Little yellow bug on a big yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Sometimes the body needs a break

I have a sore on my tongue. Yes, that’s probably TMI, but it’s true. In fact, I’ve had a sore on my tongue for about a month. It’s one of those obnoxious sores that just nags the devil out of you, and nothing you do to it really seems to help it. And it doesn’t really hurt. It’s just annoying. And it makes talking less fluid than I normally prefer it to be. People probably haven’t noticed because I’m good at hiding things, especially since I’ve had to be talking nonstop for the last month it feels like.

What amazes me is how something so small can cause so much irritation. Like a splinter. You can get a splinter in your finger or in your foot, and it can feel like a whole tree is lodged in there. And then it turns out that it’s just a teeny tiny microscopic shard, and you feel like the world’s biggest wuss. Or a speck in your eye? Gosh, there’s no pain like that. And most of the time it’s an eyelash. An eyelash! Yeah, that’s really dangerous.

But isn’t it amazing how one tiny problem with one tiny part of your body can cause the rest of your whole body to stop functioning the way it’s supposed to? I mean, your body still functions. But it’s really really difficult to focus on doing the things you’re supposed to be doing when you have an eyelash stabbing your cornea to death…or an elm lodged in your little toe…or a sore on your tongue.

The Body of Christ (that is to say, the Church) is the same way.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Little yellow bug on a big yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 12:27.

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

You see, there are two definitions of church. A church can be a building, yes, and that’s the general definition I think most people apply. But the Church (capital C) refers to those people who have chosen to follow Christ. The Church, our fellow brothers and sisters in faith around the world, is more than a building–it’s a family. And the Bible calls it a Body. The Church has been compared to the Body of Christ, with each part having a specific purpose, meaning that each member of the Church has a reason for existing.

Some people are the hands. Some are the feet. Some are the mouth. You get the idea.

I’ve posted previously that my church (talking about the collection of folks at NewSpring Wichita) is in the midst of a massive outreach called Judgement House. There’s no other time at NewSpring where you get to see the concept of the Body of Christ played out so literally. It’s amazing to see how a body functions.

But if one part of the Body stops working, the other parts have a hard time getting the job done the way it’s supposed to be done. Like a splinter or a sore or a homicidal eyelash in a “real” body, the Body of Christ can have issues too. After all, even though we’re redeemed, none of us are perfect. And those issues can sometimes cause difficulty for other parts of the body. But what’s truly amazing is watching how the other parts take up the slack.

If you have a lash in your eye, you have another eye that can still see, and your hand is there to seek out the offending lash and make it go away. Similarly with a splinter, you can shift your weight to your other foot or gesture with your other hand. And if your tongue stops wagging, you can still communicate with your hands (at least I can).

I’m rambling at this point because I’m exhausted from all these nights of Judgement House, so I’d better get to the point. Basically last night I just got to thinking about how sometimes body parts need a break.

I really don’t sit down the whole time I’m at Judgement House. I could. But my brain wanders if I sit still so long, and I want to stay focused. So I pace. And a few hours of pacing isn’t that big of a deal, but we’re talking eight hours of pacing. By the end of the night, my feet are killing me.

Well, the other night–after a night of pacing–I came out to my car to find it frosted over. It’s starting to get cold here. And honestly the last thing I really wanted to do was stand out in the cold and scrape the icy frost off my windows. But I wanted to go home. So I started working on it. And that’s when a young man I’ve known for ages popped over to my car and helped me. I later found out that other folks all over the parking lot had the ice cleaned off their windows too. I’m not sure if it were the same guy, but whoever it was made me think about how awesome the Body of Christ truly is. He didn’t need recognition. I didn’t even ask him for help. He just saw a need, and he jumped in. That’s how the Body of Christ is supposed to function.

So what does that mean for us today? Well, if you follow Christ, you’re part of His Body, so that means you need to keep your eyes open for a way to help another part of the Body out today. I can’t tell you how or what or where, but I can tell you that there are needs everywhere. And you don’t run across needs by accident. A lot of the time, God has put you where you are “for such a time as this.”

So don’t be crazy but don’t be lazy either. If the Body is struggling, step in. We’re all in this together.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Agree or disagree but don’t stop moving forward

We live in a contentious era. It’s favorable and even popular to argue a point where you disagree. The invention of chat rooms and blogs and social media has allowed people from every walk of life all across the world to sound off on each and every topic of discussion that is brought to light in a public forum, and while healthy conversation and discussion is useful, one-sided arguments where others aren’t allowed to disagree never are. But it’s the one-sided arguments that don’t allow discussion that have become more and more prevalent.

In our culture, it is a social norm to immediately think that if someone disagrees with you, they hate you. I’m not quite sure where this concept came from, but we have been inundated with the idea that simple disagreement means a complete inability to live and work together. As far as most people are concerned, we must agree, or we can’t talk to each other.

Why is that? Why must we agree? Why must one person compromise his or her opinions or beliefs to make another person feel better about their own? I think there’s another issue at the heart of that matter. And there’s another issue in the lack of civility that has permeated our culture too. But in reading through Philippians, I realized something about agreeing to disagree: It needs to happen in the Church.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:15-16.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

I’d never really thought about it. Whenever I think about people having major disagreements, I usually go back to the debates I sat in on when I was in college. I remember having to I listen to one on homosexuality, and all I really took away from that debate was that my whole college despised the biblical view of gender and completely disrespected anyone who followed biblical principles. Of course, it didn’t surprise me, but I was shocked that the presenter onstage wasn’t even allowed to talk about his views because the audience kept shouting angrily at him. The moderator did nothing to stop it.

When I think about disagreements, that’s what I think of.

But you know what? Major disagreements happen in the church all the time. Even if you have an awesome church, disagreements are still going to happen. Why? Because everybody is different. We all look at each other differently. We all look at life differently. And our different experiences in life have shaped the way we live. And these differences extend to our walk with God too.

There are a lot of Christians in the world. Those people who believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because of Him alone they are going to heaven and they can have a relationship with God are everywhere, in every country. But if you put them all in the same room, it’s very likely that none of them will agree on anything else. Cultures are different. Personalities are different. Everything is different.

And it’s the same inside a church. A church is a group of people made up of different backgrounds, and if they don’t focus on what matters, if they don’t focus on what is the same, the differences will tear them apart. I’d like to say that disagreements in the church are more civil than disagreements in the world, but it’s not true. Oftentimes disagreements in the church are more vicious than what goes on in the world.

But no matter if your disagreement is with someone who doesn’t believe or with someone who does, the way to deal with it is the same:

Agree on what matters. Let God work everything else out. And keep moving forward.

That’s it.

Yes, sometimes it’s important to debate if everyone is given a voice. Yes, sometimes it’s important to argue as long as emotions stay out of it. Disagreements are healthy because they help us see other people’s points of view, but disagreeing doesn’t mean we hate each other. Disagreeing doesn’t mean you have the right to be vicious and mean to other people. Disagreeing is just someone with a different life experience trying to come to grips with you and your perspective on life. And if you listen to them, you’ll gain valuable insight. You may not agree. You may never agree. But that’s okay.

But you do have to listen. That’s part of a discussion. That’s part of a conversation. Listening. Not sitting still and clinging to your own perspectives, waiting for the opportunity to strike where your opponent is weak. That’s not listening. That’s premeditated attack.

And I can tell you from personal experience, the church excels at premeditated attacks. So do Christians.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s important to agree. We do have to agree on the things that matter. But even if you get to the place where you can’t agree, that doesn’t mean you can be cruel. And within a church or a family or a business or whatever, when you disagree, let it go. Try to find a solution, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Don’t focus on it. Don’t press it. Don’t keep going back to it over and over and over.

Pray that God will make it clear, whether it needs to be clarified to someone else or to you.

But whatever you do, don’t move backward. Don’t turn back. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Hold on to the progress that you have already made because if you take a step back, Satan has won. And that’s what this is really about. That’s where strife and dissention really comes from, a ploy to hurt the cause of Christ.

You won’t agree with everyone. And not everyone will agree with you. Get over it. But you can focus on the perspectives that you share. And even if nobody agrees, you can still be civil. And let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to listen to someone who’s civil than it is to someone who’s rude.

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.

Two turtles at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Working together

I used to hate projects at school when I had to team up with a group. Group projects made me cringe inside, usually because I ended up carrying the project. There were a few times when I didn’t, when everyone worked hard and carried their own load, but those times were few and far between.

Have you ever worked together with someone and felt frustrated because they finished first? Or because it was like they got their work done and got to move on to something else? Or they completed their part first and got their grade or their bonus or their positive feedback before you did because the part you’re working on is more complicated?

Two turtles at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Two turtles at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 3:8

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.

It’s easy to lose focus when you’re working in pairs or in a group because you start to compare your work with someone else’s work. But you shouldn’t do that, especially in ministry.

I work in a marketing department as a copywriter, so I am involved in just about every single project that my group puts out. We do magazines. We do brochures. We do web content. We do pamphlets, press releases, news articles, trade show booths. You name it; if it’s got any sort of writing on it, I touch it. The ones I don’t look at are the technical documents, but that’s about it.

My part in these projects is usually long and drawn out because I have to get everyone to agree on the way phrase specific product descriptions. The graphic designers have to design it. The coordinator has to make sure everyone signs off. But we don’t all work on it together, kind of like planting and watering mentioned in today’s verse. If you try to water a field before the seeds are planted, you’re wasting your time. But if you plant your seeds, they need to be watered. You can’t move on to the second part until the first part is complete. Kind of like building a brochure in my marketing group; the designers can’t place photos until I write the copy; the coordinator can’t get signoffs until the photos and the copy are in place.

And when each of us finish our part of the project, we can take it easy (theoretically speaking). When each of us finish our part to the best of our ability, we receive our own individual reward.

The same is true in ministry. My church is gearing up for a huge outreach drama that we do every year called Judgement House, and there will be a lot of people working together on my church’s property. I think this verse is important to remember for ministry especially because in ministry it’s very very easy to compare roles. Judgement House is a great example because there are so many facets to it.

There are actors. There are directors. There are tour guides. There are concession workers. There are greeters. There are prayer walkers and security and cleaners and parking lot people. There are the awesome ladies who prepare food for the cast to eat. And every single person is essential. Not one person is more important than the other because we can’t do Judgement House without every person being involved.

But it’s easy for a tour guide (for example) to start thinking that they’re hot stuff. Because they’re visible. Because they’re obvious. Because people see them and notice them. … But I guarantee that Mr. Hot Stuff Tour Guide wouldn’t be able to be a tour guide if the invisible woman in the kitchen didn’t come in early from work to prepare a hot meal for the Tour Guide to eat. And Mr. Hot Stuff Tour Guide wouldn’t be nearly so hot if the invisible prayer walker wasn’t interceded for him, or if the security guard wasn’t helping to hold doors and keep the groups calm, or if the cleaners weren’t helping keep the bathrooms in shape.

See what I’m saying?

No role is more important than another. Everyone works together, or we should. We shouldn’t compare. We are all working for the same purpose, like two farmers working in a field. One is planting; one is watering. Maybe the farmer who plants gets finished first; maybe he gets paid first. But the whole harvest won’t come in until the crops get water. So maybe the farmer who does the watering gets paid later. But both of their roles are essential, and if they focus on the fact that they’re both out in the field for the same reason, maybe they won’t compare each other.

So if you’re at work or you’re in a ministry (like Judgement House) and you’re tempted to compare your job with someone elses? Don’t.

You are positioned where you are for a reason. You have gifts and skill sets that mean only you can do your job right now at this moment. Don’t be jealous of someone else. Don’t be defensive or protective. Just do your job the best you can, and let God sort out the rest.

Empty bench at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Home again, home again!

Hey, everyone! We got back safe and sound, but it’s a little later than I planned. So I decided to post this early … or late?

This isn’t really a deep thought. It’s 1AM. I won’t be capable of much depth. But I wanted to share something I was thinking about and thanking God for as I was driving the 500 miles home tonight.

Empty bench at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Empty bench at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

I’ve blogged on this before, but it really hit home with me tonight.

Driving all the way to Colorado Springs and back isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s enough of a hassle that it could be troublesome for one person alone.

On the way up, I really started feeling awful. So it was nice to be able to hand over the wheel to somebody else while I rested. And tonight, everyone took turns keeping me awake as I drove.

But not only that, I had a car full of some of my closest friends. These are the folks who laugh at my silly jokes and my facial expressions. They know what I’m thinking before I think it. Some of them know what I’m feeling before I feel it, and that’s really saying something.

I am so thankful for the time I had with these awesome ladies the past three days, and I’m really excited because we got to make a whole bunch of new friends too!

I know not everyone has friends who they’ve known for 20 years, but if you do? Be thankful for them. You don’t know how rare it is. And if you don’t? Whether it’s 20 years or 2 months, if you’ve got a friend who will stick with you no matter what, be thankful for them. And stick together because 20 years will get here a lot sooner than you bargain for.

Good night (morning), everyone!