Living Stones

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Being described as a “living stone” seems odd. After all, stones are hard, dead and cold, and not alive. Builders use stones, sure, but that connection to our spiritual lives is difficult to grasp.

Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience). They were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. So, his original readers understood this analogy at a deeper level since they were unable to even go to the temple because of persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Peter’s words presented a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple provided a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. Then Christ came replaced this system.

Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make that shift in thinking. They could go from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices became unnecessary.

Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones creating the temple building. They held an immense reverence for the temple building itself as well as an understanding for what Peter’s analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)

Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way.

“The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.”

Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to our Christian walk.

  1. You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.
  2. You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value. They give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
  3. You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
  4. Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15)
  5. Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. This happens as we realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we instead offer what we have…

“…with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

Note: This post was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.

Faithfulness & Mercy

Bike Rides

My favorite routes for long bike rides are on the country roads jutting north and east from where I live. Though I must contend with the occasional dog chasing me down the road and irrigation spray going over the road, the rides are mostly peaceful with little traffic.

Bike rides give me space from activity and the world, and I purposefully do not listen to music or podcasts when riding for this reason. I want my thoughts to flow freely. More specifically, I want them directed by the Holy Spirit without distraction.

Rainbows

Not long into a recent ride, a particular person came to mind. My thoughts revolved around significant concern for his future. I expressed substantial fear and a fair amount of trepidation too.

When I finished my prayers for this person, I looked up from the road in front of me and at an irrigation system in the field beside me. The rainbow in the spray focused my thoughts immediately on God’s promises. It reminded me that He alone is faithful and to trust His work in that person.

I thanked God for assuaging my disquietude. He took my focused uneasiness and replaced it with his unexplainable peace.

Later in the ride after my mind had moved on to another topic, I passed another irrigation system. This time, a rainbow moved along the spray as I rode by.

As I watched the rainbow move, I realized the Holy Spirit had more to say me about God’s faithfulness and his mercy. That more struck me in a powerful but simple way.

Irrigation

A rainbow’s natural habitat is usually in the sky. Twice on that ride, though, it lived in a man-made device. This location change provided a much-needed perspective change for me.

The rainbows in those irrigation systems helped me understand that sometimes, quite often actually, God’s faithfulness and mercy show through people. More specifically, He wants these qualities to show more through me.

I cannot show them in perfection as they appear when looking directly at God himself. However, His faithfulness and mercy can show to others in my attitudes, actions and words. As I lean on God’s perfect faithfulness and his unending mercy, I am more faithful. I also show mercy more than I could without Him.

In fact, without leaning on those qualities in him, I am incapable of showing faithfulness and being merciful most of the time. Instead, I’m ready to give up when someone fails, and I want to disconnect when they refuse to change like I think they should.

The rainbows on my bike ride reminded me about the faithfulness and mercy of God and how receiving them should impact my interactions with others. But the Holy Spirit had more for me. I needed to grasp yet another point.

Focus

Remember the person I began the ride praying for? God wanted me to remember that he was directly showing that person faithfulness and mercy too.

Even though I often feel hopelessness for that person, God never stops pursuing him. Even when I want to give up and walk away, to not forgive again, God rushes in. He shows His presence and gently enlarges that person’s capacity until he finally lets God in even more.

I saw this happen recently, yet I failed to focus on the activity of God in that person’s life. I kept focusing on that person’s past mistakes instead of God’s current work in him.

I knew God had moved in this person’s life, and I still let concern, fear and trepidation flood my thoughts. I knew God had gotten to him in some compelling ways. Yet, I still allowed past mistakes to infect future potential. Through the irrigation rainbows, God reminded me of the work He was doing. He clearly showed His promise of faithfulness and mercy at work in that person.

Reminders

Regardless of what our culture has done with the rainbow, Scripture stands clear on what it means. It assures us of why God allows its colors to display His majesty. It remains a powerful reminder of who He is.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.’ So God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.’” (Genesis 9:12-17)

God doesn’t need reminding. He gives rainbows to remind us, to again emphasize His faithfulness and mercy despite the activity of mankind.

God keeps his promises. He is merciful and faithful. What he says he will or won’t do, you can be assured of without a doubt. We cannot say that about anyone else. So when I struggle with human failure, my own or others, I focus again on these reminders of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

He Knows My Name

Name

As a writer, I have thought a lot about becoming well known. My name on the cover of a book. My book on The New York Times Bestsellers list. But my writer dreams don’t end there. I’ve thought about someone famous discovering my blog and asking me to ghostwrite for them or maybe co-write with them. I have even thought about being asked to do inspirational and motivational speaking. All pretty crazy ideas, I know.

In my reality, I know people who always seem to know other people no matter where they go. The coffee shop. The mall. Restaurants. We’re regularly interrupted. People know and use their name. I feel like a third wheel, or at least what I imagine a third wheel feels like, for however long they talk, most of the time not included in the conversation. I’ve just never been someone who has been known. (Except for in college when I had a byline in the campus newspaper every week. I enjoyed that probably too much.)

Much of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling overlooked and unimportant. Not just because people often don’t know my name but also because my introverted, shy personality keeps me backstage most of the time. (Don’t think because I’ve taught college classes and Bible studies that this changes anything. I’m pretty good at hiding behind my topic.) Ultimately, that’s where I like to be. Yet, a part of me has always wanted to be noticed, to be known, by others.

As I have taken this need to the Lord over the years, I have an increasing awareness of my messed up motives for wanting to be noticed. The Holy Spirit isn’t brutal about it, but He helps me realize that recognition by others won’t satisfy, not for very long anyway. Only God can satisfy my need for significance and notice.

He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli (If We’re Honest album) speaks well to my need and to His satisfying of it.

I don’t need my name in lights.
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.
Make no mistake.
He knows my name.

After years of struggling with this, my desire to be known on this earth no longer matters much most of the time. If it’s not His desire, then it’s not my desire either. If He ever decides for others to know me on a larger scale than my quiet, small-town life, then He’ll make that happen and at the same time give me the desire for it.

How did I find victory over this particular issue? His presence.

When He’s my center, my focus, worldly fame and notice fall off the radar. When His agenda replaces my agenda, my soul experiences overwhelm with Him, and my schedule no longer looms overwhelmed and overloaded.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

My name on a book or in lights or even called across a coffee shop… none of those really take up my mental energy anymore. What does? How to have more of His presence. Nothing else matters except that He knows my name.

A Glimpse of Infinite Power

Horses Grazing Religious Worship Background

Throughout history, men have placed their trust and even their very lives in the hooves of horses. The unique qualities and abilities found in horses are why they went first into battle and why thousands flock to see them race throughout the United States. Horses have a way of capturing our hearts and minds unlike any other animal.

Horses allow us to be a part of their worlds, too, even have dominion over them. They allow us to direct and teach them and to use them for our own benefit and gain.
Because of the role horses have played throughout our history, the comparison made in Psalm 20:7 holds tremendous significance for helping us better understand God’s power in our lives.

“Some boast (praise; trust; are strong through) in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.”

In King David’s day when he wrote the Psalm, many opposing countries conquered through the strength of their war chariots, and they wrought fear in whatever people they faced for this reason. The Israelites, under David’s leadership, chose instead to focus on the name of the Lord, a power infinitely beyond any other, and He came through time and time again.

Horses always give an imposing show. Even when grazing in the cool morning on dew-laden grass, their peaceful beauty speaks of a strength almost beyond measure. Yet, they’re weak in comparison to the power of the almighty God.

Instead of the comparison diminishing horses in any way, it actually works to expand my view of the strength of the Lord and make the power of the invisible God, the Creator of horses and humans alike, more visible. When I read and watch stories about tremendous horses like Seabiscuit, I am once again in awe of my Lord simply by glimpsing Him thorough one of His most magnificent creations.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

A Wise Men History Lesson

Note: This post coincides with the idea of Epiphany, though it wasn’t my focus when I wrote the post. If you’d like to know more about Epiphany, check out this article: What is Epiphany / Three Kings’ Day and should Christians celebrate it?

wisemen

Who were the wise men?

To understand the significance of the wise men’s role in the Christmas story, let’s go back to the time of Daniel. The Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC. The Persians were the dominant power, and the Medes were eventually integrated.

The Magi (wise men) were the hereditary priesthood of the Medes (knows as the Kurds today) and known for profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. They proved to be experts in interpreting dreams, which is why Darius made them the supreme priestly caste over the Persian Empire.

How did the wise men know about the Messiah?

Daniel eventually received the title of Rab-mag, or Chief of the Magi, because of his superior ability to interpret dreams other Magi could not. This led to his stay in the lion’s den (Daniel 1:18-20, Daniel 9:24-27, & Daniel 12).

As a result of this interaction, the Magi knew Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah. Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den as well as his part in saving the Magi’s lives significantly impacted them too. They probably also knew about the Messiah through Balaam, one of their ancestors (Numbers 24:17).

The Jews and the Persians (including the Magi) eventually fell under Seleucid control. The Seleucids eventually fell to the Parthians. The Magi continued as the dominating ruling party through the Seleucid and Parthian Empire and also through Sasanian rule (224-651BC).

Why was Herod afraid of the wise men?

The Magi traveled 800-900 miles & originated from what is modern-day Iran. They arrived in Jerusalem probably with a large entourage. They were the wealthy, ruling class of the Parthians, after all. As a result, they would have traveled protected and in relative ease.

Their arrival frightened the whole city, not just Herod the Great. The people of Jerusalem likely thought the Parthians came to besiege them again. Herod’s and the people’s fears were justified since there many people (including Herod) were in Jerusalem when the Parthians invaded Roman Judea a few decades before. They basically kicked out the Romans for several years.

Though they took back Judea, the Roman Empire never completely defeated the Parthians. The two groups went back and forth between war and diplomacy from 53AD-217BC. In addition, the Parthians had a sophisticated culture of commerce, significant wealth, and some of their cities stood as the largest in the world.

The Romans and Herod feared the arrival of the Magi for more than just their bringing emphasis to this child called “king of the Jews”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east cam to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Why should we care about the wise men?

The Magi grew in knowledge about the Messiah. Their interest began just before the silent years between the testaments and endured from one generation to the next. And they weren’t even Jewish.

We also can’t overlook the fact that the Magi looked for Jesus’ arrival for hundreds of years. They expected it and knew the signs when they saw them.

The Magi set an example of what seeking Christ truly means still for us today.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”(Matthew 2:1-12)

How does the Magi’s drive to discover the Christ child change your perspective on what it means to seek Him?

Hear. Listen. Understand.

Hear

Most people are very good at hearing. We know the right stance and facial expressions and even the appropriate verbal responses to confirm our hearing. But hearing remains only a physical act if we fail to fully engage in the process.

My 14-year-old has perfected the art of hearing. Eye contact. Mostly stationary. “Yeah” and “Uh huh” in the right places. Yet, his behavior later often confirms that he stopped with only hearing my words.

Listen

Once we hear, the next step involves truly listening. This means we choose not to form our response while another person talks. It means we decide to give value to the words we hear because we value the person saying them. Listening means we recognize that the words hold meaning and purpose beyond their initial point of origin.

As my boys mature, they move beyond only hearing my words and into listening for value. They attempt to apply instruction not just in my presence but as a choice for responsible behavior. They seem to grasp, at least at times, what many adults seem to be conveniently confused about, that those with experience and who love us quite possibly have valuable instruction to help better our lives.

Understand

Next comes understanding. After we hear and choose to truly listen, application starts to become a reality through our habits, and understanding grows. As understanding blossoms, the activity of hearing and listening changes from surface value to one of depth. A sure sign of understanding involves a person seeking out opportunity to hear and listen rather than waiting for them.

When my boys seek out my or their father’s advice, we see signs of this process happening. When a student takes notes and asks questions of a teacher, understanding is being sought. When someone spends additional time, perhaps in meditative prayer, reading or studying, they show a desire for the process of hearing, listening and understanding to become habit.

Jesus encourages this process in Matthew 13 as does Isaiah in 6:9-10. Lots of other places in Scripture emphasize the point too. Only when someone truly gives himself to hear, listen and understand does he finally see the significance of the repetition.

“Then the godly will shine like the sun in their father’s kingdom: Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13:43)

DISCUSSION: How does the “hear, listen & understand” process exist in your life?

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You Can’t Lie to Yourself

TruthA college professor of mine, intrapersonal communication I think, told us the first day of class, “You can’t lie to yourself.” He explained that when we tell ourselves something long enough, we eventually accept it and then live it as truth.

We do this when we try to show satisfactory reasons or give excuses for doing something. Doing so brings us to the dangerous side of justification.

When we justify, we shape our thinking to avoid having to change our behavior. We create a reality in our minds that allows us to avoid the discomfort of growth, which involves admitting mistakes, preferring others, and being teachable, among other things. And the longer we do this, the more deaf we become to hearing the actual truth because we’ve created our own alternate reality, our own version of the truth, for so long.

The Pharisees did something of this sort when they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

“But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, ‘No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.’” (Matthew 12:24)

Of course, Jesus easily refuted their claims created to justify their unbelief, but they remained stubbornly in their own, self-created realities, ones that would allow them to stay deceptively secure in their comfort zones.

unrealityChange or Justify?

The more I read about the Pharisees, the more I dislike doing so because I’m usually reminded of some way of thinking of my own that’s too much like theirs. And this leads me to either needing to change or add another level of justification to avoid having to change.

When I don’t want to do something, say reach out to someone or admit I’m wrong, I’m very creative about why doing so isn’t necessary and even how it’s possibly detrimental in some way. In reality, these things just make me uncomfortable, so I want to find reasons — I want to justify — why I don’t need to do them. It’s really a control issue at heart, if I’m to be brutally honest with myself.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking also happens often when it comes to deciding about Jesus. Alternate realities are created where he either isn’t seen as who he is, he’s seen as a big disappointment in some way, or we just keep too busy to truly make him Lord of our lives or even think about how we might need to change our thinking.

Jesus actually calls the Pharisees’ words “idle” (Matthew 12:36). In essence, he’s saying that their attempts — and ours — at creating a false reality where we get to stay in control is really “idle” (of no real worth, significance or importance) thinking. And of that thinking, Jesus uses justification in another way.

“The words you say now reflect your fate then, either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37)

In other words, the reality in which we choose to live either leads to the only authentic justification that exists — the kind that comes only through Jesus — or to eternal destruction. One day, every reality will be based on actual truth, God’s truth, and we’ll have no say in the creation of that reality. In fact, all our false truths will fall away. This motivates me to get my truth, the reality I choose to live by, as much in line with God’s truth as possible before time expires.

DISCUSSION: How have you lived within a false reality? How do we align the truth we live by with God’s truth?

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Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

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The Role of Commitments in Balance

Dobson

OVER-Commitment & OVER-whelm

When I look around at my too-busy friends, I think to myself, “Never again. I don’t want to go back there.” That “there,” is an OVER-loaded, OVER-whelmed and OVER-committed life. It’s feeling constantly tired, behind schedule and often simply inadequate. I was “there” once to the point of crash and burn, and I swore I’d never even get close to be that OVER again.

Yet, I do. Get close, that is. Far too close. I somehow let myself get OVER-committed all too easily, leading to OVER-whelm. My focus then gravitates to a to-do list and away from relationships. Projects become more important than people.

Yes, all to often, I find myself “there,” and asking, “How did I get here… again? How did I once again get so out of balance by becoming again OVER-committed and OVER-whelmed yet again?”

The Heart of Commitments

The heart of making commitments involves doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it, right? Making a commitment involves pledging or promising, obligating yourself, to someone or something. When you commit, you bind yourself; you promise you’re going to do something, usually under a reasonable time frame.

But OVER-commitment leads to broken promises and missed deadlines. It leads to disappointment and letting others down and perhaps even to low self-esteem with the realization of failure to keep promises.

Commitment Trends

Approaches to commitments seem to be following one of three trends these days. Many people just don’t fully make commitments anymore; instead, they contribute but can’t be fully counted on regularly. Others OVER-commit and see no problem with not meeting commitments or just partially meeting most commitments. Do you fall into either of these trends?

Another trend involves feeling trapped in OVER-commitment. This involves basically keeping commitments but often missing deadlines and never having the time for anything anywhere near excellence but instead settling too often for “good enough.”

Feeling trapped in OVER-commitment, often accompanied by its cousin OVER-whelm, involves a high level of stress from the never-ending to do list and the complete lack of any time to truly rest. Letting go of commitments seems impossible because doing so involves letting others down, saying the word “no.” At the same time, the pace of OVER-commitment is simply too much to sustain.

How do commitments impact balance?

Commitments provide one gauge of the existence or absence of balance in our lives. Too few commitments results in boredom and idleness, maybe even feelings of insignificance and unimportance, while too many commitments result in lack of consistency and settling for less than your best. Both extremes lack balance, both fail in effectiveness.

Instead, perhaps an approach to commitments with the goal of effectiveness may be what we need to reach and maintain balance. When I find myself “there” – in an out-of-balance state – that stressful place of OVER-whelm again, my focus is more on efficiency instead of effectiveness. In other words, I’m looking to accomplish as much as I can as quickly as I can and not looking much at whether I’m doing what’s most important. I’m not considering what activity makes my life the most effective.

Moving from Efficient to Effective

Somehow, focusing on effectiveness, on how my time is best spent rather than on how much can I get done, keeps OVER-commitment and OVER-whelm at bay. But how do we know the best way to spend our time?

The answer to that question, my friends, is truly at the heart of living a life of effective commitments that lead to balance. How do you think a person can move from a focus on mere efficiency to one of effectiveness?

Let’s figure this out together and help each other keep from going “there” again… to that place of OVER-commitment and OVER-whelm. I don’t much like it there.