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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Is it worth the stress?

On a scale of one to ten, how likely would it be for others to describe you as easy to get along with (ten being the easiest to get along with)?  On most days, I think others may be gracious when giving me a score as high as five! Most of the time, I do my best to mix well with the team I am placed to serve in - whether it is at home, in the workplace, or somewhere in the community. Some of these groups will be easier to have congenial relationships which seem to be characterized by good will and collegial relationships.  In other groups, the "characters" within the group make it a little harder for us to score a perfect ten in this "getting along" category, right?  We cannot always score a ten on this one, though - or can we?  According to what James tells us, a holy life is characterized by getting along with others. Uh oh - now I have gone to meddling!  If we score a ten consistently, it must be because we are embracing this life of God's wisdom, and not living by the whim or fancy of our mood!  Scripture has a way of dealing with our delusion, doesn't it?

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.  (James 3:17-18 MSG)

Certainly "getting along" with others doesn't mean we always go with what the other guy proposes, following along in a subservient manner, does it?  No, it doesn't, but it does mean we work together for the common good and strive to reduce the "points of friction" as much as possible - even when it means we give a little on the things which really don't matter.  Notice I did not say we "give a little" on the things which make up the minimum standards of right living God requires - such as adhering to the truth, keeping Christ at the center, and denying self.  There are some "grey areas" we can agree to not fret about, though - these are the areas in which I think we need to compromise a little.  For example, as a youth pastor, one of the controversies in the teen population vs. parents and pastors was the topic of tattoos.  Now, before you shut me off here, hear me out.  Try as I might, I could not find any specific passages which dealt with tattoos.  Yep, there were vague passages about not defiling the body, treating it as a temple of the Holy Spirit, etc.  We could go back to the Levitical Law and see that Israel was instructed not to make any cuts in their body or tattoos on their body.  So, scripture did declare tattoos off-limits for Israel - because they were part of ancient cultic practices, not because they were tattoos.  It was related to a practice of the times linking the marking of one's body as a sign of your allegiance and dedication to a cult.  Today's tattooing practices may not have the same significance.  My daughter has one - my son several.  Did I really approve of them having them?  No, but could I compromise on their desire to have this artwork on their body?  Yes.  Why?  They weren't doing it to mark themselves for Satan or some cultic leader.  Would I get one myself?  I really don't think so, simply because I don't like pain!

Standing firm against a tattoo with my teenage children would have driven a wedge into our relationship.  It would have made all the truth I had been sharing with them about a new covenant in Christ, freedom from Old Testament Law, and grace a little convoluted.  You see, I knew their heart wasn't to mark themselves for demonic practices - so holding hard and fast to some Old Testament rule would be going against the principles of grace Christ proclaimed in the New Testament.  Did I delight in their tattoos?  No, but I delighted in the kids and valued the relationship with the kids above all.  This seemed to be what God wanted me to understand and hold onto when this subject came up in our own home - so although it would not have been my choice, I wouldn't allow a wedge to be driven between us because it was theirs.  Sometimes we know something is clearly wrong and that is when we take a stand.  On those other areas where we sense there is not really any danger of this "thing" they desire to pursue will move them away from God, I think we would do well to "not sweat it".

I think this is what James had in mind when he spoke of treating each other with dignity and respect.  As long as the choices aren't compromising truth, we can allow them.  God doesn't care if we eat pork, beef, or are vegan.  He doesn't care if we worship on Saturday or Sunday.  He doesn't fret about whether we wear dresses to church or jeans.  He doesn't care if we read the original King James Version of the Bible or a paraphrase.  He DOES care about us knowing truth, adhering to it, engaging with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and doing everything to help each other grow.  Maybe some of the stuff we stress about, which ultimately makes us a little less than agreeable with each other, is really not worth the stress!  Just sayin!