Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship as action

Thursday January 24 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship as action

The story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) has profound implications for friendship. (Last week I described the significance of Jesus’ question to the Pharisee about being a neighbor.)

The challenge in friendship isn’t to figure out who is a friend. The challenge is to grow in ability to act like a friend. The actions that nurture friendships are intentional practices. These intentional acts of being a friend are rooted in the understanding that human friendship is an invitation to participate in the love that the three persons of the Trinity have for each other and the love that the triune God has for us. That love is most visible in Jesus Christ, who lived and died for us, and was raised from the dead to undo the forces of hate and evil in the world. That love is made real in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit.

When we read the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, those characteristics don’t come out of a vacuum. They come from God, are best exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ and are made real through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Scholars often point out that, in some ways 1 Corinthians 13 is a commentary on the life of Jesus. He alone is the one who defines love as this sort of love: patient, kind, rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things. In Jesus, love never fails or ends. The four Gospels are full of stories that demonstrate the kind of love that reaches beyond itself and enters into another person’s world. To give just a few examples, Jesus touched a leper, talked with a Samaritan woman at length and set a crippled woman free from bondage (see Mark 1:41; John 4; Luke 13:10-17). All these actions required the ability to empathize with and enter into the other person’s emotions and situation.

Not only does Jesus exemplify this kind of love, he also enables us to love like this as we are remade in his image. Our ability to put on this kind of love, to clothe ourselves with it, comes first from clothing ourselves in Christ (see Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Being clothed with Christ, putting on Christ, is a powerful metaphor for salvation, and clothing ourselves with Christ will enable us to grow in loving like he loves.

Jesus is our friend as the Savior of the world. Jesus is our friend as the one who lays down his life for his friends. Jesus invites us to follow him, to be the kind of friends who stick around when times are tough for others, to be the kind of friends who give and care and reach beyond ourselves. The depth of friendship we are offered in Jesus can be a foundation for friendship with the people we love.

The apostle Paul wrote, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12, 14). We’ll be able to put on that clothing most easily when we know deeply and profoundly that we’re chosen and beloved by God.

Love is the belt buckle that holds on the new clothing that Paul describes in Colossians 3. The characteristics of the new clothing—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience—aren’t utilitarian. They aren’t primarily a means to an end, although they do result in very good things. Instead they are rooted and established in love, the love that flows from God. They are a reflection of a deep and profound reality: the love of God for the creatures he made and holds in his hands.

Note the circle this creates. Paul calls us to compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, which are all bound up in love, which we learn from 1 Corinthian 13 is itself patient, kind and so on. We are clothed in loving patience when we are patient in our loving; we are clothed in loving kindness when we are kind in our loving. We become what we clothe ourselves in, and we clothe ourselves in our habits.

Let me say my main point again: The challenge in friendship isn’t to figure out who is a friend. The challenge is to grow in the ability to act like a friend.

This series on friendship in a cellphone world was excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. The second half of the book describes the skills that help us act like a friend. Whether you read my whole book or not, I invite you to ponder the ways God is calling you to grow in actions that nurture friendship. (I am offering copies of the book at a discount price. It works well for small groups because it has discussion questions at the end. Contact me at LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’re interested.)

(Next week: some hymns that mention God or Jesus as our friend. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This is the 11th post in a series. The previous posts are:

Nuturing friendships in a cellphone world                
Strong opinions and responses                 
My conversation partners about friendship          
Two views about commmunication technologies            
Changing defintions of friendship                 
Confidence about friendship                
Friendship with God                  
Jesus as friend                      
Friendship with Christ and friendship with others
Who is my neighbor?                         

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Who is my neighbor?

Thursday January 17 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Who is my neighbor?

The story in Luke 10:25-37 about the good Samaritan is one of the best-loved stories of the Bible. The story and Jesus’ words before and after he tells it provide helpful teaching about the kind of intentionality in friendship to which God calls us.

Most readers focus on the drama in the story: the man who is beaten up and robbed, the people who pass by on the other side of the road and the Samaritan who unexpectedly gives aid and demonstrates care and concern across cultural and ethnic boundaries. I love the story in itself, but I’ve always been equally interested in the circumstances of when and why Jesus told it.

The story follows the return of the seventy, who have been sent out by Jesus to preach and heal. After the disciples come back and debrief with Jesus, an expert in the law “stood up to test Jesus.” He asks what he should do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

The man answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells him he has given the right answer. The man then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

At that point, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan and ends the story by asking the expert in the law which character in the story was a neighbor to the man who was robbed. The answer is obvious, and the man responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”

When the man asked, “Who is my neighbor,” he was asking who he should consider as a neighbor. After Jesus told the story, he asked who had acted like a neighbor. Jesus shifted the emphasis of the question. The expert in the law was asking him to define a category of people, the people who fit into this group called “neighbor.” Jesus instead emphasized a category of actions, the actions that are neighborly.

Our task, Jesus is implying, is not to figure out who fits into the category of neighbor so we can love them. Instead our challenge is to figure out when and how to act in a neighborly fashion, how to be a neighbor.

This story has profound implications for friendship. I invite you to ponder the difference in your life between the category of people you call friends and the actions of being friendly that you may extend to people within and outside your circle of friendship. Friendship can be viewed as a verb – maybe the verb “friending” if we can detach it from purely online connotations – and God calls us to grow in the actions of friendship.

(Next week: Friendship as action. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of the webpage. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

This is the tenth post in a series. The previous posts are:
Nuturing friendships in a cellphone world                
Strong opinions and responses                 
My conversation partners about friendship          
Two views about commmunication technologies            
Changing defintions of friendship                 
Confidence about friendship                
Friendship with God                  
Jesus as friend                      
Friendship with Christ and friendship with others                    

Listening is a key friendship skill. I've got three articles on this website about listening. One of them won an award for an article on social justice and builds on the ideas in this post. You can access the articles here.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others

Friday January 11 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others

What difference does it make for human friendships that we are invited to be friends with Christ? (I wrote last week about Jesus’ invitation to us to be his friends.)

First and foremost, if our human friendships mirror the intimacy between the three persons of the Trinity, as well as reflecting the friendship between Jesus and humans, then we aren’t inventing friendship. Instead we are entering into something that is already happening and something that was patterned into us at creation because of the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Yes, the world is broken. Yes, the image of God in human beings is blurred by sin. But even though those things are true, as we grow in maturity as human beings, we grow in our ability to love and care for others. We were made for relationships; being relational was etched into us when we were made.

Second, we can expect that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ will help us grow in our ability to nurture human friendships. God’s business is relationships. Love is the hallmark of God’s personality and priorities. As we draw near to that God, the Holy Spirit will help us to grow in love, which will spill over to all our relationships.

We don’t have to strain to have human friendships. God will help us forgive, share, reach out and show compassion and kindness. We can draw near to God and expect that, over time, our ability to live in communal love with others will grow because of God’s Spirit at work within us.

The relationality of the Trinity isn’t just something we are called upon to emulate; instead, it is actually something we are gathered into. Like the shepherd gathering the lost sheep, Jesus comes to find us, comes looking for us so that he might gather us into the embrace of the divine love. When we love others, we are resting in the embrace of that love. We don’t have to generate the love. It is already there.

When we grow in friendship with Christ, when we allow ourselves to be Jesus’ friends and allow ourselves to receive his love, we will find it easier to pass that love on to others. We love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19).

So many conflicts between friends grow out of insecurity and pride. The more we know deep inside that we are loved, the more we rest in the embrace of the God who loves us, the more secure we will feel and the less we will need to bolster our pride. As we receive love from God, we will feel increasingly peaceful and harmonious internally, and that peace and harmony will spill over into relationships with others.

(Next week: Who is my Neighbor? Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

I am still trying to promote my latest book, Nurturing Hope: Christians Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. Here's a review on amazon.com that really gets what I was trying to do in the book. The author of the review, Darren Cronshaw, has written a wonderful book about the missional church, Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians, and he really understands the links between pastoral care and mission. If you know anyone involved in either mission or pastoral care (or the overlap between the two), please let them know about my book.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Jesus as Friend

Friday January 4 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Jesus as Friend

Last week I described the life-changing moment when I began to understand the implications of a new way of describing the image of God in humans. Scholars increasingly describe God’s image in us as our capacity for relationship.

I had another aha moment about ten years later. I was sitting in a rental car at a California beach on a blustery winter afternoon, reading the Bible, on my circuitous way from the airport to a conference. I read John 15:12-17, a passage that was familiar to me. This time I saw it in a new light.

On his last night with his disciples before his death and resurrection, Jesus said,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Jesus calls us his friends! For some reason, on that day, the impact of that statement stunned me. I sat in my rented car in the cold wind, watching the pounding waves, pondering the significance of this invitation to friendship.

Friends have a level of equality with each other, and Jesus affirms that he can call us friends because he has revealed what his Father is doing, so we’re not in the dark about God’s purposes and plans. Yet this friendship is characterized by obedience as well. We are commanded to obey Jesus, but the command here is really more of an invitation. Jesus invites us to enter into this new thing that the Father is doing and that Jesus is making known.

In these verses, Jesus’ command to obey him is an invitation into the relationship he has with his Father, a relationship of obedience and submission. Jesus submits to his Father, and we submit to Jesus, a submission in both cases characterized by knowledge of what the Father is doing, not blind obedience. This submission is part of a loving, caring, intimate relationship.

In fact, Jesus invites us into the friendship he has with the one he calls Father. My two aha moments are connected to each other. We are created in the image of a God who lives in love: the three persons of the Trinity eternally intimate with and devoted to each other. That love spills over to us. We are loved, and we are called to love. We are invited into friendship with this God, and Jesus Christ is the one who makes that friendship possible by dying, and being raised from the dead, to reconcile us to God.

Throughout the ages, numerous Christian theologians and writers have described salvation in Christ as entering into friendship with God. In fact, in John 15, Jesus talks about laying his life down as a significant component of his friendship with us. Beautiful hymns and poems, dating from almost every century of Christian history, describe friendship with God and often relate that friendship to salvation in Christ. In a few weeks, in one of the posts in this series, I’ll quote from some of those hymns and poems so you can see them.

(Next week: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Happy New Year! Here are some New Year’s posts I’ve written in the past to help readers reflect on the transition from one year to the next.

     Two postures for entering into the New Year          
     Jesus’ model of hearing God’s guidance          
     Prayer as listening to God: Looking back on the past year          
     How to use the prayer of examen to look back on the whole past year (a post I wrote for the Godspace blog)

Nurturing Friendships in a Cellphone World: Friendship with God

Thursday December 20 2018

Nurturing Friendships in a Cellphone World: Friendship with God

When I was nineteen or twenty, a brand new Christian, I came across the idea that human beings are created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26). I wondered what that meant, so I began asking older Christians I respected. The answer, given to me by several different people, was that humans are rational, like God is.

In the decades since I asked that question, Christian theologians have engaged in a burst of writing and thinking about the Trinity, emphasizing the intimate relationship between the persons of the Trinity. [1] What does it mean to be made in God’s image? Today, many theologians would answer by saying that humans are created for relationships that mirror the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Being made in God’s image means that we are created to love and give and care. We are invited into intimacy with the triune God, the God of relationship, and we are invited into intimacy with each other.

I was in my mid-thirties when I first heard that revised answer to my burning question, and it was a giant aha moment for me. I had liked the previous answer. I had liked believing that what sets humans apart from animals is that we are rational. It made me feel a bit smug. I can do “rational” fairly easily most of the time.

Pondering the image of God in humans as a call to relationship didn’t make me feel smug. It made me feel challenged. It called me to be my best self, to let go of selfishness and grudges and pride. It said to me that using my rationality and intelligence as ends in themselves might be a good thing, but using my rationality and intelligence and other gifts to serve people and nurture connections with them is infinitely more important.

For the next few weeks I’ll be writing about friendship with God as a foundation for human friendships today. For this week I encourage you to ponder some questions:

Have you ever thought about the loving relationship between the persons of the Trinity as a model for human relationships? If so, in what way has that relationship been a model for you?

If you’ve never thought of this idea, spend some time pondering what you know from the New Testament about the way Jesus relates to his Father. Is there anything from that relationship you have already brought into your human relationships? Something you’d like to grow into?

The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the other two persons of the Trinity is harder to discern, but there are hints throughout the New Testament. Ponder whether there’s anything in that relationship you have already learned from or would like to learn from?

I’ll end this post with a couple of quotations that don’t mention God or friendship with God, but which I think capture the theme of the Bible’s message about our call to mirror God’s character.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and likes you anyway, one who listens without telling and confides without withholding, who depends on you when the going is tough and laughs with you most of the time.”
       —Deborah, a retired teacher in her seventies

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved for ourselves.”
       —Victor Hugo (1802–1885)

(Next week: Jesus as friend. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole website, or if you can’t access that on your phone, email me at LMBaab[at]aol.com, and I’ll add you to the email list. This post is adapted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual WorldI have copies for sale at a low price, so contact me if you're interested.)

Some past posts about friendship:

[1] Among many books I could cite, I’ll mention two books by Stanley J. Grenz because the titles capture the wording used so often by theologians in recent decades: Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), and The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2001).

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