Belong

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Romans 12:3-6For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  (NIV 1984).

My Musings – Far too many Christians are going their own separate ways these days, believing that they can worship anywhere (which they can) and can get along just fine with the fellowship of a local church (which they cannot).  Others prefer to skip in, blend in and skip back out, without building relationships within the body.  In they process they gain little and contribute little. Often on their way back home they comment “well, I didn’t get much out of that service,” missing the point entirely.

It is never about how much we get.  It is always about how much we give.  And ironically, the more we  give the more we end up getting.  Iron sharpens iron, and it is hard to sharpen anything without something to rub up against.  It is difficult for anyone to grow sharper spiritually without rubbing up against other believers in fellowship, worhsip, prayer and the Word.  Sure, we can get by, but that’s somewhat like the steward that buried his talents and was only able to give back to the master what he had been given, nothing more.

“As much as we like to think that it is our smarts [spirituality] that get us a head, it is not everything.  Our intelligence [Spiritual maturity] give us ideas and instructions.  But it is our ability to cooperate that actually helps us get those things done.  Nothing of real value on this earth was built by one person without the help of others.  There are few accomplishments, companies, [churches] or technologies that were built by one person without the or support of anyone else.  It is clear that the more others want to help us [and we them], the more we can achieve [grow].” (From Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek).

My Advice – Don’t you want to give back more?  Don’t you want to help others do the same?  Find a local church and do more than just blend in – belong.  Because whether you admit it or not, that is where you do belong.

Walk This Way

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Leviticus 26:12 – “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people.” (Leviticus 26:12)

My Musings – This verse must be read in context.  There is a condition that precedes it:  “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands.”  There follows an impressive list of blessings capped off by this awesome promise in verse 12 above.  Of course, conditions always beg the question, what if the conditions are violated?  Following the blessings are a long list of consequences, which are often overlooked, because the conditions are often overlooked.  The word “if” should always give us pause.  This is the immediate context.

But the overriding context is that this is a promise to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.  They were under the Law.  Thankfully, we are under grace and don’t have to worry about obedience (ugh, legalism!).  Or do we?  While it is abundantly clear that “it is by grace that [we] have been saved, through faith . . . not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9),” and many can readily quote this, we tend to overlook (and are unable to quote) verse 10:  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Consider also want James says in the second chapter of his Epistle:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

This is not a salvation of faith plus works theology, but rather a recognition that true saving faith results in a life that is transformed, and the transformation is evidenced by good works (and avoiding a sinful lifestyle).  A lack of good works (and a habitually sinful lifestyle) is likely evidence of a life that has not been transformed and calls into question whether there really was saving faith in the first place.  Of course, we must be careful here.  While salvation (justification) is a one time event initiated by grace through faith, transformation (sanctification) is a lifelong process.  People mature in the faith at varying paces, with many ups and downs.

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We are all used to people making claims. Politicians make claims about what they will do if they are elected. Advertisers make claims about the benefits of the product they are pitching. Suiters make claims about how much they love the person they are wooing. None of these claims are worth anything unless they are backed up by action. A politician risks not being reelected if they do not follow through with their campaign promises. Inventory will cease to move off store shelves if the product does not live up to the advertiser’s claims. Lovers grow apart when promised affections are not delivered.

So it is with our faith. A faith that transforms is a faith that performs. Faith inaction becomes a faith in action. Doing the least for the Kingdom becomes doing for even the least in the Kingdom. So how are things with you? Is your faith alive or dead? Is your “work produced by faith?” Is your “labor prompted by love?” Is your “endurance inspired by hope?” Are you seeking to do the “good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do?”

My Advice – So back to the verse in Leviticus.  If we expect God to “walk” with us, we need to be walking in the same direction.

 

 

Fool’s Choice

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James 1:19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (NIV 1984)

My Musings – My dad often said we have one mouth and two ears, meaning we should listen twice as much as we speak.  We listen because the other party might be right.  It happens.  But being “slow to speak” does not mean we do not speak at all.   The other party might be wrong.  It also happens.  And if the stakes are high (not trivial), it is crucial that we do speak up.  A true friend does not withhold the truth, even if it may hurt.  But how we speak the truth (in love, gentleness and respect) is just as crucial.

Silence Matters – Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

The Fool’s Choice – The mistake most of us make when dealing with things that matter is that we mistakenly believe the choice is between telling the truth and keeping a friend (not making an enemy), between candor and kindness.  But when it comes to risky, unpopular, controversial or emotional issues (where the stakes are high), skilled (brave?) people find a way to get all of the relevant information (from all parties) out into the open.  They dialogue (taking part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem).

Remaining silent, will rarely resolve any issue.  People skilled at dialogue do not remain silent, and they do their best to make it safe for everyone to share in the dialogue.  Even when the other’s views appear at odds with their own beliefs.  Those unskilled at dialogue, if they do not remain silent, will resort to outright attacks (sarcasm, caustic comments, verbal attacks) or subtle manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior (innuendo, playing the martyr, body language).

We begin with differing opinions, beliefs and history.  Whether we remain silent or we attack  the truth is rarely revealed and we are not being a true friend. (Notes from Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012.)

Fight or Flight, As Long As I Am Right?

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Romans 12:9-10Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:14-16Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. (NIV 1984)

Romans 12:17-18Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (NIV 1984)
Romans 12:21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV 1984)
Colossians 4:6Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (NIV 1984)
Ephesians 4:14-15Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (NIV 1984)

 

My Musings – Society (having the same root, more or less, as social) appears to be becoming anything but social (can we still call it social media?).  Why is it that as civilization becomes more and more polarized, it is becomes less and less civil?  How can we restore social to society and civil to civilization?  First, a couple thoughts from other.

  • Fear, Hate and Disagreement – Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle [views, opinions, beliefs], you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe [say] or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. – Rick Warren
  • Crucial Conversations – A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.

It is okay to hold opposing views.  It is okay to care passionately about those views.  But because the stakes are high (relationships that we care just as passionately about), we must handle these conversations well.  People can and do disagree about important issues.  Because they feel passionately about their own views and beliefs, emotions can run high.  As a result, how we disagree matters (stakes are high) a lot.

One can either digress into threats (fight), revert to silent fuming (flight) or speak openly, honestly and effectively. The question is, when it matters most, are we at our worst (fight or flight and ineffective) or at our best (open, honest, caring and effective)?  One can handle them poorly (fight) and face the consequences.  One can walk away (flight) and face the consequences.  Or one can handle them well (open and honest) and minimize or avoid the consequences altogether.

The irony is, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well and the more likely the consequences will be broken relationships. Being passionate in our beliefs and being compassionate with those of opposing beliefs are not mutually exclusive. Passion need not result in polemic behavior and compassion need not result in compromised beliefs.

Notes from Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012.

Not every conversation, not every issue is crucial.  But sometimes what is trivial to one, is of the utmost importance to the other.  For example, in 1968 and into 1969, talks to end the Vietnam nearly did not even get started over disagreements (lasting ten weeks) over the shape of the conference table.  Trivial to some, crucial to others.  Ultimately, however, the stakes (peace – the objective of everyone at the table) were very high.

Many times, there is no absolute right or wrong answer, except to the parties who cannot agree.  At other times there is an absolute right and wrong, with someone being absolutely wrong and no way of changing their mind. We cannot control what others view as crucial.   What we can control is how we engage.  We may still end up disagreeing, but we need not be disagreeable.  By the same token, we need not agree to be agreeable.

My Advice – Do not allow passion to extinguish your compassion.  Do not allow compassion to compromise your passion.  The truth is never afraid of open and honest dialogue.

 

 

 

A Thousand Elsewheres

Psalms 84:10Blessed is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. (NIV 1984)

My Musings – Unfortunately, our actions can be just the opposite. We spend the thousands elsewhere, devoting little time to spending with God (reading His Word, prayer, church).

My Advice – The allure of the world is strong, but do not let it take you away from God. Even in abundance (a thousand times over) it cannot satisfy as much as a single moment spent walking with God.

Do Not Neglect

Nehemiah 10:39 – “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

My Musing – While this verse is talking about physical provision for the temple, we often neglect God’s house in another way. Failing to faithfully attend worship services and fellowship with other believers is a way that we neglect God’s house.

My Advice – Make it your habit to attend church regularly and to associate often and freely with other believers.