Re-post: Mending Fences

In 1956, when I was a young pastor in the Pacific Northwest Conference, the late Reverend C. W. Burbank was my conference superintendent. I had been appointed to the New Westminster church on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and Kathleen and I had crossed the continent from Kentucky immediately after my graduation from Asbury Seminary. Our personal belongings and four little children were packed into our turquoise colored Plymouth and a large spring-less trailer joggled along behind us every mile of the way.

Before Superintendent Burbank entered the ministry he was a logger. He had an outdoors ruggedness about him. He was not a seminary trained man; back then, seminary training for ministers was less common and more difficult to attain than now. Many pastors of earlier eras got whatever theological training they received by means of serious correspondence courses they were expected to wade through.

But he was an urgent preacher, well respected by his peers, and a man of down-to-earth common sense, something he learned or polished, as I understand, while in the logging business in the Okanagan Valley of Washington State.

During one of my first conversations with him he shared a bit of wisdom. He explained that some ministers are more skilled at mending their fences than others. He meant that when a misunderstanding or even an unintended interpersonal rift developed, such pastors seem to have a knack for restoring trusting relationships.

Others, he went on, leave the gap unaddressed and allow it to take on a certain permanence. If this happens with another family, and then another, Rev. Burbank explained, the misunderstandings accumulate sufficiently to destroy the trust of the congregation as a whole. A wall develops and the minister loses the trust of the congregation and he must move on.

Rev. Burbank didn’t say exactly how to recover healthy relationships. Nor did he mention what to do if a pastor’s efforts to keep fences mended are rejected. That is another aspect of the issue, and there are such situations. To take his counsel a step further, here are a couple more suggestions.

First, the greatest hindrance to correcting wounded relationships is pride – that dangerous quality within us that makes us tend to over-rate our worth or abilities. Pride is a point of vulnerability with all of us, Christian or not. When something is said or done from either side that injures our self esteem the rift is in danger of opening. Before repair can even be attempted pride must be acknowledged and brought to heel.

Second, once a rift happens, anger tends to follow and it invariably only clouds issues. So, no correction should be attempted until anger has been faced and dissipated. Most of us have learned this lesson by unhappy experience. In the face of breakdown of relationship and accompanying anger, only the indwelling Spirit of Christ can save us from further anger-prompted division.

Third, wise pastors will know that once in awhile, a relationship may grow cool or may even seem beyond repair. This may be due to disagreement on a particular issue. Or it may arise when a parishioner seems to have a fixed point of view about some circumstance. In these sorts of cases, when honest efforts have been made to restore relationship and fellowship—without success—ministers should labor on. As all pastors learn, in a busy growing pastorate there will be those who do not agree with the minister on issues. After honest efforts have been made to seek corrected and restored fellowship — without success — ministers should go on with their work diligently, all the while treating objectors with civility and grace. Only humility can keep the door open to the other person permanently. And it can only be hoped that the minister’s continued faithful service to the congregation will bear fruit and that eventually hearts will melt and be reconciled.

Ministers are much more likely to stay afloat in troubled waters and navigate through rocky relationships if they remember that their ultimate accountability for their efforts is to God. Their hope is that God may be pleased, since it is to him they will finally answer. Just remembering this makes them more careful to avoid missteps.

Mending fences is not only a challenge to ministers. Broken relationships are a universal peril in our fallen world. It would be hard to find someone of mature years who does not have a measure of pain over damaged relationships and even unresolved relationship issues at this point. So ministers and laymen alike need strength and grace help in the arduous task of living openly and charitably — insofar as possible — with all. Praying for increased sensitivity to the needs of others for Christ’s sake is the starting point.

Many years after our conversation, Rev. Burbank died in the pulpit while doing what he loved — preaching the gospel. I am just one of many who profited from his ministerial leadership and wise counsel. His insight regarding mending fences was a lifelong gift, not always exercised to the greatest effectiveness, but always treasured.

Photo credit: Josh Liba (via flickr.com)

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Is This the Right Person for Me to Marry?

DiceWhen I was twenty years old I was an aspiring gospel singer, and I traveled with a preacher five years my senior. At the time, we were both single.

In spare moments the subject of qualities to look for in a lifetime partner came up. This was back when marriage meant one man and one woman in covenant for life, and when young men and women were typically more ready to marry by their early twenties.

By his repetitions the list was fixed in my mind so I believe I can reproduce it accurately, before adding my brief comments.

First, he would ask, is this person a committed Christian? According to the Scriptures, Christians are to marry only Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). So one should ask: is there evidence that he/she loves the Lord and manifests that love in lifestyle, attitudes, and habits?

Christians who ignore this requirement relative to marriage go contrary to clear Scriptural teachings. In doing so they disobey the Lord and deprive themselves of a spiritual dimension to their marriage that God intends to be unifying and enriching.

Second, is this a person of good character? In the early stages of a relationship, one looks for such traits as honesty and trustworthiness; a vision for life that includes serving others; respect for parents and little children; a strong work ethic; and empathy for others. Also, do friends and family give off cues and comments of affirmation or reservation — even alarm?

Third, what about disposition? It’s true that parties in a marriage have down days for which their mates make allowance. But prominent and frequent pouting, grumpiness, anger, or me-first behaviors even in a person of great charm should be noted because such traits will dissipate a lot of the life force that could otherwise be turned to positive, outward and even Christian ministry purposes.

The Proverbs warn against a “quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife” (Proverbs 21:19). If the Proverbs were being written today for our culture they would have cautionary words against choosing a “quarrelsome and ill-tempered” husband also.

Fourth, what about family background? Marriages tend to be stronger and more fulfilling when a bond between the two families also forms. Cultural and family similarities are certainly not absolute prerequisites in our multicultural society, but they can be helpful if present. If very different, they will require extra effort to bridge.

It is family values, character traits, disposition that of course trump all else. However, and one question to shed light on this issue is: Do I want this prospective mate’s brothers and sisters to be aunts and uncles to my children?

Fifth, (a modern adaptation to my preacher friend’s fifth question): if two vocations are represented in the potential union, is the success of the marriage more important than the full achievement of either partner’s vocation? For example, one partner wants to teach in Minnesota and the other in Florida. It is possible that a relationship could even be dissolved by unyielding differences.

While it might not answer the specifics between Minnesota and Florida, the couple in which each individual values the marriage above where to live will be more likely to survive this kind of modern-day dilemma.

Some may feel the above questions are too plodding for something so enthralling as love that points toward marriage. Why should a couple care about “little issues” in the realm of such areas as faith, character, disposition, and family if they are in love?

Passion is very much a part of the love that God gives to bind a man and woman together for a lifetime. But while passion may be sufficient to get a relationship started, it is not by itself enough as a foundation for a wonderful marriage. And, generally speaking, it is better for the mind to lead with questions like those above and the heart to follow than for the emotions to take over and the rational mind to be switched off until after the wedding.

And so, for the young person wishing to follow the path of wisdom to the altar and to deep satisfaction beyond, both clear judgment and romantic passion should have their appropriate place and contribution.

Christian young people must never forget to bind all this together with a strong cord of prayer. Pay attention to the answer to the above questions (and others); seek godly counsel if perplexities arise; ask for wisdom from God; and you are likely to experience the kind of love that blesses you and your spouse, survives all vicissitudes, and lasts a lifetime.

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Photo credit: Anne-Lise Heinrichs (via flickr.com)

Re-post: Tenderness Plus

Photo Credit: the bpp (via flicker.com)I recently taught seven lessons from that little gem of truth tucked away toward the end of the Bible called First John. Seven lessons by no means exhaust the richness lodged in this epistle, but amidst all the riches, two things about pastoring stand out to me each time I read the letter through.

Today, I’ll write about one of them, tomorrow about the other. The first one is about the writer’s loving tenderness for his flock.

First, some background. Tradition says that the writer is John the Apostle, aged and living now in Ephesus. But, aged or not, he continues his pastoral work. Perhaps the letter is written to a special congregation in Ephesus. More likely it is to a string of churches that he is superintending in that region of Western Asia.

One thing is obvious — the young church is besieged by false teachers (1 John 2:18,19, 26; 4:1-3). It needs inspired pastoral protection and guidance. That is what John’s first letter is about, delineating the truth that separates true believers from heretics. And how does he go about this task?

In the midst of an heretical attack on the church, he shows his tenderness toward his flock as reflected in his repeated words of address: “My dear children” (2:1); “Dear friends” (earlier translated, “Beloved”) (2:7); “Dear children” (2:18); “My brothers” (3:13). And on and on throughout the epistle, at least 15 times. The believers he addresses must have already been torn by uncertainty over the teachings of the antichrists who had come among the flock. They needed to feel the regard of a tender and loving shepherd.

Is pastoral tenderness, whether expressed openly or covertly, needed by congregations today?

Toward the end of the twentieth century, reports began to surface of some pastors who were treating their parishioners very roughly. At that time some leaders on the seminar circuit were promoting the idea that pastors should function more like CEOs do in the industrial world. The irony is that good CEOs don’t mistreat their employees. Even so, some pastors tried.

For example, one parishioner went to her pastor to speak of a concern. To her shock he responded: “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else.” That was not an isolated case. It is reported that another pastor told a faithful parishioner bluntly: “This church has a front door and a back door.” The implications were clear.

It’s true that a church member may sometimes need to find a different place to fellowship. But in civility challenged times like ours, we could all stand to pray for the gift of gentle love such as the Apostle John displayed toward his flock as he taught them. Or that made Jesus be forever remembered as the “great shepherd of the sheep”
(Heb. 13:20).

But there’s a matching aspect to John’s leadership, and I’ll write about that in my next post.

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Living the Fulfilled Life

Photo credit: harlandspinksphoto (via flickr.com)

At some time in the past I ran across a description of the three ingredients for personal fulfillment: (1) someone to love; (2) something to do; and (3) something to look forward to.

Someone to love.

For Christians, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). We don’t deserve this love; it is a gift to be shared. If we lack a sense of joy and fulfillment, we might look into this realm of our lives for deficiency.

Something to do.

Fulfilled people are serving people. When Lila Morgan retired from a teaching career she asked me, her pastor, for the names of a few shut-in seniors she could take the Sunday School papers to each Monday. She took that short list, enlarged it, and made it into a weekly ministry. She not only visited seniors, she took some to the grocery store and then drove them with their groceries back to their homes. If we are discontented, we can ask, is there a something-to-do deficiency (to-do especially for others) that might be the answer?

Something to look forward to.

Many things we look forward to on our horizons may be in the realm of the mundane – an upcoming vacation, the visit of distant family members, the completion of a college degree, or even the blossoming of the first daffodil in the spring. But much above the mundane, Christians can look forward to the day when Jesus comes and all hurts are healed and all wrongs righted. Something thrilling to anticipate!

It is clear that we are all responsible to some degree for providing the ingredients for our own fulfillment: to actively choose to love, to do, and to hope.

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Cruising the Caribbean, Part 2 of 3

Jewel of the SeasThe memory of the Jewel of the Seas stays with me — that huge, sleek white vessel on which we sailed the vivid blue waters of the Caribbean only two weeks ago. Kathleen and I were with 30 Christian friends from Light and Life Park in Florida, which made for wonderful community while on board.

But the rest of the 2,400 passengers were strangers to us. That meant that in our moving throughout the ship we most often encountered people we didn’t know.

I usually find it easy to make conversation with people I don’t know. So, for example, when I met someone coming down the long, narrow corridors in the private quarters, I offered a friendly greeting. Or when passengers were gathering for a meal or waiting for an elevator, I spoke and sometimes had a brief conversation.

This is what I observed. In most cases, people we don’t know wait to be greeted. It is natural and self-protective to be hesitant in the presence of strangers. But when they hear a warm hello, they tend to respond in kind. That little observation makes me note the obvious: we are created for human relationships; to be human means to be social. And sometimes the first casual words of a greeting penetrate into a stranger’s self-imposed isolation — for their benefit. The simple exchange is actually good for both parties. If you have a different take on that observation, I’d love to hear it.

During the ship’s stop at Grand Cayman Island, this observation about relationships refined itself even more sharply. Our ship cast anchor off shore, and diesel launches carrying passengers plied the distance between ship and shore. Most of our friends went ashore to visit the shops, take a tour, or just look around. Kathleen and I had decided to stay aboard ship.

But our plans were suddenly changed when a crew member phoned our quarters to ask if we had grandchildren on the Island. We knew that two had recently made the move, but we had no way of finding them. To our surprise, we learned that they and their two little children had met the boat and were calling from shore.

We hurried to board a launch and shortly thereafter when we set foot on the dock all four of them were waving eagerly from behind a dividing barrier. There stood granddaughter Kathleen, her husband Doug, Ethan, five, and Justin, three. The little ones rushed into our arms. The parents drove us to their temporary residence where we ate pizza, took pictures and chatted until it was time for us to return to the ship.

Back on board, some of our friends had heard of our good fortune and came to us brimming with delight at what had happened. They thought meeting relatives at a distance and unexpectedly was a rare treat.

The response from several was so warm about these relationships that it told us much about their family values. They seemed more excited about our unexpected meeting than if we had won a flat-screen TV as a door prize somewhere, or been invited to dine with a head of state.

Brief intermittent exchanges with strangers on board ship, unexpected meetings with family members at a great distance from our Canadian dwellings, and pleasant commendations from friends when we were back on ship all have a common ingredient: human relationships that nourish life! When they are blessed with the bond of Christian faith, they have that added ingredient of grace.

Click here to read part 3 in this series.

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But Where is the Person Who Matches My List?

Last week I wrote about using good judgment in finding a marriage partner by developing an internal “list” of criteria. The responses I got were interesting. One reader suggested that I write another blog, this time suggesting where to find a man who meets the criteria:

My “criteria” last week included (1) Genuine Christian faith (2) Good family background (3) Dependable character (4) Pleasant disposition and (5) Talent and resources for marriage.

The reader’s suggestion may have intimated that men who meet such standards just don’t exist, or are already taken.

Perhaps it is easier to make the list than to find the person. He may not turn up “across a crowded room” as the romance-prone might wish. On the other hand, he may materialize in an unexpected place, like the case of the shy building supervisor who was sent by his boss into a community to supervise the building of a new church and ended up marrying the preacher’s daughter.

Yet my reader’s suggestion deserves some thought. Where are the men of strength and vision? Men who are eager to shoulder the challenge of marriage and eventually experience the drill of parenthood? Too many may have been acculturated away from such a vision.

So is the Internet the new directory? A pastor friend tells me that over a period of time he coached ten couples who had met through Christian Internet dating services. He had the privilege of serving as counselor to them as the relationships developed. Then he officiated at their weddings. Some time later, he reports that all ten couples remain together and are doing well.

The Internet as the source to find one’s life partner carries some risks. Thus, it was wise for the couples just mentioned to include Christian counsel and support until a real and deserving trust has been developed — a forerunner to real love.

It is still possible that not only the Internet, but equally or more so one’s “socialnet” can be a resource. I learned in Japan that both young men and women who consider themselves ready for marriage openly make their wishes known to their counselor. In Christian circles it is usually their pastor. Then the counselor begins the search. We may think that could never work here because our culture is individualistic and each person must launch his or her own search.

The facts don’t support that. I read recently that 60% of relationships that lead to marriages in America come about with the assistance of friends or associates who introduced the couple or otherwise expedited their meeting.

Awaiting that possible boost, what can those do who are single but hopeful for marriage? Always keep the hope of marriage alive in your heart, but continue to do now what you believe God has called you into this world to do. Live out your life as a vocation. Serve. Be where other people near your age gather – at church, in Bible study, service projects, at camps, at retreats, on mission trips, etc. Be fun to be around. Be a happy friend and hope for a happy friendship that might lead to a romantic commitment.

But, remember that for all of us – married or single — doing God’s will is our first assignment in life. And pray only that whatever might develop somewhere along the road will be marked in your heart as God’s will. Paul writes to “test and approve what God’s will is – his good pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2b). Elsewhere he exhorts, “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).

For Christians, there’s one thing worse than being unwillingly single and that is being willingly married in a risky relationship outside the will of God.

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Finding a Love That Lasts a Lifetime

I visited Mrs. Faudi in her hospital room. Because she was in the first bed as I entered, I stood with my back to the door. Our brief conversation was low-keyed and pleasant. But, suddenly she looked past me and I saw her eyes light up. I turned to see that her husband had just entered the room. It was obvious that this was the visit she was waiting for and that the fires of love still burned in their hearts.

The Faudis were retired farmers who had recently moved to town. Mrs. Faudi was slight and looked frail and ashen in her hospital bed. Mr. Faudi was a slender man, and both had weather-beaten features reflecting long years of toil on the land. But in that exchange of looks, something flamed up, the indicator of a loving bond that must have renewed itself again and again over more than fifty years of marriage.

I recall that moment sometimes when I read of the attack on marriage so common and intense in our post-modern culture. I hear this often: sack it; live together without it; let’s hear it for “open marriage” where vows are taken that allow latitude for trysts with other partners; why not same-sex marriages or even several partners at the same time? Regarding this evolving effort to blur the boundaries, we haven’t heard it all yet.

In our fallen world there can be no complete assurance that a Christian covenanted marriage will be everything God intended it to be. But recalling that moment in the hospital room makes me want to point out to young people some ways to greatly increase the likelihood.

I’m all for romance! But when pondering the suitability of a mate, romantic feelings are not enough. There is a “judgment” aspect to choosing a life partner that must not be neglected. For example, it should be asked: Do we share a common faith and is it genuine on the part of both partners? Sometimes it is necessary to seek Christian counsel on this specific matter to help us see past our romantic feelings. After all, for good reason the Bible clearly forbids an “unequal yoke” (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).

Is the love we profess unconditional? That is, do we intend from the depths of our beings to make this marriage “until death us do part?” Or are there unacknowledged reservations that we are keeping out of sight? There is a quality of commitment which when held by both partners gives a basis for working through all sorts of struggles and reverses that arise along the path.

There is also a sort of pre-wedding dreaminess that can threatens the likelihood of long-term love: One might say: “I’ll fix that when we’re married (sometimes it’s I’ll fix him/her);” Or, “I’m going ahead because this may be my last chance;” Or even, “I see some developing storm clouds but they will go away by themselves if I pay no attention; right now I have to think about a great wedding; I’ll think about a great marriage later.”

Couples like the Faudis – and I’ve known a lot of them across a lifetime – stand as a constant testimony that in the realm of matrimony there is a love that can last a lifetime.

But I also know that that kind of marriage doesn’t just happen. In my opinion, the most successful marriages in Christian circles are characterized by a deep and mutual faith in God, a romantic flair that makes the very countenance glow, and a grounding in judgment that launches the enterprise thoughtfully and with integrity, keeping it on track.

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Mending Fences

In 1956, when I was a young pastor in the Pacific Northwest Conference, the late Reverend C. W. Burbank was my conference superintendent. I had been appointed to the New Westminster church on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and Kathleen and I had crossed the continent from Kentucky immediately after my graduation from Asbury Seminary. Our personal belongings and four little children were packed into our turquoise colored Plymouth and a large spring-less trailer joggled along behind us every mile of the way.

Before Superintendent Burbank entered the ministry he was a logger. He had an outdoors ruggedness about him. He was not a seminary trained man; back then, seminary training for ministers was less common and more difficult to attain than now. Many pastors of earlier eras got whatever theological training they received by means of serious correspondence courses they were expected to wade through.

But he was an urgent preacher, well respected by his peers, and a man of down-to-earth common sense, something he learned or polished, as I understand, while in the logging business in the Okanagan Valley of Washington State.

During one of my first conversations with him he shared a bit of wisdom. He explained that some ministers are more skilled at mending their fences than others. He meant that when a misunderstanding or even an unintended interpersonal rift developed, such pastors seem to have a knack for restoring trusting relationships.

Others, he went on, leave the gap unaddressed and allow it to take on a certain permanence. If this happens with another family, and then another, Rev. Burbank explained, the misunderstandings accumulate sufficiently to destroy the trust of the congregation as a whole. A wall develops and the minister loses the trust of the congregation and he must move on.

Rev. Burbank didn’t say exactly how to recover healthy relationships. Nor did he mention what to do if a pastor’s efforts to keep fences mended are rejected. That is another aspect of the issue, and there are such situations. To take his counsel a step further, here are a couple more suggestions.

First, the greatest hindrance to correcting wounded relationships is pride – that dangerous quality within us that makes us tend to over-rate our worth or abilities. Pride is a point of vulnerability with all of us, Christian or not. When something is said or done from either side that injures our self esteem the rift is in danger of opening. Before repair can even be attempted pride must be acknowledged and brought to heel.

Second, once a rift happens, anger tends to follow and it invariably only clouds issues. So, no correction should be attempted until anger has been faced and dissipated. Most of us have learned this lesson by unhappy experience. In the face of breakdown of relationship and accompanying anger, only the indwelling Spirit of Christ can save us from further anger-prompted division.

Third, wise pastors will know that once in awhile, a relationship may grow cool or may even seem beyond repair. This may be due to disagreement on a particular issue. Or it may arise when a parishioner seems to have a fixed point of view about some circumstance. In these sorts of cases, when honest efforts have been made to restore relationship and fellowship—without success—ministers should labor on. As all pastors learn, in a busy growing pastorate there will be those who do not agree with the minister on issues. After honest efforts have been made to seek corrected and restored fellowship — without success — ministers should go on with their work diligently, all the while treating objectors with civility and grace. Only humility can keep the door open to the other person permanently. And it can only be hoped that the minister’s continued faithful service to the congregation will bear fruit and that eventually hearts will melt and be reconciled.

Ministers are much more likely to stay afloat in troubled waters and navigate through rocky relationships if they remember that their ultimate accountability for their efforts is to God. Their hope is that God may be pleased, since it is to him they will finally answer. Just remembering this makes them more careful to avoid missteps.

Mending fences is not only a challenge to ministers. Broken relationships are a universal peril in our fallen world. It would be hard to find someone of mature years who does not have a measure of pain over damaged relationships and even unresolved relationship issues at this point. So ministers and laymen alike need strength and grace help in the arduous task of living openly and charitably — insofar as possible — with all. Praying for increased sensitivity to the needs of others for Christ’s sake is the starting point.

Many years after our conversation, Rev. Burbank died in the pulpit while doing what he loved — preaching the gospel. I am just one of many who profited from his ministerial leadership and wise counsel. His insight regarding mending fences was a lifelong gift, not always exercised to the greatest effectiveness, but always treasured.

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Living Together Unmarried – Is there a Word from God?

It’s easy these days to gather arguments to justify the practice of living together unmarried. Consider: the practice has almost become mainstream; society no longer attaches much of a stigma to the arrangement; because of “the pill” it’s less risky than it used to be; urban life is more anonymous so people don’t care; the custom to marry later in life makes the period of waiting for full sexual gratification too long; no one should enter a lifetime relationship like marriage without a trial run.

Against all these arguments, the major Christian response is God’s inspired and authoritative word. To be sure, there are supplemental arguments that bear out the trustworthiness of the Scriptures on this matter. But at core and in the moment God’s word speaks with finality. Consider a verse written to early Christians that fits the present situation.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterers and the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4). Ponder five nuggets of truth embedded in this verse.

First, “marriage” can be defined. The word stands for a singular covenanted relationship between one man and one woman which the Scriptures assume from beginning to end to be ordained by God. Of the union of Adam and Eve they say, “The two shall be one.” (Gen. 2:24). In support, Jesus said, “Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate” (Mark 10:9).

The Bible from the start holds this to be a sacred truth, however much it was attacked throughout Bible history by bigamy, polygamy, divorce, prostitution, etc.

Second, our verse says that within this union the marriage bed should be kept pure. Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases that in THE MESSAGE: “… guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband.” The intimacy of which the verse speaks is to be restricted. It was not to be defiled before or during marriage by illicit relations.

Third, there are two words that label such intimacy sinful if experienced outside a covenanted marriage. The first is “adultery.” This word stands for sexual sin against a marriage by the intrusion of a third party. The damage it exacts can be seen everywhere in our broken society – it sparks distrust, recurring rages, family breakups, divorce, and violence even to the extent of murder.

Fourth, the writer adds, “sexual immorality” (fornication) as an offence. This word stands for sexual relations between unmarried persons of the opposite sex. Thus, what is blessed by God within marriage is strongly forbidden as sinful outside of that bond.

Finally, the verse looks beyond the passion of the moment. It says men and women who choose to live together unmarried with someone single or already married may escape the judgment of society but will suffer the judgment of God. It may be judgment in this life through self-acting moral laws (Gal. 6:7,8). Or it is certain to be judgment at the Great White Throne judgment at the close of history (Rev. 20: 11-15).

How seriously should we take such words from the Scriptures? In the closing words of the Bible Our Lord speaks of the Eternal City into which his righteous ones will be invited. But, he says, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).

But these sobering words are followed by a great invitation to be saved from such judgment: “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22: 17).


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Tenderness Plus

Photo Credit: the bpp (via flicker.com)I recently taught seven lessons from that little gem of truth tucked away toward the end of the Bible called First John. Seven lessons by no means exhaust the richness lodged in this epistle, but amidst all the riches, two things about pastoring stand out to me each time I read the letter through.

Today, I’ll write about one of them, tomorrow about the other. The first one is about the writer’s loving tenderness for his flock.

First, some background. Tradition says that the writer is John the Apostle, aged and living now in Ephesus. But, aged or not, he continues his pastoral work. Perhaps the letter is written to a special congregation in Ephesus. More likely it is to a string of churches that he is superintending in that region of Western Asia.

One thing is obvious — the young church is besieged by false teachers (1 John 2:18,19, 26; 4:1-3). It needs inspired pastoral protection and guidance. That is what John’s first letter is about, delineating the truth that separates true believers from heretics. And how does he go about this task?

In the midst of an heretical attack on the church, he shows his tenderness toward his flock as reflected in his repeated words of address: “My dear children” (2:1); “Dear friends” (earlier translated, “Beloved”) (2:7); “Dear children” (2:18); “My brothers” (3:13). And on and on throughout the epistle, at least 15 times. The believers he addresses must have already been torn by uncertainty over the teachings of the antichrists who had come among the flock. They needed to feel the regard of a tender and loving shepherd.

Is pastoral tenderness, whether expressed openly or covertly, needed by congregations today?

Toward the end of the twentieth century, reports began to surface of some pastors who were treating their parishioners very roughly. At that time some leaders on the seminar circuit were promoting the idea that pastors should function more like CEOs do in the industrial world. The irony is that good CEOs don’t mistreat their employees. Even so, some pastors tried.

For example, one parishioner went to her pastor to speak of a concern. To her shock he responded: “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else.” That was not an isolated case. It is reported that another pastor told a faithful parishioner bluntly: “This church has a front door and a back door.” The implications were clear.

It’s true that a church member may sometimes need to find a different place to fellowship. But in civility challenged times like ours, we could all stand to pray for the gift of gentle love such as the Apostle John displayed toward his flock as he taught them. Or that made Jesus be forever remembered as the “great shepherd of the sheep”
(Heb. 13:20).

But there’s a matching aspect to John’s leadership, and I’ll write about that in my next post.

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