Loving our Rival

Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up wrongs that have been done. Love takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices over the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures.

I Corinthians 13:5-7

Every year, we start the football season with a rival game. History has proven that this one game a year has a tendency to bring out some very ugly behavior starting a few days before and going through the game and after. I’ve watched over the years as even adults on social media roast the opposing crowds and students, seeing only the worst; and praise their own crowd and students, seeing only the best. Although I’ve lived in one of the two towns for 8 years now (let’s call it town A, only because it’s where I live), I wasn’t born and raised here and still have a tendency to be able to view it at least somewhat impartially. The rival town B is just a few miles away so I have many friends from both. 

This year, after the game, there were a group of students from town A who stayed after the game to help clean up the stands for the host school located in town B. They were praised and called out as being wonderful human beings, and rightly so! I’ve seen similar posts from town B about their students in recent years as well. Isn’t it just wonderful when we see good works praised? 

This whole dynamic has me thinking about our uncanny ability to judge entire groups of people based on a small subset of that group, if we want to. When it’s the group we are a part of, it’s easy to highlight the subsets and say, “See? Our group is made up of a whole lot of people like these. Take the time to notice this.” When it’s the group we are not a part of, it’s easy to dismiss these subsets as only a select few and not the majority. 

The same is true of negative behavior. When it’s the group we are a part of, it’s easy to dismiss the bad actions of a subset and claim that this isn’t how we as a group are. When it’s the group we are not a part of, it’s easy to highlight the subset as proof that the other group is inherently ugly (the majority).

It’s similar to a typical family. We fight within our family but don’t you dare take one of us on or you have all of us to deal with. 

As a community, I think this is healthy to a point. How wonderful it is to be a part of a community who stands up for each other and truly believes they live in a wonderful place! However, when we choose to point out the subsets who behave badly in neighboring communities as proof that our community is superior, we are missing something. 

The loudest subsets are often either the worst acting groups or the groups that do something spectacularly out of the ordinary to perform acts of kindness. Either time, most of the time, these groups are the minority by a long shot and there exists a non-vocal majority who are living their quiet lives, being kind to a stranger, speaking words of life to others, and doing kind acts of service that are rarely noticed. 

I choose to believe that our communities are made up of the majority of people like this, even if it is town B. 

So what can we learn from this?

Praise the good, all of it, everywhere. There will always be the small subsets of people who raise a ruckus and do things they shouldn’t. We may even be a part of that group sometimes. But if we focus on the good and assume the best in others, we are going to be living out the love of Jesus. He died on a cross for the person or persons you are criticizing because they are so valuable to Him. Thankfully, their poor actions do not determine their value. 

Be thankful for your community, see the good in it and value that, but let’s be careful not to highlight the bad elsewhere to make us feel better about ourselves. Let’s choose to love our rival.

Be the Light, not the Fight

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Frozen. As I watch the body of Christ argue and bicker across social media, through churches, and in social circles, I cringe. And suddenly, I doubt my own beliefs, frozen by fear that I might say or write something that contradicts the true meaning of scripture. What if I lead someone to believe an untruth because I unknowingly have it wrong? I do not consider myself an intelligent Bible scholar who speaks in big words and seems to easily understand the deepest Biblical concepts. I am a mere simple woman who loves Jesus with her whole heart, not understanding it all, but knowing that little by little the Holy Spirit is teaching me through His Word, in His timing. 

Yet, when I hear of differing theologies from the camps of people on many sides, seeing and reading the same words but interpreting them differently, I get overwhelmed. Who is right? What is truth? I hear some who claim that anyone who believes differently is leading people astray or even worse, a direct pawn of Satan put in place as a false teacher. You can find lists of these people posted online and some of the names are popular Christian authors and speakers, those whose books we read and who have encouraged us in our walk with Jesus. 

It’s enough to make some throw up their hands and want to quit trying and with this kind of conflict, I wonder how the world can look in on us and see the fellowship, joy, and beauty that following Jesus and being part of His family can provide. Why would others want to follow our God when we fight over who He is and the “unessential” theologies of the Bible? 

Jesus tells us in Matthew that we are the light of the world and that our light should shine before others so they may see our good works. In I John 1:7, we read that we will have fellowship with one another if we claim to be walking in the light. 

The question is, can we have fellowship with each other despite our differences? The answer is unequivocally, YES. The truth is that the only being who understands all is God. The Bible could have been written in a way that makes perfect sense to us, but God in His infinite wisdom didn’t choose to make His Word easy to understand. There are historical backgrounds, cultural nuances, differing time periods and authors, and different reasons for writing each section. 

What a blessing it is to have the Word of God and hold it so dearly that we must dig into it to gain wisdom, knowledge, and understanding in our quest to know Him, love Him, and glorify Him!

So in my quest for Biblical truth, I have to remind myself often that the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are my primary teachers, that I can learn from human teachers but must remember that we are all fallible in nature, and that I don’t have to agree with everything someone teaches when it doesn’t line up with what the Holy Spirit is teaching me. Even further, I don’t have to become angry that others see things differently. I am also learning that although I must stay vigilant in not following false teachers, I also need to recognize that even some aspects of my own belief system could be wrong and I am continually learning and growing, just like others. 

To be the collective light of the world, we must join our lights together in fellowship, agreeing on the most important essentials of the faith, and being humble enough to recognize that the remaining of our beliefs can and will likely differ. In order to shine a light on what the body of Christ should be, we must put aside those differences and stop tearing each other down over what is our interpretation of truth. 

If we can do this, can you imagine what we might be able to do together? 

Staying Connected to the Church

Saturday mornings have been reserved for Life Group for 3 years now. Prior to Covid, we met at the coffee shop, gave heartfelt hugs, shared Biblical truths being revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, prayed for hard seasons, and enjoyed being together. It has been a pleasure to facilitate this group of women whom I’ve grown to love so dearly – ladies from all age ranges and walks of life. Their devotion to Jesus and desire to serve Him is deeply inspiring. 

So when Covid-19 landed and things had to shift, it was hard. I missed Sunday morning church services but just as much or more, missed my physical interactions with these ladies. We didn’t let it stop us from meeting though. Those who didn’t know how to use Zoom graciously learned, even though it was difficult for some, and we continued our conversations around our study of Ruth every Saturday until we were finished. Even when we would have been taking a break over the summer, we decided to go ahead and do a book study on the Holy Spirit together, extending our meetings and accountability into the summer months. We knew how important it was to stay connected during this season. 

I’m so thankful we were able to shift to virtual meetings but it still doesn’t completely replace the in-person experience. It’s what we (mostly) have right now, so we must learn to adjust and continue our growth despite the challenges ahead. 

As we continue to face this battle and see that quite possibly, we could be in this for longer than we thought originally, I’ve learned a few things that I would like to share with you. These are just a few ideas of ways to stay connected to the church during this season.

  1. Find or join a virtual life group

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Whether that be through your church or a group that you put together with mutual friends, being intentional about spending time together is crucial. Study a book of the Bible together or do a Bible-based book study – anything to encourage accountability. I have learned however, that because of the less intimate settings, it is more difficult to feel like you truly belong. The technology keeps us from being able to share as much and you may not feel as if your voice is important. Because of this, remember to show grace to others and understand the limitations but also…

  1. Connect with a mentor. 

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning. And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” Proverbs 1:5

I’ve been praying for years to find an older lady with whom I can have consistent conversations and study with as I learn. Last year, the Holy Spirit led a precious lady to join our life group. She quickly became someone we all looked up to and has since become my mentor. When our life group finally did take the break we normally have, I asked her to continue meeting with me and do a 1:1 study together. I cannot explain how important and treasured this time with her has been and I thank God for this gift. If you cannot find a group to join, find one person with whom you can meet weekly and study something together. This accountability helps me to stay focused and on track as I walk daily with Jesus, study, and pray. In virtual-land, it’s also nice to have more time to audibly process learning and discuss and pray about more specific life situations.

  1. Find someone you can disciple. 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-10

Early this year, I had the privilege of helping one of my life group members take the first step in surrendering to Jesus and following Him. It was such a sweet moment. But I was quickly reminded of what God had been teaching me about discipleship through the Great Commission. The first step is wonderful but what was I going to do to help her grow in Christ? Through that experience, I found a strong discipleship curriculum, pulled in another lady from our church, set up weekly meetings, and we started working through what it means to follow Jesus. We have finished our first 13 weeks of a full 52 week curriculum and it’s been so rewarding! I have seen passion for Jesus that has re-ignited my own passion and have loved being able to walk beside these two girls as they fall deeper in love with Him. 

If you aren’t finding a group or a mentor, start one! Get a few like minded friends together and decide what to study. Hold each other accountable. You don’t have to be a teacher or even a natural leader to do this. You only have to be willing.

This season is hard. It’s hard to stay connected to our church family. It’s hard to keep our relationship with the Lord strong and active. But I’ve learned that in the hard seasons, God reveals our weaknesses. And if we’re listening and willing to follow Him, He can use this as a way to not just keep us steady in relationship with Him but to help us grow and thrive.

I know there are other great ways to stay connected – what are you actively doing during this season to keep your relationship with God and others strong? 

The Blessing of Uncomfortable

My husband and I decided to go camping for our anniversary a few years ago in March. When someone says they are going “camping,” it could mean many different things. When I say camping, I mean grab the tent, air mattress, some blankets, the propane camp stove, an ice chest with food, fire starter, and the “chuck box” with everything we need to cook and clean dishes. With packing complete, we headed a few hours out to a State Park, found a great spot to reserve, and set up camp. This was going to be amazing!

As we started setting up our tent, I began to get cold. It was nearing the end of the day and the sun was setting. When we finished, I was ready to find some heat so we went to a nearby town to have dinner. I hadn’t thought about the temperature much before this trip because during the day, it had been nice! I now started to realize what lied ahead of us… COLD.

As we drove back to camp that night, we discussed how cold it was going to be and how to handle it in our tent. We had no heat source other than the warm bodies of each other, some clothing, and a few blankets. When we arrived, we immediately went to our tent. The wind outside was a little too chilly to even sit around a fire. It had been a long day and we were ready to go to sleep anyway. 

We crawled under our blankets and held each other tight, waiting for the night to pass. 

That night was absolutely miserable, reaching a temperature in the low 20’s. I was so cold I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to move so my body started hurting from laying in one spot for so long. I had a thought to get up and put on more clothing. I had a nice soft jacket that was really warm across the tent in my bag. But I didn’t want to get out of the only warmth I had to go get it. So I laid there for hours, in my misery. Around 4am, something else forced me out of bed. I needed to go to the bathroom. So I got up, put my soft jacket on and some other clothing, and made the trek outside to the campground bathroom. Brrr……

When I returned, I crawled back into bed and snuggled next to my husband who’d been patiently putting up with me all night. I begin to feel a bit warmer. In fact, the extra clothes I had retrieved during my brief trip across the campground made me more comfortable. I still wasn’t as warm as I would have liked but it certainly was better than it was. I wondered why I hadn’t taken the step to become more uncomfortable for the chance at finally being able to rest.

Recently, our Life Group has been doing a study on the Holy Spirit and I’ve realized that I will do just about anything to create a comfort zone. But you know what? My comfort zone is not where I’ve heard from the Holy Spirit most clearly. It’s in the moments that I’ve been uncomfortable. It’s in the trials of life. It’s in the times that I choose not to let fear smother me but rise to overcome it with Jesus’ help. It’s in the cold nights and hard seasons. 

So why do I resist moving so much? Why do I nestle in, satisfied with where I am? 

Do you experience this as well? When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone:

  • to reach for a lost soul?
  • to listen to someone who needs you when you are busy?
  • to do something for your health that is hard but beneficial?
  • to step out on the stage and sing praises to Him?
  • to volunteer to help in your church even though you’re busy?
  • to start writing from a prompting in your spirit?
  • to pray with the lady at the restaurant who is crying even though you don’t know her?
  • to walk into a Life Group or join virtually even though you don’t know anyone?
  • to tell someone about what God has done in your life?

And those are just the little things. You could be called to sell all you have and follow God’s leading full time into missions, or quit your job to follow a different calling He has on your life, or something else. Whatever it may be, big or small, there’s one thing we can be sure of – If God calls you to do something, He will equip you. And when you start living this way, you will see that in the middle of the uncomfortable is where you will find the greatest reward.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

The Strength of Togetherness

It was just one of those weeks. A hard decision, season of change, tears shed, past mistakes showing up again, people hurting, depression looming, sleepless nights. I sent a text to a few friends that I was not well and to pray for me. I also told them I couldn’t talk right now. You know that feeling? To talk means to face my feelings and lose control of the emotions I’m trying so hard to keep in check. At this point, if I do that, I might fall into that abyss of depression and never return (dramatic huh?). I don’t know about you but when I am struggling, my first natural reaction is to isolate myself. 

“Come on Angie, pick yourself up. The enemy is fighting you and you need to stand your ground. Arm yourself with My armor. You’ve seen Me perform miracles time and time again and I will do it again.”

I meant to look up the verses on the armor of God but was in the middle of work and had to get back to it. So thinking I would do that later, I dismissed it for now. 

A few days later I was preparing for my Life Group and I opened my Bible. Guess where it opened to? Exactly on the page where it lays out the armor of God. I had forgotten to go back to it but apparently this is really important for me to get right now. 

I read through it a few times – belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the spirit. And then I saw what He wanted me to see – there was no protection for my back. So, no turning and running away from the battle at hand. Face it, stand firm, armed with His armor, and He will be with me.

But I also noticed something else too as I read about the breastplate. It protected the chest in battle and Roman soldiers were to face forward, side by side, so that the armor only needed to protect their front. 

Not only do I need to stand firm and face the enemy to protect my back, I also need to have my friends beside me, locking arms, armed with the same armor. Otherwise, I’m still vulnerable to attack from behind.

Whoa.  

As I consider this passage in Ephesians 6, and what I am learning, I realize again how important it is for us to have a tribe of believers around us, locking arms, fighting with and for us. Our strength comes when we are together. It’s important to not isolate yourself when times are hard but to reach out to those you know will lift you up in prayer and stand strong with you. When we become isolated, separated from the church, is when our backs are vulnerable and our weak spot exposed. 

God created the church for many reasons. One of them is to do battle together against the evil one. Despite all seasons, good or bad, let’s hang tight together! We need it perhaps now more than ever.