Recently, I looked up a few of the definitions for the word freedom in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Freedom, one definition suggested, is “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” It can also mean “a political right.”
A couple friends were discussing the different ways communion is taken in churches. They agreed that the only method they liked was when they were given their own cup to drink from and a piece of bread—it seemed to be the most sanitary. In a sense, I had to agree with their opinion that this method was probably the most germ-free, but I felt at the same time that focusing on individual cleanliness might be missing the point!
Being on staff at various churches has allowed me to hear a variety of stories. One type I dread is about family members who haven’t spoken to each other for a long time. There’s been a breakdown in communication. I hear, “I have no idea what I did. He (or she) just stopped talking to me. My letters, phone calls, and e-mails aren’t returned.” Indeed, it’s a crushing experience when communication and love between family members falls apart.
During World War I, German and English soldiers were locked in battle on the Western Front. Thousands of troops on both sides had been killed, and any kind of understanding between the bitter enemies seemed impossible. Yet, on Christmas Day of 1914, something remarkable happened. Soldiers on both sides emerged from their trenches and celebrated Christmas together, singing carols and even engaging in a game of football. For a brief moment, Christmas helped enemies remember their shared values and humanity.
I took a personality test to determine if my dominant trait is sanguine (enthusiastic, adventurous), choleric (goal-oriented, project-minded), melancholic (organized, cautious) or phlegmatic (people person, peacemaker). It became pretty clear that I’m a bit of a choleric-phlegmatic mix.
Each year, my son and I travel to the other side of the country to spend time with his honorary grandparents, Gwen and Jim Johnson. It’s not possible for me to express the significance of these visits and all that my son and I learn from this remarkable couple, each of whom are in their mid-nineties.
My wife grabbed hold of one end of the rope, and I held the other. Facing each other, we began pulling on the taut cord. Why this two-person tug of war? We were helping some couples see what conflict in marriage can be like. But then—no longer tugging—one of us took a step towards the other. Soon both of us moved to the centre of the now slackening rope until our hands met in unity.
Headlines are typically marked by depressing, shocking and salacious news. In an article with the tongue-in-cheek title of “Pastor Exposed as Faithful to Wife of 17 Years”, Megan Hill points out that, while lament is appropriate when faith leaders behave immorally, we must also remember to find encouragement in the many examples of faithful Christian leaders with healthy marriages. Such daily faithfulness is simply not seen as newsworthy.
As my friend and I were talking while she was washing the dishes after dinner, I looked up and noticed a wooden plaque above the sink. Engraved on it were the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” After I asked her why she chose to display that verse, she told me it reminds her to honour God through every situation, even when she’s washing dishes!
Talking with a colleague at a Christian school, I was reminded how easy it can be to judge others. Accustomed to the short hairstyles of most of our students, he was offended by the creative haircut of a visiting teen. Challenging his assumptions, I reminded him that our perception of others’ appearance isn’t an accurate way to gauge a mature, spiritual life in Christ.
A missionary pilot from an African nation visited our church to talk about how God was using the aeroplane our congregation had helped purchase for his ministry. He’d studied aviation in our city and, upon graduation, returned to Africa to use the plane as an air ambulance. The roads in his country are in bad condition, and there’s a distressing lack of medical care in the rural villages from which he transports patients. Without air transport, people would die because they have no access to basic medical care or medicine.
Reminiscent of an era we wish were bygone, individuals consumed with hatred and prejudice carried torches and shouted slogans from a hideous time in America’s racial history as they marched across a university lawn. Barely twenty-four hours later, the governor of the state in which the school is located declared a state of emergency due to violent clashes. Only the base depravity of sin decries the life of another as less valuable, less human—and only the power of the cross brings us deliverance.
As many have sadly experienced firsthand, an all-too-real problem is the failure of Christian communities to really embody Christ’s love. Author Mary DeMuth describes how, in an insidious way, spiritually abusive leaders can even distort the gospel into a “culture of fear and shame.” Such leaders use guilt and fear to manipulate others into compliance with their own rules.
More than a dozen families had committed to share life together in a local community. They were so devoted to one another that they bought houses in the same neighborhood. Eventually, one of the men in this group received an excellent job offer in a large city hundreds of miles away. He didn’t, however, immediately take the new position. Instead, he went to his community to seek their wisdom, advice, and prayer about the move. Within a matter of days, all of them sensed he should take the job. But, to his delight, the consensus was that if he moved, five to six of the families would also move with him.
Soldiers in the US Army are expected to live by seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. And new recruits are also expected to abide by all of these values—not just the ones they agree with. A private can’t say to a commander, “I like all of these values . . . except duty. I don’t want to do that.” I imagine that would result in a whole lot of push-ups!