One Mind

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Acts 15  –  Conflict is Inevitable

Life would be SO much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.

BUT – I am not always right.

AND – conflict is inevitable.

 

Acts 15 is about a whole lot of conflict.

First, the Jewish Christians thought the new Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians needed to follow the whole law of Moses – and prove it with circumcision. However, the Gentile Christians felt their faith in Christ – proven by baptism, not circumcision – provided salvation rather than the old law.  And, the church in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching and preaching was being torn apart by the division.  Sometimes conflict does that.

 

But, here we get to see some great steps for conflict resolution.

 

  • Go to find wise counsel. Look for spiritually mature and trustworthy individuals.  In this case Paul and Barnabas were sent with a delegation to the Jerusalem church elders 300 miles away (a trip that may have taken them approximately 15 days if they were able to cover 20 miles per day – sometimes conflict resolution takes some time – but it is worth it).
  • Everybody gets to share their side of the argument. And even through “much debate” (vs. 7), we see order and respect – standing to speak and not speaking out of turn.   And, during the debate – lots of listening (rather than merely preparing your rebuttal).
  • After everyone has had their say – listen to the leadership (in this case, James the brother of Jesus – vs 13) and be prepared to peacefully abide by their decisions.
  • And don’t forget to go to God’s Word! James shares words of the Prophet which clearly say that it is God’s desire that all mankind will seek Him and that there will be Gentiles called by His name.  Using this and the evidence that had been shared of how God had been working amongst the uncircumcised but believing Gentiles, James gives his judgment – no circumcision is needed, but Gentiles must follow some basic rules to be set apart to God and holy.
  • Share the findings with those impacted by the decision – aiming for peacefully being of one mind. A letter is written and members of the Jewish church are sent back with the Antioch delegation to share the letter with the body of believers caught in this conflict.

 

The Antioch church received the letter and delegation and “rejoiced” and were “strengthened” and were at peace.  Conflict resolution at its best!  Unfortunately, we know this issue will come up again throughout the New Testament as other churches grapple with the change.  Old traditions die hard for the Jewish believers.  So too, we must be careful to be tuned into God’s will rather than traditions or merely what “I want” or “I think” or has always been done this way.  Search out what God thinks on the subject.  Aim for becoming of one mind – centered on God’s mind – not yours.

 

Just as peace is reigning once again in Antioch, a new conflict transpires!  But, this time it’s a very personal one – and between our two heroes – Paul and Barnabas!  Even great heroes of the faith don’t always see eye to eye.  Barnabas – always the encourager – wants to take Mark on the next missionary journey.  Paul – perhaps more “task oriented” – remembers that Mark left them in the middle of the last journey and doesn’t want to give him a second chance.  “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (Acts 15:39).  It could have easily become an opportunity to grow sour and bitter toward one another, or even God’s work – allowing bad feelings to fester.  However, sometimes a decision to peacefully disagree and get on with God’s work – even if it results in parting ways at least temporarily – can actually deepen relationships and be a useful thing.  In this case, the missionary efforts were doubled since Barnabas went in one direction with Mark to teach and preach and Paul chose Silas and went in another direction to preach and teach.  Differences remained – but both were still actively spreading God’s Word.  And, what fun to later read (Colossians 4:10) that Paul would find Mark to also be very useful in ministry.

 

Life would be so much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.

BUT – I am not always right,

AND – easy isn’t always better.

When we use Biblical models and Godly wisdom to face the conflict, we can grow through the conflict and come out stronger, wiser, and more in line with what God has designed us to be – either as a church, a marriage, a friendship or an individual.  Face your conflict – with much prayer, Bible searching and wisdom and Godly counsel.

 

-Marcia Railton

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A Lesson from Nicaragua: Community

 

Missions Spotlight: Nicaragua

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Alex Davila leads a small group Bible study in Nicaragua.  He also maintains a public YouTube channel and radio broadcast, sharing the Good News.  If you would like to check his website out (La Biblia y las religions: The Bible and religion), you can visit http://labibliaylasreligiones.com. He is also a perfect Spanish-English bilingual and would love to hear an encouraging message from you! 

 

Pictured above is Alex preaching at the Lima Church in Peru.  We love it when Alex accompanies us when we travel to Peru. 

 

Community is a compound word: common and unity.  This means that we are a group of people unified by what we have in common.  This is a perfect example of the Body of Christ: unity through common beliefs. Just like our human bodies are unified by the drive to survive, the body of believers are unified by Christ.

 

Sometimes, as Christians, we can get caught up in our differences.  Quarrels over wine vs. grape juice for communion, tattoos vs. no tattoos as a Christian, and Sunday school before or after the church service take place all over the nation.  Now, some of these quarrels seem silly, but you know as well as I do that feelings are hurt over simple differences in ideas.  In Galatians 5:6, Paul reminds us “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love”.  It is our faith, exemplified by our love, that counts, not the small differences (or similarities) we may have.

 

Today, I want to remind you that we have more in common with one another than we have differences.  The Church should be the tightest-knit group of people in the universe.  We should have the highest sense of morale and comradery.  Watching the Olympics gets me hyped as I see hockey teams, and ice skating duos, curling teams (yes, even curling can be exciting) accomplish big things together.  Their sense of togetherness and years of hard work to achieve a common goal awakens my drive to seize the day.  Guess what, we have GOD and His son, JESUS CHRIST living in US!!! Imagine the radical acts of love we can achieve with divine power, strength and grace living in us.   Jesus says that the world should be able to know who we are by how we love one another.  What are you doing to show your neighbor your radial love?

 

You have probably heard this verse before, but I want to take it back to its original Greek.  1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own..”. All of the times that you and your are mentioned in this verse they are actually plural which translates from the Greek into English as ‘you all’. Grammatically, this is known as the second person plural, and something our English Bibles hide from us sometimes because we do not have a direct translation for the second person plural that sounds nice in English. The closet thing we have in English is ‘you all’ or if you are in the south then ‘y’all’. Can you imagine your Bible saying “do you not know that y’all’s bodies are a temple of the Holy spirit”? Due to the mistranslation of this verse into English people usually take this verse on an individual level. The meaning of this text then becomes a verse used to support exercise to keep your “temple” nice however what the author originally intended was to mean the body of Christ is the temple. This means that how we treat each other as the body directly correlates to what the temple is like. That is a very important statement! When we are angry with or hate our fellow believers, we are desecrating the new temple that God has set up.

 

If you look at how the temple was treated in the Old Testament we see how holy and sacred it was. We need to translate the holy aspect of the Old Testament temple to the body of Christ today. So what exactly does it look like to be holy to each other? It is patience, kindness, forgiveness, and love. Next time you want to be angry at someone remember that how you treat them affects the holiness of the temple, the place that God dwells. Reading the passage for its original meaning is much more difficult than a simple command to exercise and eat well.  It is a command on how we should be as a community. Try reading the passage in this way, “Do you not know that your community is a temple of the Holy spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God”. This is Paul lifting the community of believers to a higher level. I encourage you to take up that call and to bring even more glory to God’s community of believers.

 

The latter half of Acts 2 describes a true community of Christ.  The Church devoted themselves to teaching, to fellowship, to breaking bread together, to giving to the needy, and all the while with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:42-47).  Let’s reach out to each other.  Let’s strive to love each other in a radical way that makes the world hunger for what we have.

 

Reaching out is exactly what Alex is doing in Nicaragua with his radio ministry.  Our love doesn’t stop within our culture, or backyard or our nation; we are an international community.  Although we can’t break bread with our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, we can encourage them even from afar.  Alex would love to hear from you!  Just a simple message saying hi, the church you attend, and that you are thinking of him can go a long way.  You can find him on Facebook under the name ‘Alexander Davila’.  Remember, he is a perfect bilingual, so no need to use a translator.  Radical love awaits us ❤

 

Love,

Josiah & Amber Cain

 

 

Our Week of Unity

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I’ve enjoyed writing this week’s devotions and sharing with you Paul’s words on unity. Today I want to recap what we’ve learned and encourage you to start living out these ideas in your own life.

 

 

I began this week talking about the conflict-ridden times we are living in and the fact that the Church is not immune to divisiveness. The church has struggled with unity since its inception, but this isn’t how it should be. Paul wanted unity for the church in Philippi—he said this would make his joy complete. Unity is also what is needed in every church today. This is why we should pursue it.

 

 

On Monday, I said that to be unified we must be striving towards the same idea—to be of same mind. And the idea around which we should be unified is living out the Gospel. This should be our singular purpose in life and everything else should pale in comparison to it.

 

The next day we moved to Paul’s advice on the way towards unity. Humility, the lowering of one’s self and self-interests, is how he says we should go about achieving unity. Our agendas should be subject to God’s. Paul pointed to Christ as the prime example of living in humility and subjecting oneself to God’s will. We must follow Christ’s pattern of humility if we are to have unity in our churches.

 

On Wednesday, we learned about four enemies of unity and why they’re so destructive to churches. The first is pride, which promotes self-interest instead of the Gospel. The second is gossip, which divides people by pointing out others shortcomings without trying to help them. The third enemy is complaining. When we complain, we are saying that we think something is wrong, but we don’t care enough about the body to address the issue in the proper way. The fourth enemy to unity we see is argument, but not just simple disagreement. Arguments that are fueled by a desire to be proved right and arguments that are filled with bitterness instead of love drive churches apart. All four of these enemies are real dangers that we should fight against with love and humility.

 

On Thursday I spoke about our union with Christ and how essential it is to church unity. Union with Christ has two aspects: knowing him and being like him. In knowing him we must truly understand what he did, why he did it, and what that means for us. In being like him, we must strive to live as he lived, in subjection to the will of God and in the service of others. Christ is the head of the body; if we want unity in the body, we must be united with him.

 

Yesterday I spoke about Paul’s final advice for the Philippians on unity and four principles we can take from it. The first is of reconciliation. When two or more people in the church are divided, the church should work together to bring everyone back into unity. The second principle is about exercising gentleness. Just as Jesus was gentle when caring for those who were weak and needed special attention, the Church today needs that same gentleness in its ministry. The next principle is that we should live our lives worry free from the troubles that plague this age and that, when we do face struggles, we should bring them to God in prayer. The final principle we see is that we should fill our minds with things that are good instead of the rot that is a hallmark of this world. These four principles will go a long way towards promoting unity in our churches.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these devotions this week, along with the words of Paul to the Philippians. But we are not called to simply be hearers (or readers) of the word—we must also be doers. The words of Paul to the Philippians are challenging, but the results from following them would be life changing and paradigm shifting for the Church. If we want to see unity in the Church, we must start by applying these ideas in our own lives as individuals—living in humility, having the Gospel be our primary focus, and not gossiping, complaining, or arguing.

 

– Joel Fletcher

Paul’s Final Exhortation for Unity

Philippians 4

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Yesterday we took a break from our discussion on unity in the body to talk about our union with Christ—the head of the body. Today we’re back to the theme of unity in the Church and looking at Philippians 4, where Paul offers the Philippians some final exhortations for unity. From Paul’s advice to the church at Philippi in this passage, we can see four principles that, if applied, will help promote unity in our own churches.

 

The first principle we see here is reconciliation. In verse 2 Paul calls attention to an apparent disagreement that was causing strife among two of the woman in the church. He urged them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” These women had been workers, alongside Paul, for the Gospel and this disagreement between them was hindering their ministry. Personal differences should never get in the way of our commitment to the Gospel. When disagreements arise, the church should work together towards reconciliation so that it can get back to its primary focus.

 

The second principle we can take from this passage is to live gently. Paul says in verse 5 (NRSV) to “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is one of the Fruit of the Spirit, but one that I think is often overlooked. This comes from a misunderstanding of what gentleness is all about. Many people equate gentleness to weakness, but it is actually a sign of strength. A weak person is one who lacks strength but a gentle person is one who appears weak for the benefit of others. Gentleness allows us to care for those who are weak and need special attention. Jesus was gentle—this aided him greatly in his ministry to sick and inflicted. If we want to have inclusive churches that minister to the needs of those who are weak, we must promote gentleness.

 

 

Living worry free is another principle Paul pushes in this passage that can aide our goal of church unity. In verses 6 and 7 (NRSV) he says “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Worry and anxiety are enemies of the Gospel. Worry is a prison; the Gospel is freedom. Worry keeps us focused on the evils of the age we live in—all the bad things that come about from our sinful nature. It takes our minds off the hope we have in the future Kingdom of God, where everything will be made right and worry rendered obsolete. When bad things do happen in our lives, we shouldn’t spend time thinking about how much worse they could get or why it is happening to us. We should instead bring our concerns before a God who can offer us peace that we won’t find anywhere else, and that can get us through this evil age until we dwell with him in His kingdom. A church at peace and without worry is one that is focused on the future and making a difference in the present.

 

 

The final unity principle Paul offers in Philippians 4 is filling our minds with that which is good. In verse (NRSV) he says, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are a lot of things in this world that try to grab our attention and many of them are not beneficial. Our minds our shaped by what we take in, just as our bodies are by the food we eat. This is why what we think about is so important. If we want to get good out, we must put good in. If we want to be unified in our purpose, we must be unified in our thinking, and that thinking should be on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent.

 

While they are not always easy to follow, these four principles will go a long way towards promoting unity within the Church.

 

– Joel Fletcher

Union with Christ

Philippians 3

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The last few days we’ve been talking about unity in the body. Today I want to spend some time discussing unity (or union) with the head of the body. Our connection with Jesus affects every relationship in our lives. If we are to achieve unity in our local church, we must maintain union with our Lord.

 

Union with Christ has two important aspects. The first is knowing him. This does not mean to know who he is or to know some things about him. It is to understand what he went through and why he endured it. It is to realize that without him we are hopeless. It means communicating with him. It means recognizing that our own efforts count as nothing towards our salvation and that only through him can we be saved and that this is a good thing. Paul says that everything he could boast about in himself is garbage compared to the worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8), and in John 17:3 Jesus says that eternal life is to know the only true God and His son. Knowing Christ is essential for salvation and for being united with him.

 

The second aspect of our union with Christ is being like him. Earlier in Philippians, Paul tells readers to have the same mind as Christ (2:5).  Just as Jesus lived to serve the will of God, we should. Just as he was willing to give up his life for others, we should. He lived perfectly and we should strive to do the same. In Galatians 2:20 (ESV) Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Union with Christ is about emptying ourselves of the muck that comes from our sinful nature and replacing it with the holiness that comes from Christ—out with the old, in with the new.

 

“Therefore, if anyone is in [union] Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

 

In this life, we will never achieve perfect union with Jesus. We will not fully know him or be totally like him until we can be with him—without the presence of sin. Paul recognized this and writes that despite his shortcoming he would “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, NRSV). We, too, should press on towards the goal to have union with Jesus. It won’t be perfect, but it will go a long way in furthering our own spiritual development and the unity of the Church.

– Joel Fletcher

Four Enemies of Unity

Philippians 2:12-30

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Yesterday we learned about Paul’s advice for moving towards unity—having an attitude of humility. Today, I’d like to discuss some attitudes and actions that can hinder unity. These four enemies of unity that I will mention are just some of the obstacles that get in the way of the Church achieving unity. 

Enemy 1: Pride

Pride is the opposite of humility. In humility, we put ourselves in the service of others; in pride, we use others to serve our own purpose. It is an easy trap to fall into; pride catches those who do well and convinces them that this gives them cause to boast in themselves. It inflates their ego—giving them a reason to look down on others and view their own ideals as the be-all-end-all. When even just one person in a church body is infected by pride, it can have terrible consequences for church unity. This why Paul cautioned against boasting in one’s self and works:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

Enemy 2: Gossip

There is no redeemable quality in gossip—it is a destroyer of friendships and communities. Gossip is broadcasting the shortcoming of others with no attempt to help them get better. It is a mechanism used to make the one gossiping feel better about themselves. Where gossip is present, unity cannot exist. The one being gossiped about is treated like an outsider and is pushed away from the community. Gossip is a unity killer.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV)

Enemy 3: Complaining/Grumbling 

When we complain or grumble about something we don’t like, this is typically a sign we are struggling with pride and not embracing humility. If something is actually wrong, grumbling under your breath about it is not the way to go. Never will a good solution be found when it is brought to the attention of leaders through complaining. If we feel something is not being done the way it should be, we should humbly voice our concern to those in leadership after much prayer and meditation. Complainers don’t promote unity—those who genuinely want what is best for the church need to find the right way to address changes. 

Enemy 4: Arguing 

By arguing, I don’t mean mere disagreement, but an incessant need to be proved right (which also comes from pride). When a person goes around trying to convince everyone that their own views on various issues are right and then get angry when they’re not agreed with, it is not beneficial. We must always be striving to find the truth, but we must never do so in a matter that is unloving. Our discussions should be edifying and result in a more unified body; not filled with bitterness and anger which causes strife.  

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:14-28, NIV)

Each one of these enemies come about naturally from our human nature. We must fight against them just as we do with other sins. We must instead embrace humility, love, peace, and encouragement in order to promote unity and avoid these divisive enemies. 

If you struggle with any of these, start pushing them out of your life today. 

– Joel Fletcher

The Way Towards Unity

Philippians 2:1-11

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In Philippians 2 we find our memory verse for this week, in which Paul exhorts the church at Philippi towards unity: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV). In the verses that follow, Paul gives the Philippians some instruction on how they can work towards achieving that unity.

 

Paul’s advice for the Philippians is to pursue humility in order to achieve unity. Humility is to hold one’s self or self-interest in a low or modest regard. In practicing humility, those in Philippi would be placing the interests of others and the agenda of God above their own desires and concerns. This lowering of one’s self would allow room for the Gospel to take over each member’s life and for the church to come together for the purpose furthering the Gospel in their community. In this, they would be unified.

 

But Paul doesn’t stop at giving them some ideal to chase after; he offers a model to copy—a perfect one. Jesus had more reason than anyone to pursue self-interests: he was like God. When tempted to have all the kingdoms of the world put under his rule without having to suffer first, he refused (Matt. 4:8-10). Jesus always subjected himself to God. God’s agenda was the only one he cared about—even if it meant torture and death. Paul called the Philippians to have this same mentality, and we should too.

 

Each one of us has objects we hold as valuable (physical and otherwise), some of them justifiably and others not. We have families and jobs, both of which are important and should not be neglected. We also have ideas, opinions, and agendas that we might say (or at least our actions would suggest) are just as important. What we must remember, and what our actions must mirror, is that all of the things we find value in must pale (greatly) in comparison to the worth we place on the Gospel—God’s agenda.

 

Can you image what the Church would look like if we were all unified around and living out this common idea? What a sight that would be…will be.

– Joel Fletcher