Eavesdropping for Kindness and Encouragement

One of my favorite quotes on kindness is pretty simple: “Be kind.  You never know what someone’s going through.”  In their 1984 book Encouragement: The Key to Caring, Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender write about how much of our interaction with others happens between layers we put on to hide our true selves, rather than between the deepest parts of our selves.  We intentionally don’t let others know what we’re going through.  Although the above quote probably wasn’t common when the book was written in 1984, the authors definitely had the idea in mind when they wrote about how we might imagine eavesdropping on the thoughts of others as we arrive at church on Sunday morning.  Such imagining might help us realize how much people encouragement and kindness everyone really needs.  They wrote that we might hear thoughts like these:

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“Oh, no! There’s Fred pulling up in his car. If he sees me, he’ll ask me for that committee report I haven’t done yet. I’d better move inside quickly and get seated.”
“I wish my husband weren’t away on that business trip. It’s really uncomfortable coming to church without him. Well, I’ll just sit in the back and leave as soon as the service is over.”
“I sure hope the preaching is better than it’s been the last few weeks.”
“This should be a really good day. No work that needs to be done. I like our church and the football game is on TV at 3 this afternoon.  That gives me time to take the family out to dinner and still be home for the kickoff. I really like being a Christian.”
“I wonder if I should keep coming to this church. I really haven’t made any friends and the sermons don’t do much for me. Well I’ll keep praying about it and see how it goes today”
“Look at that happy young family. It really hurts when I realize my kids are grown, gone, unsaved, and mixed-up. Boy, I wish I could have a few years back. Well I can’t start crying now. Cmon, smile-here comes Nancy to say hello.”
“People think of me as a pretty spiritually together person. I’ll make a point to interact graciously and to respond in a biblical way to whatever happens.”[1]

While we can’t (and shouldn’t) eavesdrop on thoughts, imagining it reminds us that we really don’t know what’s going on behind other people’s layers, and they don’t usually know what’s behind ours.

Therefore, “Be kind.  You never know what someone’s going through.”

[1] Crabb, Larry and Dan Allender.  Encouragement: The Key to Caring (1984).  P. 95-96.

What’s in Your Temple?

When describing His holiness, God provided pictures like the one in Isaiah 6:1 – “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”  Because “the train of his robe filled the temple,” there is no room in the temple for anything that isn’t holy.  Or in Revelation 15:8, which says: “and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”  Until God’s judgment was complete – both on the unrepentant and on the cross for His people – there would continue to be no room in the sanctuary for anyone but the Lord.

How do these pictures apply to us?  Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  Therefore, we ask ourselves: does the train of the Lord’s robe fill our temples?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A transformative moment came in my Christian life when I understood sin in contrast to holiness, rather than as a list of “don’ts.”  It’s possible (perhaps even easy) to convince ourselves we are not sinners in need of grace by defining sin as things we don’t do.  However, much of the time, the word “sin” in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word hamartia, which means “to miss the mark.”[1]  The word has athletic connotations, such as if an archer couldn’t hit the bullseye, they wouldn’t win the competition and the prize.  As we all know, archers are supposed to be accurate, and if they aren’t, they’ve “missed the mark.”

Therefore, when Paul writes in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he is not saying everybody failed to follow a list of dos and don’ts, but that we have not fully lived the life God intended us to live.  Romans 3:23 declares that while we wouldn’t set up idols in our church building, all of us tolerate some idols in our soul, which is where the Holy Spirit of God chooses to dwell.  The train of His robe does not fill our inner temple, and we too often trod on it with dirty feet.  We’ve “missed the mark” any time there’s other stuff in our temple, directing our thoughts and actions.  However, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have both a hope of living with God and a future where His metaphorical robe does fill us.

In Paradise, God’s people will – individually and collectively – “hit the mark” perfectly for eternity.  His perfect temple will be completed in Paradise, with the living stones of all His people.

Paul returns to holiness again in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to 7:1, quoting several Old Testament passages, since holiness of His people has been the plan from the beginning –

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
             ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
                        and I will be their God,
                        and they shall be my people.
            Therefore go out from their midst,
                        and be separate from them, says the Lord,
            and touch no unclean thing;
                        then I will welcome you,
            and I will be a father to you,
                        and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
            says the Lord Almighty.’

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.


[1] Greek Strong’s Dictionary

The Body of Christ is Irreducibly Complex

Among the various camps in the debate between creation and evolution is a set of ideas called intelligent design (ID).  A key part of ID is “irreducible complexity,” a term that comes from the book Darwin’s Black Box, by Lehigh professor Michael Behe.[1]

In short, irreducible complexity argues that evolution by chance, without an intelligent designer driving it, is unreasonable because the multiple systems in a complex organism like a human body – circulatory, digestive, endocrine, muscular, respiratory, and so on – are all interdependent on each other.  The circulatory system alone, with the heart pumping blood through an elaborate system of arteries and veins, is difficult to imagine developing by chance occurrence, but a chance evolution of that system alongside all the other parts it is dependent on is even more far-fetched.  All systems evolving together in lockstep without failing is a much more difficult problem to explain scientifically without a Creator.  The circulatory system takes what the respiratory and digestive systems take in and deliver it to the other systems that use it.  Without the other parts, it has no function and cannot survive and further evolve.

An isolated, inanimate, heart. Photo by Ali Hajiluyi on Unsplash

However, my intent here is not to prove intelligent design, but to consider the apostle Paul’s words about the church as the body of Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 12:12, he wrote: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”  He continues that no part of the body can say it is not a part of the body because it has a different function than another part (1 Cor. 12:15-16), and also that no part of the body can say it doesn’t need all of the other parts (1 Cor. 12:21).  Those who are in Christ Jesus cannot be divided.

Paul follows his description of the body with 1 Corinthians 13, a powerful statement on the supremacy of love, and in context a gentle rebuke to the idea that a body can survive as individual, unrelated units.  In a human body, any part can only survive by serving the other parts.  Even an organ as incredibly complex and important as a heart cannot survive if it decided to pump blood only for itself.  Where would it get its nutrients?  How would it flee from danger?  As Paul wrote: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Cor. 12:17).  Even an organ as important as the heart is useless in isolation.  It gets its very life and purpose by what it does for the body.

As Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

As the song says, they will know we are Christians by our love, and the church Jesus came to build is irreducibly complex.  There is no appendix[2] in the church, which is the body of Christ.

[1] Behe, Michael.  Darwin’s Black Box (1996).
[2] While we commonly think of this organ as useless, God as our Maker didn’t put it there by accident.

Zap! The Best Action Figures for Christmas

Dear fellow travelers,

A hot Christmas gift when I was a kid were G.I. Joe toys.  These “Real American Heroes” were a line of action figures, vehicles and other accessories that fought against the evil Cobra organization which was trying to take over the world (of course).  In 1982, they were even hotter, after Hasbro added “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” to the design to differentiate G.I. Joe from the also-popular Star Wars figures.

Zap looks much better in action than in the box.

The swivel in the middle of the figure’s bicep allowed 360-degree rotation.  The swivel isn’t a shoulder, elbow, or hand, but without it, bazooka soldier (Code Name: Zap) can’t pose as modeled on the package pictured here.  I had “Zap” and tried it for myself.  It took some experimentation, but eventually the way the shoulder, swivel, and elbow were made worked together and Zap looked like Zap should look.

Why so much detail about action figures in a Christian blog?  Because the Christian church is described in the Bible as the body of Christ, and in 1 Corinthians 12:14-16, the apostle Paul assures us that, without every single member of the church participating, the body of Christ is incomplete:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.

Like Zap without “Swivel Arm Battle Grip,” the church will not perform as God intended unless all parts of the body participate, but sometimes it’s not clear to each of us what part of the body of Christ we are.  To some of us, others may clearly look like a shoulder, elbow, or hand, but we don’t know our part.  To some of us, others may look like the “hands and feet of Jesus” (to use a common phrase), but people don’t say the same about us.  Remember that Paul says “that would not make it any less a part of the body.”

Today, let’s return to one of this blog’s key verses, Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”  When we don’t clearly know the specifics of our part, maybe we are the “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” – the innovative, new part with a weird name that helps the other parts fit together and work as God intended.  But also, when we do know our part, is the objective any different?

The Apostle Peter, Son of Gomer?

Peter is one of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament.  His struggles and flaws are written for all to see, but so is the patience and love Jesus had for him.  In Peter’s two letters, we get to see examples of his growth and maturity.  One of Peter’s struggles was how Jews who had become Christian should treat Gentiles.  In Galatians 2:11-21 is a story of Paul rebuking Peter for his hypocrisy toward Gentiles, and in Acts 10 and 11 is a story of Peter receiving a vision from heaven telling him not to treat Gentiles as unclean, because God can make anyone clean.

Peter ponders whether the key is for letting people in or keeping them out.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10, he shares this lesson with his readers:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (emphasis mine)

The bolded words clearly call back to the story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who God told to marry a prostitute named Gomer to teach a lesson about idolatry.  Hosea’s children by Gomer are named in Hosea 1:6-9 –

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, ‘Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.  But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.’ When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son.  And the LORD said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’” (emphasis mine)

As Peter grew in Christ, he learned the same lesson Hosea learned: that all of God’s people are like Gomer and her children: once estranged from God in spiritual prostitution and adultery, but now a beloved people, betrothed to one faithful God.  Jesus, our Holy High Priest, made the necessary sacrifice for the salvation of anyone and everyone who will come to Him.  Those He saves join His “royal priesthood”, proclaiming His excellent work to all people who have not received mercy, but who His blood covers.

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:1-2