I am still a fan of the daily comics in my local newspaper. I might skip the editorial page but I rarely miss my daily dose of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. Since my brain was not wired according to factory specs I am fascinated by others that have odd wiring. Stephen Pastis is the genius behind this strip and he has created some great characters. At first glance the strip inhabitants don’t seem all that creative. There is a rat named Rat, a pig named Pig and a goat named Goat. Not a lot of anguish went into the naming phase. But the traits of the characters make for an entertaining and even insightful look into our own blemishes. Pig is the naive and innocent character. Goat is the thoughtful moral compass and Rat is the self-centered rodent that his species implies.
A recent strip brought back memories of an early marital crisis.
I strive to be transparent and honest in these humble ramblings. You see, I was a member of that dangerous sect. I was raised in a flap under home. Yes, I was (deep breath) an “underer”. Joni was a flap over person. We came into marriage needing to resolve this conflict. Joni converted me lovingly and patiently to the flap over camp. Now I am committed (not as much as Rat) to this better way of life. Little marital adjustments like this are humorous (hopefully) and not important. But I have seen marriages and relationships falter on issues almost that meaningless.
Tragically the same thing happens in the church. We laugh uncomfortably about the church that splits over carpet color or music styles. Too often we focus on issues that may be important but they are not the most important. It is much easier to be right than righteous. If the other person disagrees we flail them with our disapproval and label them as a dangerous sect. I am not talking about heretical theology. I am talking about issues in which thoughtful and sincere followers of Jesus disagree. I have written that Christian math teaches multiplication and addition but we seem to understand division most easily. It is heartbreaking.
In a room of grace we would accept and stand beside someone we disagree with. I know that I have changed my views because of the loving influence and example of others. All of us are in process and it is in God’s timing, not mine. Incredibly God doesn’t seem to feel pressured by my sense of urgency.
I remember listening with amazement as a person questioned the faith of another because they used some tobacco product. Defiling the temple was the accusation. The accuser was extremely overweight. No temple abuse there? I abuse my “temple” by pouring ridiculous amounts of coffee into it every day. Conviction or ulcers may change that behavior someday. Judgment and criticism will not.
Do we understand what it means to be unified? Paul gave a pretty good blueprint in this letter to the Colossians.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3, NLT)
That is the game plan. Each of us has been given gifts to contribute. Each of us has flaws. Can we pray that we will be mature enough to focus on Who unites us instead of what divides us? Even the best athlete or most brilliant teacher has shortcomings. So will the pastor, elder, ministry leader, and children’s worker. All of us are in process as we mature into what God says is true about us. Winning sports teams understand a simple fact. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone on the team but you do have to be united for the common goal of the team. My prayer reflects that truth.
God give us the grace to be unified as a team for your glory. Teach us to use our gifts to strengthen one another and glorify you. Give us the strength to be a good teammate and the humility to believe that it cannot be about me for the team to succeed. Give me the desire to be a good teammate in the body of Christ. Teach me to see and exalt the gifts of my brothers and sisters even if they compete with my own talents. And especially teach me to be graceful with the flaws of others. We are all gifted and we are all flawed. A winning team understands that truth. Give me the wisdom and patience to trust your timing as you mature your followers. Give me the grace to love them even as we disagree because we are united in our love and gratitude to You. Help us to unite for the sake of the body of Christ.