Stop Focusing on “Being Right” and Start Focusing on Unity

group_hugContinued from here.

I have painted a sad picture of the Church this week, and I hope you are hearing the message. Church, we will be unable to stand if we don’t learn how to walk in unity. To do this, we must lay down our need to “be right” and prioritize being united with one another.

Now, I’m not saying that we never need to stand up for what is right. However, loving one another is more important than correcting one another. In fact, correction is best received within the context of love. To help me do this, I strive to live Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

It is my job to act/behave justly while loving mercy for you. So, when I see you stumbling in a particular area, I must behave as God calls me to act, “do right,” and love you even as you do not “do right.” Over time, as you see me walking in victory in an area in which you struggle, you will see how I act differently and experience different results. Over time, that will draw you toward changing your behavior.

For example, despite suffering severe and ongoing childhood abuse, I walk in emotional victory while many people who suffered less severe trauma do not. What’s different? I act justly by forgiving my childhood abusers while others continue to hate their wrongdoers. It’s not my place to judge those who are mired in emotional pain. I love them in their pain and draw them toward acting justly by acting justly myself. How would it benefit those who are walking in unforgiveness for me to break away from them because they are not “behaving right?” I can be unified with you, even as you live in unforgiveness, just as you are unified with me in my own areas of weakness. Each of us has a plank in our eye, so let’s not let the planks drive us apart. Let’s learn to walk together in unity, loving each other as we encourage one another to join together in pursuing God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling between the words “Group Hug.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Importance of Unity within the Body of Christ

i_give_up2Continued from here.

Unity is the secret to the success of a group, and Satan (sadly) knows this better than the Church does!

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? ~ Matt. 12:24-26

We learn two very important points from this passage. The first is that if we, as a Church, are divided against ourselves, we will be ruined and unable to stand, which is exactly what has happened. We weaken ourselves as a Church by having only like parts congregate, whether it’s a small Sunday School class full of eyes or a megachurch full of ears. This is one reason I am drawn to interdenominational ministry, where we choose to focus on the bigger picture of Jesus being our Head and leave our denominational differences at the door as we choose to work together toward a common purpose (in my case, prison ministry).

Don’t miss the second point: Satan knows the power of unity in accomplishing one’s purpose. Unlike the Church, his hierarchy is not divided. He doesn’t have one demon driving out another – all work together in unity following his lead. Even though Satan is our enemy, he has a much stronger grasp on God’s principle of unity than the Church does. Perhaps that’s why, despite the prophecies throughout the Bible, he continues to fight what God has ordained. Perhaps he hopes that if he stirs up enough disunity within the Church, he can prevail after all. Of course, we know that God’s way WILL come to pass, but how many battles will we lose as a Church in the process because of our unwillingness to work together in unity?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of a sad Grace holding a sign that says, “I give up.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Members of One Body Working Together in Unity

walkingContinued from here.

Sadly, many Christians do not understand that we need one another to function as a healthy Body of Christ. I cannot remember where I read this analogy, but it’s not original to me. Think about someone walking along a train track. If you only pay attention to what the eyes see, then everything looks great – no train in sight. However, the ears hear the train whistle while the feet sense the vibration of the train as it approaches from behind. Without other parts of the Body providing their perspective, the eyes are in jeopardy of being destroyed. The entire Body must work together in unity to have a full sense of where the Head is leading. I make up only one small part of the Body of Christ, and I do not have the full perspective of where the Head is leading. I need input from the other parts of the Body to know this.

What I do know is that the Head always leads the Body in one direction, never in multiple directions at the same time. When I choose to walk from Point A to Point B, I never tell my left foot to go one direction and the right foot to go another. As my head selects the destination, both feet work together in unity with my legs to take me where my head wants to go.

The same is the true of the Body of Christ. If you have a group of Christians – whether in a small Sunday School class or in a megachurch – who are supposedly hearing contrary messages from God, then the Body is not following the Head. Satan loves to stir up disunity among the Body of Christ because he knows we aren’t going to get very far if we are spending our time bickering about where God is leading. Dissension within the Body should drive us to our knees, and we should stay put until the Body receives a unified message from God about where He is leading us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and walking. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Prioritizing Unity over “Being Right”

ya_rightContinued from here.

When did we, as a Church, decide that “being right” takes priority over being unified? I don’t see that message in the Bible. Sure, God does bring His people to “remnant moments” where, after trying everything else, He does break His people apart, but this only happens after many, many chances for repentance. For example, God continued to protect Israel for hundreds of years, even though its kings were evil, because He loved His people and gave them chance after chance to repent.

I don’t see God ripping apart His people every time they did something that He disagreed with. The entire Bible is filled with people getting it wrong and God extending them grace … again and again and again. And yet, that’s not how we treat one another. We say either we do this RIGHT (= “my way”), or we’ll leave the small group, leave the local church/ministry, or even leave the denomination (or start a new one). And then everyone in that small group, local church, ministry, or denomination had better see things the same way, or it will be time to split again. Oh, how God must grieve this mentality!

And yet, we are never going to see things the same way because we are not all the same. We are all members of the same body, but we are not the same body parts. Thus, we are not going to see things the same way, just as an eye and a foot have a completely different perspective. Neither is “right” or “wrong” – it’s simply a different viewpoint based upon a different function. Rather than rejecting one another for seeing things differently, could we not learn to appreciate those differences and pull back to see a bigger picture as a Body? How can the Church possibly operate as a healthy Body when each local church only consists of eyes or feet?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her arms folded and saying, “Ya, Right.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Seven Fundamental Practices: Local Church Involvement

churchContinued from here.

Local church involvement – both regular attendance and service to the local church body – are critical fundamental practices. If you are like me and have been hurt by a local church body, that might be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s biblical. Like many of you, have I seen hypocrites in the church. I have seen local church bodies take advantage of people, try to control them, and do all sorts of other ungodly things in the name of God. I’m not advising you to connect with a local church that does not follow God’s ways.

In the United States, we are blessed with religious freedom that many people in other parts of the world only dream about. Don’t waste this freedom! There’s no shortage of local churches to choose from. Pray for wisdom and discernment about which local church body to connect with, and then start visiting churches.

When my husband and I moved in 1999, it took us over a year to find our local church body. We visited many churches, most of which were not a good fit for a variety of reasons. We narrowed it down to three possibilities, but each of the three had something that kept us from feeling like they were “home.” Don’t get me wrong – all three were wonderful church bodies – they just weren’t quite the right fit for us.

I then decided to scout out a church that was a little outside the distance radius that we had set. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew I had “come home.” I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and it just “felt right.” My husband felt the same way when he joined me the next week. This local church body has been our Church Family for over 15 years now, and we cannot imagine our lives without it! See this blog entry for an example of why.

Note that your only consideration should not be what you can get from a church but also what you can give. God has blessed you with at least one spiritual gift that He intends for you to use to bless your Church family. You cannot do this without plugging into a local church body.

If you are not connected with a local church body, you are missing out! So many blessings await you. Find a local church and plug in. Attend the services, and pray for discernment about the ways God wants you to serve that local church body. Your relationship with God is not just about you. You are an integral part of the Body of Christ.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying in front of a stained glass window. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Grace’s Journey: Providing Opportunities to Give Thanks

gift_basketContinued from here.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul talks repeatedly about how each of us is a part of the Body of Christ. My experience with the generosity of my Church family taught me a lot about what it means to be God’s “hands and feet” on this earth. While I was certainly doing a lot of praying from the hospital during my son’s surgery and five days of in-hospital recovery, I needed my Church family’s support as well.

The most important support I received was their prayers. While I did spend time in prayer in the hospital, I was frequently interrupted by the nurses coming into my son’s room or my son needing my help with something. I also experienced periods where I was awash in emotions and simply couldn’t pray beyond, “God, please help me.” However, I had a large network of people praying for my family, and that made all the difference. I repeatedly told people that I felt every prayer in that hospital, and I truly did.

Another important support I received from my Church family was that they repeatedly gave me reasons to be thankful. As I previously discussed, thanksgiving is the avenue to joy, and the generosity of my Church family gave me something to focus on beyond my own pain and exhaustion.

Whenever we are in physical or emotional pain, our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves. Sadly, nothing makes us more miserable than thinking about ourselves and our pain. I lived this way for many years, and I never want to go back. So, I knew enough in the hospital to look for opportunities to praise God (which I will share more about tomorrow), but my own efforts and determination were not enough. This is where my Church family really helped. With each act of kindness – whether it was a visit, card, meal, text, email, or any other show of support, I had an opportunity to give thanks. As my family was literally provided with hundreds of kindnesses during this difficult time, we were also provided with hundreds of specific reasons to thank God, and that was exactly what I needed to prevent me from staying self-focused and feeling sorry for myself.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Photograph of a balloon gift basket my son received after his surgery. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]