This past Sunday, I challenged our church to look for ways to connect with those who hold a position we disagree with. We may hold a true or better position or belief (or we might not), but Jesus is passionate and clear that we seek unity with those who follow Jesus, even when we disagree. Read John 17:11, 20-23. And if you missed my message, I encourage you to watch it here.
If we indeed value the unity that Jesus prayed for, we still face the hard reality of connecting in a healthy way when we don’t share a position with someone. The key is to respond carefully. There’s a world of difference between reacting and responding.
I challenged everyone on Sunday to first do this. I got this from somewhere but can’t remember the source:
Pause before you post.
Think before you talk.
Relax before you respond.
These are critical seconds before you respond. The pause and reflection won’t fix anything automatically. During the pause and reflection, we ask ourselves this question that has been so helpful to me – “What story am I telling myself about what I heard or experienced?” Often it’s my stuff that makes me hear things that were not really said or intended. I can easily misread someone or even the position they hold.
Then we need to determine our goal. Is the goal to be right and prove it, or is it to make a healthy connection? What’s crazy is we fall into either/or thinking. You can be right, and you can make a connection! You can be wrong and make a connection. For Jesus, being right isn’t the only right thing. The connection is also important. Here’s how I’ve learned to respond when my goal is a healthy connection:
You might have seen the famous sign hung in many homes – Live, Love, Laugh. I’ve changed those words to Listen, Learn, Love. As we pause, reflect, and determine the goal of unity is just as important as trying to persuade someone to our point of view, then the next step is to really listen. When we listen, we put our agenda aside for the moment and give our full attention to the person we are listening to.
Then, we seek to learn. We ask questions. Not questions with an edge, but questions seeking to learn. The questions might be like these: “Why is your position so important to you?” “How did you come to that position?” “How does that position make things better for you or others?” And really listen. What often happens when I do that is that I begin to hear the person’s story. And often, the whole discussion changes from the issue or position to other matters of the person’s life.
You still might not agree with the person or their position, but having listened and learned (acts of love), you can then identify ways you can love them. Love seeks the best for the person. Love is a choice. Love is an action. What can you do (actions or words) that would serve the person you are having a discussion with?
Try it! Go to someone you’ve had a disagreement with and say, “I know we’ve disagreed in the past. I’d like to really listen to you and learn more about your position.” While you’re listening and learning, pray for ways you can love the person. After all, Jesus said it all boils down to this – love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s more important than being right and winning the argument. Listen. Learn. Love.
I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with what it means to really love others. I’ve been following Jesus for 50 years, and I feel like I’ve barely moved the dial in being one who consistently loves like Jesus. In addition to loving God with our whole being, Jesus said nothing more important than to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. I still have so far to go.
As I engage people, especially difficult folks, I’ve been trying to ask a question Pastor Andy Stanely famously posed: What does love require of me? It’s a tough question. My challenge isn’t so much an unwillingness to answer it in the right way; it’s just difficult to remember to even ask the question. My natural response to so many people is to be thinking about how they should act or be rather than how I should respond – that’s called an agenda.
I came across a quote from Jimmy Spencer from Love Without Agenda: Moving Our Spiritual Goalposts from Heaven and Hell to Wholeness: We can stop focusing on an agenda for others and find the freedom to focus on a purpose for ourselves. While agenda is rooted in how we see others, purpose is rooted in how we see ourselves. While agenda requires us to conquer others, purpose requires us to conform ourselves. While agenda relegates us to coercing others, purpose releases us to appreciate others. While agenda reduces us to a sliver of life, purpose moves us toward a whole humanity. And we – as Christians – may actually start to look and live like Jesus.
My agenda for others is a huge obstacle in loving others the way Jesus loves. Whether it’s a bad driver or someone painfully slow in a check-out line, or someone I care deeply about, I have great ideas and plans for how others should speak, act, and live… if they would just care enough to listen!
Spencer’s quote reminds me to ask – What’s my purpose? It’s the same as the mission of our church – Loving people to Jesus! My agenda comes far too often before my decision to love others.
I have a simple definition of love. Love is to seek the best for others. What’s best for others may or may not fit my agenda. The point is that my agenda for others often snuffs out love and can, in fact, drive people away from Jesus.
This Sunday, we start a short two-week series called Story. We are going to look at how to share our story and God’s story with anyone, but especially with our “One.” Not long ago, I encouraged all of us to prayerfully identify that “One” person we would engage as we pray for and love them. In this series, we’ll look at how we can use our story and God’s story to help our “One” find hope in Jesus. But we have to be so careful that we are not just operating out of our agenda. What comes first and motivates our storytelling is love. Love first.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
From time to time, someone in our church shares something that I want to pass on. This story is from Donna Gudgel, who’s been a part of Pantano for almost two decades and served on our mission’s leadership team.
Have you ever been the “first in the world” for something? Anything? Or have you ever wished to be the “first in the world” in something – like an astronaut? That one’s taken. Perhaps the first to find a cure for a disease – like many are trying to do today for the COVID-19 virus?
If you were asked, “What would you like to be the ‘first in the world’ in?” What would that be? For me, it’s hard to think of something that’s not already achieved. Plus, I am not really interested in being the first in the world for anything.
Recently I had a procedure done to treat a large aneurysm in a carotid artery in the left side of my brain. My surgeon asked me to be a part of a trial study for an improved flow diverter called the Evolve. Since I was willing to help pave the way for others, I agreed. I knew it was experimental, and I thought I was one of the first groups of patients for this procedure. It was not until a month after the procedure that I learned I was not only one of the first group, not only the first in Tucson, not only the first in the United States, but the “first in the world” to receive this procedure. The world!
I got to thinking about the question above. If God asked me to be the first in the world, what might that be? If it seemed impossible or risky, would I trust Him?
Then I got to thinking about what was said about Pastor Bryan Lee at his memorial – that he daily asked God how he could serve Him that day. We would do well to bring that question to our lives daily in our known world. What if we asked each morning, “God, what do you want me to be the first person to do today in my world?” Call someone and pray with that person? Be the first one to take a plate of cookies over to the new family in the neighborhood? Be the first one to stop and pray with a homeless person that day? Be the first one to love someone to Jesus? The questions can go on and on.
Some months ago, I was the first one in our neighborhood to take a plate of cookies to our new neighbors, welcome them, and ask if they had a church home. Now months later, I have been asked to come alongside the grandmother and daughter to pray with them, encourage, and support through difficult times.
So again, I ask: “If God asked you to be the first one in your world to do something, what might it be?” Would you trust Him to give you the courage to do what he asks? Will we experience “His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19)?
– Donna Gudgel
I do a Discovering Faith Bible study with a neighbor every week. He is reading the Bible for the first time, and every time we meet, he’s discovering new things about God, Jesus, the Bible, and about himself. It’s so fun to watch the proverbial lights go on and all the “ah-ha” moments. But just as rewarding are the discoveries I make. Even though I’ve read, studied, and taught what we study each week, I, too, find I’m getting new insights. The Word of God is living and active, and it speaks to us no matter where we are in our spiritual journey.
Recently we were studying just one verse. It was Matthew 7:12 – So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
It is known as the Golden Rule. It shows up in the negative form in ancient Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism in some form of “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” Jesus’ teaching is in the positive. It requires action; thus, the word “do.” We are to do or act toward others in ways we would want to be treated.
But this time, I noticed a few more details. Jesus started by saying, “In everything…” Every single conversation. Every encounter with someone. Every reaction. Every action. This response is to be our guiding principle for all of life.
Then I noticed how Jesus concluded this simple one verse teaching. He said that it “sums up the Law and Prophets.” That is the same conclusion he made with Great Commandment in Matthew 23:37-40. We are to love God and love others, and he concluded by saying: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” All the Old Testament laws and teaching point to love. And the Golden Rule is all about love and gives us a great definition of what love is! The way of Jesus is the way of love. We have to get this right! We have to practice the way of love and treat others as we want to be treated.
It’s so simple. It’s so profound. What if we practiced this today with every person we meet? What if every encounter, every day, we lived this principle out? What a change would happen in our homes. What a transformation in our marriages. What a difference we would make where we work or hang out. Others would see Jesus in us and be drawn to the one we follow. Today… in everything, do to others as you would have them to do you.
As 2020 began, we started reading Luke in our Pantano Bible reading plan. I strongly urge you to use one (you can also find various in YouVersion). On January 6th I read the sixth chapter of Luke that said…
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Jesus started this command by saying, “But to you who are listening.” I thought, even though I’ve read this so many times, I never really listened! I just read it and agreed this was one of those great teachings by Jesus. This time, however, Jesus was telling me to actually do what he said with a sincere heart. I needed to listen. It started me on a process of meditating on his instruction.
Jesus describes four types of people in this verse. He employed the Jewish form of poetry which is not rhyme or rhythm, but rather parallelism. The four types of people describe essentially the same person. The common denominator is that these are people who have hurt us.
I started by asking myself; “Who has hurt me?” I soon realized I had a lot of people who fit that category. This part of the meditation wasn’t fun. I made myself name their names and picture their faces and identify how they had hurt me. My modus operandi when people oppose me has been to just move on and not let it burden me. It’s worked pretty well, it seemed, until the words of Jesus made it clear that wasn’t an option. It was painful to bring back up the abuse I received. The list keeps growing.
Jesus said to love your enemies. So since January 6th, I’ve been choosing to love my enemies, for love is a choice. I’ve been trying to identify the very best that God wants for each person. As I have, my heart is being changed and the surprise is that I don’t see these folks as enemies anymore.
Next is the hardest one for me – do good to those who hate you. In almost every case, I have no connection to these folks anymore. So my prayer right now is to find ways to actually do good to them. I know God will open these doors.
Then Jesus said to bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Having identified the good I desire for each person, I’m now praying that God will bless each of those that hurt me. This too has been life-changing.
Some of your “enemies” may be too dangerous for you to engage. Be wise! But at the same time, listen to Jesus’ command. When you love, bless, pray for, and do good to those who have hurt you, you’ll allow God to change you. You’ll find freedom from the offense and freedom to love in a greater way.
Our last teaching series called Mixtape – The Soundtrack for Marriage was based on Ephesians 5:21-33. What struck me in the passage was the strong theme of oneness. As individuals, we are to be one with Jesus. Husbands and wives are to be one. And couples together are to be one in Jesus. Oneness is an amazing thing to experience. It is God’s will for us. Oneness is being united; on the same page; sharing all of life together; being with and for each other; having a common purpose and so much more. This is what we want in marriage more than anything. Yet, so few actually talk about this.
But how do you get to oneness in marriage, and maintain that? As I was studying the passage, I noticed a second key idea that answers that – love and respect! Look at what Ephesians 5:33 says: However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Husbands, love your wives as you love yourselves. Wives, respect your husbands. It was no mistake that this instruction comes at the very end of the long passage on marriage and oneness in Ephesians 5.
I devoted a whole message in the Mixtape series to love and respect. If you missed it, you can watch it here. There are so many questions about this verse like:
I tried to answer some of these in my message, but time would not allow a deep dive into these important questions and understandings. But, help is on the way!
We’ve invited a Christian man, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, who has devoted his life to helping couples learn to love and respect each other. I’ve read two of his books and watched a couple videos of his teaching on this subject. His research, insight and practical teaching are outstanding. So I want to BEG you to attend our Love and Respect Marriage Event. Why would I “beg” you? Because oneness in marriage is so important, so needed, so rewarding, so rich and such hard work! This three-hour event will provide you with actionable ways to grow your marriage. It is a great opportunity to move deeper into oneness. Here are the details:
WHEN: Friday, September 21, 6:30-9:30 pm
WHERE: The Pantano auditorium
COST: $60 per couple, $30 per single.
Maybe you know a couple who are struggling in their marriage; invite them to join you. Maybe you know a couple that want to improve the oneness of their marriage; invite them to join you… You might even buy them a ticket! I’ll be there. I hope to see you also.