Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Holiness 101

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:13-16
Peter doesn’t mess around, does he? He says exactly what he means and doesn’t leave any room for misunderstanding – “Be holy.” Isn’t it weird, then, that in this day and age, when somebody says someone is holy, it usually doesn’t sound like a compliment. “Look at him. Doesn’t he think he’s all holy?”

The problem is, as will everything else in this sinful world, the enemy has worked hard to make sure that the qualities that God asks for have been twisted and misused until they don’t resemble their true definition any more.

Thankfully, God prepared for that and made sure we had some examples. One of the best of which is His relationship with the Israelites through His sanctuary.

Every part of the Sanctuary was a symbol for God’s desire to be in the midst of His children and to be involved in their daily lives.

If you had asked the Israelites of Moses’ time, David’s time, or even Jesus’ time, what percentage of their lives was “religious,” they probably would have looked at you like you didn’t have any idea what you were talking about. Religion wasn’t just a percentage of their lives. Being a Jew was their whole existence. It was their national identity, their religious identity, what they ate, where they lived, and who they married. It was even part of how they washed their hands. The problem is, with a few notable exceptions, the Jews became bogged down in their own rules and traditions instead of allowing God to set them free.

One of those exceptions was King David. Over and over again, in the Psalms, we can read David’s desire to meet with God in His Sanctuary. Psalm 27 encapsulates how David feels about the Sanctuary, specifically in verses 4-13:
“One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek:That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’ Do not hide Your face from me; Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me. Teach me Your way, O Lord, And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies. Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living.”
David’s desire to experience that closeness with God that the Sanctuary represented consumed his life. Yes, we all know that David made some horrific mistakes, but He never lost his hunger for God. And God recognized and honored David for that – being called a man after God’s own heart should be something for which we all strive.

So, how can we find and maintain that “sanctuary relationship” with God? How can we “be holy?”

Well, we have to decide whether we’re going to admire Jesus or are we going to follow Him. Although those two things may sound similar, in this context, they are quite different.
“If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, you know that those who only admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors. The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness; but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back. Admiring the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be changed into exactly the opposite—to hate, jealousy, and revenge. Christ, however, never asked for admirers, worshipers, or adherents. He consistently spoke of ‘followers’ and ‘disciples.’”[1]
Many of the people who came after Jesus turned out to be admirers – they left Him when things weren’t easy anymore. David didn’t turn back from his love of God, even when he spent years hiding from King Saul or when some of his own sons turned against him and his family was torn apart.

Many of us want to experience the feel good times with Jesus but aren’t committed to sticking around when things get rough.
“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.”[2]
 Being holy isn’t just being a Christian, going to church on a certain day or however many times a week. It isn’t praying before meals or reading our Bibles for a certain number of minutes every day. We can’t be holy sometimes and then sometimes not. Being holy is not about a particular denomination or how religious you are. Being holy isn’t a part of our lives, it has to be our identity in Jesus Christ. 

Does that mean we are exempt from making, sometimes, horrific mistakes? Afraid not. But we will, like David, center our lives on our God, our Savior and Redeemer, and our Best Friend.
“Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’”[3]
That is my prayer. Is it yours?

[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian (1813–1855)
[2] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ; found in: Tony Lane, Timeless Witness (Hendrickson, 2004), p. 188
[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperOne, 2001), p. 196-197 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’” (E.G. White, Desire of Ages, p 25)
Go back and read that quote again…slowly…really think about what it means. Can you feel the weight of it? It is probably the best and clearest description of the plan of salvation that I know. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, instead of me. Can you wrap your imagination around the enormity of it?

There’s a popular Christian song on the radio these days called, “Should’ve Been Me” and the chorus reminds us of that we haven’t been paying the consequences of our own sinful actions.
“It should've been meIt should've been usShould've been there hanging on a crossAll of this shameAll of these scarsShould've been stains that were never washedWhy do I hideWhy do you tryOver and over and over againI guess it just leaves saying thank GodIt leaves me saying thank God, thank GodFor the should've been”[1]
From the very first sin in the Garden of Eden, God has been covering our sins with the blood of a sacrificed Lamb so that instead of being permanently separated from God, we can live with Him for eternity. Instead of getting what we deserve, we get what He deserved. Instead of being a subject of Satan, we can be a friend of God.

I’ve been trying to think about the Old Testament sacrificial system, and I have to admit that it’s really hard for me to imagine. I’m thinking that if, like me, you live in a western culture, it’s probably hard for you too. Many of us live in a society that is mostly “sanitized for [our] protection.” The closest most of us get to actual blood shed is our own if we happen to accidently cut ourselves. Those few drops of blood are nothing compared to what the priests in the Jewish Tabernacle must have been exposed to on a daily basis. Killing an animal is not a neat process. The animal is struggling, probably making distressed (and distressing) sounds, and once the animal’s neck is cut, watching the animal die as it bleeds out must be horrifying.

Several times in my life, I’ve had to look into the eyes of a pet and make the decision to have it put to sleep. It has been absolutely heart-rending every single time even though I know that the death will be painless. I cannot imagine holding a terrified squirming animal down and cutting its throat.

As nightmarish as the whole process sounds, though, the Bible tells us that even the most horrible things can become routine. That’s what happened to the Jewish nation. They forgot that the sacrifices were not an end in themselves, there were object lessons to demonstrate that the price of sin is death. And if we don’t want to pay with our own blood, we must accept the payment of someone who is willing to take our place.
Amazingly, Jesus was willing.
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:6-8(NLT)
Jesus died instead of us.

I read an amazing story this week from the book, Hidden in Plain Sight, written by Mark Buchanan. The story is about a woman named Regine. She was from Rwanda and became a Christian as she read her sister’s Bible. Later she moved to Canada because of the genocide that was happening in Rwanda at that time.

In Canada, she met Gordon and they got married and then decided that they needed to go back to Rwanda to show Jesus’ love to people who had been her enemies.
It was in Rwanda that she met a woman whose only son had been murdered.
"She was consumed with grief and hate and bitterness. ‘God,’ she prayed, ‘reveal my son's killer.’“One night she dreamed she was going to heaven. But there was a complication: in order to get to heaven she had to pass through a certain house. She had to walk down the street, enter the house through the front door, go through its rooms, up the stairs, and exit through the back door.She asked God whose house this was.‘It's the house,’ he told her, ‘of your son's killer.’“The road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy.“Two nights later, there was a knock at her door. She opened it, and there stood a young man. He was about her son's age.“‘Yes?’“He hesitated. Then he said, ‘I am the one who killed your son. Since that day, I have had no life. No peace. So here I am. I am placing my life in your hands. Kill me. I am dead already. Throw me in jail. I am in prison already. Torture me. I am in torment already. Do with me as you wish.’“The woman had prayed for this day. Now it had arrived, and she didn't know what to do. She found, to her own surprise, that she did not want to kill him. Or throw him in jail. Or torture him. In that moment of reckoning, she found she only wanted one thing: a son.“‘I ask this of you. Come into my home and live with me. Eat the food I would have prepared for my son. Wear the clothes I would have made for my son. Become the son I lost.’“And so he did.”[2]
Could you do it? Could I? That’s exactly what God has done for each of us. Except He didn’t wait for us to come to Him, He came looking for us! “While we were yet sinners…” He put a plan in action before the foundation of the world so that, if we choose to, we can go into His home, live with Him, eat His food, wear the robes that He has prepared for us, and become His children.

What God did for humanity is unfathomable to the sinful, human mind. It’s not logical – it doesn’t make sense.
“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.” (E.G. White, Desire of Ages, p.83)

[1] Should've Been Me, Citizen Way, Love Is The Evidence, Fair Trade Music Publishing (ASCAP)
[2] Mark Buchanan, Hidden in Plain Sight (Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 187-189

Monday, October 7, 2013

God’s Hands

If you were a high school student in the United States anytime in the last 100 years, you were probably assigned the reading of a sermon preached in 1741 by Jonathan Edwards, called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s not a warm and fuzzy, feel good sermon. Edwards describes God as angry and anxious to dole out justice to all who deserve it.
“So that thus it is, that natural Men are held in the Hand of God over the Pit of Hell; they have deserved the fiery Pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his Anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the Executions of the fierceness of his Wrath in Hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that Anger, neither is God in the least bound by any Promise to hold 'em up one moment; the Devil is waiting for them, Hell is gaping for them, the Flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the Fire pent up in their own Hearts is struggling to break out; and they have no Interest in any Mediator, there are no Means within Reach that can be any Security to them. In short, they have no Refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves them every Moment is the meer arbitrary Will, and uncovenanted unobliged Forbearance of an incensed God.”[1]

“An incensed God” is terrifying, isn’t it? Combined with the statement that “they have done nothing … to appease or abate that Anger,” we see a belief system that is based on works and fear rather than grace and love. It’s a pity that every year, millions of public school students read this sermon and won’t learn that God is not “an angry God.”
 Before Adam and Eve ever fell for Satan’s lie and ate the fruit, God had made a plan to keep us out of Satan’s reach, a plan that would ensure that anybody who wanted to could live with God forever.

“Ever since the fall of man, Satan has been sowing the seeds of error. It was by a lie that he first gained control over men, and thus he still works to overthrow God’s kingdom in the earth and to bring men under his power. A sower from a higher world, Christ came to sow the seeds of truth. He who had stood in the councils of God, who had dwelt in the innermost sanctuary of the Eternal, could bring to men the pure principles of truth. Ever since the fall of man, Christ had been the Revealer of truth to the world. By Him the incorruptible seed, ‘the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever,’ is communicated to men. 1 Peter 1:23. In that first promise spoken to our fallen race in Eden, Christ was sowing the gospel seed.” (E.G. White, A Call to Stand Apart, p. 19)
God never wanted His children to be confused about His plan. He gave Adam and Eve the first object lesson. It showed them that sin required that blood be shed through the sacrifice of a perfect lamb.

At Sinai, God gave Moses specific plans for a tabernacle – a constant reminder that God wants to live in the midst of His people. Every part of the tabernacle and the sacrificial system was to point to the coming Messiah, of the plan of salvation and of the original, heavenly sanctuary.

Everywhere that God abides with His people is a form of that sanctuary. Eden was the first earthly version of it – God dwelling with His people. When that wasn’t possible anymore because sin separates people from God, God gave instructions to, first Moses and then Solomon, for a sanctuary that was a model of the one in heaven, where God’s could live with His people.

When Jesus came to earth, He came as Emanuel – God with us. He became our Sanctuary. He was God living among His people.

None of that sounds like an angry God who can hardly wait to throw us over the edge. In fact, we know that Jesus is right now, standing before God, pleading for each of us who have accepted His sacrifice as payment for our sins.
“As the sins of the people were anciently transferred, in figure, to the earthly sanctuary by the blood of the sin offering, so our sins are, in fact, transferred to the heavenly sanctuary by the blood of Christ. And as the typical cleansing of the earthly was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted, so the actual cleansing of the heavenly is to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded. This necessitates an examination of the books of record to determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement.
“Then [in the great day of final award] by virtue of the atoning blood of Christ, the sins of all the truly penitent will be blotted from the books of heaven.
“He [Christ] asks for His people not only pardon and justification, full and complete, but a share in His glory and a seat upon His throne.” (E.G. White, The Faith I Live By, p 206)

“As Jesus once prayed for Peter, now he prays for us… In fact, the New Testament's only glimpse of what Jesus is doing right now depicts him at the right hand of God 'interceding for us.' In three years of active ministry, Jesus changed the moral landscape of the planet. For nearly two thousand years since, he has been using another tactic: prayer.”[2]
Jesus is praying for you and me right now, in the heavenly sanctuary. And we have nothing to fear! There is no angry God totally up every misstep trying to keep as many people as possible out of Heaven. In the heavenly sanctuary is where justice and mercy meet and salvation becomes reality.

God’s hands aren’t holding us over the abyss just waiting to throw us in, they carry the scars of His crucifixion – His death in our place. God’s hands are folded in prayer for each and every one of us.
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation—he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]” John 3:16-18 (AMP)

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, A Sermon
Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741.
[2] Philip Yancey, Prayer (Zondervan, 2006), p. 88

Jesus-side Up

I’ve been doing some thinking about how things might look if more Christians were open to being filled and used by the Holy Spirit. Oh, I know, most of us believe that we are open and ready, maybe already being used by Him. And we’re probably right on some level, but not on a Moses-on-the-mountain, Day-of-Pentecost, turn-the-world-upside-down, being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Those of us who live in “Western Civilization” like to imagine that our Christian experience as though we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, when in reality, most of the time, we have barely dipped our toes into the pool. We are comfortable in our polite, not too invasive or time consuming involvement with the Gospel.

That’s really a huge problem, though, because it causes us to live in a bland, politically correct bubble through which we’ve been inoculated against a real relationship with Jesus. We get just enough that we think we’ve got it all. Our experience may be worse, in many ways, than someone who is just getting to know Jesus for the first time.

Jesus didn’t call us to be “safe,” or “polite.” He called us to follow Him and to bring as many folks along with us as possible.
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20

“The disciples were not to wait for the people to come to them; they were to carry the message to the people. Christ had imbued them with His power; He had laid upon them, His ministers, the sacred work of preaching the gospel of His grace which, from generation to generation, from age to age, would never lose its power. They were to go to the people with hearts softened by His grace. Their influence they were to regard as a sacred treasure. Christ’s work of personal ministry on earth was ended, and they, as His chosen ones, in the spirit of their Master, were to communicate to men the will of God.
“In their own lives they were to present to men Christ’s unselfish life of service. Knowing the requirements of God and the gospel of His grace, they were to consider it their sacred work to communicate this gospel in an ever-enlarging experience. As Christ’s ambassadors they were to improve every opportunity to seek for the lost.” (E.G. White, Manuscript Releases, Volume 13, page 47)
Many of us want to be an ambassador for Jesus, but we don’t want to draw too much attention to ourselves. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that’s possible. If we accept the position, we are going to have to be willing to be different – different enough for people to look at us and see Jesus, different enough that we might make some people (and ourselves) uncomfortable.

Think about how different Moses was after he had been with God on Mt. Sinai. The glory of God shone out of his face and people we so uncomfortable with it that they asked him to wear a veil. The apostles, at Pentecost, looked different after the Holy Spirit was poured out on them – so different that people thought they were drunk.  It’s not possible to be that close to God and not be changed by His presence.

Beyond looking different, those who have completely surrendered to being used by God act differently. They aren’t worried that somebody might think they’re weird, or that somebody night not agree with what they say. They do and say what is necessary to bring as many people as possible into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, we might have called folks like that “Jesus Freaks,” and they made many of us more than just a little bit uncomfortable.

Think about this, though, as we move toward Jesus’ second coming, He has given us a job to do – we are to make the Gospel available to every corner of the world – to everybody, everywhere. That is an impossible task, without the Holy Spirit. It can’t be done by throwing money at it, by strength of will, or by legislating it. It can only be done when the people of God completely, and without reservation, surrender to the use of the Holy Spirit.

So, what’s keeping us (me) from taking that last step? Well, I don’t want to look different; I’m afraid God will ask me to do something I’m afraid to do; I’m afraid I might have to leave my comfortable life; I’m afraid some people might not like me.

And you know what, all of those things will most certainly happen…Moses did not want to go back to Egypt and stand before Pharaoh; Gideon didn’t want to lead an army (especially a small one); Noah probably didn’t want to spend so much of his life building a huge boat and preaching to people who laughed at him everyday; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego probably would have preferred to stay unnoticed and out of the King’s crosshairs, but every one of them allowed God to use them for His glory, to be a tool in His hand to lead others to Him.

Before Pentecost, the idea of spreading the Gospel to the whole world seemed impossible to the apostles, bat afterward, those few people turned the world upside down – nothing has ever been the same since.

Now it’s time for us to turn the world Jesus-side up so that when He returns as many people as possible will be ready. To do that, we have to walk so close to Jesus that we look more like Him than we look like the people around us. We have to remember that whatever He asks us to do, He will equip us to do it. We have to remember that, no matter what, His grace will be enough for us. Remember what Paul said?
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“The work will be similar to that of the day of Pentecost. As the ‘former rain’ was given, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the opening of the gospel, to cause the upspringing of the precious seed, so the ‘latter rain’ will be given at its close, for the ripening of the harvest. …The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. The prophecies which were fulfilled in the outpouring of the former rain at the opening of the gospel, are again to be fulfilled in the latter rain at its close.
“…Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from Heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. Satan also works with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men. [Revelation 13:13.] Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand.” (E.G. White, The Great Controversy, p.612)
Are we ready to take our stand? to turn the world Jesus-side up? We don’t have much time.

Let’s roll!

Porcupines In Church

What? You say you’ve never met a porcupine? I’ll bet you have. In fact, you may be one yourself. I’m pretty sure I am.
“The German philosopher Schopenhauer compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter's night. He said, ‘The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth's winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness.’”[1]
So, have you been hurt lately? Have you thought you might be better off outside in the cold? Have you hurt one of your fellow porcupines causing them to wander out on their own? How can we stay together as a church when we keep hurting each other?

Excellent question…except most of us already know the answer.

My clients are intellectually delayed adults who live in group homes. Most of them have roommates and they get into the same types of squabbles and disagreements as folks in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade might get into. One of the things I help them with, individually, is getting along better with their roommates and housemates. We work hard on learning to apologize to and forgive each other. And I’d be surprised at how hard it is for them, except I know how hard it is for me.

That’s a problem for every one of us, isn’t it? We feel like making an apology is showing weakness. Of course, we’d be happy to forgive them, as long as they apologize first…right?
Think about it, would you rather be right (and out in the cold) or forgiven (and in the warmth with the rest of the porcupines)?

Hang on! Think about your answer…what are you willing to do to back up your choice?
“Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’ Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:36-41
Did you get that? “The contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.” Now we know that God used their separation to increase the spread of the gospel, but Paul and Barnabas had to have been really mad at each other.

Wait a minute! Christians don’t get mad at each other, do they? We don’t disagree about anything, right? We certainly don’t ever disagree about how church work should be done.

Ahem…we’d better think about that again.

The big problem is not that we disagree about methodology from time to time, but the way we handle the disagreement. How often do we “agree to disagree” and then go on about our business? What tends to happen more often, is that we get our feelings hurt and instead of going back to that person and talking to them about it, we go to our friends and tell them how rude so-and-so was. So now, all of our friends are upset too. They tell their friends and pretty soon we have factions in the church and long standing feuds. And Satan wins because nobody is spreading the Gospel anymore, we’re all too busy poking each other with our big, puffed out, porcupine quills.

But what’s the answer? How do Christians handle disagreements and differences of opinion?

I’m glad you asked…because Jesus has the answer!
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
Bummer! I guess that means I have to talk to the person and try to settle things first. And the text says “you and him alone.” That does not mean standing in the church parking lot yelling at each other.

I think the trick is to first put off any kind of discussion until both of us have cooled off. Then we can meet privately and discuss, calmly, where things went off the tracks. Then, we can try to figure out how to keep it from happening again. Of course, then we don’t get the satisfaction of hearing our friends commiserate with us over what a terrible person that other person is for disagreeing with us.

We know that Paul and Barnabas and John Mark worked through their issues without splintering the early church. Years later, can you imagine them sitting around reminiscing about the disagreement and laughing at themselves? I can. “Weren’t we silly,” they’d say, shaking their heads. John Mark would laugh and remember how young, homesick and overwhelmed he was. Paul would remember how angry he’d gotten at John Mark and then at Barnabas for defending him. But then John Mark would thank Barnabas for his patience with him as he matured both emotionally and spiritually. He’d thank Paul for giving him a second chance. They’d smile and realize that “… all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Here are some guidelines I’ve come up with for myself. I’m not saying I always use them, but, I have them.

  •     Don’t take things too personally. Everybody has bad days and sometimes they just don’t realize how sharply and/or dismissively they’ve spoken.
  •       Don’t spread my hurt feeling around. Nobody needs to know except the person who hurt those feelings.
  •        It’s not all about me. It’s about Jesus and how best to spread His truth.
  •        Apologize often. Relationships are more important that being right.
  •        Forgive freely – even when the apology never comes.
“When the laborers have an abiding Christ in their own souls, when all selfishness is dead, when there is no rivalry, no strife for the supremacy, when oneness exists, when they sanctify themselves, so that love for one another is seen and felt, then the showers of the grace of the Holy Spirit will just as surely come upon them as that God’s promise will never fail in one jot or tittle.” (Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 175)

[1] Wayne Brouwer, Holland, Michigan. Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2.