This One Thing Can Change the World

In their book The Art of Neighboring, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon tell of a time when Denver area ministers met with their mayor and asked him, “How can we as churches best work together to serve our city?”

They asked the question because they wanted to help make their city a better place to live for everyone. They mayor surprised them with his answer. “The majority of issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”

The mayor left and the pastors were left feeling a bit embarrassed. They realized that the mayor had just preached a sermon to them that was lifted from the words of Jesus himself. Jesus had said the greatest commandment was to love God. He had then added that the second was like it: love your neighbor as yourself.

Here’s an understatement: I think Jesus was onto something. (I actually believe he was the smartest person to ever walk this earth.) This one thing can change our world. Here are some examples from Jay and Dave:

  • Did you know that people who have close bonds with their neighbors live longer? Feel like sticking around this earth an extra few years? Get to know your neighbor.
  • Did you know that in areas where people know the names of their neighbors the crime rate is 60% lower? Want to feel safer? Get to know your neighbor.
  • Did you know that when natural disasters strike, your neighbors are your first responders? Those of us who live in the Houston area have experienced this recently.

Jesus told a story of what it meant to “love your neighbor as yourself.” A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, got robbed, beaten and left half dead. Two religious men came by and walked on by. A Samaritan stopped to help. This was the pivotal point of the story. Samaritans and Jews did not get along. Lots of baggage in their history. But he helps. He bandaged the beaten man, put him on his animal, and took him to an inn (a first century version of a hospital). He even left his credit card to take care of any further needs. The Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to this man.

Jesus’ teaching was for us to go and do the same. We can be a neighbor to anyone in need. But we can also be a neighbor to our neighbors. Literally. So try this exercise. Write down the names of the people in the eight houses that are closest to you.

Can you? If not, you’re not alone. The authors have conducted this experiment a number of times and have arrived at these results: About 10% can fill out the names of all eight of their neighbors. About 3% can name some relevant information about those neighbors. And less than 1% know any in-depth information about their neighbors.

How can this change? The first, simple step is very profound so you might want to get ready for this: get to know their names. Knowing a person’s name is a big deal. And knowing a person’s name leads to getting to know them better.

A second step is to understand that God may have placed you right where you are because you have a neighbor wanting to find him. The Apostle Paul was teaching in Athens and was telling the crowd about the one true God. He said that God had “determined the exact places where people would live so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him.”

Did God pick out your house or did you? It’s an interesting thought. Regardless of how you answer that question, you have been placed in your neighborhood for a very specific reason. You are there so that when someone reaches out for God there is a handle they can grab onto.

What would it look like if everyone reading this column were to learn the names of eight neighbors? This one thing could change the world.

Question: What can you do this week to get to know one of your neighbors?

Know Why You Do What You Do

Do you know why you do what you do? Many of us don’t. Simon Sinek says that many people and companies don’t know their “why” and yet it is crucial to their success.

Sinek is known for his TED talk where he describes The Golden Circle. Sinek says the great leaders and companies of the world all think, act, and speak the same. And it’s the complete opposite from everyone else. He says everyone knows “what” they do. Some know “how” they do it. But very few people or organizations know “why” they do what they do. “Why?” is the cause or purpose or belief behind “what” you do.

Apple is his example. If they did things like everyone else their marketing campaign would go something like this: “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

But they don’t approach their company that way. They begin with the “why?”

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

Sinek says people don’t buy what you do but why you do it. It’s an amazing insight. But it’s also a little scary since most of us don’t know why we do what we do. And yet the early believers knew the “why” behind the “how” and “what” they did. And “what” they did was community.

…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … And all who believed were together and had all things in common. … And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes… (Acts 2:42-47)

If we could travel back through time and sit down in their homes and ask them why they were meeting together they would answer: Everything we do we believe in following Jesus’ way of life.

Jesus is why they did anything they did. They were following the way of Jesus. And one of the things they did was devote themselves to the fellowship. “Devote” means to “adhere to.” If you’ve ever stepped on some gum and found your shoe stuck to the ground, you understand the word for “devote.” Your shoe and the pavement are “glued” or “stuck together.”

The early Christians were stuck together too. Why? Because they saw Jesus stick with them. When they were fun to be around, he stuck with them. When they irritated him, he stuck with them. When they were slow to understand, he stuck with them. Jesus is a model of devotion.

And he wants us to be too. In John 13:35 he says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” When the church loves those in the church, those outside the church will notice. Why? Because Jesus is love.

Jesus is our “why.” Devotion is our “how.” Loving each other is our “what.” And others notice how we love each other. Jesus said in John 13 that this is how people will know we are his disciple, i.e., how we “love one another.”

We do what he would do in the way he would do it. And Jesus would challenge the status quo of our isolated world and create community. Our Golden Circle might sound something like this:

Everything we do, we believe in following Jesus. The way we follow Jesus is by devoting ourselves. We devote ourselves to teaching and fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayers, to being together and having all things in common. We just happen to enjoy community too.

Know your “why” and you’ll know “how” to do your “what.” You might even change the world along the way.

Question: How aware are you of your “why” for the things you do?

 

 

 

 

How to Increase Your Love of God and People

You’ve seen art lovers. They go to museums on their time off. They buy paintings for their home and office.

You’ve seen sports lovers. They watch every college game on the weekend. They buy racquets and equipment and hit the courts three nights a week. They play hoops with other aging bodies even when it hurts.

You’ve seen food lovers. They take cooking classes. They purchase the best utensils for their kitchen. The art lover sees their presentation which resembles a masterpiece and asks to buy it for their home or office.

You know the principle even if you have never stated it: you are what you love. Each one of us becomes something that we love. And we are first what we want.

So says James Smith in his book, You are What You Love. Makes sense, doesn’t it? People know Jay Leno loves cars because Jay Leno owns around 286 vehicles. And people know you by what you love. And they know what you love because you have ordered your life around what you want.

That’s why Jesus asks the disciples who are following him, “What do you want?” He doesn’t ask “What do you believe?” or “What do you know?” Jesus wants to know “What do you want?” This is an important question—maybe “the” question—because as Smith writes, “You are what you love because you live toward what you want.”

The problem we face is that in following Jesus we often find we have wanted something other than him first. And so we have lived towards those things that occupy a higher place in our lives. We need our wants to be transformed.

It’s possible. One way we try to do this is by learning. We study. We attend Bible class, worship and hear sermons, we take online studies and read the Bible more and read more books. There’s nothing wrong with learning. At its basic definition a “learner” is what a “disciple” is: someone who learns to live the life Jesus would live if he were in our shoes.

What we often miss in our era is we think learning has to do with only the brain. So we try to cram more knowledge in it. And then we learn that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love” and we realize we have not become good at loving.

Biblical learning goes past head knowledge alone. Knowledge has a sidekick named Behavior. Classically, behavior can be formed in two ways. The first is imitation. Our culture values originality but the Bible values imitation. Jesus said “follow me.” Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

Want to learn to love? Find people who love God well and love people well and spend time with them. Watch them. Ask questions. Invite input. Imitate them as they imitate God.

Then practice. Move what you are learning to your behavior. We listen to a virtuoso violinist and we marvel at how fluidly and flawlessly she plays. But what we don’t see is that because she loves the sound a violin makes she has spent hours and hours practicing. The Apostle Paul says our practice takes place in Christian worship. It happens when the church assembles for worship of God. And it happens when the church assembled dismisses into the world.

Jesus asked those disciples “What do you want?” They didn’t really know so they followed him. And what they saw they imitated. What Jesus did they practiced. Things they thought they wanted most they learned they needed least. What they wanted most was God. And so they learned to love him first.

This year may you love God first. Imitate God lovers you can find. Practice.

Before long people will look at you and say “That person is a God lover.”

Question: How well are you known as a “God Lover?” Who will you imitate and how will you practice this year?

Worship When the Feelings Aren’t There

I remember walking into class that day and seeing her across the room. Something about Veronica caught my eye. Jet black hair. Big eyes. Eyes that met mine left me no way out. She knew I had glanced at her and knew I knew she knew.

It was the start of the semester and the start of something else. At break we met and talked. Talks turned into walks. Walks turned into holding hands. It wasn’t long until I took the next natural step in this progression.

I bought her a ring. I had saved up my money and painstakingly picked out a ring at the store. And then, while examining it one last time before putting it into a box to present to her, I dropped it. It fell apart. The small jewels bounced around on the floor. Settings broke in two.

At first I was near tears but then I thought, “What should I expect from a 5 and Dime store?” I gathered up the fragments, made a mixed media art piece, and gave it to her at school the next day. She was underwhelmed. And so ended my first love in second grade.

It was a great feeling while it lasted. Maybe you can remember your first love. And maybe the feeling was good enough that you wanted it again. Sometimes we can fall in love with falling in love, can’t we?

It happened in the medieval ages. Something called “courtly love” or “romantic love” developed. Here’s what happened: Married men would basically have an emotional affair with either another married woman or a single woman. This “courtly love” would not be physical. It would remain at the emotional level. The essence of courtly love was to fall in love with falling in love.

The church today might be guilty of courtly love. In writing about this phenomenon, Scot McKnight has said, “Some folks love church, and what they mean by ‘loving church’ is that they love the experience they get when they go to church.”

  • They might like the experience and feelings they get from singing songs about adoration of God or the experience of loving Jesus.
  • They might like sermons that make them feel God’s power or tell stories that entertain or insights that seem brand new.
  • If the song isn’t in the right style or the sermon is more broccoli than dessert, then we might leave rating the time spent as a disappointment. Like the segment on American Bandstand where Dick Clark would have some teenagers “Rate a Record,” we rate what we call worship on the basis of its beat and how it made us feel.

But what if the worship of the church is not supposed to be rated on the flightiness of feelings? Instead, its design might be more about building the faithfulness of fidelity to Christ? More about a mature relationship than a courtly love.

The Apostle Paul would say so. He writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” What happens on Sunday mornings when followers of Christ meet is worship, but it is only part of a larger framework of a life of worship.

We live a life of worship to the degree that our hearts and faces are turned toward God all the time in all of our life. The early church understood that. And so they sang. They sang when they gathered on the first day of the week but they sang at other times.

  • Paul and Silas sang in prison. Not sure what they were feeling but they worshiped.
  • Jesus and the disciples sang after the Passover meal. Jesus was on his way to the cross. I wonder what he “got” out of that time of worship?

Paul redirects our focus of worship on the idea that even the songs are to “teach and admonish.” Everything to Paul was to move our attention to Jesus. The shape of our worship is intended to shape us into the image of Christ.

When we set our eyes on Jesus we shape our lives like Jesus’.

The feelings are great when they are present. But even when they are not, keep looking at Jesus. You’ll find something better than the flightiness of courtly love.

Question: What would change about your worship experience if you “rated” it by how it taught and admonished you towards Jesus?

 

When a Thanksgiving Meal Can Be a Picture of the Church

The “All Church Fellowship” was the one announcement at church I looked forward to when I was a young single guy. The invitation typically went something like this: “Come enjoy a potluck lunch. Please bring an item to share. It will be a great time of food and fellowship. You won’t want to miss it!”

I really did not want to miss the food part. When you are lacking in culinary skills, these words are like music to your ears. You didn’t know what was going to be spread out on the buffet tables but you could imagine: A pot roast would be sitting next to some tamales. Fresh, fluffy dinner rolls would be next to a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s bread. A homemade cherry pie would be placed next to a container of store bought cookies.

Then there would always be some “manna.” That would be the dish that no one knew what it was and everyone was afraid to try because they didn’t know what it was. If they asked me I’d just say, “Must be manna.” The inquiring mind would then ask, “Why do you say this is ‘manna.’”

That’s when my Bible degree would pay off. I’d look them in the eyes and say, “Well, when the Israelites in the wilderness saw the frosted flakes on the ground for the first time they called it ‘manna.’ And ‘manna’ means “What is it?” Some older lady in the church would then go home with a smile on her face because she heard we were saying her dish was heavenly.

And then there would always be a large bag of Lay’s potato chips. They would be right in the middle of a table, as conspicuous as a man waiting for his wife in the lingerie department. Everyone would know where they came from. It would be my contribution to the “all church potluck fellowship.”

That was the great thing about the invitation. Everyone was invited. And everyone brought something to share. The scene was a modern day parable of the first Christians.

In their early meetings you might see another potluck. But this one is comprised of people. You see a slave. But he isn’t serving anyone. He’s sitting next to his Roman master. You see women and children. You notice a Jewish woman and a Greek man. There are Romans who lived the full Roman lifestyle but are now learning the ways of Jesus. There are Jews who still practice their Jewish ways but have embraced Jesus as their Messiah.

And there is a table spread with food for everyone. Before there were ever church buildings and pulpits and praise teams there were houses and kitchens and tables.

More importantly there was fellowship. The Greek word for “fellowship” is koinonia. It means literally “that which is shared in common.” What we traditionally call “fellowship” involves sharing some time together. But biblical koinonia encompasses more.

Koinonia is first a spiritual sharing. It existed from the beginning as the Father, Son and Spirit shared life together.

Then it is a social sharing. Jesus had koinonia with the Father, but he showed us that it was to be shared through invitation to others. Jesus was always at table with “sinners”: tax collectors, prostitutes, the immoral, the blind, lame, and diseased. Everyone was welcome at his table.

John put it this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you are a “whoever” you are invited.

And then koinonia is also a financial sharing. John writes that we are not walking in light if we see a brother or sister in need and close our hearts against them. True fellowship means we will use our financial blessings to help others.

You may experience some fellowship around a Thanksgiving table this week. When you do, let it be for you a picture of the church, a place where everyone is invited to the table with Jesus. And everyone has a place to belong. That’s something for which to be thankful.

Question: Who might you invite to the “table”?

 

 

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.

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 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.

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?

Learn Mercy. Throw Some Parties.

The two diplomas I’ve earned hang on a wall in my office. For years I had them tucked away on a shelf. But Karen decided they needed to be framed and displayed.

When I wasn’t looking one day she took them to a frame shop. When she opened up the diploma folder along with the sheepskin was a card. Apparently our seven-year-old son Taylor wanted to commemorate my graduation. He wrote:

from Taylor To Rick Allen Brown. The Best dad in the world. Sertificit of Honer for Rick Allen Brown which is a masters of Devinity Graguit. This picture is about an Early Bird which is eating a worm.

There is also a drawing of a bird pulling a very worried worm up from the ground in his beak.

If you were to analyze the note you’d see it one way. The spelling isn’t all right. My middle name is “Alan” and not “Allen.” “Divinity” is misspelled as well as “graduate.” But really, who cares? This was a gift from a seven-year-old to his dad.

My reaction when Karen showed me the diploma and picture framed together? I told Karen, “That card means more to me than the diploma.”

And people mean more to our Father than crossing T’s and dotting I’s. Unfortunately, the church can forget that. Even in the first century the Jewish teachers focused on three identity markers that said who was “in” and who was “out”: dietary laws, circumcision, and the Sabbath. Who you ate with fit in with the dietary laws. They looked at the spelling instead of the heart.

Matthew was clearly on the outside. He didn’t quite fit the identity markers of the day. He was a Jew so he probably met the circumcision criteria. (I’m not quite sure how they checked that one out.) Maybe he was lax with dietary laws and missed a Sabbath every now and then.

So when Jesus called Matthew, Matthew followed. Then he threw a party at his house and invited his tax collector and sinner friends. In their culture “reclining at table” with people was a sign that you approved of them, that you accepted them. The Pharisees saw it, didn’t like who Jesus was hanging out with, and complained. Jesus answered them with this important line: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

“Mercy” comes from the Old Testament word hesed. It’s used over 250 times in the Old Testament. It’s used 127 times in the 150 Psalms. If you had asked an Israelite in Old Testament times to give you one word to describe their God this is the word they would give: hesed.

Jesus says to “learn” what it means. The word for “learn” is one that means to “learn by use and practice.” Jesus was practicing hesed. The Pharisees were not. They were practicing sacrifice. And because they did they expected something from God.

Matthew expected nothing. And yet he got everything. And when he did he had to share it. Mercy means breaking down barriers and throwing parties where Jesus is present.

Imagine what could happen if we “learned mercy.” Our communities would change. And if our communities changed our cities would change. And if our cities would change, our nation would change. And if our nation changed…well, you can see that the world might change.

Matthew learned mercy. He took his tax collector pen and invited friends to meet Jesus. He used it to write his Gospel so his Jewish friends could learn that they could never offer enough sacrifices to expect anything from the Messiah.

But they could learn mercy. Learning mercy translates into loving people who aren’t expecting anything. It means throwing a few parties.

Even when some words on the invitation are misspelled.

Question: How can you learn “mercy” this week?

 

Eliminate the Number One Predictor of Divorce

You’ve seen the signs before:

    • A rolling of the eyes.
    • A snarled lip.
    • A sarcastic tone to the voice.

You’ve seen them targeted at you. And perhaps you’ve targeted the same at another. Those are the signs of what is called “contempt.”

And contempt is the number one predictor of divorce. So says John Gottman. Named among the top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century by the Psychotherapy Networker, Dr. Gottman is known for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction.

And the number one predictor of divorce is contempt. Contempt does not just appear one day out of nowhere in a relationship. It begins with negative thoughts about the partner that simmer on the back-burner for some time. As the negative thoughts make their way into the habitual thinking about the other partner they create a sense of superiority in the one full of negative thoughts.

  • They start thinking they are smarter.
  • They start thinking they are always “right.”
  • They start thinking of the other as despised.

And not only do they “think” it. They start verbalizing it. Contempt can surface through words and actions of disrespect, sarcasm and ridicule. It leaves the other feeling worthless and unloved.

Contempt is nothing new. The word comes from a Latin word meaning “scorn.” Loving relationships cannot thrive on scorn. In fact, they won’t.

Jesus spoke to the issue of contempt in Matthew 5.21-22:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Notice he begins by talking about anger. Dallas Willard says that anger indulged always has an element of self-righteousness and vanity. That then leads to contempt, or a feeling of superiority over the other person.

In the Matthew passage the original word for “fool” is “raca.” It was an Aramaic word used in Jesus’ time to denote contempt. Willard says it may have originated from the sound a person makes when they collect spittle from the throat in order to spit.

How many relationships survive when one party spits on the other? Not many. That’s why the progression in what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount is important. Notice his topics:

Anger—Contempt—Lust—Divorce

Each moves a relationship one step closer to breaking up. Arrest your anger and you won’t form contempt. Curtail contempt and you won’t start looking around. Lasso your lust and you won’t consider divorce.

Gottman is right. Contempt must be eliminated from the relationship. How? Take a cue from 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” Each word is a verb. Start acting in loving ways and watch the feelings follow. Appreciate your partner. Affirm your partner. Show affection to your partner.

And then rehabilitate your body language. Stop rolling your eyes. Stifle the sarcasm. Smile instead of smirk.

Your face will thank you. And so will your marriage.

Question: Do you see yourself anywhere along the progression of Matthew 5? If so, what will you do about it?

Christmas Cheer is Found in Us and Not on a Cup

I realize I’m slow to the Starbucks party this week. I wanted to collect my thoughts on what it is that has bugged me about this whole episode the most.

Somehow the fact that Starbucks has decided their cups for this holiday season will be red has created quite a firestorm. Somehow because the words “Merry Christmas” are not on the cup or their baristas lips, certain Christians have felt ostracized, maybe even “persecuted.”

There has been at least one call to retaliation: tell the barista at the counter your name is “Merry Christmas” and then they’ll either have to say the phrase “Merry Christmas” (some sly trickster, huh?) or have an unclaimed Extra Shot of Espresso Mocha Latte Grande on their hand the rest of the day (and that’s about a day’s wage going to waste right there…come to think of it, that might be worth getting upset about!).

I honestly don’t get it.  I have questions:

  • Since when does Starbucks need to cater to any one group? It appears to me they are running a business that is still going to celebrate the season. They even have their “Christmas Blend” coffee on hand in bags ready to go. I’m not sure their cups ever said “Merry Christmas” on them in the first place. And any store worker—whether it be at a coffee shop or a retail chain—has the freedom to wish me Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or nothing at all. It’s not going to ruin my day either way. Shouldn’t I be more concerned how to make their day a little brighter? Like by being “light”?
  • And since when do Christians need to retaliate? I was under the impression that we are following a man who taught us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I think it is great to pray for the people of Starbucks but I doubt very seriously they were who Jesus had in mind when he talked about “enemies.” Even so, if that’s how one happens to view the corporate coffee giant called Starbucks, then prayer and love is what is to be extended to them. Not snarkiness.
  • And since when is anyone who has the financial means to spend their hard earned cash on barista quality coffee considered among the persecuted? There are plenty of Christians around the world who truly understand what it means to be persecuted who must look at us and scratch their heads in wonder (assuming they have even heard about this horrible event and hopefully, for their sake, their days have not been filled with this nonsense since they have enough real world issues to deal with—like staying alive). “Wonder” as in “to think or speculate curiously.” Not “wonder” as in “to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe.”
  • And since when do Christians operate from a position of power, prestige and privilege anyway? That’s not the life of the earliest Christians. And it wasn’t the life of their leader. In fact, he turned away from those things (remember Matthew 4:1-11?) and walked a road that led to a cross. Can you imagine the early church complaining about their rights to the Roman Empire? Can you imagine them getting upset because a local watering hole served them something to drink in a container that did not have on it one of their symbols? Like maybe an anchor. (I can hear it now: “They aren’t mentioning our anchor this year. Tell them your name is An Chor. Hehehe. Then they’ll have to say it to serve up their brew.)

No, shouting and complaining about a cup of all things makes little sense to me. Getting our “way” about anything will not change anything. But “getting” Jesus’ Way about everything might just transform the places we inhabit each day of our lives.

The place for transformation to begin is not at Starbucks. It is in us. And when we are transformed there is a great likelihood that things around us will be transformed too.

Red cups aren’t worth complaining about. Unless, of course, you prefer green as your holiday color of choice.