If you ask a comedian, politician, preacher or any public speaker, “What is the most important thing in the delivery of your monologue, speech, sermon or communication, that helps a group of people understand the point you are trying make,” nine times out of ten the answer would be, “TIMING! It’s all in the timing. Timing is everything.” Last Sunday was a perfect example of how “timing is everything” when God made it known to me, through a sermon and the events that followed, how much more work He has to do with the attitude of my heart, even after knowing Jesus for about 40 years. Thanks be to God; He is still working on me and is not finished with me yet!
The Associate Pastor of my church delivered a sermon entitled, “Accept One Another.” Before his sermon, we read two portions of Scripture:
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.’ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God“(Romans 15:1-7).
The Old and New Testament Scripture passages above made me think of what Jesus said in John 15:16-17:
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My Name. This is My command: Love each other.”
As brothers and sisters in Christ, God calls us to love one another and accept one another, no matter what our differences or weaknesses or preferences may be. As far as weaknesses are concerned, my Associate Pastor gently reminded us that we all have weaknesses. Though our weaknesses may be different from our brothers and sisters, that does not make us any better or worse than they are. We are all sinners saved by God’s grace. In his Letters to the Romans and to the Philippians, Paul teaches us that true love and acceptance comes from a humble heart:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance to the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:3-5).
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).
In his sermon, the Associate Pastor told us the word for “accept”, in the Greek, means “to welcome someone to come alongside us.” He further explained, to “accept” someone means to put my own personal preferences aside, not talk about others who are different from me in a negative way, and that I am the one who is to change, because Christ did exactly that for me by becoming one of us. Whenever I think of someone who is a Christ-like example, I think of James Hudson Taylor, (1832-1905), an English missionary who founded the China Inland Mission. In order to minister and share Christ with the people of China, he adopted the Chinese way of dress, ate what the Chinese people ate, and even grew his hair into a long “ponytail” as the Chinese men did during that time period. James Hudson Taylor truly became one with the Chinese people. When he first started his mission in China, there were no other missionaries there and no known Christians. At the time of his death, there were 205 mission stations with over 800 missionaries and somewhere around 125,000 Chinese Christians (“Wholesome Words, Christian Biography Resources”). James Hudson Taylor accepted the Chinese culture by becoming one with the people of China. In turn, the Chinese people accepted Jesus, in Whom James Hudson Taylor lived His life for and was a very real example of Christ‘s love and acceptance to the people of China.
Last Sunday’s sermon was a good sermon for me to hear and a good reminder of what it means to “ACCEPT” others in Christ, EXCEPT I didn’t know how soon I would have to put what I learned from the sermon into practice. When I got home from church, I was very hungry, so I put together some leftovers and nuked them in the microwave. When I rolled my lunch into the living room on a rolling cart, I noticed a large envelope on my coffee table. My sister must have brought in my mail from Saturday. When I looked at the return address, I discovered it was from a sister in Christ who I don’t cross paths with anymore. She left the church I attend a long time ago. We were friends, but both of us went our own separate ways when she left the church we both attended. It is difficult to keep in touch with everyone who leaves my church to go to another church. Sometimes, people do go in different directions and that‘s not always a bad thing.
This sister in Christ and I were friends, but we were quite different from one another. I don’t think we knew what made the other “tick”, but we had Jesus in common. She was into fashion and loved decorating things, from the Communion Table to store windows. She also collected things, from every church bulletin from every church service she attended to vintage clothing and fancy lady‘s hats. I, on the other hand, disliked clutter, but I do have files of all my Bible studies I attended and taught, and I collected coffee mugs and T-shirts. I currently collect T-shirts and caps of my favorite sports teams (I put my Patriots’ caps away for obvious reasons) and I have a collection of Wally dolls. So, as you can see, we were quite different just by knowing the different things we collected.
My sister in Christ did come back briefly into my life when she helped care for my mom, but soon disappeared again. I guess that’s how she likes to do things – appear for awhile and then disappear when she feels she needs to. And, when I least expect it, she sends me a large envelope filled with stuff. The last envelope I received from her were newspaper clippings about the RED SOX winning the 2004 World Series Championship, from the same newspapers I already had. But, she didn’t know I had them and it is the thought that counts. This is what made me curious and want to open the envelope right away and not wait until I ate lunch. You might say that one of my many weaknesses is impatience. I carefully put my lunch plate on the small table, in front of my recliner, and proceeded to open the envelope.
It was hard to open the envelope, but when I finally did, it was hard to get the folder out of it. When I FINALLY got the pocket folder out, stuff went flying everywhere. The stuff was more newspaper clippings, but this time they were newspaper comic clippings. There must have been more than a hundred of them, from regular paper-sized clippings, with the cartoon and words included, to tiny clippings with only one sentence written on them. I was not a “happy camper” to say the least. Even though there wasn’t the ESPN football pre-game show on TV, I did do a “Mike Ditka” and said out loud, “C’mon Man!” and a “Tommy Heinsohn” and said out loud, “THIS IS REDICULOUS”, even though I was not watching the Celtics. Then, there’s the “Joe Castiglione” (RED SOX radio guy), “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!” There were other things running through my head, but, as the RED SOX Royal Rooters would say, “’NUF SAID.”
Somewhere, in the pile of comic clippings Tannin was lying on, there was a handwritten note from my sister in Christ. The note said she was “re-locating” again and found her collection of cartoon clippings, mostly about God, and thought I would “get a kick out of them” and have more “ammunition” for my writing. After looking down at all the clippings and being overwhelmed by them, not knowing where to begin, I lifted my lower jaw from the floor, pulled myself together and had a “God-hitting-me-in-back-of-my-head moment”, in the same way Gibbs hits Dinnozo in back of the head, on NCIS (finally, a non-sports analogy).
“What did I just listen to in Church?” God finally got through all my ranting and raving and put me back down to earth. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). Scripture does not say, “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT when you’re hungry” or “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT if you’re tired” or “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT when they do things you don’t understand” or “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT when you don’t have time” or “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT when you have nothing in common with them” or “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT if they go to another church” or “ACCEPT one another, EXCEPT when they are too needy.” Romans 15:7 says, “ACCEPT one another, then, just as CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU [Why? ], IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.”
My sister in Christ sent me something she thought I might like and be able to use. She does not know that I am also downsizing and getting rid of stuff too. She doesn’t know that I have to be the one who discovers something in order for me to be inspired to write about it. She doesn’t realize I don’t want to use “ammunition” in my writing, but words of encouragement, comfort and grace. She doesn’t realize that the fine motor skills necessary to sort through the different sized comic clippings would drive me nuts and people would have to make sure to keep their distance. In order to read the small print I would need a magnifying glass, which also would be dangerous to the people and windows around me. All she thought about was I “might get a kick out of them.” And, before I judge something to be weird, some people would think it pretty weird that I turn my living room into “Fenway West”, during baseball season. And who in the world needs all those caps and Wally dolls anyway?
I hope I have learned a lesson from all this and I will respond differently when I get an unexpected envelope in the mail with stuff I do not know what to do with. I hope my response will be thankfulness, acceptance and the love that is found in I Corinthians 13:4-8a:
“Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud. It is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
LOVE NEVER FAILS.”
Does anyone want a large ZIP-LOCK bag of newspaper comic clippings mostly about God? I know where you can get them cheap.
Just Your Average Church-Goer,