time of day that folks generally went to the well to get water.  That activity was usually reserved for cooler parts of the day, like the morning or just before sunset.

But as Jesus sat by the well, a woman came up to draw water.  Even if Jesus wasn’t the second Person of the Trinity, he could have worked out that this woman was not well-liked by many people in town.  If she was, she would have drawn water when others did so that they could say hi to one another and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

But here she was.  In the middle of the day.  By herself.

Clearly she was a bit of an outcast.

And Jesus was the leader of a new religious movement and was considered by many to be a rabbi, or a traveling teacher.  And in his day, religious movement leaders and rabbis did not associate with the type of women that drew water in the middle of the day.

And to make this an even more awkward opportunity for the two of them, Jesus was a man and the woman was, well, a woman.  Men and women typically did not have much public interaction, and a rabbi certainly would try to avoid such a scandalous action.

And culturally there was a barrier too: Jesus was a Jew and this woman was a Samaritan.  These two groups had a nasty history and did not get along at all!

But the cherry on the top of this banana split of an opportunity was the fact that Jesus was tired.  He could have totally checked out and no one would have blamed him.  He had been traveling all day.  He needed some “me time.”

But Jesus didn’t let all of these hurdles prevent him from taking advantage of this opportunity.

He asked her for a drink.

He started a conversation.

He made an intentional act to reach out to her.

We Need To Take Advantage of Each Opportunity Too

Here’s the call to action: Let’s be like Jesus and take advantage of each opportunity that we face!

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Pay Attention — It’s so easy these days to completely check out of the reality around us.  We can chat on our phones, text, check Facebook, play music, etc., etc.  We all have a thousand and one ways we can stay completely distracted from our surroundings.  If we’re distracted, it’s going to be hard to even see an opportunity, much less take advantage of one.  So maybe we all need to put our phones down, take our headphones off, and pay a bit more attention to our surroundings.
  2. Start Simple — Jesus asked for a drink.  I should have just said hello.  We’re not talking about rocket science or brain surgery here!  When an opportunity arises, simply start somewhere comfortable and natural.  Here’s an example: you’re walking in the mall and someone drops their bags.  You can help them pick their stuff up and say something like, “Man, I do that all the time.”  That may start an important conversation that could change the course of both of your lives.  Or it may lead no where else.  Either is fine!
  3. Practice Makes Perfect — Over time these sorts of encounters will become more natural and more a part of our routines.  We won’t feel so awkward when we’re faced with an opportunity.  We’ll just take it!  But in order to get there we need to feel our way through that awkward phase first.  And that’s okay.  For some of us, like me, it might always be a bit awkward.  For others, like my wonderful wife Alida, being set free to take advantage of each opportunity sounds amazing.  Persistence is the key for all of us though!  It will get easier and more natural!  And when we fail to take advantage of each opportunity, which will happen, we can’t beat ourselves up.  Let’s just admit our mistake and move on!
  4. Don’t Discriminate — Even though none of us like to admit it, we all pick and choose who to talk to, who to smile at, and who to invest in.  Those of us who follow Jesus, however, shouldn’t pick and choose.  We shouldn’t try to stay away from certain people, no matter the reason.  We should reach out and connect with whomever when given the opportunity!
  5. Pray — Lastly, we should pray.  First, we should pray that God will bring people across our paths so that we can connect with.  Second, we should pray that the Spirit of God would aid us as we attempt to take advantage of each opportunity.  And third, as we are engaging in conversation, we should be internally praying that God would inspire us to share the good news with those we come into contact with, in tangible ways and by using our words too.

 

So, what do you think?  What about taking advantage of each opportunity seems hard to you?  What seems easy?  How should a follower of Jesus go about taking advantage of each opportunity?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Focus: New Wine Podcast #011

What role does focus play in the life of a follower of Jesus?  And what should our focus be?

I answer these questions more fully in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post or on iTunes.

 

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes?  That would be super cool!

Thanks!

It’s Time to Listen ...and then act!

I posted this video on Facebook a short while after the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC and it has been viewed more than 3500 times.  That’s pretty amazing!

White brothers and sisters: We must listen to our friends of color. The time is NOW.

http://wp.me/p45U6t-fQ

Posted by J. Matthew Barnes on Friday, June 19, 2015

Here’s the point in a nutshell: Racism is real; therefore, we (meaning white people) must listen to our brothers and sisters of color.  The time for arguing and saying that folks are too sensitive is over.

We must listen.

 

And then we must act.  We must own up to our part of the systemic issues that folks face in our world, ask for forgiveness, and make amends by standing in solidarity with our friends of color.  (And, no, we can’t just jump to that last part.  We must humble ourselves through confession and the seeking of forgiveness first.)

 

Thoughts?  Keep things above the board.  I have an itchy delete button finger.

Charleston and Its Impact What impact will this shooting have?

Today has been a day marred with sadness.

The shooting at Emanuel First AME in Charleston, SC weighs heavily in the air.

Nine people gunned down, allegedly for the color of their skin.

Nine people gunned down while attending a prayer service at church.

Nine people gunned down who leave behind families who will never truly have closure.

Nine people gunned down.
For my wife and I this incident in Charleston has hit home for us a little more than it might have in the past. We live in a neighborhood that is comprised primarily of people of color and we’ve been intentionally building relationships with our neighbors for more than a year now.

As a part of that relationship-building process, a friend from our neighborhood invited us to attend a revival at his church. The church is right around the corner from our home and it’s a Missionary Baptist Church. For the uninitiated, “Missionary Baptist” means a Baptist church that is connected to the long history of primarily black Baptist churches.

And this church was no different.

My wife, son, and I were the only people in attendance who were not black. We loved our time with our new friends! We were shown great hospitality and I was even invited to help receive people who might come down during the altar call.

It was a truly blessed experience for our family (and hopefully for our new friends too!).

 

However, the shooting in Charleston made us stop and think a bit. Apparently the alleged shooter was there for over an hour before the carnage began. Did he participate in the prayer service? Was he shown a similar level of hospitality that my family was?

And will his actions have an impact on my family’s ability to continue to build relationships with people in our neighborhood, especially historically black churches in our neighborhood.
Will we now face a new level of scrutiny due to the shooting in Charleston?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is…but I’m excited to find out. In fact, we welcome increased scrutiny. We want to continue to dispel unhelpful stereotypes that prevent folks from different backgrounds from interacting well. We want to jump through whatever hoops are necessary in order to mourn with, worship with, and serve with our friends of color.
We welcome the awkwardness. Why? Because we truly believe that in Christ these sorts of barriers can be brought down and true community and fellowship can be forged by the power of the Spirit.
Lord, make it so in our lives and all over this divided country of ours! Amen.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  And please be civil!

Protected: How to Read the Bible Lesson 4 Application

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Samaria Today Where must we go?

There are lots of places where we don’t want to go for one reason or another.  Many of us avoid certain areas of town due to certain perceptions.  Others of us avoid traveling to certain countries or regions for political, medical, or even religious reasons.  And lots of us avoid certain stores due to social stigmas.

And, to get a bit more personal, some of us avoid certain individuals because they are hard to get along with.

But what if those places we’re avoiding are just the places where we need to be?  What if they are the places that God wants to send us to grow us and to use us for his purposes?

 

This reminds me of an experience that my wife, our friend Judith, and I had in Cambodia.

We were on a prayer journey.  Our mission was twofold: 1) We wanted to prayer for missionaries that we partnered with; and 2) We wanted to pray on site in the most significant areas of need.

So while we were in Cambodia we went to pray with and for some of our friends there.  On one occasion while driving, I asked that we be dropped off in the most dangerous area of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.  This particular area was overrun with brothels and human trafficking.  It was heart-rending, deeply depressing, and emotionally heavy.

Our friends who were with us in the car didn’t know that we were going to be dropped off at this particular location.  When the car stopped they were shocked!  They couldn’t believe that we would willingly stop there and prayer-walk back to our hotel.

Apparently, this area of Phnom Penh was a place to avoid — a Samaria.

 

Why Call It a Samaria?

Why call this part of Phnom Penh a Samaria?  And why would we call other places, things, and people we avoid Samaria also?

Read these words from John 4.4:

Now he [Jesus] had to go through Samaria.

You may be thinking Well, that made things as clear as mud!

Let me explain: Samaria was directly between Judea and Galilee, the two places Jesus was traveling between.  Many first-century Jews would avoid Samaria altogether by skirting around it, lengthening their trip to a great degree.

They did this because for many first-century Jews, people who lived in Samaria were considered half-breeds who were unclean and to be avoided.

Jesus, however, had to go through Samaria.

But he didn’t!  He could have followed suit and took the circuitous route around Samaria like so many of his Jewish brothers and sisters did.

But Jesus had to go through Samaria.

In order for the Father’s purposes to be fulfilled, Jesus had to go through Samaria.

In order for Jesus to exhibit full obedience to the leading of the Spirit, he had to go through Samaria.

And in order for him to show respect and love to someone who was very marginalized (a sexually deviant, woman from Samaria), Jesus had to go through Samaria.

 

Our Samaria

We should expect no different as we follow this same Jesus who had to go through Samaria.  He’s still going through Samaria today.  The question is this: Will we follow him?

 

Will we follow Jesus through Samaria?

Will we seek for the Father’s purposes to be fulfilled by going through Samaria?

Will we exhibit full obedience to the Spirit’s leading by going through Samaria?

And will we extend ourselves sacrificially toward the marginalized by going through Samaria?

 

Honestly?  Probably not.

We all, myself included, will likely continue to do what is expected of us.  We’ll skirt our ways around Samaria.  We’ll avoid those who are different from us.  We’ll exclude those who are difficult relationally.  We’ll do everything in our power to never step foot in certain areas, regions, countries, or even continents.  We’ll continue to overlook the overlooked.

We’ll probably avoid Samaria.

 

But we shouldn’t!

Here’s my challenge: Where is that place that causes avoidance to creep up within you?  Go to that place, asking God to teach you and use you there.  Who is that person or type of person that you’d rather just avoid instead of treating like a human.  Seek them out and begin a new friendship.

 

We must go through Samaria.

 

If we follow Jesus, do we really have a choice?

 

What do you think?  What or who or where is your Samaria?  Let me know in the comments below.

Mother’s Day Joy and Sorrow Mingled Together

It’s time for Mother’s Day once more.

Yay!  Mom’s are the best!”  That’s supposed to be our reaction to Mother’s Day.

And if you’re a Mom then your reaction is supposed to be something like this: “Being a mother is the most amazing blessing that can ever be imagined!  I’m so jazzed about being a mom!

Unfortunately, these are not the only reactions that people have on Mother’s Day.  For a lot of people, Mother’s Day is difficult.

So when we observe Mother’s Day this year, and every year going forward, let’s keep in mind the real potential for pain in some people’s lives.

 

Mother’s Day Pain

Here are a few examples of people who may be suffering on Mother’s Day…

  • People whose moms have died, whether recently or a long time ago.
  • Women who are unable to have children.
  • Women who don’t have children but wish they did.
  • Single moms who are reminded on Mother’s Day of the loneliness of their situation.
  • Moms whose children have died, whether recently or a long time ago.
  • Women who have spent tons of money on infertility treatments that haven’t worked.
  • Women who are in the process of adoption.
  • Women who have had failed adoptions.
  • Adoptive moms who may have a hard time believing that they’re really moms.
  • Women who have placed children for adoption and all the pain and heartache that accompanies this courageous choice.
  • Foster children, adoptive children, children raised without a mother, and other children who have issues identifying who their moms are.
  • Moms whose children live a long way away.
  • Women who long to have grandchildren but do not yet.
  • The mothers whose relationships with their children are broken.
  • Women who are pregnant; they may wonder if they count yet.
  • Women who have terminated pregnancies.
  • Foster moms whose lives are often chaotic and their efforts unheralded.
  • Single women who deeply long to have a family.
  • Women who serve as the mother for children in their community whose biological mothers are unavailable for one reason or another.
  • Mothers who are incarcerated and separated from their children.
  • Children whose mothers are incarcerated.
  • Children who suffer or who have suffered at the hands of their mothers.
  • Mothers who hurt or have hurt their children.
  • New moms who are frazzled, sleepy, and doubtful about their capabilities as parents.
  • Women who have suffered miscarriages.
  • Children of moms who are terminally ill.
  • Moms of children who are terminally ill.
  • Women in the midst of a crisis pregnancy.
  • Women who have been sexually abused.
  • Step-moms who are seeking to navigate the complicated waters of a blended family.
  • Moms whose jobs take them a long way from home, whether because of the military, business, or anything else.
  • Children whose moms are not at home due to their service in the military, their jobs, or anything else.
  • Moms whose partners are a long way from home, whether because of the military, business, or anything else.
  • Moms of children with special needs who are overwhelmed and tired and who often blame themselves for the diagnoses of their children.
  • Working moms who have to cope with daily pain and doubt.
  • Stay at home moms who may feel like they aren’t making a contribution.
  • Moms everywhere who suffer under the judgment of our society, the men in their lives, their families, other mothers, and themselves.
  • All the other mothers that I left unnamed.
  • And all the men who are attached to any of the women above.

And, friends, I know lots and lots of women who fit the categories above and have sat with, prayed with, and cried with them.

Now What?

So should the pain that many have on Mother’s Day change the way we talk about it and celebrate it?  Absolutely!  Especially as followers of Jesus and especially during our worship services on Mother’s Day.

But, if you are in contact with your mom, your grandmother, or the mother of your children, you should absolutely reach out to themon Mother’s Day.  If there’s drama between you, that’s fine; reach out any way.  As followers of Jesus we are called to reconciliation and reconciliation is often really difficult!

But for many of us who have neutral to amazing relationships with our moms, we should tell our moms how much we love them and how thankful we are for them.  It’s really pretty simple — express love and gratitude!

But in our churches we should probably do things a bit differently than we typically do.  Convention says that from the stage or pulpit we should have a spiel about Mother’s Day and how “being a mom is the highest calling.”  Then we ask all of the moms in the audience to stand and we applaud them.

I think that all of that is wrong and we shouldn’t do it.

Why?  What’s wrong with acknowledging moms and their hard work and sacrifice?

Several things:

  1. Being a mom, or a parent for that matter, isn’t the highest calling.  Following Jesus and obeying all that he commanded us is the highest calling.  Think about it: if being a mom, or a parent, was the highest calling, then lots of folks around the world who do not know or follow God are living out that highest calling.  That just doesn’t make sense.  Besides, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7.7, said that he wished people would stay single as he was.  And Jesus was single and many of the leaders of the early church were single.  Being married and having children is a blessing from God — but it’s certainly not the best of all blessings, the way that many people in the church make it out to be!  By the way and for the official record, I’m happily married and I’m a new father.  I’m not writing this out of frustration over being single or not being a parent.
  2. Having all the moms stand is horribly painful for all the women present who might fit one of the pain categories listed above.  It’s so bad that many women simply stay home from church on Mother’s Day to avoid the pain, shame, and guilt of not standing and being applauded.  Furthermore, we aren’t at church to celebrate moms anyway; we’re there to celebrate what God is doing in our lives and to worship him.  Can moms be mentioned in our services.  Sure!  But we need to find ways to do it that won’t marginalize and hurt all the women for whom Mother’s Day is painful.
  3. And, lastly, Mother’s Day is not a Christian holiday.  It was started by a woman who wanted to honor her own mother.  She fought for years to get Congress to make Mother’s Day an official holiday and it finally worked!  But shortly thereafter Mother’s Day shifted from being a simple day to tell our own mothers we love and appreciate them to becoming a commercialistic behemoth.  It got so bad, so fast, that the founder of Mother’s Day begged Congress to repeal it!  And things haven’t gotten better.  I mean, have you been to the store this week?  So from it’s beginning to the way it is observed today, Mother’s Day is not a Christian holiday and it seems to promote frivolous spending on trinkets that will simply gather dust.

 

So What Then?

What can we do instead?  If we talk about Mother’s Day in our churches, can we do so from the perspective of Scripture?  Can we do so in ways that bring honor to moms and that don’t cause undue pain?

And can we pray in ways that affirm all women and not just moms?

Here’s an example prayer.  Do with it what you will.

Father,

Thank you for caring for us, for leading us, and for calling us to be your disciples.  We each have a story that has brought us to today.  Some of our stories are idyllic and beautiful, full of loving homes, caring mothers, and wonderful children.  But others of us have different stories, stories full of pain, suffering, isolation, frustration, shame, guilt, and unfulfilled hopes.  And in light of the stark differences that a day like Mother’s Day brings up for us, we are in awe of the fact that you can create beauty, unity, and peace in spite of how different we all are.  But we are grateful Father that you have led us to where we are today.  We deeply appreciate that you’ve been with us each step of the way.  And for those of us who celebrate today, you celebrate along side us!  And for those of us who suffer today, we share in the fellowship of your suffering.  Father, help us grow from our stories.  Teach us and move us to be excellent caregivers, showing love by putting the interests of others before our own.  Today, on Mother’s Day, we celebrate you and your power to reconcile all things to yourself through Christ Jesus our Lord.  It’s in his name we pray; Amen.

 

What do you think?  How can we responsibly observe Mother’s Day as followers of Jesus?

#SmallGroups: New Wine Podcast #010 How can small groups help us be more missional?

Do small groups help or hinder followers of Jesus becoming more missional?  My answer: depends on the groups!

 

I answer this question more fully in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post or on iTunes (CLICK HERE).

 

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes?  That would be super cool!

 

Thanks!