Just Get Over It

cloth stuck on barbed wire
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joost-ijmuiden/5576616224/">Joost J. Bakker</a>

1 John 2:18-23

Kids, it’s the final hour. You’ve heard that the anti-christ was coming. But now many anti-christs have shown up. They’re evidence that it’s the final hour.

They split away from us, but they’re not us – and never were. If they’d been us, they’d have stayed with us. But since they split away from us, they proved that they’re not us.

But God has made you legit. You know everything you need to know. I’m not writing because you don’t know the truth. You know it. And you know that lies don’t come out of truth. The liars are the ones who deny that Jesus is the messiah. Any such person, who denies God and Jesus, is the anti-christ. Anyone who denies Jesus denies God. Anyone who recognizes Jesus recognizes God, too.

Church splits are some of the worst kind of disagreements. Nearly always, there is a lingering sense of deep betrayal. And, as in this case, it easily leads to one side demonizing the other. It can seem as if the world is ending. The final hour. It’s all over.

And, while its common in churches, it happens wherever people interact in close-knit groups. Families. Companies. Unions. Project teams. Occupy movements. You name it. Disagreements happen. People go their separate directions. For their own reasons. And sometimes the parting of ways can be painful.

The good news, hard to see at the moment, but more obvious from a distance, is that it’s not the end of the world. Life will go on, if we let it. For both sides.

But to go on requires letting go. So long as you’re focused on the other side, calling them the anti-christ (or whatever pejorative is in vogue), you can’t broaden your vision to see the other possibilities that are on the horizon in another direction.

And maybe they did do something really awful to you. But as often as you keep dwelling on it, and re-engaging in whatever that was, you’re letting them do it to you all over again. Only, now it’s not them doing it to you. It’s you.

As hard as it is to do, and as cliche as it sounds, sometimes you really do have to just get over it.

Going the Way of Cain?

Jude 1-16

Henry David Thoreau quote
Henry David Thoreau.<br />Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktylerconk/2334279457/">Kathleen Conklin</a>

A letter from James’s brother, Jude, a follower of Jesus, to those God has called and loved and who are protected by Jesus.

May you have plenty of relief, peace and love.

Dearest friends, I was all set to write to you about our mutual salvation. But instead I’m writing to urge you into a crusade for the faith given once and for all to the holy people. Because reprobates have infiltrated you. Reprobates who long ago were branded for their godless perversions, who think God’s grace is a license to sin, and who deny Jesus.

May I remind you of what you already are well aware of:

  • That God destroyed the unbelievers even after they had been rescued from Egypt;
  • That the insubordinate angels who left their stations are now in chains awaiting Judgement Day;
  • That Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them that engaged in illicit sex and followed their perverted lust are now examples of what eternal punishment will be like.

In the same way, the reprobates among you pervert their bodies, question authority, and deprecate the angels. Even the chief angel, Michael, didn’t dare to deprecate another angel, even though that angel was the devil. When the two of them fought over Moses’ body, he said, “Let God tell you off.” But these people deprecate anything they don’t understand, even though like unthinking animals they know it by instinct. Sooner or later, it will destroy them.

Too bad about them. They’re going the way Cain went. They’re abandoning themselves to the same mistake Balaam made, taking money over God. They’re dying on the wrong side of Korah’s rebellion. They’re rotten spots at your communion table. They take without fear, caring only for themselves. They are waterless clouds blowing in the wind. They are fruitless, dead, uprooted trees. They are rogue waves at sea, nothing but shameful foam. They are stars out of alignment, falling into a black hole.

Enoch, who lived just seven generations after Adam, predicted these people:

Look, God is coming with limitless angels to execute anyone convicted of any ungodly deed committed in any ungodly way, and of everything ungodly sinners have ever said against God.

These whiny nit-pickers lust after whatever they want. They’re nothing but loud and arrogant flatterers looking for a hand-out.

They say there’s no fight quite like a church fight. And quite often people involved in a church fight like to write nasty letters enumerating their opponents’ offenses in great and disdainful detail. It’s a terrible tradition that goes all the way back to Jude’s letter.

[Note: Many Bible scholars agree that this letter probably was not really written by “James’s brother Jude.” It’s another case of someone writing under someone else’s name to claim that person’s posthumous endorsement of their views. Would you trust someone in the throes of such a tirade to be completely honest about their identity? Come to think of it, given the content it’s highly debatable that the letter’s author is (in this moment) even a follower of Jesus.]

As good as it may feel to write down and distribute a tirade of name-calling, this is a prime example of what not to do. Sure, we all get really freaking mad at other people now and then. And sure, your therapist might tell you that it’s good to vent, maybe even to get it all out on paper. But for God’s sake, don’t leave a copy of it in the church library or on the Pastor’s desk.

Better to remember, and especially if you really are a Jesus follower, that Jesus frowned on name-calling.

Oh, and did I mention, it’s not just applicable to church. There are more constructive ways to handle disagreements even in business and politics. “Don’t go the way of Cain” could be a relevant Biblical admonition in 2012. Just saying.

Change Everything

focusPhilippians 4:1-9

With this in mind, my dearest friends (I wish so much I could be with you – you make me so happy, you’re my crowning achievement) – so friends, stay true to your commitment to Jesus. Euodia and Syntache, you two need to come to an agreement. And Syzygus, see what you can do to help them resolve their differences. They were both my co-workers, along with Clement and the others. They’re all awesome in my book.

Let Jesus make you into joyful people. Rejoice, I say! Be gentle with people. Jesus is right there, so don’t stress out! Bring what’s on your mind, along with your gratitude, to prayer. When you do – it’s beyond explaining how it happens – your mind and heart will be at peace, in touch with Jesus and with the eternal.

Finally, friends, focus on what’s true, on justice, on whole-hearted passion, on what’s worthwhile, on what’s excellent, and on what’s remarkable. Keep on doing these things the way you learned from my example, and you will have God’s peace.

Whenever people get together, no matter their good intentions, there are going to be differences, awesome as they all may be. The trick is not to let the differences become the focus. Rather the focus of a great movement is always on the goal and doing it with joy and passion. Here, Paul suggests six ways to get re-focused:

  1. truth
  2. justice
  3. passion
  4. value
  5. excellence
  6. remark-ability

Voltaire said that “the great is the enemy of the good.” But I’m convinced he’s got it backwards, and as Jim Collins wrote more recently, “Good is the enemy of the great.” Good enough is very seldom remembered. Great changes everything. Constant arguments between members is a telling sign that a congregation is good enough – and it’s not going any farther. Focus on any or all of the above, and you will change everything.

Keep Your Focus

Photo Credit: Tanakawho

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those whose faith is different, and get off their case about their foibles. Some people will eat anything, others are vegetarian. So what! Vegetarian or not, don’t look down on each other. They’re God’s children. They’re not your employees to boss around. They’re God’s and God will deal with them; it’s between them and God, and God will set them right. They’ll be ok.

So someone thinks of certain days as special while another sees every day alike. People have their own convictions. And if they have sacred observances, or they eat certain foods or if they fast, as long as it’s for Jesus it’s all good so far as Jesus is concerned.

We don’t live or die for ourselves. Either way, our purpose is Jesus’ purpose, and we are in God’s hands. This is how it was with Jesus who died and lives: now we’re his, dead or alive.

What makes you think you can judge or look down on a brother or sister when before God we’re all equal. Like the scripture says, “As I live, says God, everyone will bow to me, and everyone will praise me.” In the end, everyone is accountable to God.

Here’s Paul’s advice about micromanaging and criticizing other people’s lives: Don’t.

And it’s good advice. Because giving other people unsolicited advice about what they should do, or how they should behave, or what they should think or believe is, to put it bluntly, none of your business. And, worse yet, as long as you’re preoccupied with the shoulds and oughts of others, you’re not paying attention to what you’re supposed to be doing.

Each of us has only so much time to do what is important for us to do. When it’s up, that’s it. Paul calls it belonging to God, dead or alive. Along with our time comes responsibility to make the most of it. And whether we live well or poorly with what we’re dealt is entirely up to us. Everyone’s impressed by the 12-year old with cancer that does incredible things. No child should die of cancer. But we’d be better off if we lived like we were that child. And don’t say you can’t. If that 12-year old can, you can.

All these other things are distractions, excuses, ways to blame someone else for our own failure to live. In Paul’s church , it was what people were or weren’t eating, when people worship, and where, and how. It could just as easily be arguments over hair length, earrings, or tattoos. It could be whether to stand or sit for gospel readings. It could be red carpet verses blue carpet, chairs verses pews. It could be about divorce, abortion, or same sex partners. The argument extends to all the things that people get so uptight over in church life that end up paralyzing any meaningful work or ministry or mission.

Worth noting: Church people aren’t the only folks who get stuck by paying more attention to other people than to themselves. The temptation to be a busy-body is universal, and busy-bodies are universally unwelcome. Better to keep your focus on the only person you really can do anything about: yourself.