Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yes Friends

I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother, Paul to his friend Philemon (Philemon 7)

It's true that our hearts follow our dollars. Or to quote Jesus, “where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” But here there’s another key element, “where our friends are, there will our heart be also.” That’s my paraphrase of Jesus… I mean, he liked his friends a lot… but I have to admit, it’s not exactly what the Bible says.
      What does Scripture lead us to understand as the basis of good friendship? (Advisory here: some Bible verses are coming your way because the Good Book finds friendship an important topic.)
      Three key elements of “Yes friends” do find their way into the biblical book of Proverbs. First of all, we need friends to give us support and advice: “Where there is no guidance, a nation falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” If it’s true for a nation, I'm pretty confident it works for individuals. In fact, a somewhat recent survey (from 2006) found that 1 in 4 Americans don't have anyone to confide in. That to me is the definition of a lonely life. And that's why we need "Yes friends."
      On the other hand, “Yes friends” doesn’t mean sycophants—those who will just tell us everything’s ok. That’s called a flatterer and they don’t fare too well in Proverbs. Who wants to be told “all is well” right before the tornedo arrives? Who wants compliments when a personality course correction is what’s needed? “Whoever rebukes a person will afterward find more favor than one who flatters with the tongue” (Proverbs 28:23).
      Though not a Christian—for one thing, he lived before the New Testament or Jesus existed—the philosopher Aristotle had some pretty good things to say about friendship. He philosophized that friendship isn’t just about people we like or have things to offer us, but that friends seek the Good together. As Paul wrote rather rhapsodically, about four hundred years later, in agreement with Aristotle, love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Yet one more reason that flatterers make us feel giddy for a while, but also prove to be pathetic companions.
      Finally and most importantly, our friendship—or intimate community—begins to define us, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). We become who we hang out with.
      When we get in the company of those who support your deep, true yeses, we come to our truest selves, and we realize our dreams, the important dreams—the one God puts in your heart, the ones where passion meets mission. That’s why I want yes friends.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Note on Why I Do Theology

My first great theological mentor was the pastor during my college years, Earl Palmer. Actually, my “college years” were my first years as a Christian. So I learned by Theological ABCs at the same time I began to take steps as what is now called “emerging young adulthood.”
      During those sermons in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, I heard Earl declare (and everything in the pulpit is an enthusiastic declaration for him): 
Every Christian is a theologian! As soon as you answer the question, ‘What do you believe?” you are a theologian. You’re either a good theologian or a bad one, but you’re a theologian!
      And ever since that time, I’ve yearned to be in that “good” category. I’ve also wanted the same for as many other Christians as possible.
      In an historical sense, Earl has a crucial point: The earliest confession—found, for example, in 1 Corinthians 12:3—is “Jesus is Lord.” This statement most likely answered the question, “What do you believe?” on the way to a first-century baptism. (This letter to the churches at Corinth was written around 55 AD.) This confession of faith then expanded to not just a paragraph on Jesus as Lord, but included one before and one after. So we find the fourth century Nicene Creed outlining “the faith once delivered” (to quote Jude 1:3) on these three paragraphs—a theology structured on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
      And so I preach, teach, and write theology based on this threefold, and ultimately Trinitarian, framework as a means to answer the question, “What does the Christian community believe?” and therefore to help fellow followers of Jesus to become, in Earl’s words, “good theologians.”
      There will be successes in this endeavor, and of course, failure. But I would be bold enough to say (so why not say it?) that, if this theology—or one like—is done right, it should be read by all types of thoughtful Christians. This theological task is for mothers and fathers, mechanics, professors, real estate agents, morticians, plumbers, and students.
      In other words, let’s not just leave this work for the professionals, as it were, to answer the question “What do you believe?” Nonetheless, the professionals can certainly help in this crucial task.