Listening: The Duty of Love

I can speak to many people at one time but I can only listen to one person at a time. Listening is what makes ministry loving and personal. As a pastor people would “connect” with me by listening to my teaching. I even had some who thought of me as their friend and yet we had never met. It was a one-way connection, which is not a friendship at all.

Paul Tillich writes, “The first duty of love is to listen,” and yet how rare it is to have anyone listen to us, even though Christianity is supposed to be marked by love. Ministries spend thousands of dollars and work long hours trying to get people to listen to them. Our seminaries, colleges, and churches teach us how to preach, how to teach, and how to share our story, but not how to listen.

Listening well to others requires inner strength because it places the listener in a vulnerable position. Whether as an extrovert or an introvert we protect ourselves from possible rejection. Extroverts are capable of creating a multilayered verbal force field, which seems friendly but in reality is self-protective. Introverts on the other hand are masters at evasive maneuvers to avoid unwanted conversations.

To love I must boldly drop my shield or bravely come out from hiding to engage others in order to listen with an intent to understand what the person is saying.

Although Jesus taught large groups there are also recorded for us one-on-one conversations that he had with individuals, Nicodemus and the woman at the well being two good examples. Both were never the same after being listened to by Jesus.

 

 

Singleness and Worry

Singleness is not a justification to worry. A distinctive of all followers of Jesus is that there is no place for worry in their lives.

It is only natural for singles to wonder who will take care of them in illness and old age. For some their greatest fear is to die alone and for others it is that they will be all alone in their later years.

The heavenly Father will care for his single children in old age just as he has throughout their entire lives. Our trust cannot be in a government, a 401K, a pension, church, family members, or friends. Social Security could go broke, the economy may crash, the church may close, and family and friends may die before us. Security can only be found by trusting in the keen attentiveness and care of a loving heavenly Father. (Matthew 6:32)

In reality there is little difference between facing the future being married or single. It is presumptuous for married people to think that their mate or their children will care for them in their old age because there is no guarantee that their mate or children will live past tomorrow. It is also assuming for singles to think that “if only” they had a mate and children that they would feel secure about growing older.

Worry is a waste of time and height of assumption. As Jesus pointed out “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

 

 

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #10

Myth #10 Singles can be fickle and irresponsible.

Truth: There are singles that are trustworthy.

Nowhere else in American society are singles separated out as they are in the Protestant church. Although there are many aspects of our lives that we entrust to singles, our pilot, nurse, doctor, boss, and accountant all could be single, but when it comes to our spiritual lives we hesitate to submit ourselves to the leadership of singles. It is rare to find a single church staff member.

When we meet a single we automatically assume that something must be wrong. Yet in the first century a young single named Timothy proved himself to be trustworthy and he was able to lead others to follow Jesus.

“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:17

“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel”. Philippians 2:22

Not all singles are spiritually trustworthy, but just as married people will overtime establish their faithfulness to the Lord so a single can establish his or her reputation as a man or woman of God. The disciples in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra recognized his spiritual uniqueness and based on their recommendation Paul invited Timothy to minister along side of him, a partnership that lasted for 18 years.

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.” Acts 16:1-2

 

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #9

Myth #9 Singles tend to be strange.

Truth: Peculiarity is not limited to singles.

I admit that I have met some strange singles over the years but I have also known some pretty peculiar married people. Marriage does not eradicate strangeness and in some cases exasperates it.

Singles can serve as Godly role models for all believers to follow. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus as singles served as examples for the new believers to imitate in the first century. In more recent times David Brainerd, John Stott, Amy Carmichael, and Henrietta Mears have all inspired Christianity by their example.

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #3 and Myth #4

Myth #3 Singleness is not desirable for ministry.

Truth: Singleness has advantages over marriage in ministry.

I (Paul) wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 1 Corinthians 7:7

“Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I (Paul) and Barnabas who must work for a living? 1 Corinthians 9:5-6

Paul viewed his singleness as advantageous. A husband or wife is a good gift from the Lord but singleness is an equally good gift to certain ones of his children. God is not any less good to a single than he is to a married couple blessed with many children.

A single friend of mine said to me, “I just want people to stop feeling sorry for me because I am single! It is condescending for others to think that I am disadvantaged as a single.”

It is also an affront to the heavenly Father to feel sorry for a single to whom the Lord has given the good gift of singleness.

Should a person feel bad for desiring to get married? Certainly not, but neither should married couples assume that singleness is a bad thing for someone else.

 

Myth #4 Singles are incomplete and discontent people.

Truth: Singles (never married, widowed, divorced) are whole individuals because of the risen Messiah living within them.

“. . . but that you (unmarried) may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:34-35

“I have been crucified with the Messiah and I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me. The life I now lives in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

Over the past three months I have been interviewing singles that are in fulltime ministry and over 35 years old. One woman said in the interview, “Lewie, as a single I am not a 65% person or a 80% person but because of Jesus within me I am a 100% complete individual.” It is Jesus who makes a person complete and content not marriage.

Because a discontented single is more visible and memorable than those who are content there is a tendency to think of singles as overall discontent. Paul serves as an example of contentment even though single.

The early church did not view Paul or Barnabas as inadequate because of their singleness; rather as singles they served as leaders and role models for believers to follow.

“Join together in following my (Paul) example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” Philippians 3:17.

 

 

 

Blessing For Each Family Member

Below are the family blessings that our Jewish brothers and sisters have taught us. Our family members read these blessings over one another at the beginning of our weekly dinner together.

Blessing for Wife

Proverbs 31

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Blessing for Husband

Psalm 112

Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands.  His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.  Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.  Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.  Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.  He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.  He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor.  The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Blessings for Children

One of the most moving Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) traditions is the blessing over the children given on Friday night. There are many variations on how the blessing is made. The most common custom is for a parent to put his/her hands on the child’s head and recite the blessing. In some homes each child gets up at the table and stands before the parent to receive the blessing, and in other homes the parent walks around the table and blesses each seated child. Whatever method is followed, the blessing is sure to make the child feel special and loved, boost the child’s self-esteem and give the child fond memories of Shabbat-family-together time.

The Blessing for a Son

English: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.Transliteration: Ye’simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve’chi-Menashe.

Why? Just before he dies, Jacob blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe. He says they should become role models for the Jewish people in the future. On the day Jacob blessed them, he said, “In times to come, the people of Israel will use you as a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe’.” (Genesis 48:20) Ephraim and Menashe did in fact become role models worthy of emulation. Unlike those before them, including Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers, Ephraim and Menashe were not rivals. Rather, Ephraim and Menashe were brothers united by their drive to perform good deeds.

The Blessing for a Daughter

English: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Transliteration: Ye’simech Elohim ke-Sarah, Rivka, Ra-chel ve-Lay’ah.

Why? Each of the matriarchs has qualities that qualify them to be role models. The matriarchs were strong and laudable women. They endured difficult home lives, hardships in marriage, infertility, abduction, envy from other woman and difficult children. Nevertheless, these righteous women, through their individual passion, their partnerships with the patriarchs and their loyalty to God, succeeded to build a nation.

The Blessing for Children

After the above blessing is recited for a son or daughter, some people continue with this blessing for both boys and girls.

English:May God bless you and watch over you.?May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.?May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace. Transliteration:?Ye’varech’echa Adonoy ve’yish’merecha. Ya’ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.Yisa Adonoy panav eilecha, ve’yasim lecha shalom.

 

 

A Blessing For Your Husband

In a Jewish home at the weekly Sabbath meal the father says a blessing over each child, followed by the mother blessing each child, then the husband blesses his wife, and finally the wife says a blessing over her husband. It is beautiful experience even just to watch.

Many of the Jewish wives choose to read Psalm 112 to their husband as a blessing.

Psalm 112

Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.  Good will comes to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.  Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.  He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.  He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor. The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

 

 

A Tool for Discipling Children

The New Testament says little about the family because the Old Testament says much. The Book of Proverbs is an extensive and important tool for parents as they raise their children.

Robert Alter’s translation and commentary of Proverbs titled The Wisdom Books will be a help to parents as they instruct their children in wisdom. Dr. Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

His translation brings fresh meaning to many familiar proverbs. For example: “How long, dupes, will you love being duped, and scoffers lust scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)

One sample from his commentary “Intelligence of the most practical sort, involving an alertness to potential deceptions and seductions, is seen as an indispensable tool for the safe, satisfying, and ethical life, and a fool is repeatedly thought of as a dupe.”[1]



[1] Robert Alter, A Translation with Commentary The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), p. 194.

Fast Food and the Family

The dinner table is about love and belonging. I use to see fast food restaurants as a threat to our families and culture but now I realize that they are actually the creation of our culture. Our rugged individualism, independence,  demand for instant gratification, and minimum relational attachments find its expression in the drive-thru window.  Unlike our predecessors we can now afford to circumvent the dinner table by grabbing a Quarter Pounder and a Happy Meal all in the name of convenience.

But building relationships has never been convenient. A meal begins with the self-denial to set aside the time required to have dinner together as a family. As parents there is not only the surrender of our own wants (and laziness) in order to make dinner with our family possible but also the struggle to teach the value of the meal to our children as they are pulled by the internet, homework, television, video games, music lessons, friends, sporting events, and school events. We make room for whom and what we value and because relationships and family are no longer important to us the dinner table is disappearing from our culture.

The love of the dinner table is activated by the sacrifice of purchasing or growing the food, preparing the food, setting the table, and the clean up afterwards. It is hard work but meals provide for us the opportunity to lay our lives down for one another that results in having the meaningful relationships for which we long and for which we were made.

 

 

 

 

Refugees and Storytelling (Guest Post)

Jacob Mau has been part of our spiritual family here in Chicago for five years. I have asked him to be a guest writer because he is passionate about inviting people into the stories of refugee families he works with.  His benefit album Seven Years demonstrates the power of telling and hearing life stories, which is a key component of disciple-making.

Jacob shares about the project below:

Disciple-making means intentionally entering into another person’s story and receiving him or her as a means of the Lord’s grace in your own life. Lewie and the community he often writes of in Imitating Jesus modeled this life-posture for me beginning in 2008. They extended themselves in friendship, listened, asked questions, entered my vulnerability, and took the time to understand the details of my story.

This journey in discipleship ran parallel to my daily work of assisting former refugees in Chicago through an organization called World Relief. As I was being discipled, I also rubbed shoulders with people from all over the world whose stories contain hardship I can’t imagine and heroism I’ll never comprehend. Just as Lewie and others heard a call to enter into my story, I received continual invitations to enter into the stories of former refugee families from Iraq, Burma, Nepal, Sudan, Afghanistan, and other conflict areas around the globe.

Those divine invitations, when I heeded them well, became a means of transformation in my life, and the people behind them became a part of my story. Seven Years is the culmination of a long-standing desire to extend that invitation to as many others as possible. All proceeds from the album go to World Relief. 

It is an honor to share this project here, because outside of my friendship with Lewie and other Jesus-followers in Chicago who have welcomed me into their lives and their stories, I am not certain it would have ever come to fruition.

Please download, donate, share, and enjoy!