Agreeably Disagreeing

How well do you disagree?  There are many styles that people use to deal with disagreements.  Here’s a few unhealthy styles that I’ve observed.  The Talker.  This person just keeps spewing words and arguing his or her point until those who disagree are too tired to bother anymore.  The Volcano.  This person is doesn’t have the courage to face a disagreement and just buries everything until the pressure is too much and he just explodes.  The Bully.  This person is very aggressive both in making their point and in criticizing the opinions or arguments of others, making their opponents feel intimidated to express a differing opinion.  The Saboteur. This person will not confront their opponent unless backed into a corner choosing instead to criticize and defame or discredit his or her opponent and/or their position.

When unhealthy styles of confrontation are used relationships are damaged and even destroyed. Everybody has to figure out how to best approach disagreements, even, or maybe especially in the church.  In fact Jesus said that the people will know we are his followers by how well we disagree.  Sadly many of us aren’t very good representatives.

The Bible speaks in many places about how to disagree, but in Ephesians 4:2 I find four characteristics that will help us to develop a healthy way to disagree.

First is humility.  That implies respecting and honoring others even when they oppose you.  Be willing admit that their opinion is valid and worth considering.

The second is gentleness.  Even if your perspective is proven right but you’ve destroyed a relationship to win an argument you still lose.

The third is patience.  One of my struggles in arguments is to remember that it’s not my responsibility to change the other person.  Paul, in Philippians 3:15 demonstrates this principle when he says that even if you disagree with him, that’s ok because God will eventually reveal what is true.

The fourth is forgiveness.  Sometimes even if you are employing the first three characteristics your opponent may not be.  If you extend forgiveness in your heart, even before it’s asked for, the relationship can still be saved and a healthy resolution to the disagreement is possible.

Nowhere in scripture does it suggest that we ought to agree on everything.  But if we are living in submission to God’s direction and control in our lives, he will produce in us these characteristics that enable us to agreeably disagree.

What I Feel About Thinking (or vise versa)

There seems to be a tendency currently in our society to avoid thinking.  How often have you heard someone begin a sentence with “I feel” when they should have been using “I think.”  For example when asked what the weather would be like one has responded “I feel like it will be a nice sunny day since there are no clouds in the sky.”  Or when asked for what a person’s plans for the day are, “I feel like I should go get groceries because we need milk.”  I have teasingly asked exactly how does something like that feel.

I know that for most people it’s just a habit that they have unwittingly fallen into and they really do mean that they are thinking.  But as the shift in meaning has slipped into our language I think it indicates a move in our culture that emphasizes feelings over thinking and that is a dangerous thing.

I saw an interview of a number of students on the University of Washington campus where the interviewer asked how the student would respond if the white, 5’ 8”, male interviewer stated that he were a woman.  Most of the students began their response with “I feel . . .” and all of them went on to accept that what the interviewer felt about himself was indeed fact.

He then posed to them that he was actually a Chinese woman. This forced the students to work through their “feelings” a little more but they all were able to come to accept it as fact.  He finally told them he was also 6’ 5”.  This was finally too much for all but one of the students to believe.

When we order our lives by how we feel instead of by thinking through what is true the inevitable, and, dare I say, logical outcome is that we will believe even that which is obviously false.

Philippians 4:8 says, amongst other things, that whatever is true think about such things.  According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon that word translated as think means to consider, take account, weigh, meditate. In other words it is a rational exercise of the mind.

I may feel a certain way about something, but as I think, that is as I consider, take account, weigh, and meditate about what is true my feelings will follow and come in line also with what is true.

Isaiah spoke of a time when “truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.  Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.” (59:14-15) I think we are seeing that time.

How can you know what is true and what to think on? You need to search for it. I would suggest you start your search in the Bible.  John 1:17 says that truth came through Jesus Christ.  And Jesus himself declared that God’s word is truth. (John 17:17)

And that’s what I think.

Strength. Courage. Do What’s Right.

Suffering and struggle is a fact of life.  It comes in different forms but everybody faces seasons of it from time to time.  Whether it’s a marriage that seems to be crumbling, children whose choices are destroying their lives, the illness or death of a loved one, loss of employment, never being able to quite catch up financially, or any other of hundreds of things, we all face suffering, and it’s hard not to ask “why”.

If I were to tell you I have it all figured out I’d be lying.  I can’t tell you to just trust in Jesus, or pray and God make it go away.  But I can tell you there is hope, a purpose, and strength to face whatever is in front of you.  It’s why James can say, “My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble. When you do, think of it as pure joy.  Your faith will be put to the test. You know that when that happens it will produce in you the strength to continue.  The strength to keep going must be allowed to finish its work. Then you will be all you should be. You will have everything you need.”  (James 1:2-4, NIrV)

In his allegorical tale “A Wolf Story” James Byron Huggins eloquently expresses that Biblical truth and the battle we face:

“If you defeat him he will retreat. But he will always return. On another night, when you are tired, weak, or afraid, he will come to you again. He will wait until you are beaten down by the world, attacking when you are weary. He will lure you with pleasures and the secret desires of your heart. It will be a great struggle.  But you must endure it.  You must endure.  The Lightmaker (God) will not allow you to suffer more than you can bear.  Always, his grace is sufficient for the task.

 Remember this and it will give you hope.  And when your great suffering has ended and you stand again in peace, then you will possess a deeper strength and understanding.  You will be more than you were.  And your heart will be great, guiding you with wisdom and knowledge.

 . . . The battle is beyond the flesh, my son.  Our victory has already been promised, an end made sure.  Cling to what you have learned, and it will be life for you when death (the attacker) is near.  Be strong.  Be courageous. Do what you know is right.”

Can You Believe It?

It can be frustrating when someone won’t believe you.  There have been a few times over the years when Wendy hasn’t believed that I know how to get to whatever destination we’re driving to.  Before you jump to conclusions I need to confess that she’s been right at least as often as I have.  But I used to get very frustrated when I knew I was right and she wouldn’t believe me.  Not so much anymore.  I’ve learned the hard way that it’s easier to be gracious when I’m right than it is to be humbled after being adamant only to discover I’m wrong.

Gratefully God’s attitude towards us is always one of graciousness.  Not that God is ever wrong, but there are many times when we don’t believe him, and though he may scold us for our unbelief, it is always gently and for the purpose of leading us into belief.

In Mark chapter 16 Jesus reprimanded the disciples for not believing the witness of those who had seen him after his resurrection. But then he commissioned them and they went out and turned the world upside down in their witness of him.

What do you struggle believing?  Maybe you’re like the disciples and are having a hard time believing that Jesus rose from the grave and has extended grace and forgiveness to you.

Or maybe you identify with what a few people, who in my mind are spiritual giants, have admitted they struggle believing:

“I have a very hard time with believing that I don’t need to worry about money.  Nothing – not even disease – stresses me out more than when I don’t think I will have enough money.”

 “’Husband, love your wife as Christ love the church/Wives respect your husbands.’ Deepest struggles over the years have been to believe that I can or even should initiate love toward my spouse when words or actions have hurt or disappointed time and again and I feel like my spouse doesn’t deserve my love.”

“I struggle with forgiving people who have hurt me. My head can have all the right answers about loving and forgiving, but when I get in that persons presence I feel the walls going up and a strange awkwardness.”

My own struggle to believe has been that I don’t need to feel appropriately guilty for an appropriate length of time, like some sort of penance, before God is satisfied that I’m truly repentant.

The key to overcoming unbelief begins in the head and then moves to the will.  I decide that I will believe God and then choose to act on that belief in obedience to God.  The “feelings” of belief will follow.

This is faith.  And faith comes from God.

Pursuing What’s Most Valuable

I’m a pretty competitive guy.  Just ask my boys.  They weren’t very old when I quit letting them win at stuff . . . like when they turned two.  Of course when it came to video games it wasn’t very long after that that they wouldn’t let me win either.  But apparently I wasn’t always like that.

Mom and Dad enrolled us kids in organized soccer when I was seven or eight.  I remember that we played for a couple of summers and I can vaguely recall driving to the field for games, but I don’t have much memory of actually playing.  That may be because I was what you might describe as easily distracted.

I’m told that at times the whole knot of kids from both teams would be chasing the ball up the field but something in the grass would have caught my attention and I’d be on my hands and knees completely oblivious to the game and the coach yelling at me from the sidelines “David!! Go get the ball!!” I guess playing soccer just wasn’t important enough to me at the time.

That illustrates an important Biblical truth: we pursue what is most important to us.  That’s the point Jesus was making when he said that your heart will be where your treasure is.

In 1Timothy 6:11 we’re urged to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  It’s not primarily speaking about behavior, though behavior will be a by-product of this pursuit.  Rather it points toward pursuing the nature of God which is imparted to us through faith in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and through his death and resurrection has paid the price for our sin.

Many of you reading this would give mental assent to that truth, but let me ask you a tough question: What does your life say about how important that is to you?  What do you spend the majority of your time pursuing?

Far too much of our lives, mine included, have been spent poking around in the grass over trivial and ultimately unimportant things while what’s really important and eternally significant is moving away from us. I’ve decided I want to be where the action is.  I want to be involved in what God is doing bringing hope and purpose to my life and the lives of people around me.

You can too, right where you are.  God will use you right in your circumstances if you’ll give your life to him to use for his glory.  It’s time to pursue what’s important.  It’s time to get in the game.

Jed Clampitt Theology

In one of the earliest episodes of Beverly Hillbillies cousin Pearl is trying to convince Jed that he should move out of his little cabin in the hills.  “Jed, how can ya even ask?  You’re 8 miles from your nearest neighbor; you’re overrun with skunks and possum and coyotes and bobcats; ya use kerosene lamps for light; ya cook on a wood stove summer and winter; your drinkin’ homemade moonshine; washin’ with homemade lye soap; and yer bathroom is 50 feet from the house and you ask should you move?!” Jed reflects for a moment and then quietly drawls, “Ya, I reckon yer right . . . a man’d be a dang fool to leave all this.”

There’s a lesson in there that reflects what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 6:6. “Godliness with contentment is of great gain.”  He goes on to say that people whose primary goal in life is to get rich run right into a trap that sets them up for spiritual disaster.  The question is how to get what I need to make a living without falling into the trap of chasing after money and accumulating stuff.

The key is in the words “godliness” and “contentment.” Godliness is less about behavior and more about a desire, passion and adoration for Jesus who died for your sin.  Contentment describes an internal strength from God that equips you to be sufficient to face any circumstance.  Pursuing godliness develops contentment.

Paul goes on to describe what contentment looks like: being generous and sharing what you have with others in need.  The description here is of fostering community where the focus is on giving and generosity rather than craving and consuming.

Don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy. (Which includes the vast majority of us when viewed on a global scale.)  In fact right in this very passage Paul says that God intends that we enjoy the things he has blessed us with.  But the way to get the most enjoyment from it is to share it with others.

Don’t believe me?  Then let me give you a challenge that will prove my point.  In this next week I want you to look for an opportunity to give something of yours away.  It doesn’t have to be anything major, but it should be to someone who has a genuine need and who would be unable to pay you back.  In fact ideally they shouldn’t even know who it came from.

You’re going to be surprised at how much fun it is.

When you pursue godliness you will develop contentment that is expressed in a generous and giving way of life.  To paraphrase Jed Clampitt, “a man’d be a dang fool to not want all that.”

Revisiting Facing Death Without Fear

It’s estimated that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on US beaches alone exceeds 100. I was very close to being one of those statistics on our recent trip to Dominican Republic.

I wrote the following words about the fear of death a few years ago.  As I faced the very real and imminent possibility that my strength and energy would fail before I reached the safety of shallow water I was forced to ask myself this question: “Ok smart guy, you’re the one whose been telling people you’re not afraid of death . . . is that really true?”

1 John 4:14-18 teaches that God’s love releases us from a fear of death.  Essentially it tells us that the better we know and experience God’s love through knowing Jesus, the less we will fear death.  Someone cleverly put it like this: Know Christ, No Fear.  Let me help you understand how this works with an imaginary story.

An orphan boy who lived on the street was caught breaking into a jewelry store.  As he stood before the judge to hear his punishment he was astonished to hear that the owner of the store had not only offered to look after the damages to the store and pay a large fine in lieu of jail-time, but that he had also offered to adopt the boy and bring him into his own home.  The only stipulation was that the boy must accept the offer of adoption in order to receive the offer of paying for his penalty.

The boy accepted, but was at the same time very fearful of what sort of punishment he might be in for, or that maybe he would be made to live like a slave in the man’s house.  The boy was afraid because he didn’t really know the man who wanted to be his father.  He hadn’t yet experienced the fullness of his new father’s forgiveness and the extravagance of his love.

This simple story falls far short, not leastways in that the sentence for our sin is death – eternal death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life.  If you are not yet a Christ follower you have good reason to be afraid of death, but you can leave that fear behind by accepting God’s gift through Jesus.

If you have become a Jesus follower and yet still the fear of death lingers, ask God to remove it.  He will.  It will likely be through a process of deepening intimacy with Jesus, rather than a sudden freedom from fear, but he will do it.

I’ve discovered I’m certainly in no hurry for death, and that particularly through drowning I’m not eager for the process of dying.  But I can affirm it is possible to face death without fear.  Know Jesus, No Fear.


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