3 Reasons You Should Listen to the Fence-Sitters

The Lonely Fence-Sitter

So, here I sit … by nature the speak-up type … on the fence. How did that happen?

I have said for many years that I value the voices of the radicals because they challenge our assumptions and can help bring our thinking into balance. Radicals or extremists usually come to the forefront as reactionaries when the pendulum on an issue has swung too far in one direction. Yes, they may overstate their case, or swing the pendulum too far in the other direction, but without their voices we might never question how imbalanced things actually are (because that lack of balance has become the new status-quo).

Similarly, I have always had trouble respecting “fence-sitters.” At best, I’ve viewed them as apathetic. At worst, I’ve judged them as uncaring or cowardly. More recently, however, I have come to think it might actually be wise to seek out the fence-sitters and hear what they have to say when faced with a situation where extremists on both sides are screaming loudly. Here’s why:

  1. At the very least, if you are one of the radicals making noise, talking with the fence-sitters will help you see how your message is being received by those you are trying to persuade to join your cause. I mean, let’s face it, in battles of epic proportions the people on opposing sides aren’t typically trying to come together. They’re each trying to get their way, win the battle, shoot the other’s argument down. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but seriously, if you’re not convincing a fence-sitter with your rhetoric, you’re certainly not going to convince the opposition.
  2. Talking with a fence-sitter might help you understand the valid points the opposition is making. Again, if you’re one of the radicals, you probably have trouble actually hearing the other side’s case because your senses are so inflamed against them.
  3. Don’t believe you could actually be that calloused against the other side? Appalled at the idea that you might be biased, or worse yet, not completely informed on the matter? Yeah, that’s another reason to speak with a fence-sitter. It’s a good opportunity for a heart check and, quite likely, fact-checking.

I suppose at this point, it might be good to mention the specific issues/incidents which have led me to think the fence-sitters might not be as uncaring as I once imagined. One is the racial tension in my own community (see prior posts here) and the other is a horrible situation in a local church which has spilled over into a Bible college I care about (see one article here, and one here … for the rest of the story, it won’t be hard to follow the rabbit trail to find details).

These circumstances have taught me the following about fence-sitting:

  • It is difficult to have your voice heard when you refuse to join one camp.
  • It is hard to convince people you care about them when you won’t agree with them completely.
  • If you want to hear the opinions and insights of the fence-sitter, you’ll probably have to seek them out because they shy away from speaking publicly as they don’t want to be labeled with either side. And, possibly, because they’ve seen how horribly each side has treated those who oppose them.
  • Just because someone does not grab the bullhorn, does not mean they don’t have some definite opinions.
  • When a fence-sitter is someone close to the situation, and they haven’t made complete enemies of either side, they probably have information you need to hear.
  • Fence-sitters often find themselves there because they care deeply about the people involved in the battle. If you want to gain an ally, spark up a conversation with them.
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Encourager’s Devotional Series – November Bible Study Answer Guide

Here are the answers for the Bible study for the November Devotion “Giving Out of Our Poverty” in The Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Information

Read Acts 16:1-17:15, which tells of Paul and his team’s first missionary journey to Macedonia.

From Acts 16, list the troubles that Paul and his team experienced in Philippi:

  • They were harrassed by a girl who was possessed by a demon (vv. 16-18).
  • They were stripped and beaten (v. 22).
  • They were put in prison (v. 23).

What did Paul and Silas do while in prison (v. 25)?  They prayed and sang hymns.

What miracles occured in Philippi (vv. 18, 26)?  A demon was cast out. An earthquake shook the doors off the prison, allowing Paul and Silas to escape.

What good results came in Philippi (vv. 15, 33)?  Lydia and her household were baptized. The jailer and his family were baptized.

Why did the slave girl’s owners oppose Paul and Silas (v. 19)? They did not want to lose the income they received due to her possession.

Why were Paul and his team also opposed in Thessalonica (17:5)?  Some of the Jewish people were jealous.

Why were the Jews in Thessalonica jealous (17:4)?  because many were choosing to follow Christ through the teaching of Paul and Silas

What happened to Jason and others simply because they were associated with Paul (17:5-9)?  Their house was attacked. They were brought before the authorities.

How were Paul and his companions received in Berea (17:11,12)?  with eagerness

Who made trouble for Paul in Berea and finally drove him out of Macedonia (17:13)?  the Jews who came after him from Thessolonica

Acts 18-20 tells of Paul’s further travels back and forth through Macedonia and Greece. Notice that his traveling companions now include several Macedonians (19:29 and 20:4, note Berea and Thessalonica are part of Macedonia). Who are they?  Gaius, Aristarchus, Secundus and Sopator

Meditation

Acts 16:40 says, “After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them.”

Acts 20:1 says that after a riot in Ephesus, Paul “sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.”

How likely are you to encourage others when you are experiencing troubles of your own?

Fill in the blanks from Acts 20:23-24: “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardship are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

How might working with someone who had an attitude such as this inspire the Macedonians to give sacrificially and to strive to encourage others even though they had reason to be discouraged themselves?

Fill in the blanks from 2 Corinthians 8:1-12. It says that the Macedonians, even in the most severe trial, had overflowing joy and that even in extreme poverty they were rich in generosity.

How likely are these things to be said of you?

Do you consider it a privilege to share in service to the saints as the Macedonians did, or does it seem more of a drudgery at times?

How much do you “excel in this grace of giving”?

Paul said you can “test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (8:8). How do you compare with the earnestness we see in Paul and the Macedonians?

Think on the example of Christ we see in our text, who “though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9).

Take a moment to pray, thanking Christ for the sacrifice He made for us: leaving the majesty of heaven for the poverty of earth so that we earthly beggars might be made heirs of heavenly riches. Pray that He might help you be more like Him. Pray specifically for any convictions that came as you answered the questions in this meditation section or in the devotion.

Application

Read again the end of this month’s devotion. List here any ways you may want to “stretch yourself beyond your abilities” this month.

Dedication

What specifically do you want to do in response to this month’s devotion?

A Challenge I’m Happy to Accept

thankfull

I’ve accepted the Be Thankful Challenge from ScaleSimple. The Challenge rules are …

  • Share this image in your bog post
  • Write about 5 people in your life you are thankful for
  • Write about 5 things in 2015 that you are thankful for
  • Spread the love and challenge 5 other blogs to take part

5 People I’m Thankful for

  • My husband, Scott – Just a few of the many things about him for which I’m grateful … I love that he believes in the power of laughter and makes sure it’s a part of our lives. I appreciate his faith and strength. I’m also glad he’s easy to make up with after a disagreement. 🙂
  • My children, Mandi and Michael – I am so proud of who they have come to be as adults. They bring so much joy into my life.
  • My children’s mates, Ryan and Haley – What can I say? My kids picked good ones. They are both such loving people. (And extra thanks to Ryan for bringing little Elaina into my life!)

5(+) Things I’m Thankful for in 2015

  • God’s provision, mercy and love
  • My extended family – parents, siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews … the whole crew. I love how much fun we have when we’re together and how we pull together during the hard times.
  •  I’m thankful for this quote from Mr. Rogers: “Always look for the helpers. Because, if you’ll look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.” This thought has brought comfort to me many times in the past few years when the chaos in the world seems almost too much to bear. It also helped me define how I wanted to address the issues in my community (see posts on Ferguson) and other crisis situations in the world.
  • So, besides being thankful for the quote above, I’m increasingly thankful for “the helpers” I see in this world and the hope they bring.
  • I’m thankful for the friends I’m tagging below for this challenge. They are my writing retreat buddies. They inspire me, challenge me, and cheer me on towards my goals.

5 Nominations for this Challenge

Encourager’s Devotional Series – November Bible Study

This Bible study corresponds with the November Devotion “Giving Out of Our Poverty” in The Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Information

Read Acts 16:1-17:15, which tells of Paul and his team’s first missionary journey to Macedonia.

From Acts 16, list the troubles that Paul and his team experienced in Philippi:

  • They were harrassed by a girl who was             by a           (vv. 16-18).
  • They were                   and                 (v. 22).
  • They were put in               (v. 23).

What did Paul and Silas do while in prison (v. 25)?

What miracles occured in Philippi (vv. 18, 26)?

What good results came in Philippi (vv. 15, 33)?

Why did the slave girl’s owners oppose Paul and Silas (v. 19)?

Why were Paul and his team also opposed in Thessalonica (17:5)?

Why were the Jews in Thessalonica jealous (17:4)?

What happened to Jason and others simply because they were associated with Paul (17:5-9)?

How were Paul and his companions received in Berea (17:11,12)?

Who made trouble for Paul in Berea and finally drove him out of Macedonia (17:13)?

Acts 18-20 tells of Paul’s further travels back and forth through Macedonia and Greece. Notice that his traveling companions now include several Macedonians (19:29 and 20:4, note Berea and Thessalonica are part of Macedonia). Who are they?

Meditation

Acts 16:40 says, “After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and                   them.”

Acts 20:1 says that after a riot in Ephesus, Paul “sent for the disciples and, after __________________ them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.”

How likely are you to encourage others when you are experiencing troubles of your own?

Fill in the blanks from Acts 20:23-24: “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that             and                   are facing me. However, I consider my life worth                   to me, if only I may             the           and                        the                   the Lord Jesus has given me the task of                     to the               of God’s grace.”

How might working with someone who had an attitude such as this inspire the Macedonians to give sacrificially and to strive to encourage others even though they had reason to be discouraged themselves?

Fill in the blanks from 2 Corinthians 8:1-12. It says that the Macedonians, even in the most                            , had overflowing             and that even in extreme                    they were rich in                      .

How likely are these things to be said of you?

Do you consider it a privilege to share in service to the saints as the Macedonians did, or does it seem more of a drudgery at times?

How much do you “excel in this grace of giving”?

Paul said you can “test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (8:8). How do you compare with the earnestness we see in Paul and the Macedonians?

Think on the example of Christ we see in our text, who “though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9).

Take a moment to pray, thanking Christ for the sacrifice He made for us: leaving the majesty of heaven for the poverty of earth so that we earthly beggars might be made heirs of heavenly riches. Pray that He might help you be more like Him. Pray specifically for any convictions that came as you answered the questions in this meditation section or in the devotion.

Application

Read again the end of this month’s devotion. List here any ways you may want to “stretch yourself beyond your abilities” this month.

Dedication

What specifically do you want to do in response to this month’s devotion?

Giving Out of Our Poverty – November Encourager’s Devotion

With the Thanksgiving holiday in mind, the focus of the October devotion for The Encourager’s Devotional Series was on giving out of thankfulness for what God has given us. The main text for the devotion was 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul tells the Corinthians he’ll soon be coming for the contribution they had promised towards a collection he was taking to help the saints in Judea. In studying for that devotion, I was intrigued by the story of the church in Macedonia, which Paul was using as an example to inspire the Corinthian church to give generously to the cause.

Backing up to chapter 8, Paul describes the Macedonians as people who were in a time of great trial and affliction, and in extreme poverty. Yet, he said they had an abundance of joy. That right there would make them a model for any church, right? But Paul goes on to say that, despite their own poverty, they begged him (literally implored him with urgency) to let them contribute to the offering for the Judeans. What would cause people who were experiencing trials and poverty themselves beg to be a part of giving to someone else?

For many of us, giving to meet someone else’s need is the farthest thing from our minds when we are weighed down with our own problems. For instance, during the holidays, many people get very depressed. This time for sharing with family and giving gifts only reminds some that they’ve lost loved ones, or that they really don’t have the money to give the gifts they’d like to give, or that they really don’t get along with their families. So, instead of enjoying the season and using it as an occasion to reach out to others, they focus on the negative, turn their thoughts inward, and become sad.

The Macedonians certainly could have focused on the negative. The trial of affliction Paul mentioned was probably the persecution they were experiencing for having become Christians. Macedonia was a geographical region north of Greece which included many of the cities we hear about in Paul’s writings, like Philippi, Thessolonica, and Berea. On Paul’s first trip to Macedonia (Acts 16-18), he and Silas were thrown in jail and beaten at Philippi. Then they went to Thessolonica and a mob attacked the house where they were staying. So, they left there and went to Berea. Things were going pretty well in Berea, until some Jews from Thessolonica heard they were there and came to stir up those crowds against them, too. It got so bad that Paul had to flee to Athens. So, we are talking about a place that really had some enemies of the gospel.

And yet, Macedonia was also a place where people like Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and many others accepted the message of the gospel. These people made the decision to follow Christ knowing it would bring persecution. They knew what it meant to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Several even decided to join Paul on his missionary journeys, despite the fact that they’d seen first-hand what kind of trouble he’d experienced. Imagine that: “Man you got beat up pretty bad today. Can I join you tomorrow?”

I think the reason these people, who had enough trouble of their own, would even think about helping others is because they knew they were a part of something much bigger than themselves. Acts 16:9,10 says that Paul had been called to Macedonia in a vision. Now, surely Paul told them about this vision. They knew they were a part of a divine call!

And, according to 2 Corinthians 8:4, they knew that divine call enlisted them into fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ. The Macedonians begged to give so they could have the “privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” The Macedonians could have made plausible excuses for not contributing, but instead they participated eagerly.

Verse 3 says they gave out of their poverty and beyond their ability. Last month, I challenged you to give out of your abundance, out of thankfulness for the blessings you do have. Now I’d like to ask you if you can take this ministry a step further. Can you give until it hurts a little? Can you give not for the blessing or encouragement you’ll receive in return, but because of the thanks and blessing that go to the Father when you give sacrificially (2 Cor. 9:12)?

You, like the Corinthians, started this ministry commitment a year ago. Using the example of the Macedonians, as Paul did to prod the Corinthians, I pray that “your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it” (2 Cor. 8:10,11).

The Macedonians gave beyond their ability. How might you stretch yourself beyond your “abilities”? Do you need to trust God with finances? Do you need to ask His help with an inability to think compassionately or to get your focus off your own situation? Is your schedule such that you feel incapable of giving time to a worthy project? Pray and ask God what the specific application of this lesson might be for you. I pray we will all become more like the Macedonians and “beg” the Lord for opportunities to serve others in His name, regardless of the personal cost.