Tag Archives: relationships

Working Together

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.
Romans 12: 4-6a, NLT*

In late 2011 I had a short-term job as part of a small team. Sometimes we were two, sometimes three. We had the common goal of distributing Christmas help to needy families.

There were a lot of details, loose ends, and sometimes a flood of volunteers needing direction. My supervisor could stop, look at the big picture, and direct traffic. Time and again, she turned a chaotic group of people into focused workers, each with his/her own task contributing to the whole.

I’d have been hiding in the corner, whimpering.

But I could handle the paperwork details. And she balanced my details and kept me from focusing on one tree and missing the forest.

We worked together in unity, each appreciating what the other did. There was no competition or self-pity that we weren’t the best at everything. Nor was there resentment of the other for not having the same abilities.

In our families, our workplaces, our churches… we have different gifts and we need each other. The problem is, some gifts can come wrapped in argumentative, competitive or just plain difficult packages. And sometimes we get difficult, feel unappreciated… “Why am I always the one who has to do this? Couldn’t someone else take a turn?”

God who formed us and who is patiently shaping us into who You designed us to be, thank You for our differences. Forgive us our impatience with one another. Forgive us our resentment of one another’s shortcomings, real or perceived. Help us see how we fit together, especially as families and as the church. Help us submit to You and to one another, help us to love one another and to give grace to cover the difficult spots. Help us value unity more than getting our own way. Make us one, as You are one.

I couldn’t find a video of Geoff Moore’s “The Body of Christ” (from his Saying Grace album) so here’s something a little different that the Lord provided for me. Please don’t look for accurate theology; take what’s true and applicable and remember that the power behind our oneness is Jesus Christ. This is from Disney’s Lion King 2: “We Are One.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Built into God’s Home

God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
Ephesians 2:20-22, MSG*

I love the way The Message puts this: God building a home, fitting each brick and stone, each of us built into it.

The individual bricks and stones may be a variety of sizes, shapes, colours and textures, but each one has a place and we need to cooperate with God as He fits us into our spot. As the builder, God applies the mortar to join us together, but first He cleans us. You wouldn’t stick a dirty brick into a wall, either for aesthetics or for optimal adherence.

I’m challenged by how much dirt floats around a construction site and what that might look like in our congregations and other Christian groups. Irritation builds up, we start noticing that others aren’t doing things our way. We focus on weaknesses instead of strengths.

Creator God who loves and saves us, thank You for building each of your children into a holy temple where You can dwell. You’ve cleaned us and you’re building us, but help us remember our ongoing need to keep clean. Forgive us for the gunk that accumulates so quickly, and help us keep working at it. Thinner layers are easier to scrub off and don’t dim our shine as badly.

Brian Doerksen’s song, “Welcome to the Place of Level Ground,” reminds us we’re all equally dependent on God’s grace.

*THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Review: Paradise Valley, by Dale Cramer

Paradise Valley, by Dale Cramer (Bethany House, 2011)

In 1921, Caleb Bender uproots his family from their farm and their beloved Amish community. To stay in Ohio would be to see his younger children forced into the public school system and the world’s way of thinking, thanks to a new law made by people who don’t understand his people.

Caleb’s not a hasty man, and after much prayer he realizes moving to another state won’t be enough to avoid this spreading law. When he discovers good farmland for sale in the mountain region of Mexico, he knows where they need to go.

The Benders are scouts for a larger group of families who will join them the following year… if they survive the bandits. Leaving one married daughter behind with her family, Caleb takes the rest of his extended clan (eldest child 27, youngest, 11). Unless I miscounted, there are 15 in the party.

The main female character, Rachel, 16, has to part from the young man she hoped to marry. Miriam, slightly older, fears moving to a place with no prospective husbands. And Aaron, 21, leaves the grave of his twin.

The novel actually begins some time before the Benders board the train. Dale Cramer takes time to let us get to know the family and their community, and to let us understand their faith and the seriousness of this state law that makes them flee. By the time they go, we’re definitely rooting for them.

I’ve only read a couple of other Amish novels, and they didn’t engage me. Paradise Valley brought the culture of this Old Order community to life in a way that caught my imagination. These aren’t rigid, legalistic people, although I’m sure some in the community are. Caleb and his family are sincerely devoted to God, and they want to please Him more than anything else.

They stick to their convictions. Even if it means moving to a new country. The young Mexican man they befriend, Domingo, observes Caleb’s behaviour and tells him, “You are either the most honourable man I have ever met or the most foolish. I have not decided which.” (p. 219)

Caleb isn’t sure either.

Paradise Valley is a heart-warming Amish historical with richly-textured characters and setting and a plot that kept me turning pages. I don’t know how fast Mr. Cramer can write, but I wanted to go out and get a copy of the next book in the Daughters of Caleb Bender series right away.

I’ve been a fan of Dale Cramer since reading Bad Ground, and along with his characters and stories I enjoy finding the gems he hides in the narrative. Here are my two favourites from Paradise Valley:

When Caleb has been praying for direction about the situation in Ohio:

“It was an answer, a sign—he recognized that still small voice, the incendiary subtlety. A little shiver ran through him.” (p. 70)

I got a little shiver at that “incendiary subtlety.”

And as Caleb is saying goodbye to his farm:

“He knew in his bones that he did not really own the land, nor did the land own him. They were just old friends.” (p. 95)

I’ve talked a lot about Caleb’s role in the story, but he’s not the only point of view character and this is definitely not a male-first book. Rachel has the main female role, and the women and girls far outnumber the men in the Bender clan. For Rachel and Miriam, the journey leads them to discover their own strengths, and although they despair of love and marriage, all may not be lost.

Male or female, if you like family sagas, adventure, romance, American/Mexican stories from the 1920’s, pioneer tales, strong characters and relationships, you’ll like Paradise Valley. I haven’t read widely in this genre, but I suspect Mr. Cramer has just raised the bar for Amish fiction.

You can read a sample chapter of Paradise Valley, and check out an interview with Dale Cramer about Paradise Valley. There’s also an online readers’ discussion guide for Paradise Valley.

Dale Cramer is a Christy award winner. Visit his website to learn more about him and his books, or to hear more from him, check out his blog.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Loving God, Loving Others

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
1 John 4:20, NIV*

My automatic response to the second part of this verse is that it’s much easier to love God, who is perfect—and worthy of love—than to love imperfect people who may not seem “lovable”.

And the brother or sister I’ve seen, worked with and discovered the foibles of is harder to love than the one I’ve only met online and gotten to know the positive side of their nature. I’m sure others feel the same about me.

When I find myself arguing with Scripture, I know there’s a problem. This time, reading these verses, I stopped to think.

Maybe what I’ve been calling love for God, that response of my spirit to His, is worship, not love. Adoration, even.

When the Bible talks about love, it’s usually as an action rather than a feeling. We’re commanded to love our Christian brothers and sisters, as John reminds us in the very next verse.

That’s not a call to manufacture or pretend warm feelings toward one another. It’s a call to active love.

That brings a second question: if loving my brother and sister, whose needs I have seen, is the act of caring for them, what does it look like to love God? In the next chapter, John says we love God by keeping His commands.

We need to do this in His strength and by the power of His Spirit in us. With willing, thankful and surrendered hearts, as an offering of worship. There’s no room for legalism here.

Father, give me Your heart towards others, Christians and non. Empower me by Your Spirit to actively and practically show love to them, and by so doing to love You as well.

If Christians work together, imagine the difference we can make. Here’s a song from Russ Taff: “We Will Stand”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rebuild the House

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.”
Haggai 1:7-10, NIV*

God is speaking through Haggai to the Jews who have returned from exile. They’d started to rebuild the temple, but how could what they put together out of rubble compare with the remembered glory of Solomon’s temple? Building homes didn’t seem as impossible, and it was a legitimate need too.

Christians today don’t have a temple to rebuild, but we’re each temples of the Holy Spirit. And we’re not to neglect meeting together as congregations of faith.

We’re sure busy with our own “houses”: work, household duties, busy schedules… nobody has much time for church events. It’s hard enough to fit in time for Sunday worship.

The last thing we need is another church group or committee meeting. And people can burn out or weaken their families by being too busy in the church.

But this idea of building… rebuilding….

If we are the body—the church—then maybe the rebuilding isn’t about formal meetings or events. Maybe it’s about relationships. Some of that can happen in structured settings, but it can also happen one-on-one as we take the initiative.

This isn’t the pastor’s job. It’s up to each of us. And it’s what will cause observers to know we belong to Jesus.

Father, some things from my own “house” will need to move aside to make time for Yours. But doing things Your way is always better than pushing for mine. Please help me to seize the opportunities You give to connect with my spiritual brothers and sisters—so You may take pleasure in us and be honoured.

An appropriate song-prayer is “Bind Us Together”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Out Through the Rubble

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28, NIV*

I got away for a much-needed spiritual retreat last weekend. Our speaker challenged us to ask God to take down the walls we’ve built, and to let His living water flow out through us instead of being dammed up.

As part of this process, she asked us meditate on Scripture. Not sure what verse to choose, I thought, “Come to Me”. Not a verse, but a fragment. Okay.

Come to Me.

It said some things that meshed with our weekend:

  • step out through the rubble of your wall;
  • you need to be with the people you’ve walled out; and
  • Jesus is waiting there to welcome you (not that He’s not with you in your self-made prison too).

It wasn’t until later I recognized the phrase as coming from Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28. But don’t they fit beautifully?

If we’re struggling to hold up a wall, we’re definitely weary and burdened. It’s hard work. And it never ends.

Trusting Jesus to be in charge gives us rest. Taking down the walls lets us be ourselves: the gifts God has for those around us.

Father, I praise You for Your grace and mercy to bring us back into relationship with You, and for Your healing and restoration in our lives. Thank You for setting us free, for equipping us to live with one another and with You. The world may look out of control, but You are sovereign. Teach us to live trusting in You, listening for and confident in Your leading.

I had trouble finding a song for this, but Francesca Battistelli’s “Free to Be Me” captures the feeling of how I want to live on the other side of the rubble.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Mending the Chasm

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV*

You know what it’s like when you start getting dissatisfied with any group of people: you start noticing everything they do wrong. And of course what they do wrong often means what they don’t do your way.

That’s where I’ve been for a while now in one of the groups where God has placed me. It’s become “me vs. them” with a deep chasm in the middle. I’ve asked Him to move me, and He’s said no.

Good thing, too. If I’d moved on, I’d have carried the same seeds of disconnection with me and started the process over again.

The other Sunday in morning worship I was asking Him to mend the chasm, while at the same time thinking it was too deep to fill, that I was too damaged to restore. Knowing I’d done the damage myself.

These verses from Hebrews were part of our morning reading, and the “live in peace” and “bitter root” parts echoed the need in my prayer. But I’d been praying a long time for this and saw no sign of change.

As the congregation sang Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God,” the word “our” told me “me vs. them” had to become “us”.

I’ve long felt that I didn’t fit into this particular group. Our differences were perhaps part of the trouble, although my imagination had enlarged them.

This Sunday, in the middle of worship, God did something neat. He reminded me about the verses in 1 Corinthians 12 about the body: the eye and the ear, complaining about their differences. And I understood:

I do belong and am intended to be my own specific part.

I’ve been guilty of saying the same thing as the ear: you don’t do it my way, so I don’t want to belong.

The congregation was still singing away, and I was singing too, but inside I was processing this revelation. “How Great is Our God.” The title repeats throughout the song, and now something clicked in my spirit.

God is great. Great enough to mend the chasm. I began to believe. To confess, and to cautiously hope.

He wasn’t done yet. Our next song declared that God has forgiven our sin. It’s past tense, a done deal. Even for this one I was still praying about.

My spirit believed it.

The chasm is mended. The chasm is being mended. The chasm will be mended.

I belong, although I’m different from the others. I’m responsible to do my part, released and intentional, not watching for others’ reactions.

What is my part? It might be fun finding out.

Father, thank You! I’m humbled and grateful to be restored. To be free to serve You as a functioning part of this and other groups where You’ve placed me. Open my eyes and my heart to discover and to fulfill the role You’ve designed me to fit. Show me my part.

What else can I sing but “How Great is Our God” from Chris Tomlin?

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: Majesty in Motion, by Stewart Brown

Majesty in Motion: Creating an Encouragement Culture in all Your Relationships, by Stewart Brown, D. Min. (Word Alive Press, 2009)

I suppose while Jesus lived in Palestine in human form, those around Him truly saw the majesty of God in motion. Until He comes again, Christians have the responsibility of modeling God to those around us. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to live in us and empower us, but too many times we fail.

In Majesty in Motion, Stewart Brown has provided a helpful, practical resource to overcome that failure. The encouragement culture he calls us to isn’t one of superficial compliments, but a lifestyle of building others up toward their God-given potential. It’s rooted and strengthened in prayer.

Seeing others as God sees them, affirming their value and investing time in their lives, is to treat them as Jesus would—to display God’s majesty in motion.

Stewart writes,

To be encouraged is to experience the transformative power of God, which gives you the courage to be and act according to God’s eternal purpose for your life.” (p. xiv)

As such, we need both to encourage ourselves in the Lord and to encourage others in Him.

This type of encouragement is intentional. It comes from prayerful intimacy with God and an awareness of the needs of others. And as the title makes clear, it’s about relationships, not religion or human effort.

The book asserts that encouragement has three parts: strengthening the heart, coming alongside to help, and inspiring to move forward:

Real, authentic encouragement—the attitude and heart that reflects the greatness of God through the warm, caring filter of God’s grace—is meant to be constantly active in the lives of every follower of Jesus.” (p. 19)

If we accept encouragement as our mission, we need to be equipped to deliver it. Part two of Majesty in Motion highlights three vital elements that God’s encouragers must develop: joy, patience, and an imitation of Jesus’ example.

As well as looking at the life of encouragement and the foundation required in each Christian’s life, the book also addresses the intentionality and the practice of encouragement. We have the why and the how, with practical details and clear examples. Each chapter comes with questions and suggestions for individuals and groups, and there are appendices of extra material for encouragement partners and church greeters.

There is a huge amount of truth packed into this 200-page book, and it’s easy to digest and understand. Application will take work and personal discipline, but the benefits are worth the cost.

I was personally challenged by the repeated call for a solid, personal confidence in God. It makes perfect sense: if you’re not securely trusting God in your own spirit, how can you help others? We must first learn to encourage ourselves in God, like an airline passenger donning her own oxygen mask before helping the child beside her.

David’s friend Jonathan helped him find strength in God when he was in danger from King Saul. Later, by himself David found strength in God when his men were ready to turn on him. Both are needed.

Majesty in Motion sets high goals that are achievable with diligence, and challenges readers to make that effort. It’s on my list of books that I wish every Christian could read.

Stewart Brown, D. Min, is a Canadian pastor, speaker and author currently serving in Alberta. Majesty in Motion follows the theme of his popular speaking engagements. Click here to read more about Majesty in Motion.  You can check out Stewart’s recent interview on 100 Huntley Street (Stewart Brown interview, 1/2 and Stewart Brown interview 2/2) or visit his website, One Heart Ministries, to learn more about his ministry.

Majesty in Motion won a 2010 Canadian Christian Writing Award (for work published in 2009) in the Book: Relationship category, and was a finalist in the Book: Christian Living category.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Love One Another

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:34-34, NIV*

Last week at Whatever He Says, Belinda posted on the importance of relationships, including the quote, “Relationship—with God and with people—nothing else matters”. It’s a powerful post, and worth reading (scroll up from where the link takes you). The novel I finished on the weekend, Just Between You and Me, made me think about it too. And the book I’m currently reading, Majesty in Motion, focuses on…you guessed it: relationships.

I didn’t plan any of this.

Did I mention our Bible study group at church is using the Experiencing God Workbook? We’re at the “relationships” section now.

God can be subtle with some people, but He knows I take a bit of prodding.

Loving one another doesn’t have a lot to do with warm, fuzzy feelings. Singer/songwriter Don Francisco called it an act of the will.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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 [stops/ends]. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV*

It’s intentional, deliberate, a choice we make. A choice we can only follow through on by relying on God’s love in us.

Father, I’m so thankful that You meet us where we are, but You love us too much to leave us there. You promised to grow us to be more like Your Son. Jesus saw people through Your eyes—with Your heart. Help me learn to do that too, and to be useful to You in encouraging and loving them.

Our song this week is Matt Maher’s “Hold Us Together”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: More Ready Than You Realize, by Brian D. McLaren

More Ready Than You Realize, by Brian D. McLaren (Zondervan, 2002, 2006)

Brian McLaren’s aim with More Ready Than You Realize is to remind us that “evangelism” isn’t a dirty word, despite the negative connotations it’s acquired over the years. He also wants to demystify it and show us that, as the title suggests, we’re more ready to get involved than we realize.

He explains, “Good evangelism is the process of being friendly without discrimination and influencing all of one’s friends toward better living, through good deeds and good conversations. For a Christian… [it] means engaging in these conversations in the spirit and example of Christ. … Evangelism in the style of Jesus; evangelism that flows like a dance.” (p. 17)

The book tells the story of his spiritual friendship with April, a young woman considering faith. On one level, it’s an easy read. The conversations pull readers in, and we keep turning pages to see what happens. It’s also a book that requires thought as we apply what he says to our own lives.

A key premise is that Christians need to communicate our faith in a way that those around us will understand. Language, worldviews, even styles of communication have changed significantly in recent years as we’ve moved into the postmodern era.

The word “postmodern” itself raises a barrier to me, yet it’s assumed to be part of the reader’s understanding. Worse is “modern,” which I always thought meant “contemporary or up-to-date”. “Trendy,” even. But these are buzz-words of the new culture and so they’re used.

For me, this is a strong reminder of how important it is that I don’t bombard non-Christians or spiritual folk with Christian jargon. Dr. McLaren illustrates how these holy buzz-words will either be meaningless or mean something far different than intended.

More Ready Than You Realize is a helpful book and despite my struggle with the terminology its message resonated with me (oops, is that another buzz-word?).

The Bible tells us we’re to be ambassadors for Christ, that we’re to be involved in God’s work of reconciliation.

Dr. McLaren encourages us to “engage in spiritual friendship… see evangelism as relational dance rather than conceptual conquest, process rather than event, mutual learning rather than sales pitch…” and I find that far more attractive than some of the previous approaches. (In fairness to some of those modes, the book does point out the different cultures in which they began, so we see how they may have  been designed to best meet the needs of the times.)

Integral to this message is the belief that the individuals we befriend (or who befriend us) are of great value, whatever their ultimate decision about God and however long it takes them to make one.

Dr. McLaren challenges us to value the relationships more than the results, and he reminds us that the goal isn’t conversion. The goal is people (ourselves included) loving and serving God and growing in relationship with Him and with each other. The results are up to Him. Our job is simply to serve.

I’d recommend this book to Christians and to those who want to understand them, with the warning that if philosophical language is not your thing, the book may challenge you. The message is clear, and Brian McLaren is an appealing narrator. He speaks to readers as he did to April: openly, non-threatening, and genuinely interested. I look forward to reading some of his other books.

More Ready Than You Realize includes a seven-part Bible study on what it means to be a disciple and to develop others. You can find reviews, a sample chapter and interviews here.  To learn more about Brian D. McLaren, his other books and his ministry, check out his website.

Book source: my personal library