Category Archives: Unity

Wrestling with Religious Division

arguing

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  Mark 9:14

I have to admit, the political climate right now is driving me crazy.  I cringe when I look at the headlines, like I’m opening a container of moldy leftovers.

moldy-leftovers

Yeech!  But the main thing that is driving me crazy is the rabid discord.  It makes my heart sad to see people hating on each other.

mlk

And then I think, “Surely, we as Christians should be different.”

Yet often we are not.  That’s why I wanted to explore this verse, which is a part of the story that I discussed in my last blog.  It concerns something that is much on my heart — our tendency to be contentious about religious matters.

conflict

Whenever I read how the teachers of the law opposed Jesus, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you get it?  This is the Messiah that you’ve been waiting for!”  I have such a strong desire for people to overcome their biases and LISTEN, for them to live in harmony and be unified, just like Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one.” (John 17:21)

But it is the nature of man to dispute.  And just like this wrangling broke out when Jesus was away, the tendency to dispute is amplified when people get in a place where they don’t see Jesus and his power and wisdom.

I wrestle so much with the religious division I see today.

I could go on and on about it, but one of the main things I want to say is that we need to have convictions, but we also need to be humble.  We need to remain open, listen to others, and not think we have it all figured out.

I’ve been reading a totally mind blowing book about people throughout history who were martyred for holding to what they believed the Bible said.  I can’t help but be inspired by them.

maryrs-mirror2

martyrs mirror

Yet at the same time I get turned off when I see churches split because one group thinks they need to follow the Bible more stringently.

What to do? Should we be more rigid or more tolerant?

I believe the answer is to be like Jesus, to be  “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Like Jesus, we need to have strong commitment to live by the truth.  When Jesus faced temptation, he answered it with scripture, and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)  All of his actions were righteous.  He maintained, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”  (John 8:28b-29)

But we also need to remember that Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'”  (Matt 9:13) 

mercy

We need to remember that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery.  He told his disciples to accept those who were not part of their group and yet performed miracles in his name, “For the one who is not against us is for us.”  (Mark 9:40)

Again, we need to make it our top priority to fulfill the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'”  (Mark 12:30)  A top priority should also be to help others do the same, “teaching them to obey everything.”   (Matt 28:20)

Yet we can never be self righteous.  Jesus related that the tax collector who stood at a distance and prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” was justified, not the Pharisee who was proud of how he kept the law.  (Luke 18:13)  We so badly want to feel superior and tell someone that they aren’t committed enough if their commitment doesn’t look like ours.  But we need to be careful.  There is always someone more committed — someone who has given away all their material possessions, someone who is devoted to service, someone who is saving souls right and left.

Instead, we need to practice Romans 14:1, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”  There is a place for the sister who is committed, but weak.  Encourage her, and give space for her to grow and for God to work. (Phil 1:6, Romans 14:4)

Timothy summed this all up so well.  He started by saying in II Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” and then went on to pronounce:

II Tim

Going back to today’s reading, what did Jesus do when he was faced with religious disputing?   You know, you would think that when Jesus appeared, he would have waded in the argument and set the teachers of the law straight.  Instead, it seems like he got onto the apostles for not being able to heal the boy, “You unbelieving generation. How long must I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19)

I think this shows us that Jesus expects that our focus should be solely on God.  He was looking for faith, the vertical relationship.  But his apostles ended up getting tangled in horizontal interactions.   How would it have been different if they had looked to God when things didn’t go as planned?  What if they had said, “Hmmm, this didn’t work, so let’s pray more and seek the Lord about this?”

I say this because I can relate.  I’m trying to remember to look to God.  But often, when things are challenging, I start reaching for any safety strap I can find.  I get bent out of shape.  It goes better when I think, “Wow, this is tough.  What’s going on, God?  What do I need to learn?  What do I need to do differently?  How can I trust?”

So let’s sum this all up.  What can you do if you are faced with a difference of opinion regarding a religious matter?

  1. Take time to take the matter before the Lord in careful prayer.
  2. Be humble.  Listen and try to understand the other person’s position.  Don’t be self righteous.
  3. Look to your own righteousness before God.  Do you have a log in your eye that you need to remove before you address the speck from someone else’s eye?
  4. Decide if the scriptures are clear cut on the issue.  It is a disputable matter or a salvation issue?  Does it regard a sin a person needs to repent of immediately, or is it an area in which they need to grow?
  5. If you do have a clear scriptural principle to defend, stand up for it!  But do so without quarreling.  Be respectful.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.

May our dream be, as Christ’s was, that we all may be unified!!  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”  (Ps 133:1)

I think it is totally good and pleasant in our church!  I love that we are like family.  Here are a few recent pictures.

Singles at church

campus new year

 

Me with Elena and Edie

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Alicia and Travis

But we’ve had to work for our unity.

Some say that unity will only happen when everyone lives by the scriptures.

But I say that unity will only happen when we obey the scriptures, pray for wisdom, and have open honest discussions in respect and humility.

Discussion is vital.  And that means that Satan would like to cut off all discussion, or make it unproductive.

The great tragedy is that he often succeeds.

The great victory is that we can vanquish him by living in truth and grace.

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The Best Gift: A Network of Commitment

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”  Mark 10:29-20

Family is great.  Most of us don’t have to leave our homes and families to follow Jesus.  In fact, following Jesus can make us better wives, sisters and daughters.  We serve our loved ones and intentionally make time for them.

But there are times when family can be an obstacle.  In our ministry right now we have more than one campus student who went home for the summer and faced family members who told them they couldn’t go to the church of their choice.  We have someone who regularly attends church except when her family is in town.

How do have wisdom about all this?

Here’s what I think the bottom line is.  Christ’s body is interdependent.  If each person doesn’t make it a priority, it can’t function effectively.

As each and every part does its job, (Christ) makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  Eph 4:16

It reminds me of rowing.

rowing2

What if some didn’t show up to row?  What if someone slacked off?  It’s hard if everyone isn’t pulling their weight.

In the same way, it’s hard when everyone doesn’t pull their weight in the ministry.  It’s hard when someone doesn’t show up to church.  It’s hard when they don’t take the commitment seriously.  Because those who are working and coming to everything, who are rowing as hard as they can, start feeling tired and discouraged.

Plus the ministry isn’t as effective.  To work, a body needs all its parts, not just some of them.

injured cat

There has to be a commitment to put Jesus before family, and that also means putting church before family.

But as Jesus points out here, it isn’t a negative thing.  It turns out to be the best thing ever.  Again, I’m not telling people to dis mom, dad or hubby.  I’m saying when you put things in the right order there are many blessings.

I have been reading this awesome article by Fred Faller on what it means to be righteous.  He talks about how God wants us to be in a state, “where all the people will be faithful to the care and protection to one another,” where, “Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm.”  Isa 32:2

God has a plan to surround us with an army of nurturers and encouragers who will love us as He loves us.

I like what Joyce Landorf Heatherly writes in her book, Balcony People, referring to our memories of affirmations,  “All around the sphere of clear air in our conscious mind runs a balcony filled with people who are not merely sitting there, but practically hanging over the rail, cheering us on.”

This is what the body of Christ is to be.  We cheer one another on, build each other up.

But if we don’t treat our sisters and brothers like they are important, the plan fails.

A single grain of wheat doesn’t produce anything unless it is planted in the ground and dies. If it dies, it will produce a lot of grain.  John 12:24

wheat field

We have to “die” for one another, sacrifice for one another, commit to one another, for the plan to work.

And then God will give us one hundred fold.  A harvest of relationships that reflect His goodness.  Relational blessings that will last into the life to come.

(Note:  This blog is about a principle, but it takes wisdom.  Get advice in sticky family situations.  I am not condemning anyone, just giving food for thought.)

 

 

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Mark, One Another Relationships, Unity

The Goodness of Unity

I woke up this morning thinking of God’s goodness.  “I NEED God’s goodness,” I told myself.  “If I wasn’t connected with God’s goodness, I would wither up and die.”

A little melodramatic, but it describes what I feel.

Anyway, today’s reading is Mark 10, and I as this blog unfolds, I am going to tie it in with God’s goodness.

Some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, “Can a husband divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them, “What command did Moses give you?”  They said, “Moses allowed a man to give his wife a written notice to divorce her.”  Jesus said to them, “He wrote this command for you because you’re heartless.  But God made them male and female in the beginning, at creation.  That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and will remain united with his wife,  and the two will be one. So they are no longer two but one.  Therefore, don’t let anyone separate what God has joined together.”

You know, when God made the world, He saw that it was good.  This is so true for me.  Almost any time I am struggling, I can go out into nature and feel the very presence of God’s goodness.  It is beautifully overwhelming.  It is healing.

And then when God made man, He said it was very good.  This is important for me to remember because I tend to be down on myself.  I have to work on self love.  I have to remember I am God’s unique creation, one that is not just good, but very good!  How can I naysay God and act like I don’t have worth!

But God declared one thing to be not good, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  So God took his very good creation, man, and gave him something else that was very good, a “helpmeet,” a companion who would make him better and life better.

So this is what marriage is to be — the best thing, the daily providence of God’s goodness in our lives.

And that is why Jesus doesn’t support divorce — not because he wants anyone to stay in miserable marriages, but because he wants people to have one of the best gifts he can give.   He’s saying, “Don’t give up!  If you persevere and apply Godly principles, I will bless you through this marriage!”

I mean, look at I Cor. 13 and what love is to be —

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (GWT)

If we had a spouse who was consistently like this, wouldn’t we be joyful every day!

If we were consistently like this, how would it make a difference in our marriage?  I was thinking of it yesterday as I was driving in the car with my husband and we were trying to work out Mother’s Day plans with our kids.  We couldn’t decide where to go.  We were hungry.  It was hot.  “Love is patient,” I kept telling myself.  “It isn’t irritable.  It isn’t rude.”

What about for our friends?  What if we loved them this way?  Jesus just talked in Mark 9 about “have salt in you and be at peace.”  I wrote a blog on the power of peace and unity.  Can we be united with our friends?

I mean, what was the last thing Jesus prayed for before he was put on the cross?  My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:20)

Do we pray for unity?  Do we seek that all men would know us by our love, our love that is patient and kind, that bears all things?

If marriage is a holy union because God has made man and woman one, what about the body of Christ?  “He makes the whole body fit together and unites it through the support of every joint.”  (Eph 4:16 GWT)

It is not good to be alone.  It is the epitome of goodness to be united — in marriage, and as brothers and sisters.  Church can be epically wonderful!

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!  Ps 133:1

But just as marriage takes work, it takes work to be united as disciples.  We intentionally encourage.  We overlook insults.  (Prov. 12:16)  We remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of evil. (Eph 6)

May God’s goodness grow and spread as we grow in unity and in number.

 

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Filed under Love, Mark, Unity