A toenail doesn’t have to be friends with an eyeball

Who is that person in your life that you just don’t understand? Is it a family member or a coworker? I know people who just bug the fire out of me, and I really want nothing more than to shake them or throw something at them or pop off and tell them what I really think of them.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, I’m not nearly bold enough to do any of that. So I resort to creating characters like them in novels and making them look dumb. Yes, passive aggressive. I know. I’m working on it.

But do you ever wonder why you have to put up with it? The Bible is so full of examples of Jesus’ patience and goodness toward stupid people, and it frustrates me. Because I don’t want to be nice to stupid people. I want to be angry at them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned growing up in the church, it’s that not all Christ-followers agree. When I was younger, that bothered me, because I thought everybody had to agree. We all have to believe the same thing, don’t we?

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, friends, but you’ll never see a time when everyone in a church–or any gathering of people–believes the same thing. Sure, you can agree on the basics. You can find common ground on the important things. But everyone sees life differently or has lived a different kind of life.

Those differences are valuable if you harness them, but if you let them drive a wedge between people, they can tear everything you’ve built down.

As you follow Christ, you’re going to encounter other Christ-followers who come from different cultures and different traditions and different perspectives. If they truly follow Christ, you can have a deep relationship with them because you have something in common with each other, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to agree on every subject. And that’s okay.

A Christ-follower from Africa is going to have a very different view of life and living than a Christ-follower from Canada. That doesn’t mean one is wrong and the other is right. What matters is that both people believe in Jesus for their salvation. But for some reason people love to point out things that are different, and once they see something that’s different, if it threatens them, they’re likely to decide it’s bad.

But if the Bible doesn’t say it’s wrong, who are we? If God doesn’t have a problem with it, why do we?

Our differences make us stronger. It all comes back to the Body of Christ. We all have different jobs, different loves, different passions, different talents, and we all come together in the name of Christ to serve Him. But if you’re the hands of the Body, don’t be telling the lips what to say, and vice versa. If you’re the feet, you don’t know how the eyes work. If you’re the ears, you’ve got a different job than the nose.

Because we’re different, we complement each other. Because we’re different, we are stronger together than we are alone. But because we’re different, it’s hard to remember that sometimes. Being different is difficult. We don’t communicate the same way. We don’t see life the same way. And if we aren’t careful, all we’ll start to see is the differences, and before long, we’ll convince ourselves that we’re too different to work together.

What would happen if your body parts decided they were too different to work together anymore? Yup. You’d fall apart. And the same thing will happen with the Church.

So give each other a break. Yes, we’re different, and that’s the point. You’re going to run into members of the Body that drive you crazy. And you’re not going to understand them, and they’re not going to understand you. Imagine a toenail trying to comprehend an eyeball. One is hard. The other is soft. One protects, and the other is protected. They have absolutely nothing in common, except that they are both in the Body.

Maybe that’s all you have in common with that person in your life that you don’t understand. And if that’s the case, that’s fine. A toenail doesn’t have to be best friends with an eyeball, but they do need to recognize that they each do an important job–and they have to do it their own way.

If you focus on what makes you different, you’ll be frustrated and angry because how are you supposed to get along with someone you don’t understand? But if you focus on the things you have in common, understanding each other won’t really matter. Instead, you’ll enjoy getting to see the other person’s point of view.

Yeah, they might learn something from you, but you might learn something from them too. We’re different for a reason. And that reason isn’t to destroy each other. It’s to learn from each other.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Ignoring conflict never makes it better

For being someone who communicates for a living, talking to people is hard work for me. I’m much more comfortable communicating in written words than I am in spoken ones, mainly because I don’t trust myself to be able to say what I want to say out loud when I want to say it.

Generally I can talk to anyone if I have to.  But it becomes extraordinarily more difficult to talk to somebody if I know they have something against me–or if I have reason to hold something against them. Conversation just falls flat. And it’s my personality to just run away from it, ignore that there’s a problem, and get on with life. Whenever I face conflict, that’s my first reaction. But that’s not healthy, and that kind of reaction doesn’t do anybody any good.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:23-24.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Communication is hard work, and even if you do it well, you’ll still run into times when something goes wrong and somebody gets his or her feelings hurt. And in those instances, you have to make a decision–let it go or face it.

Now, it’s true, in some instances, it’s better to just let it go. Otherwise you’ll be making the proverbial molehill into a mountain. But sometimes communication problems start out as mountains, and they’ll only get bigger if you don’t take steps to correct what went wrong and reconcile everyone involved (as much as possible).

I think it’s really interesting that Jesus talks about this. He considers it so important that He would rather you leave your gift on the altar and go fix what’s wrong between you and the others around you first.

Let’s be honest here. It would be so much easier to just finish doing what you’re doing before you track down people to smooth out your relationship. Am I right?  But that’s not what Jesus says to do.

If you realize someone has something against you, drop what you’re doing right now–even if you’re doing it for God–and go and make it right with that person. Not from a distance. Not with an email or a text message. Go talk to them in person. Sort it out.

Do it first. Or the chances are you’ll never do it at all. You’ll keep finding reasons not to because communication in conflict is more difficult than any other sort of communication out there. And human beings are really talented at finding excuses.

But what if you can’t make it right? What if you’ve missed your chance? What if the person you need to get right with won’t listen or isn’t around anymore?

I think how Jesus phrases this is interesting: “You suddenly remember that someone has something against you.” Think about that.

He’s not saying you’re remembering something somebody did to hurt you. You’re remembering something you did that hurt somebody else, either intentionally or not. You remember what you did wrong, and you take it on yourself to go make it right.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it that way before. It’s a lot easier to look at conflict as though it’s somebody else’s fault. After all, we never do anything wrong, right? We never hurt anyone else’s feelings, do we?

In all seriousness, conflict always takes at least two sides–at least two people disagreeing about something. Conflict isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes conflict can be good, and we certainly do grow as a result of it. Many times the strongest friendships we have in our lives have experienced some kind of conflict and have overcome it together.

So what’s the point? Don’t run away from conflict. Don’t be afraid of it either. Conflict is a natural part of living on Earth, and if we treat it right, we can learn from it and grow stronger as individuals, families, friends, and teams.

But we always have to remember that conflict is never just one person. If you have a problem with somebody, communicate with them. If you come to a realization that your actions have hurt someone, don’t shrug it off. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pass it off. Own up to your actions. Take responsibility for your choices. And make it right with the people you’ve hurt.

If you don’t, you’re going to be distracted. If you continue to muddle your way through life, leaving a trail of conflict behind you, even if you’re serving God, you’ll be so distracted by all your unfinished relationships that you may not hear God speaking to you.

It’s time to clean house, Christians. Be honest with yourselves. Who have you hurt? And are you courageous enough to face that person and try to reconcile?

Two scarlet macaws at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Contentment never comes from constant comparison

Can you be happy if you are constantly comparing yourself to other people? I can’t. But what is it about the human condition that leads us to compare ourselves to each other? Nobody has to teach us to do that. We just do it.

We live our lives and one day we meet someone who (in our perception) has something we don’t have. And that automatically means that person is happier than we are, so we compare our lives. We compare our personalities. We compare our achievements. And we compare our failures. In some cases, it ends with simple discontent, but in other cases it becomes raging jealousy.

The plain and simple truth is that our purpose isn’t to compare ourselves to each other. That’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live. A Christ-follower is supposed to compare themselves to God, to Christ, to live by the example He gave us. Not to live by the life of someone here we think is happy. Because I guarantee, if you pick the person down here you think is the happiest person in the world, if you really get to know them, you’ll discover that their life isn’t as fun as you think it is.

So instead of comparing our lives, which is just a distraction from the things that really matter, shouldn’t we work together?

Two scarlet macaws at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Two scarlet macaws at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 2:1-2.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

After reading through Philippians a few times, I get the feeling that the Church at Philippi had some trouble getting along. Paul even goes so far as to call out names of people who he wanted to stop squabbling. And unfortunately, not much has changed in the Church in 2,000 years. The Church is still the epicenter of many arguments and much unpleasantness, all stemming from the fact that the believers within refuse to get along.

And from what I have seen and experienced, the root cause of why people can’t get along is that they focus on how they are different.

We focus on the differences in our life experience. We focus on the difference in our rearing. We focus on the difference of our level of education. We focus on our age. We focus on our preferences. We focus on our marital status. And we go a step further. Because someone else has money or education or Bible knowledge, we automatically assume they want nothing to do with us, and somehow we begin to resent them even though we don’t even know who they are. Or because someone is popular or well-liked in the church, we form opinions about them and don’t even try to get to know them.

And before you know it, we have convinced ourselves through assumptions and preconceived notions that we can’t be of one mind because we are too different.

But what does Philippians say? What did Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit write to the people who refuse to work together?

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?

Is there any?

Not total. Not complete. Not full. Not entire or whole or a word that indicates we have to be 100% alike.

Any.

Here’s how the Amplified Version puts it:

So by whatever [appeal to you there is in our mutual dwelling in Christ, by whatever] strengthening and consoling and encouraging [our relationship] in Him [affords], by whatever persuasive incentive there is in love, by whatever participation in the [Holy] Spirit [we share], and by whatever depth of affection and compassionate sympathy, fill up and complete my joy by living in harmony and being of the same mind and one in purpose, having the same love, being in full accord and of one harmonious mind and intention.

We aren’t supposed to be the same people. God made us different and put us in different circumstances with different life experiences so that where one person is weak the other person can be strong. But because we like to compare ourselves, because we refuse to be happy with where we are, we only see the differences. So we don’t see how our differences can make us strong through Christ.

I may have absolutely nothing in common with the next person I talk to at my church. They may be married with six kids and love chick flicks and romance novels and only eat turnips. But if that person belongs to Christ, we are family. Everything else is insubstantial in the face of our connection through Christ. Christ is what matters.

So today, if you have formed preconceived notions about another believer, get rid of them. Drop them like a rock. Preconceived notions when you don’t know someone will only do damage, both to the person you assume things about and to you. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Stop looking at other people’s lives and wondering why they deserve to be happy when you don’t. And reach out to someone you don’t know. Prove your preconceived notions wrong. I guarantee you will.

And even if the person you reach out to turns out to be exactly opposite from you, you still have one thing in common. And that one thing, Christ, can make up for everything else.

Water Boy for the Marion Warriors football team - Hutchinson, KS

Well-oiled machines don’t have squeaky wheels

I got to go to another football game the other night. I haven’t been to many, and the ones I’ve gone to have only been high school. My lack of a competitive nature has really caused me to stay away from sports for most of my life, but my best friend is a sports editor/photographer for her town paper, and she had a game close to my house the other night. So I dropped by to chill on the sidelines with her … literally because the temperatures dropped into the 30s as we stood there.

But throughout the game, I noticed this one kid, whom I took a picture of. He was smaller than all the other players. He wasn’t treated very well; they all yelled at him. And for all the abuse he took, he had to run around–not on the field where he could get any glory for his hard work–but on the sidelines making sure the players stayed hydrated.

And it got me thinking about the Church.

Water Boy for the Marion Warriors football team - Hutchinson, KS

Water Boy for the Marion Warriors football team – Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

I love my liver. It’s pretty important, if you didn’t know. Kind of like my pancreas is important, even though it probably doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to all the time. And if I didn’t have my gallbladder, whew! No more greasy foods for me. There are parts of our bodies that we can’t live without, even though no one gets to see them.

When was the last time you walked up to someone and told them they had a lovely colon? Never? Well, maybe their intestines aren’t visible, but if they didn’t have a functioning colon, they wouldn’t be standing upright talking to you.

Like a little finger. Or a big toe. They’re small parts of your body, but try walking without a big toe. Try picking stuff up without a little finger. It’s just as impossible to function on the outside without those two parts as it is to try to function on the inside without a colon or a liver or a pancreas.

People get to thinking that their mouths are the most important (anybody see the debate?). Or they get to thinking that their eyes are the most important or their ears or their hair or their arms or legs or whatever our culture deems as beautiful or intellectual or attractive. But what good is a head without a neck? What good is a mouth without a nose or ears? Most of your sense of taste comes from your sense of smell. Most of your ability to speak comes from your sense of hearing.

There’s no part of the human body that’s unimportant. Yes, pieces and parts can be removed, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have lasting effects from their absence. And just as that is true of the human body, it is true of the Church.

No one is minor. No one is most important. Everyone has a function. Everyone has a design. And we are all designed to work together for one purpose: drawing people to Christ.

So if you’re a big bad Christian and everyone knows you and you walk into your church next Sunday and some little teenager holds a door open for you with a smile and a bulletin, and you think you’re more important than he is? … You’re wrong.

If you’re a children’s Sunday School teacher full of knowledge about the Bible and in possession of a carefully categorized flannelgraph collection, and you think you’re more important than the little kids you’re teaching? … You’re wrong.

Even if you’re a pastor, even if you’re a deacon or a trustee or an elder, even if you’re a worship leader or an actor or an usher … none of you are more important than the little old lady who cleans the bathrooms. You all matter, and you all are important, and you all have a job to do. And while you could probably do your job without the little old lady who cleans the bathrooms, you would feel her absence decidedly if she weren’t there.

So the next time you’re tempted to feel important at church, think about how difficult it would be to walk without a big toe. Remember that Church was designed to be a unit of many small parts, a well-oiled machine with a specific goal and purpose. So don’t be the squeaky wheel.

Peter and Paul

Do you ever read verses in the Scripture when you feel like it’s beating a dead horse? It’s funny to me how whoever chooses the Bible Verse of the Day at Biblegateway.com kind of seems to choose a topic and then finds verses to support it. But it’s also funny to me that the topics the Verse of the Day often repeats and repeats and repeats are the same topics people have a hard time remembering. So maybe that horse isn’t dead yet after all . . .

Today’s passage is Philippians 2:1-2.

1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Unity. Be of one mind. Work with one purpose. Agree wholeheartedly with each other. Love each other. Sound familiar? A lot like yesterday’s post. But different. Because it was written by a different person.

Yesterday’s verse (1 Peter 3:8) was written by Peter.

Today’s verse (Philippians 2:1-2) was written by Paul.

Yet they wrote the same thing, almost word for word.

And let’s just say this, folks, if Peter and Paul could find a way to be of one mind a purpose, anyone can. 

Peter was a fisherman, loud mouthed, abrasive, impulsive and uneducated.

Paul was a scholar, a high-ranking Jewish leader with more education than he probably knew what to do with.

Peter was flamboyant, an intense, emotional person.

From what I can tell, Paul was more reserved, more of a thinker.

Peter was one of the original twelve disciples Jesus chose, who lived with Him for three years.

Paul was chosen after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension (still chosen by Christ, but Paul didn’t follow Him while He was alive on Earth).

Peter was older.

Paul was younger.

And let’s not forget the most obvious disparity in their relationship. Peter led many to the Lord following Jesus’ ascension. . . . . And, at first, Paul killed them.

That was Paul’s job. Persecuting Christians. I believe He was present at the stoning of Stephen, another Christ follower mentioned in Scripture. It’s likely he held the coats of the men who threw the rocks.

Of course, when God got a hold of Paul, his life changed (and so did his name, as previously he was named Saul). But even if God forgets our sins, it’s hard for the people around us to do the same. Imagine the Disciples’ shock when Paul, who had murdered scores of their freinds and colleagues, walked into their midst claiming to be a follower of God. I can imagine the look on Peter’s face, as the impulsive one of the group. And I’m sure a great number of disagreements broke out. And I’m sure Peter and Paul may not have been the best of friends, but they were willing to put their differences aside and work together because they could agree on what mattered.

Is there a Christian you know who’s solid theologically but that you have a hard time getting along with?

Compare your relationship with that person to the relationship of Peter and Paul. And if you don’t know what to do with that person follow their example. Put aside the things that you don’t like and put aside the picky little details you can’t agree on and focus on the big picture.

Do you have to be best friends? No. When it comes to close friendships, you need to be with someone who encourages you or enriches you, and even though other Christians may mean well, they don’t always speak your language.

But you do need to agree. And you do need to support each other. And you do need to be of one mind and one purpose.

And if God could help two people as different from each other as Peter and Paul work together for the same goal, He can do the same for us. We just have to let Him.

 

Listening

Verses like the one this morning make me cringe. Actually, most verses out of James make me cringe because so much of what James writes about is what I struggle with. And this morning is one that truly throws me for a loop.

James 1:19

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

As I was reading this today, I realized something I never saw before. I always considered these three instructions to be individual. As in, we need to make sure that we are good, attentive listeners. We need to make sure we don’t talk too much. We need to make sure we don’t lose our temper. But as I was reading this morning, I started to wonder if instead of individual commands they’re actually connected.

How many times have I sat and listened to someone speak without interrupting them to tell them that they’re wrong and getting angry about it?

Listening is a sign of respect. Listening demonstrates that you love someone else more than you love yourself, that you’re more concerned about what’s going on in their life than you are about what’s happening in yours. Listening is hard. But that’s probably becuase it’s a good thing to do.

So what do you do when you’re listening to someone and they say something wrong? Or they say something offensive? What do you do? Do you jump all over them? Do you interrupt them and tellt hem that they’re wrong?

If we think about these three commands as though they are all connected, what are they saying to do?

Be quick to listen. That means we need to be eager and excited to listen to someone else’s story. But once they get started, let them finish their thought without interrupting them. And then, don’t get angry at them for expressing beliefs or opinions that contradict your beliefs or opinions. Let them finish their thought. Let them have their say. And then — calmly and without anger — explain your position. Explain your beliefs. Explain your opinions. And explain why you feel that way.

I struggle with this enormously, especially if someone is telling me something I have already heard before. If somebody is repeating something I’ve already heard, I usually interrupt them and finish the thought for them. And, honestly, that’s just rude. I should care more about the people who are talking to me than I do about what they’re telling me. So what if I heard it before? I shouldn’t be in such a hurry that hearing it again bothers me.

I am always quick to listen, but I’m not always slow to speak. And that’s something I need to work on.

Brotherly love

Love is such a strange word. It has so many meanings, and English tends to use the same word for all of its many meanings. Because there’s a big difference between saying you love somebody and saying you love the taste of coffee.  

I would be fascinated to know how the word love is translated in other languages. Because I’m sure that other languages have a generic word for love. I know Greek has many different words for many different kinds of love, but I don’t know about other languages. I know there’s a linguistic difference between family love and romantic love in Japanese, but I can’t tell you the different words.

The verse of the day made me think about the different kinds of love this morning.

Romans 12:10

10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other.

I’m always curious when the Bible expands on how to love someone. Not just love them. But love them “with genuine affection” which in this case means “with brotherly love” according to BibleGateway.

It’s super easy to tell somebody that you love them. At it’s very basest definition, love is a word. And words are easy to use. What is difficult is meaning what you say. And when you mean that you love somebody, you have to back it up with action.  You have to spend time with them. You have to talk to them. You have to remember their birthdays. Etc. But then again, a lot of your action depends on what kind of love you have for that person. If it’s romantic love, you’d better be sending flowers and talking on the phone at all hours of the night. But what does it mean to love someone with brotherly love?

The same verse in the Amplified Bible uses the phrase “as members of one family.” That’s how we are supposed to love each other. I think that’s probably a very good idea, since technically we are members of one family. God’s family. But that begs the question, how do members of a family love each other?

It’s interesting to me that no matter how evil our culture becomes, families still seem to realize that there is a bond among them that nobody else shares. You still grow up together. You still live together, at least at the beginning of your life. And no matter where you go in life, you still have whatever your family instilled in you.

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have an amazing family. My mom, dad and brother are some of my closest friends. So it’s very interesting to me that the Bible says I am to love fellow Christians with the same love I have for my blood family. It’s that love that says, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you are family and I love you and I always will. ” At least, that’s how brotherly love works in my family.

It also means we aren’t afraid to call each other on our crap, no matter if it’s a younger sibling doing the calling or not (again, this is also the way it usually works in my family). But always with love.

I don’t even really know what I’m saying this morning. And I’m not sure if I’m making sense or not. I rarely even make sense to myself.

I guess I was just needing a reminder that when the Bible tells us to love someone, we need to do it; not only say it but back it up with action. And when the Bible says that we need to love fellow Christians like they are family, we need to do that too. Because if we can’t love each other and get along down here, we’re in trouble. Because we’re going to spend eternity with each other. So we’d better work out our differences down here while we have the chance, right? =)