Loved People Love People

Our house was full of Karen’s family when our first son Kristofer was born. No sooner had he arrived into the world than it started. “He looks just like Karen.” Being a proud new father I was a bit miffed by this. I wanted there to be some resemblance of me in him. But no one seemed to notice. It was a Campbell clan celebration.

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You can understand my anticipation when it was my family’s turn to visit Kris. As soon as they arrived and walked in the door, I quickly grabbed Kris and held him up to them. “What do you think?” I asked. With a smirk on his face my dad replied, “He looks just like you, Rick.”

I turned to Karen with a “See, I told you so” look. She leaned over and whispered to me, “Well, honey, that’s because you are holding Kristofer upside down.”

We should not be surprised to see a resemblance between children and their parents. We even have these common phrases: “A chip off the old block.” “The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.” “Like father, like son.” “She’s the spittin’ image of her mother.”

Regardless of the phrase you might use, you’ve done as many have. Your neighbor has a baby and you say, “Oh, her eyes are just like yours.” “I can see a little of both of you in him.” As if any of this should surprise us. You’ve said those things.

And so did the Apostle John. He didn’t use the same phrases but he makes the same point. And whereas we might point to a nose, the eyes, the mouth, or ears as to where the similarity is found, John points elsewhere. The defining similarity we are to have with our Father is one thing: love.

John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Notice what he does not say. He does not list the things those “born of God” do not do. It’s unfortunate that God’s children are often known more for what they don’t do than what they do. John says what they do is they love. “Whoever … has been born of God…loves.”

But sometimes loving others is not easy. John knows this is true. He wants us to quit the sin of not loving our brothers and sisters. But he also realizes that becoming a person who loves is a process and takes a long time. That’s why he tells us to confess our sins. We don’t keep on sinning—that’s the goal of a child of God. But we confess our sins—that is the response of a child of God who is learning to love.

The way we learn to love is to first be loved. “We love because he first loved us.” How did God love us first? By sending his son who died for our sin. Love is active. And because he loved us this way we love others in the same way.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” We love real people: our brother (and sister) who are in the fellowship with us. We love them in real ways: by giving of our resources to those in need.

An old song stated, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It’s true. Loved people love people. And when people see them, they see a resemblance to their Father.

When You Love Others Less It’s Time to Confess

It’s the first sin I can remember. A sin of commission. And I knew I was doing it.

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My first grade year was not easy. As a child I had asthma and the harsh West Texas winters in Memphis, Texas knocked me out of a lot of school. Mrs. Newton, my teacher, wanted me to take a make-up test one day when I returned from a bout of sickness.

Mrs. Newton had me open my book. She showed me the questions I needed to answer. And then she left the room. They were simple math problems. Simple until I got to number eight: “Which number is the third number from the left?”

Sounds simple, right? I knew which was my right hand and which was my left. But I didn’t know if the question was asking for me to count from my perspective or its perspective. (Stop laughing.) I looked ahead and the next several questions were similar to this one. If I didn’t get my directionally challenged mind in gear I would miss them all and make a bad grade.

That’s when the temptation came. Mrs. Newton was gone. Her teacher’s book was on her desk. The one with the answers. All I needed was a peek at just one so that I could get my perspective corrected. I moved as quietly as a cat burglar to the book, stole a quick look, and headed back to my desk. Just as I was getting seated I saw Mrs. Newton through the windows coming back to the room to check on me. If she saw me she never said a word.

For several nights I couldn’t sleep. I just knew the test would come back with a note on it telling me where my eternity was going to be spent. Instead, she gave me an “A” and as far as I know she never knew what I did.

Maybe you can’t remember your first sin, but you can probably remember your last. You have some tapes that play in your head you wish you could erase. You have some words you’d like to take back. You have some actions you aren’t proud of.

And you call them all sorts of things: mistakes, bad judgment, poor decisions. And they are. But John calls them sin. And he thinks we should too.

In 1 John there is a specific sin he is concerned about. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”  “But I don’t hate my spiritual brothers or sisters” you might say. Don’t be so quick to say you aren’t sinning.

The Greek word for hate, miseo, means “to love less.” Jesus used the word when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, who wants us to be known by our love, surely did not mean “hate” in the sense we typically use the word. He meant that if we want to follow him we have to love them, yes. But love them less. That’s what “hate” means here.

You may not feel the usual emotions associated with hate—things like anger, disgust, hostility—towards anyone in the fellowship. But you may love them less. Less than your own interests. Less than your own desires. Less than your schedule. Less than your personal agenda. The sin John is concerned with is not immorality or crime. Those sins need to be confessed too. But the sin he is concerned with has to do with missing the mark of a relationship with God that includes a relationship with others in the fellowship. You can’t have one without the other.

Loving those inside the church becomes a witness to those outside the church. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let’s love each other more. And when we love each other less, confess it. And then leave that sin for love.

It’s as simple as counting three spaces from your left.

Question: What specific step can you take this week to love those inside the church more?

What You Believe About Jesus Matters

When I first met her she was more of a project to me than a person. My youth group was taking part in a 33-hour fast to raise money for relief efforts in Third World countries. Along with fasting and raising money we were to help someone poor in our community. I called Mrs. Anderson.

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She sounded tired, the kind of tired that comes from a life of more “downs” than “ups.” More defeats than victories. And maybe one too many cold winter nights without a hot meal and a warm blanket. But a hint of hope surfaced in her voice as I began to picture for her how we wanted to help.

She answered “yes” and my project was underway. Something began to change, however, the day I drove up in front of her house. It was a bleak West Texas November. The steps up to the house were crooked and cracked. I knocked on the door.

“Come in!” “Mrs. Anderson?” “Yes, come in!” I turned the knob and took two tentative steps. The room was as unkempt as was Mrs. Anderson. Heavy-set, missing teeth, and “just out of bed” hair, she sat on the couch. Her left leg was noticeably larger than her right. She began to tell her story.

Her husband had passed away several years before leaving her with four children: one married daughter who was out of the house, a teenage boy and girl, and a fifth grade daughter. “Times have been hard,” she said. “I’m not able to get around to work because of my leg. Back in the 60’s I got bit by a spider and it got infected. The doctors say it isn’t getting any better and they may have to amputate.”

Insects scurried across the walls as she talked. The house would not have been so bad had it been clean. But what could she do? It was a chore for her to merely walk to the door. I began to lose sight of the project and see the person. And now, with a person within reach of me, I was faced with what kind of Jesus I believed in.

Maybe you’ve been there too. You’ve asked your questions about Jesus. If you’ve ever looked at him long enough you have. We’d rather him be spiritual and more tied to heaven than earth. That way we can worship him on one Sunday and not revisit him until the next.

But when you see that Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” things change. They have to. The truth you believe about Jesus matters. In 1 John, John is dealing with the virus of Gnosticism in his churches.  A group had surfaced who said that Jesus did not come in the flesh, that he was a first century hologram of sorts. They taught that the world is divided into spirit and flesh and the only thing that mattered was spirit. Jesus could never—if he were truly God—be associated with things of the flesh.

Because of this belief their worship was focused only on spiritual things, disconnected from the material world. Their lives were disconnected from their flesh—their bodies could do whatever, whenever and with whomever—and they could still view themselves as righteous. Their love was disconnected from the hurting and sinful of their world.

This is not the Christ John knew. The only Christ John knows is the one who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The only Son he knows is the one who was God-in-the-flesh, the Jesus he had seen with his eyes, heard with his own two ears, and had touched with his hands. So he writes, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” The truth we believe about Jesus matters.

It did to Mrs. Anderson. I had to come to grips with the Jesus I believed in. And when I began to understand more clearly what it meant that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, my need for a project disappeared into the West Texas sunset and my love for this person surfaced. My Jesus was one that would not let me retreat to my study. He led me into the mix of this messy world.

And that mattered to Mrs. Anderson. In the following months my youth group and I became friends with her. We brought canned goods and blankets during the fast. Turkey and trimmings at Thanksgiving. Tinsel and toys at Christmas. We held a “spring cleaning” and made trips to the hospital during the amputation. A “Jesus come in the flesh” will connect the spiritual and the material. He would bring heaven to earth.

That’s where Jesus would be. And that’s why we confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.

Question: How have you experienced “Jesus in the flesh” in your life?

When the Fellowship Looks Like a Mess

A few years ago a friend of mine from childhood called me up. She’d seen on Facebook that Karen and I had seen Kenny Chesney at the Houston rodeo. She said, “You didn’t know this but my husband plays bass for Kenny.” Being a Kenny Chesney fan, I spent the next half-hour asking more about Chesney than what was going on in her life. That’s what you do when you encounter someone who has had an encounter with someone you would like to meet.

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That’s what you do if you would like to know someone who is not present. You ask their friend who is. So if you want to know Jesus get to know John. He’s been with him. And he wants you to be with him too. In the first chapter of 1 John we read: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…”

John and others have walked with Jesus. Jesus’ life was made “manifest.” The word means “to make visible and known that which was hidden or unknown.” John is not about to give us some lofty, spiritual, code language that only the spiritual elite can figure out. He’s going to give us something down to earth that we can experience ourselves.

Then he tells us why he is proclaiming what he has known of Jesus: “… so that you too may have fellowship with us…” We have fellowship with “us.” John is referring to himself and others who have believed. He’s talking about the church. The Greek word for “fellowship” is koinonia which means “to have in common, to share, to be a joint participant, a partner with someone else.”

So koinonia is a sharing of life. John uses words of affection and relationship in his letter: little children, God’s children, beloved, brothers/sisters, fathers and children. These words give you a warm feeling.

But that may not have been your church experience. People often seem surprised when they find that the church is not perfect. But it did not surprise John. He sees in this fellowship problems too. It is a mess. He describes their behavior with words and phrases like: lie and liar, hate, child of the devil, and one who commits sin. He says some refused to love, had self-deceit and refused to help someone in need.

This is what fellowship is like. It’s messy. This fellowship is made up of people who are sinners. But they are people who acknowledge they are sinners. They come together to find out they are not all bad. But they remember they are not all good either. It’s a place you can learn to love others. And don’t forget it’s good to learn that others are having to learn to love you too.

We learn that by participating in another fellowship: “…and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” This is the only perfect fellowship you will find. Other’s aren’t. So there is no need to change churches. No need to jump to the next start-up. No church will follow a vision perfectly or a mission statement without mistakes. No church is perfect, and, if there were one, you and I would mess it up if we joined.

But the Father and the Son (and Spirit) have a perfect fellowship. We learn fellowship with “us” by experiencing fellowship with “them.”

That’s what this “last-living-one-of-the-Twelve-pushing-100-years-old” John would want for Jesus’ disciples today. He told the stories for years then wrote them down to last years after he was gone.

His words are still speaking today. He’s telling us what it is like to be with his friend Jesus. Listen well and you might find the fellowship you’ve been looking for.

Question: In what ways are you aware that you might love the church more? In what ways might you need to become more aware that people in the church are also learning to love you?

Find Life Around a Table

Can you picture a time of warmth around a table from your youth? It doesn’t take me long. As a young boy we took trips to northeast Arkansas to see my grandparents. We’d make our way past Texarkana and start checking off the towns: Hope, then Prescott. We’d move on to Little Rock, Searcy, then on to Hoxie and Walnut Ridge. Once there we knew Pocahontas was near. The car would snake its way through the town square and out towards Attica. If you blinked, you’d miss it. The General Store was on the left side of the road. The Baptist Church on the other.

But then over a few more hills and we’d turn onto the gravel road on the left and up to Granny and Pop’s house. By the time Dad parked the car they’d be on the front porch ready for two little boys to come running for hugs.

We had lots of fun on their farm. We’d try to help Pop “slop the hogs.” We’d catch fireflies. We’d crank homemade ice cream and ride our pony. But if I had to picture a time of warmth around a table it would be there. When the food was ready we’d all gather around the table: Pop, Granny, Mom and Dad, me and my brother. Pop would say the prayer. And we’d enjoy the meal together.

The warmth came not so much from the meal itself but because we were together and I knew that these people loved me and I loved them. Even my older brother. I had to. Mom said so. We were family.

Meals should be important to us because they were important to Jesus. Some scholars have said that “Jesus ate his way through the gospels.” Sharing meals was a significant thing in Jesus’ culture. There were social boundary markers in the Jewish world. And one way those boundaries were kept intact was by who received invitations to a meal and who did not.

Jesus came along and upended the social boundaries. Sure, he ate with his closest friends. That goes without saying. You know that from scripture but if not, you at least would know that from Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in Milan.

But Jesus did not only eat with those who were on the same journey with him. Jesus shared meals with people who saw things differently than he did. In Luke 7 Jesus eats at a Pharisee’s house. Jesus is reclining at the table with him. We need to remember that there are times we need to sit down with people we may not totally agree with and offer them our friendship. We might even give them a glimpse of the Kingdom.

And Jesus shared meals with people who lived differently than he did. He was known to eat with tax collectors and sinners. “Tax collectors” were hated by their Jewish friends. “Sinners” was a catch-all term for people who were obviously wicked. Tax collectors would fit into this category. But so would criminals and prostitutes. They had no place to fit in regular society so they fit with each other. When Matthew starts following Jesus he invites him to his house for a meal. We’re told that “many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus…” They were comfortable being with Jesus. And Jesus was comfortable with them.

Jesus ate his way through the gospels. Sitting at table with others meant they were accepted. They belonged. Maybe we should eat our way to life. Start with your family. If you are used to eating in different shifts or in different places around the house, begin by eating together at the table.

Move from there to inviting someone over to your house for dinner. Think about your neighbors and friends. From time to time you may want to throw a party and have a larger circle of people over.

When you can, eat family style. Sharing a meal includes passing plates and caring for each other in that way too.

Remember, you don’t have to be a great conversationalist. But you can learn to be a great questioner. Ask questions. Ask about a person’s day. What was good? What was not so good? Hear their story.

It’s a cold world out there. But warmth can be found around a table. We’d better get used to it. I’m told there is a banquet awaiting us at the Father’s house.

Question: What are your favorite memories around a table?

Don’t Squib-Kick Through Life

While in Italy in June I was asked to do two things I had never done before. The first was to try Horse Tartare. It wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. The second was to be the ceremonial kick-off kicker in an American football game for the Parma Panthers. It was worse than you might imagine.

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The Panthers became famous on account of John Grisham’s book Playing for Pizza. In 2008 Karen and I went to Parma because we had read the book and I wanted to see one of the games in the Italian Football League. We missed the game but got to meet the owner and his wife: Ivano and Bea Tira.

We’ve forged a friendship over the years and this summer we finally made it to a game. The Panthers were in the first round of the playoffs. In the days leading up to the game Ivano looked at me with a wicked smile on his face and said, “Rick, I want you to kick-off for us at the game.”

I thought he was kidding. I figured we’d get to the game and he’d have me conduct the coin toss. That didn’t happen. We were standing on the sideline and suddenly Ivano said, “You ready?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “OK. So we’ll go out on the field now and you will kick. You sure that’s OK?” I laughed and said, “Well, it won’t be pretty because I don’t kick footballs. But I’ll do it for you.”

I assured the real kicker he would not lose his job. Ivano said, “Now it’s time.” I turned around and saw the other team lined up. There was no turning back. It quickly dawned on me I had not planned out what I would do if he really was serious about the kick. I had no idea what I was doing so I stutter-stepped my way to the ball and kicked it straight on. (If you want a good laugh you can see it here)

My nephew Ryan—who played soccer and was his high school football team’s kicker—was watching from the sideline. He later said, “That was as wrong of a kick as possible.” The announcer called my 15-yard low spinning kick a Squib-Kick. It was ugly.

Sometimes our lives are like Squib-Kicks. Instead of hitting the sweet spot and sending the ball soaring we stutter-step our way through and end up with something ugly. And the reason is the same: we lack a plan for our lives.

Jesus didn’t. He knew exactly what he was to accomplish. You and I don’t have more to do than Jesus. He was here to save the world. And yet in three years he was able to tell the Father, “I have brought you glory by finishing the work you gave me to do.” In football terms he kicked it high, straight, and with distance.

Jesus had a plan and he gave us a plan: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” That’s the plan: make disciples. We learn from Jesus how to do what he would do if he were in our shoes.

And what would he do? He kept that simple too. “Love God. Love your neighbor.”

Instead of my terribly unplanned kick, our lives should be in sync with the plan God has given us to fulfill. But how do we do that when we are juggling multiple relational circles? A mentor of mine used to answer that question by saying: “Be a disciple. If you are learning to follow Jesus, you’ll learn from him how to make disciples. It will be natural.”

Jesus had many relational circles too: crowds, the 72, the 12, the 3 (Peter, James, John) and even the 1 (John). Jesus did not spend the same amount of time with everyone. But he did spend his time with everyone the same way…with purpose.

And so will we. What if you looked at your relational circles again with a plan? You won’t spend the same amount of time with everyone. But you will spend time with everyone the same way: with purpose.

It takes a plan. No Squib-Kicking allowed.

Question: How can you avoid a “Squib-Kick Life” starting today?

How to Find Community When You Can’t Find a Piazza

Karen and I were celebrating our 24th anniversary when I remarked, “You know, next year is our 25th anniversary. That’s a milestone. So I want to take you out to dinner somewhere special. You name it and we’ll go there.”

That’s a dangerous thing to tell your wives, men. I was thinking a restaurant somewhere in the Houston area. She answered, “OK. I choose Rome.” We had a love of Italy and I had made a promise so we started making plans.

We found a special place called The Library and reserved a table months in advance. The night finally arrived and it was a great celebration. After our meal we started meandering through the streets when we turned a corner and there it was: Piazza Novana.

It is one of the great piazzas in Italy. Ornate fountains, baroque buildings, street artists and performers make this the place to hang out. That night the piazza was full of people watching a live musical on a huge stage erected at one end. Piazzas are full of life.

Throughout Rome there are many smaller piazzas. They are the heart of the section of the city they are located in. Paths cross in the piazza. People meet in the piazzas. Piazzas are designed to encourage community.

It’s quite a contrast to our way of life. We drive home and put our car in the garage…if it will fit. The garage door closes and we enter the house. We might possibly have everyone in the family at the table at the same time, only to later go to their own separate rooms where each person has their own access to Wi-Fi, computers, and maybe a TV.

In America we live in a culture of individualism rather than a culture of community. How can that change? Looking at how Jesus created community will help.

Jesus created community around a common purpose.* Jesus began his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word “repent” is not as “churchy” as it sounds. It literally means to “change your mind” or “change the direction you are going.”

This summer we left the Hertz Rental garage in Florence with our GPS ready to go. We turned right out onto the one-way street looking forward to enjoying a drive in the country on our way to a winery. But as soon as we hit the streets we realized the GPS was not working. More than once we determined we were heading in the wrong direction and turned the car around. You could say we “repented.”

That was Jesus’ purpose. And his followers had the same purpose: to help people turn and find their way into his kingdom.

Jesus also created community around common beliefs. Beliefs are important. Behaviors are based on beliefs. So Jesus taught what life in the kingdom was life. He knew what people believed would be seen in their behaviors. One example is Jesus taught that the marginalized had a place at his table. Some didn’t believe that and so only the approved ones would be invited to a literal table meal. In contrast, Jesus invited “tax collectors and sinners” to sit with him at many table meals. His community formed with people who believed what he believed. Community can be found with people who have common beliefs.

And then Jesus created community around a common place. The common place for Jesus was Galilee.  Jesus’ ministry began and ended there. Most of his ministry was spent traversing Galilee with people who lived in that region.

That’s how community is developed. People have to be together in a common place. Facebook won’t create it. Twitter can’t. FaceTime is better than no time. But it takes being in a common place for people to have the opportunity to look each other in the eyes and go deep into each other’s lives.

Who knows what could happen if we repent from our way of individualism and turn to Jesus’ way of community? We might find it. Even if we can’t find a piazza.

*These community ingredients inspired by Randy Frazee’s book The Connecting Church

Question: Where do you find community today?

Learn to Live “In this Moment”

In our first trip to Italy we stayed at Villa Rosalba. Rosalba was the woman who took care of the place and her guests. Álvaro, her husband, grew the lemons in their yard for limoncello and liked to talk. We bonded over his limoncello and our mutual love of tennis.

Unsplash / Pixabay

I noticed he had a favorite expression: “in this moment.” He’d say, “In this moment, Rick, my life is very good.” Later I read this about the Italians: “Italians see time as a flowing river. Once it flows past, you can never catch up to it. You can only sit on the banks of the river and appreciate what flows past right now–in this moment.”

Quite a contrast from the way we do things as Americans. We seem to always be trying to catch up to time. I remember a few years ago when our boys were still teenagers I bumped into an old college roommate by accident. He was catching me up on his life and his family. He ran a business and then ran his kids all over their major city for their sporting commitments. He said they change clothes in the car and eat in the car and go to sleep in the car.

I told him he needed to just buy a mobile home since he already had one. I haven’t heard from him since.

Does that sound anything like the way your life works? We assume everyone lives this way. We think it is part of a privileged life. And somehow we think it will eventually balance itself out. Someday. Maybe.

It was not so in the beginning. There is a flow in the creation account we ignore to our detriment. It’s not that we have not heard it. We have just ignored it. Here is the flow: there is work and there is rest.

God worked, or created, for six days. Then, on the seventh day, he rested. Later this is called the Sabbath. The Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Why this flow? Why this command? Because the Creator knows what is good for his creation. Rest is part of that “good.” He was able, at the end of his work, to look over everything he had made and say it was “very good.” Then he rested. He did not work.

How does that compare with your evenings? And how does that compare with your weekends? If you are anything like the people in a study the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence conducted, then you still work in your time off.

More than 50% of adults indicate they check work messages at least once a day over the weekend. They check before and after work during the work week. They even check on work when they are home sick. And 44% check on work when they are on vacation.

Apparently we do not know how to “vacate” even on vacation.

What if we started making small adjustments? Go home one night this week and put the phone, email, and Facebook away. Find one day over the next month to rest. Spend time with your family and friends. Linger longer at the table.

See if it makes a difference in your life. It should. You were wired to work and rest. You were created so that, at the end of the day you could say with my Italian friend: “In this moment, my life is very good.”

Question: How can you live more “in this moment” today?




Your Nickname Can Change Your Life

The nickname could have been crushing for some. For whatever reason it did not bother me. Here’s the story.

photovicky / Pixabay

When I was a teenager our youth group started a puppet ministry. Sounds kind of quaint now, but for some reason our team was a hit. This was before reality television so people had nothing better to do than to watch puppets. We performed at churches. We performed at events. We performed in the city.

Once we got an invitation to bring our show to the Cat Club. Our high school mascot was the Bobcat. Our youth minister thought it was the football booster club that issued the invitation, didn’t know why they’d want a puppet show, but figured that was about as good as it would get in San Angelo, Texas. We booked it only to show up and discover it was really the Cat Club. The Cat Club was made up of a bunch of older women who were crazy about cats.

One of our skits had to do with the rich man and Lazarus. The narrator would say Lazarus was a “diseased beggar.” I manned the Lazarus puppet and, since I was the youngest in the group, was nicknamed “the Beggar.” “The Beg” for short.

Maybe it was because I knew that behind the nickname was some brotherly love from the group I was fine with it. It stayed with me. I knew I wasn’t a diseased beggar. I was healthy and my parents had some money. But I also knew that I had a group around me who accepted me. In a strange way it gave me confidence.

Maybe you had a nickname growing up. Maybe you have one now. Nicknames can be detrimental if meant to be harmful. But they can also give a person a new identity.

Levi had a nickname and he must have loved it. “Levi” is the Hebrew name for the writer of the gospel called Matthew. Levi was the tax collector who was loathed by his Jewish friends and used by his Roman friends. The tax collector who one day packed up his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. The tax collector whose first act we know of was to invite people over to his house to be with Jesus.

Levi. That name may have been given to him by his parents in hopes he would become a rabbi or priest. We can imagine that he felt the disappointment from them too when he turned his back on their dreams for him and turned out to be a tax collector.

But he felt no disappointment from Jesus. Jesus called him “Matthew.” It most likely is a nickname. “Matthew” means “Gift of God.” Imagine how his new name changed his life. He had never felt like a gift to anyone before. His new identity sent him following Jesus and learning from him. Later it would send him as a missionary to Ethiopia to tell them about the “gift of God” to the world.

God loves to rename his people. Abram became Abraham: Father of many. Sarai became Sarah: Princess. Jacob became Israel: He strove with God and men and prevailed. Cephas became Peter: a rock.

Jesus gave Levi a vision of who he could be by nicknaming him Matthew: Gift of God. And he has given you a new name too. Try on “forgiven” for size. Or how about “saint”? “Friend” might fit you just fine.

And maybe “beggar” isn’t so bad after all. We’re told that when Martin Luther died a scrap of paper was found in his pocket. It read, “This is true. We are all beggars before God.”  Beggars that have been given an inheritance from the King.

How incredible is that?

Question: Did you have a nickname while growing up? Now? What nickname do you think God would give you?


Don’t Fear the Dragons

Remember Daniel? He’s the one in the lion’s den. Daniel’s story is about God’s people in captivity. They’re in Babylon. And Daniel and his friends show that they can stay true to God even when things look bad.

straw / Pixabay

Things like being thrown into a lion’s den. Or being thrown into a fiery furnace. Or when it looks like all sorts of monsters are coming after the people of God. In chapter seven Daniel has a dream about a winged lion, a bear with tusks, a four-headed leopard, and a gigantic monster with ten horns. These monsters are making war on the people of God.

You may look at the world today like that. The people of God are getting hammered on every side. You may think the government isn’t doing what it should to protect Christians. You may see that a secular world view is taking over. You may be worried about who the next president will be or if the next Supreme Court appointee will tip the balance to the liberal side. You may notice that church attendance is declining. Monsters on every side.

Jesus’ disciples felt the same way. The Roman government had taken control of their land. The Christians were being moved to the margins of society. When Matthew wrote his gospel they were being thrown out of the synagogues. They didn’t fit with the Jewish religion anymore. They didn’t fit with the Roman government. Monsters were making war with them on every side.

They think Jesus has come to rescue them by setting up a kingdom and crushing the Romans. We know that because when he told them he was going to die and on the third day be raised they only heard the word “die” and stopped listening. They didn’t much like his game plan.

And they forgot Daniel’s vision. In it “one like the son of man” comes and is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” Jesus’ favorite name for himself was “son of man.” He wasn’t being secretive about who he was. He was saying “I’m the one Daniel dreamed about.”

We want power. We don’t want death on a cross so much. That’s not what Peter signed up for. And it may not be what we signed up for. We sign up for power, don’t we?

  • If we follow Jesus, then our world will be set right.
  • If we have enough faith, then Jesus will heal us.
  • If we tithe, then the blessing of God will be showered down on us and that “blessing” is typically defined as “we’ll give some money and in return God will give us more money.”
  • If we get the right staff and the right marketing plan our church will grow quickly.
  • If we get the right politicians in office they will protect us and our way of life.

Daniel and Jesus would have us know that we don’t have to be afraid. Even when monsters are attacking us on every side. Even when our leader is being delivered over, beaten, and hung on a cross. We are people who don’t need the government or anyone else to protect us. God does that.

On the cross it looked like evil won. On the third day it looked like love won. So don’t be afraid.

There’s a line that is often misquoted from G.K. Chesterton. As best I can find the original line is put this way: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”[1]

Another way of saying Chesterton is:Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.[2]

Let’s be people of faith, not fear. Let’s be people that follow.

Question: What dragons need to be defeated in your life?