While I’m on hiatus finishing up the editing on my book, here’s a great read from Cheryl Bridges Johns at The Junia Project. Beautifully written and spot on. With my book off the to-do list soon, I hope to be writing on several of the topics she so eloquently summarizes. Until then, blessings to you.
If we are going to take The Curse as our guide for male and female roles, women should never have been allowed to work in the fields of agriculture – in any capacity. That would be the man’s role. It would emasculate him to have her take over any of his duties in that God-assigned arena, just like her taking a job outside the home would today.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Tonight I am tired. I am tired of Christians bashing fellow Christians. I understand we have differences. And I believe we need to have difficult discussions sometimes in order to hold each other accountable. I believe in the process of “iron sharpening iron.” And I believe in exposing any sin that manifests itself amongst us (for we all sin).
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 (ESV)
What I am tired of, though, is how it seems like many Christians cannot approach their disagreements without making each other the enemy. I am tired of the fact that this makes me feel cynical. I am very tired of seeing these things play out in a way that makes younger Christians I’m trying to mentor become cynical. And I’m tired of the poor taste this leaves in the mouths of non-Christians – not just towards Christians, but towards our Christ.
Much more could be said on this matter. Perhaps I should write a Bible study in the future. But for tonight, I’m just too tired.
As I was driving home from work tonight, feeling cynical and discouraged, I had to correct my self-talk. I had to remind myself that there are MANY good Christian people out there who are doing loving things for people.
In an environment filled with people pointing out others’ wrongs, can we take a minute to point out some of the good we see fellow Christians doing? PLEASE, post your positive examples here for all to see as I’m sure there are others like me who need to be reminded.
TAKE-AWAY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Note: These are just suggestions to help guide your discussion. You do not have to do all the questions and you do not have to do them in order.
- Give examples of how you have been fed by others in your spiritual walk.
- Talk about a way you’ve learned to feed yourself in the Word.
- Share a way that you have been able to help feed others in the faith (or a way that you can imagine yourself doing so in the future).
- How does it make you feel to think you are expected to become a “teacher of others” and help them grow in their faith?
- Where is one area you have definitely seen yourself become more mature in the faith?
- Where would you say you are in your maturity level at this point?
- You might want to practice using one of the passages mentioned in the sermon as a check list to see where you might need to grow. 1 Corinthians 13, Galatians 5:22-28, 2 Peter 1:5-11, or Romans 12 (A handout is available for this one in the August Bible study.)
Read 1 Corinthians 12 and answer the following questions:
According to verses 4-6, what three differences should be allowed in the church?
From verses 7-10 and 28-30, list some of the different gifts and functions which might be distributed throughout the church. (Note: There are other lists elsewhere with additional gifts. We will look at those later in the study.)
What other kinds of differences are mentioned in verse 13?
Who decides which members are bestowed various gifts and where each member “fits” among us? (vv. 11, 18)
What familiar image of the church is used in this chapter? The ________ of __________
Romans 12:4, which also speaks of the body of Christ, says the members of the body do not all have the same ______________________.
What different gifts are listed in Romans 12:6-8?
Notice that verse 8 lists encouraging as a special gift that is given only to some people. Does this mean that only those with the gift of encouragement should strive to be encouragers? To think on this question, consider that serving, giving of finances or material things, and showing mercy are also listed as special gifts. Yet, when Paul is taking up a special offering to help one particular group of Christians (2 Corinthians 8–9), he speaks to the need for all church members to give generously. In 2 Corinthians 9:5-7 he even addresses the fact that some of us might have to overcome our reluctance in this area and not give grudgingly. (In other words, we may not have that gift, so it might not come as easily to us.) We could find similar passages to show that we are all expected to be merciful, to serve, and to encourage one another. So, if we are all supposed to encourage one another, how do you think it might be different for someone who has the gift of encouragement?
What was Paul’s conclusion on the matter in 8:8 and 10:31? Continue reading
Many people see Christianity as legalistic and perceive the church as a place where conformity is required and individuality is stifled. And, unfortunately, many Christians help perpetuate those notions by being judgmental and intolerant towards those who think or do things differently. But Paul’s letters paint quite a contrasting picture of church life. They are full of the idea that Christ brings us liberty.
In Christ, we are free to “work out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12), to set our own standards in many things and not be bound by rules and traditions of men (1 Corinthians 8, 10:29; Galatians 1-6). And we are not only free to be different in personality and life-focus, but also encouraged to find our own unique part in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).
Whenever we allow this kind of freedom within a group of people, the challenge will be to make sure there is still unity. We see this in our nation. We declare “freedom for all,” but then realize that means we have to find a way to coexist with people who have very different opinions and lifestyles from our own. How do we promote diversity without ending up in civil war? How do we make sure people can exercise their own rights without trampling on the rights of others? And how do we ensure people understand that rights and freedoms come with responsibility?
As I was considering this same problem for the Church, I thought of the word “harmony.” The word is often used interchangeably with “unity” in Scripture. What this word illustrates to me is that we can sing different parts, but still be in the same choir, singing the same song. The song we sing is what unites Christians of different backgrounds, different gifts, different opinions. We sing the song of the redeemed, the song of a people loved by God and learning to love others through God. When we sing this song together, suddenly our differences don’t matter so much; we’re not as concerned about imposing rules on each other as we are encouraging each other (Colossians 2:1-3:17).
All this is not to say we have a casual attitude about these things. Since Christ died to set us free from sin, we must be careful not to let our liberty be an excuse to go back into sin (Galatians 5:13). That’s why Paul, after saying we are free to “work out our own salvation,” also reminds us that we must do that “with fear and trembling.” When we are deciding what is “lawful” for us in our own personal walk of faith, we must be careful that it does not hinder our own spiritual growth, or that of others (1 Corinthians 8:9, 10:23-33; Romans 14). But if our key concerns are love for Christ and love for others (remember, those two greatest commanments?) we can experience both freedom and harmony in the church.
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15:5,6, RSV)
As part of the ongoing Encourager’s Devotional Series, I offer these challenges and suggestions for this month:
- I challenge you to think about how often you discourage others by voicing disapproval over their being different or doing something different than you would. Even if you are not saying it directly to that person, you could be helping to create an atmosphere where “difference” or “change” is unacceptable. Besides, you never know if/when something might actually get back to someone (a very discouraging thing). If it’s not a serious doctrinal or sin issue, can you be content to let others be different and guard your words? And even if it is an issue you deem to be contrary to Scripture, will you consider being silent on it for one week until we look at this issue further in the Bible study that will be posted next Wednesday? It seems to be a real challenge in this age of social media to restrain from posting our every thought as soon as it comes to us. But for the sake of harmony, I think we would all be wise to push away from the keyboard every now and then and let the Holy Spirit guide us in how to better handle the issues we are bombarded with daily.
- Can you think of someone very different from yourself that you could encourage? What about someone who ministers in a way you never could (and maybe wouldn’t even want to). Can you show appreciation for their work? Or perhaps there is someone you seem to always be at odds with. Surely, there is something praiseworthy in them you could highlight (Philippians 4:8).
- The featured image for this post is Norman Rockwell’s painting entitled America. Rockwell’s parents encouraged him to develop his talent for drawing. I have read that he actually tried very hard in his younger years to be like all the other children and develop himself in the area of sports. But he just wasn’t athletic. His parents encouraged his uniqueness and empowered him to pursue what God had gifted him to do. They even supported him in quitting high school early to pursue training in the arts – now, that’s different! Can you think of someone you could encourage to branch out into an area of giftedness or calling?
We are told in Ephesians 4:15 that the body of Christ becomes more mature when we learn to speak the truth in love to one another. This is how we grow up and no longer act like infants in our relationships. Yet, we often avoid this command because it is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we rationalize it away by saying we don’t want to offend anyone. And doesn’t that sound pious? Or, we say, “I’m waiting for my heart to be right before I go say what needs to be said.” Again, that sounds good and noble. In the end, though, it is simply disobedience.
The problem is we never quite feel it’s the right time to go have that difficult conversation. And so, we leave unsaid the thing that might help someone recognize sin or error, or the thing we need to say to restore relationship. And the whole body of believers suffers as a result.
It is interesting that the verses prior to this text use the imagery of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (NIV). That’s exactly how this mind game we play with ourselves feels. The only way to relieve the tug-of-war in our thinking is to put on our big kid pants and follow God’s instructions. Otherwise, we are actually being deceitful and possibly resorting to “alternative actions” (Sounds better than “schemes,” doesn’t it?).
Those schemes are so appealing, though, and they too can seem justified. I’ll just go talk with my pastor about it instead. Or, I’ll just make it a matter of prayer.
Last week, I received a text from a friend who was struggling with this. I summarized for her the things I do to check my heart before going to someone to speak the truth I believe needs to be spoken. Below is the transcript of that conversation. Hope it helps the next time you are considering whether or not you are actually ready to speak the truth … in love.
How about you? Do you have any “heart checks” you use before going to someone to resolve an issue?
Charles Swindoll has some wonderful words on the power of encouragement:
Encouragement is awesome. Think about it: It has the capacity to lift a man’s or woman’s shoulders. To spark the flicker of a smile on the face of a discouraged child. To breathe fresh fire into the fading embers of a smoldering dream. To actually change the course of another human being’s day … or week … or life. That, my friend, is no small thing. But it doesn’t stop there. Consistent, timely encouragement has the staggering magnetic power to draw an immortal soul to the God of hope. The One whose name is Wonderful Counselor. Is it easy? Not on your life. It takes courage, tough-minded courage, to trust God, to believe in ourselves, and to reach a hand to others. But what a beautiful way to live. I know of no one more needed, more valuable, more Christ-like, than the person who is committed to encouragement.
When I first started The Encourager’s Devotional Series, I wondered if it would get old discussing the same topic every month. I am glad that has not been the case. Rather, my Bible reading has been enhanced by looking at Scripture with “encourager’s eyes.” I’ve been amazed at how often the Bible discusses the topic. I find hints on how to be a better encourager, texts that help me broaden my definition of encouragement, and good examples of what it means to minister in this way, even when I am not reading for that purpose.
While studying 1 Thessalonians, I discovered the word encourage is used four times (3:2, 4:18, 5:11,14). Following are some of the notes I took as I read:
* 2:5 – Encouragement is not just flattery. We should get beyond the more superficial forms of encouragement (“You sure look nice today!”) to real edification. Notice how specific Paul is with the commendations he gives this church in chapter one – they labored in love, they showed endurance, they were good role models, and more. When we praise people for specific things they do, it “spurs them on to more love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
* 2:6 – We seek to encourage for the benefit it brings to others, not for the praise of men. Some of you may be doing much in an effort to encourage others, even though you haven’t received even one card in the mail for yourselves. Many times you’ll never receive a “thank you” for something you’ve done. This passage speaks to these situations and helps us to keep our hearts and motivations right as we pursue this ministry. To keep a check on your motives, you might try anonymous encouragement now and then.
* 2:8,17; 3:2,6 – But there is also a time for personal, up close, encouragement. This book speaks often of Paul’s “intense longing” to see his brethren face to face. He also sent Timothy to them to “stengthen and encourage” them. Loving edification means sharing of ourselves, our lives – purposely and intentionally spending time with others.
* 4:10 – The Thessalonian believers are commended for loving each other, but exhorted to do it “more and more.” We cannot overestimate the power of encouraging relationships. We simply cannot do too much in this endeavor.
* 3:2,10; 5:12-14 – Besides expressing thanks for the good that people are doing, real edification should also involve “supplying what is lacking in their faith.” The goal is to help them grow stronger in their walk with the Lord and with others. For example, among other specific instructions, Paul tells these believers to honor those who work hard, to warn those who are lazy or disruptive, to be more patient and to live in peace with each other. This stronger, more direct form of encouragement may not be easy to give, or to receive, but the benefits are like the showers of rain in April which produce flowers in May. Sometimes we get tired of the rain in spring, but it is necessary for growth.
How comfortable are you with pouring on the stronger forms of encouragement?
How willing are you to receive it from others?