"It is difficult to overestimate the power of genuine listening."
Adam S. McHugh
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Contrast helps us to see better, more clearly. Contrast also helps our minds to differentiate that which is true from that which is false. Writers often use contrast to illustrate a principle or a point and to convince readers of their position. The Apostle Paul often uses contrast to make the truth he is communicating easier and more accessible to his readers. His letters are chock full of contrasts meant to teach, encourage, exhort, and admonish his them.
I would like to take a brief look at such a passage. I believe that Paul’s use of contrast can inform our thinking and open our hearts and minds to God’s sanctifying work.
Please consider with me Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice all deal with our relationships with others, and Paul’s words remind us that becoming like Christ inside will affect our behavior on the outside. In the next verse we read, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Paul has set before us two paths, one toward love, peace, and Godliness, and the other toward tension, strife, and godlessness.
Paul is writing to believers, about their corporate life as the body of Christ. At first glance, his admonitions seem unnecessary—why would believers foster hurt and resentment instead of opting for forgiveness and a more gentle approach to their spiritual brothers and sisters? But I have been living and ministering in the church for enough decades to know that Paul’s words are painfully relevant. As self-focused sinners, it is all too easy to nurse the offenses we have encountered and seek to protect ourselves from those who have hurt us.
One of the things that this contrast emphasizes is that these two sets of relational attitudes are mutually exclusive. We cannot be angry, bitter, and malicious while at the same time practicing forgiveness and exercising kindness. And herein lies an important clue to taking Paul’s words to heart. Because we are sinners living and working with other sinners, we cannot avoid pain and hurt, anger and resentment. But if we exercise forgiveness and maintain a focus on God’s grace and mercy towards us, we will be able to love even in our pain and anger. We cannot deeply change our feelings merely by an act of will, but we can direct our will toward the redemptive work of forgiveness. And forgiveness will then enable us to offer others—even and especially those who have hurt us—tender hearts.
There is another blessing to be found in the point and counterpoint of this passage. While the approaches described in these two verses are mutually exclusive, Paul’s words can represent an encouraging picture of cause and effect: as we put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice, we are more able to exercise forgiveness, approach others with a tender heart, and treat others with genuine kindness. And then as we forgive, cultivate a tender heart, and deal kindly with others, we find it easier to resolve our negative emotions and put aside hostility.
I am very well aware that I desperately need to be forgiven and treated with gentleness and kindness. And, I very much want to offer that to others. May we take Paul’s words to heart and be richly blessed.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Friday, September 16, 2016
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Summer, 2016 is coming to an end. I have long ago recognized that the concept of the lazy days of summer is unrealistic, but I do appreciate the more relaxed schedule and opportunities for outdoor activities that summer offers. As we enter the Fall season of back to school and back to ministry, I am afraid that I sometimes “fall” into a “back-to-the-grind” mindset. But I am coming to understand that the Lord wants more—and better—for me.
Please consider with me a passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. King Caspian of Narnia, along with his crew and Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace from our world, have sailed on a long journey from Narnia. They have accomplished Caspian’s mission to find the missing Lords who served his father, but they have not yet sailed to the end of the world. Many of Caspian’s sailors are tired and want to rest and then return home to Narnia as soon as possible. But sailing to the end of the world is an opportunity not to be taken lightly. As his sailors begin to grumble and groan at the prospect, please listen along with them as Caspian speaks:
“’Friends,’ he said. ‘I think you have not quite understood our purpose. You talk as if we had come to you with our hat in our hand, begging for shipmates. It isn’t like that at all. We…have an errand to the world’s edge. It is our pleasure to choose from among such of you as are willing those whom we deem worthy of so high an enterprise….’ ‘Aslan’s mane!’ he exclaimed. ‘Do you think that the privilege of seeing the last things is to be bought for a song?’”
It seems to me that continuing, returning, or beginning ministry endeavors is much the same as sailing to the end of the world with King Caspian. It may demand much of us, but the reward far outweighs that demand. We don’t have to do ministry. We get to do ministry. A friend of mine, a thoughtful pastor in the Bible belt, commented to me recently that he likes to say that they don’t use people to do ministry but rather they use ministry to do people. Ministry is an opportunity to partake in the nature of Christ and participate in His kingdom purposes. It is a powerful tool for the Lord to make us more fit for heaven as we use His gifts in relationship with one another. It is a high calling and not to be taken lightly.
As we enter this new season, may we approach ministry opportunities as a glorious, heaven-sent invitation to join our Lord’s work in preparation for His party.