Contagious Emotions

Have you ever noticed that emotions are contagious?  Like the common cold, we can pass them to others with even the briefest exchange.

If my child is irritable, my wife sad, my friend happy, or my parents discouraged, I can sense and take on their emotion without knowing it. 

This is especially true of negative emotions. One person's bad mood, can quickly put others in a bad moods as well.(When was the last time you said to someone, "I was having a good day until I talked to you".) This shows us just how much we affect each other.

Now emotions are the sort of things that bubble up from within and that you have very little control over... That is, initially.  You simply feel them.

But, we do have choices as to whether to nurse or challenge, or work through emotions, especially negative ones. In other words, we do not have to stay in the emotion we originally feel.

So then consider, if we are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselvesdo we have a responsibility to try to work through our negative emotions so that we don't negatively impact those around us?  

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

What is a Good Person? What is a Good Life?

The Greek philosophers used several questions to help their students think about how to order their lives.  They asked, 

1) What is a good person? How does one become a good person?
2) What is a good life?  How does one pursue a good life?


These philosophers believed that trying to answer these questions would lead people to pursue "arete" or virtue . It was through the pursuit of virtue that one achieved "eudaimonia"... which is translated as happiness, but is better understood as a life well lived.

Our forefathers had these very concepts on their minds when they wrote our founding charters (life liberty and the pursuit of happiness [eudaimonia]). They tried to set up the kind of country where, because of the freedoms afforded, a person could pursue virtue and thus develop a life well lived.

However, much has changed since then. These kinds of questions are never really addressed in public life anymore.  They are not talked about in school.  They are not pursued at home. They are not debated at city hall. They are not considered by the media or entertainment industry.

And we wonder about the moral decay of the culture or the lack of character in our leaders.

My model for goodness and the good life is Jesus of Nazareth. The  answer to, how to to pursue a good life, has to do with my becoming his student and learning to live my life as if he were me. 

As you think about your life, a simple question to ask might be, "How does my exposure to Jesus change how I live in the real world and the person I am becoming?"

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

You Are Nobody's Savior

I learned an important lesson early in ministry that I think has application for all Christians. That lesson was that we are never called to be anyone's savior. 

Now you might be thinking, "No one would ever confuse you for a Savior, Brad." And you'd be right.

What I mean is, it is often very tempting, when you encounter a person in crisis, to want to "rescue" that person. The need is obvious, your  ability to meet that need is clear, so, in you ride on your white horse to the rescue.

But there is one crucial step missing. The missing step is to stop and ask God the question, "What are you asking me to do here?" God may have you meet the need right away; but he also might ask you to wait, watch and pray, before acting, so that when you do help, it really is a help. And sometimes, he won't direct you to act, but to pray.

Saving people is God's work.  We can play a small role in helping to address the need of a person in crisis. But God will always play the larger role.  He is the one in charge of His redemptive program, and he is the who who orchestrates people as part of his plan.

Seeing yourself as ONLY responsible to do the part God assigns you, keep you from hubris, protects you from burnout and shows you, as you wait, that God is on the job.

Remember even Jesus only  did what he saw the Father doing. That means he did not go out in front of what God wanted to do. And it meant, sometimes, he didn't do what others expected him to do

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

The Person You Are Matters to God

Dallas Willard, in his book, Life without Lack, in speaking about spending time with Jesus on a day to day basis, gives this encouragement:

"We don't have to try to be someone we are not. Indeed, we cannot be someone we are not, and we won't find God's blessing there anyway, because God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.. We can become someone we are not, but we must begin with who we are now. You - the right now you - are the person Jesus desires to be with."

There is something comforting that I don't have to "get right" with Jesus before I approach him, that I can be with him even after a stinging failure. 

There is something comforting about the ability to be known and loved exactly for who I am and where I am currently, and that Jesus will, if I let him, take me from who I am now, to the person he wants me to be.

If you want evidence of this, just look at Jesus's interaction with ALL people in the gospels.

Grace and Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

The Balance Sheet in our Minds

Last week, I reached a point in dealing with one of my kids that most parents hope to never reach, but often do...Asking one of them to do something I needed them to do, and getting resistance, I heard myself say to them, "Do you know how much I do for you!"

What this statement revealed to me (and to them) was that inside my head, there was a balance sheet with a running tally on what I do for others and what they do for me.  In this case, I was looking at the ledger and seeing a huge imbalance, such that I felt I was owed something. And I was using that "imbalance" to get what I wanted....Yuck!

On its face, this statement is the very definition of conditional love... I love with the condition that it will be reciprocated in some way.

Aren't you glad that God does not at this way towards us? Aren't you glad that his love is never conditioned on our performance? It stands true, consistent, & unwavering towards us no matter how we act. 

In my life, I hope to learn to love more like God loves (this is costly, I know,  but so much truer and more beautiful)!

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Beginning Again

I made the mistake today of reading from my childhood bible, which was the Children's Living Bible, a paraphrase that is out of print.

I say mistake because when I read a portion of scripture in Matthew 5 that I was very familiar with, the Living Bible used words that made me stop and think about the meaning in a fresh way.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?" CLB

Something about the word "scoundrels" made me pause, reread the words and ask, "Everyone really does love their friends? Can I honestly say I love people who aren't my friends?" 

I immediately thought about my neighbor who regularly yells at my kids if they get near her car when they play in the street. If I am honest, I don't really love her...

What would it mean for me to love this woman? 

Following Jesus should never be routine, and it should not be thought of as easy. Jesus always confronts us in our selfishness & lovelessness, and calls us to a higher way.

So are you ready to do a bit more than a scoundrel would?

(Also, if your reading is stale, maybe get out a different paraphrase and translation and see if it doesn't cause you to see new meaning in familiar texts.)

Grace & Peace,
Brad

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Was Abraham Saved?

I was reading an interview with a famous theologian and he was asked the question, "Was Abraham saved?"

The interviewer was not actually doubting that Abraham was in fact "saved"... he was exploring exactly how someone might be saved before the Incarnation (when Jesus came to live, die and be resurrected).  The theologian went on to talk about the act of believing God's promise and acting on it was in fact the way in which Abraham entered into the redemptive plan of God. 

While the discussion was fascinating to me, what was more interesting was how it revealed to me that we tend to treat Old Testament men and women as somehow less than us, and that somehow they experienced less of God. I'm not sure that is accurate.

If we believe this, we will tend to dismiss that they have anything to teach us... and thus we will tend to naturally treat the Old Testament as not that useful.

I think I might have a hard time in explaining to Abraham, David, Moses, Joseph, Deborah, Esther, and Isaiah that they and their experiences of God were less significant than my own.

Let's let the fathers and mothers of our faith, both those in the Old and New Testament, speak to us about the life of faith, about trusting God, and about how we can learn to experience more of his grace and peace in our lives.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Is All Good from God?

I've been mediating on Psalm 16 for two weeks or so.  A portion of it reads:

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” 
5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Is it possible to say that all the good things I have emanate from God?

Think about the implications of that statement... tasting a strawberry, smelling a flower, the sun on my face, a walk with my dog, a conversation with a friend, singing a worship song, being with my wife... all these good things emanate from a loving God who places them before my path.
 
Believing this would, I expect, give me a spirit of  ongoing and enduring thankfulness, something that I often lack.

Something to think about.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

No Will But God's

Luke 9:23 - "Then [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."

Have you ever thought about what it really means to "take up your cross daily and follow Christ?"

The cross of course is an instrument of death. People died on crosses.  So how exactly does Jesus expect his disciples (his students) to die daily?

One writer puts it this way. To take up your cross daily is to "daily desire to die to any will other than the will of God."

That phrase caused me to pause... it takes seriously what it is to try to ascertain what God's will is and then, to die to any other will that competes or conflicts with God's will.

That could be the will of the owner of your boss, or the will of your peer group or the will of your government, or even the will of your church...but most likely, it would probably target your own will more than any other.

Imagine attempting to so submit yourself to the will of God that you werewilling to die to all other wills, including your own, so that you could pursue God's will.

The only way you could do this was if you were convinced that God only willed the very best for you all  the time. To believe that is to find submitting to God's will (or better, aligning your will to his) the easier path (or as Jesus says, the  easy yoke).

Oh how difficult to trust and obey God! 

But really, if you want  to be Jesus's students, do you have any  other choice?

Grace and Peace,
Brad
 

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

What Can We Count On?

What can we count in our life with God?

Let's talk about grace for a minute. Grace is a beautiful word, but somewhat mysterious. Most of us have been taught that it is "unmerited favor". But that doesn't quite capture it for me. 

Perhaps the simplest way to think of Grace is as God's help... as His assistance... it is where He does things for us that we cannot do for ourselves.

This of course, can be applied to large issues like forgiveness and salvation. But Grace can also be for every day things:

  • Grace can be God giving us courage, or hope or understanding when we need it.
  • Grace can be protecting us from the worst of ourselves.
  • Grace can be meeting a physical or emotional need in us.
  • Grace can be energy to do what God asks.
  • Grace is the fuel we burn when we forgive others.
  • Grace is the power we use when we turn away from  temptation.
  • Grace is there when we laugh and sing and worship and love.

Most profoundly, grace is what we can always count on from God. He is always present to us to give us what we need for any situation. And when we receive anything from him, it is always grace.

That means, as we learn to be present to God in our lives, we can turn to him and expect to receive grace (what we need) in all circumstances. We can count on it. We can take that to the bank.

Grace to you this week!
Brad

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Hallowing

At a conference I was at a few weeks ago, a philosopher shared this story:

He was spending time with his young son, swinging him on the swing set.  Absentmindedly, he had taken out his phone and was scrolling through emails.

His son asked him, "Dad, will there ever be this moment again?' 
"Son, do you mean will there ever be this exact moment in time again?"
"No, Dad, will there ever be this moment again?"
"Do you mean will there every be this specific moment on this particular day and time again?
"No Dad, will there every be THIS moment again?"

The penny finally dropped and the man realized, that this moment was an absolute one -off. There would never be that exact moment again.  There might be moments like it in the future, but that one moment, at that time, was going to happen and then be gone.

He finally replied, "No son, there will never be this moment again."

And then he slipped his phone into his pocket, determining to be present with his son in that moment in a deeper way.

Here is to being present to the people in your life, in the exact moment you are in, in a much deeper way this week.

Grace & Peace.
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

The Beauty of Joyous Competency

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a spiritual formation conference. It was an academic conference that included presentations by theologians, philosophers, professors, pastor's and spiritual directors - both men and women, young and old, those with terminal degrees and those still  in process.

Though the material was rich, I was more impressed with those who presented.

  • First, each presenter was amazing competent in their subject. They knew what they were talking about and had given much time and care to crafting their papers.
  • Second, each presented with a lot of humility. In academic settings, knowledge usually puffs academics up, but it was obvious to me that these people were approachable, humble and self-effacing. 
  • Third, each had a quality of joy and passion in and for their work. It was obvious in the way they presented.

So I've been thinking about what it looks like to also pursue what I am called to do with a joyous, humble competency. First, to know what I am talking about (no faking it); then to know I still have lots to learn (authenticity) and finally to exhibit both joy and passion in doing my job (being fully present to my work), all to the glory of God.

In the field of work you are called to work in (be it a 9-5 job or as a stay at home parent), what would it look like to pursue joyous humble competency in it, both to and for the glory of God.

Grace & Peace,
Brad

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Really Listening

When was the last time someone really listened to you?  Has it been awhile?

Listening includes giving someone unhurried space to express themselves without trying to give advice or solve the problem.  It includes asking questions or using prompts to draw the person out so that they "get out" what they need to.  

Someone listened to me last week (my wife) and in the space of just a few short minutes, the tension I had been feeling was resolved.  What had been eating at me all week was dissipated after she simply took time to listen to me. 

Listening is a great gift that you can give others and one of the best ways to show someone love.

Unfortunately, listening is a skill very few people have developed and is thus in short supply in our world. But, since it is a skill, it is something we can get better at.

Sometime this week, practice listening to someone.


Quiet your mind, still your "ready reply", and give someone space to express themselves... and see what happens as you begin to listen.

Grace & Peace,
Brad

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Injecting Meaning

In the scriptures, the technical word for a complete unit of thought is a pericope (think, a passage of scripture, rather than a verse).

Now think of your day as not being made up of moments but of pericopes...units of attention/time/energy given to something.

Now think about what portions of your day (pericopes) seem mundane to you... the daily commute, folding laundry, cutting grass, paperwork etc...

What would happen if you were to intentionally try to inject meaning into each pericope of your day?  What would happen if you were to ask yourself, "How can this section of my day be meaningful? How can I see it from God's perspective? How can I join God in what he is doing even in these mundane moments?"

I have been doing this as a little experiment in the last week, and I have found it brings life to what often feels lifeless to us ... 

How will the way I greet my wife in the morning be meaningful?
How will my interaction with contractors be meaningful?
How will the way I talk with my kids before bed be meaningful?
How will my drive to work be meaningful?

I think that this kind of thoughtful approach to injecting meaning into the mundane has to be what Jesus meant when he said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God..."

Grace & Peace, 
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

How We Come to Perceive the World

We all operate with a basic myth that we are able to perceive the world objectively and describe and relate to it as such. It's a myth because what we don't realize is that often there are previous concepts or ideas that we have in our minds, that influence how we perceive reality, before we perceive it.

For example, I don't just see a woman in front of me, but  I have ideas and concepts about what a woman is, which influence how I see the actual woman in front of me and relate to her. If the dominate concept in my mind  is that a woman is a sexual object (this week is the SI swimsuit issue week), then I will see the woman in front of me for how desirable or undesirable she is. I will not see the person herself (her identity, her name, her story, her family, her desires, her dreams), I will perceive her only according to the dominant thought construct that is in place.

The Bible tells us that we are to replace concepts that come from a culture that is largely set against God, with concepts that flow from the heart of God &lead us into the world to relate to it correctly.

Weeks ago, I preached on the Imago Dei, the image of God, reflected both in male and female. I was attempting to replace other concepts (people as adversaries, people as less than us, people as competitors, people as enemies, people as unworthy, people as objects) with this biblical one.

If you see that each person you meet is made in the image of God, is called into being by God, is intrinsically valuable, and is inherently loved by God, it may change how you relate to them.

With this in mind now read this passage in 2 Corinthians 10:4 - "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Consider today, how the bible, under the influence of the spirit, in the context of the church community is in the business of simply replacing ideas and concepts that are contra to the kingdom of God with those that are foundational to it.

Seeing this, may actually influence how you read it. As we read, we can ask, "How is the Bible/Spirit teaching me to see the world I live in? How is this different than the world I live in?"

Happy Reading!

Brad
 

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Redeeming Time

Last week we talked about how speed, hurry, & busyness are all enemies of love. This week we want to talk about the nature of time.

As the Genesis account teaches us that linear time is part of God's creation... It did not exist until God called it into being.  It existed then as a wholly good part of the cosmos. 

But sin warped all parts of God's creation when it entered the world, which means it also warped time.  Time now exists in a broken state. 

In this broken state, we serve time, we fear the passage of time, there never seems to be enough time, we are always trying  to make more time... 

But since God's plan is to redeem "all things" effected by the fall, that means that time can also be redeemed. 

So the question is, what does redeemed time look like? To me...

- Redeemed time now is seen as a gift from GodHe gives it to us. We receive it gratefully 
- Redeemed time now is seen as the servant not the master.  It does not drive us, it serves us.
- Redeemed time is used for God's purposes and for his glory. Like Jesus, we try to follow the spirit in using wisely the time we have been given.

What might that look like practically? Each day is received from God and we thank him for it. And then we go into our days seeking a way to wisely steward our time, investing in the things that matter most.

- That includes worship, and pursing a depth of relationship with God
- That includes our work, our relationships, our health, our rest
- That includes the work of the church, the work of evangelism, the work of compassion, the work of hospitality etc...

I wonder if this might help us understand Matt 11:28 - where Jesus promises us rest, if we only take his yoke upon us.

So this week, meditate on the idea that God is redeeming  your time, and that time is now to be received as a gift, and used wisely. And so enter God's rest.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

What Busyness Does to Love

There was a social experiment that was done at a Christian University. Students were told to prepare a talk on the meaning of the story of the Good Samaritan. They were then given instructions as to where on campus they had to go to give the talk.

Some students were given only just enough time to get there and others were given more time.

Positioned in the route of all the students was a person who appeared to be injured.

Most of the students who would have been late had they stopped to help, didn't stop. They could not connect the content of their talk to the real life situation because hurry blinded them. Most of the students with more time did stop, since they had time to see and stop and provide some care.

Were either set of students more moral or virtuous than the other?

No, the only difference was time.

The truth is busyness does violence to love ... hurry is the enemy of love.

Next week, we will explore the idea that God wants to teach us to redeem time.

But for this week, think about what it might look like to not be driven by time or blinded by time, so that we can be present to God and to each other, and so have the space to love and serve.

Grace & Peace,
Brad

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Dealing With Reality

A theology that does not deal with reality as it is is not robust enough. A theology that denies reality is a bad theology. 

Christians live in a broken world. And we live in it as broken people. The fullness of God's redemption will be a future reality, but one in which we only experience only partly in this life.  

That means that as Christians, we too will have to deal with addiction, mental illness, depression, conflict, sickness, unemployment, disease, broken relationships, fractured emotions etc...

When we experience these things, it is not necessarily because of personal sin, or a lack of faith, or unbelief. While these things might contribute,sometimes, its just the state of the world we find ourselves in. And often much of it is out of our control.

I think how we respond to these things is vitally important. The twin poles of seeing God as personal genie and despair/hopelessness must be avoided.

Instead, we look to God for our daily bread, asking for his intervention, but always prepared to receive what he gives, even if it not what we asked for.

In these times, with open hands and hearts, we receive courage, power to persevere, hope, and comfort.

If this is your season, we join you in praying for daily bread... the bread you need for today, and today alone.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.

Christianity and Magic

A few years ago, the world was taken by storm by the Harry Potter books and movies - and why not? The characters and story line were compelling.

But also compelling was the fantasy of these young people learning the right spells, charms and potions to make things happen magically that they could not make happen naturally.

What is often missed however, is that there was no magic to the deepest themes in the book - friendship, courage, sacrificial love - no potion  or charm was offered to help the characters learn these things.

They had to learn them as they went through a life that was filled with trials, tests and tragedies.

Sometimes, within our Christian faith, we think that Christianity should function  a little more like magic - say the right prayer, practice the right spiritual exercise, worship in the right church - and God will "magically" make your life right and whole.

But the truth is that the major themes of our faith are arrived at only by the long pilgrimage of people who travel through a life that always includes trials, testing and tragedy, so as to arrive at the most worthwhile things in our faith - maturity, community, forgiveness, reconciliation and love.

This is what I think Psalm 23 communicates to us - God's abiding shepherding presence is available to us to guide us to green pastures and still waters, on right paths, and through dark valleys, until we are seated at God's banqueting table, and all the time, we are convinced that his love and mercy will follow us all of our days.

If you suffer now, if life is hard, if you are being tested, it doesn't necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong. Instead, it probably is God using these things to form in you what he deems best and most long lasting.

Trust him and look to him to guide you, and be convinced that his love and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.

Grace & Peace,
Brad Swope

Subscribe to receive Thought For the Week in your Inbox.