To be fully know and fully loved; I believe this is the heart of each human being – it is the way we were created. Yes, there are some who put on airs, playing the tough-guy persona, and maybe have done so for long enough they really do believe there is no going back or, possibly, their heart has become so hardened they no longer even consider it. Nonetheless, we were created to give and receive love, to live in community, and to live out our unique God-given purpose.
As I write this it is September 15th, so this morning I read Proverbs chapter 15. This is a practice I learned from a pastor of mine in college who always read each day’s corresponding Proverb. As I read, two verses gave me pause; “A greedy and grasping person destroys community; those who refuse to exploit live and let live.” (v. 27) and “And undisciplined, self-willed life is puny, an obedient, God-willed life is spacious.” (v.32) MSG.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about community, the importance of “doing life together” in our homes, our churches, and our communities. Scripture tells us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;” (John 10:10 NIV). One of his primary tools is isolation.
Ross Parsley points out in his book Messy Church, “The truth is most of us end up preferring isolation in our church. It’s safer and there’s no risk of getting hurt. I’ve got my relationship with Jesus and you’ve got yours. If I need some help, I’ll open up – a little – maybe, and receive the initial benefits of community, but as for laying my heart out there to a group of people who may leave or abuse it, that’s not going to happen.” As to the reason for this thought process Parsley says, “When a family fights in a divorce culture, the great fear is that someone might leave.” So, we choose isolation out of fear.
So, how did verses about a greedy and grasping person, or an undisciplined, self-willed life lead me here? To be fully-known and fully-loved requires vulnerability. Love cannot be fully known without risk. When someone is “greedy and grasping” they are by nature self-focused, which as the Proverb says, destroys community. At that, people retreat and are more prone to isolate. As for the other verse; while those who “grasp” may also attain status, power, and wealth, in the end if that is the only motivation, it is truly a “puny” life.
It is only in living an “obedient God-willed” life we can Live Big, which of course is not about getting, but giving. It is not self-focused, but is lived in community. And as Ross Parsley reminds us it may be messy, but it is also full.
There are many good things in which we can involve ourselves, things that serve a purpose but at the same time rob us of the time and energy we need to achieve our true calling. This is a lesson I learned many years ago as I was confessing to a friend my burn out with so many good things (Optimist Club, United Way, and even Church activities) coupled with providing for my family, I was left exhausted. Instead of sympathy my friend offered me this stinging but loving admonishment, “Remember Tom, your family is your first ministry.”
I was reminded of this life-changing rebuke as I was pulling weeds in our strawberry patch this morning. Growing amongst my strawberries were a few beautiful young volunteer tomato plants. At that moment I was reminded of another piece of advice I had once received from a fellow gardener, “If it’s not where it belongs it’s a weed.” Though it didn’t feel right to do it, I took hold of those healthy young plants and pulled them out by their roots.
It is so easy to allow what is good to crowd out and ultimately replace what is best. Sometimes it goes against our very nature, but as we pursue what is best eliminating good things from our lives is just as important as eliminating the bad. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2. Not everything that hinders us is in and of itself sinful, but if we allow it to replace that which is best it serves a similar purpose.
There are many voices that fill our heads. Each day we are bombarded by radio, television, the internet, family, friends, co-workers, the public, and of course those inaudible words which echo – sometimes incessantly – in the private recesses of our mind.
Recently, my daughter Maggie and I spent the weekend being poured into by some amazing worship leaders and songwriters at the Kingdom Songs Retreat (KingdomSongs.org) in Franklin, Tennessee. The weekend was full of encouragement, teaching, songwriting sessions, and an optional open-mic night, where those in attendance could share a song. I decided against putting my name on the list because of course; “All of the songwriters and worship leaders in the room are way more talented than me, they had written better songs and certainly had better voices.” I was listening to the voice of fear – or maybe it was the voice of pride trying to assure I would not stumble over a word, miss a chord, or go flat in the chorus, I am not quite sure. Nonetheless, knowing I did not want to controlled by either, I picked up the pen and added my name to the list, not because I felt as though everyone needed to hear my song, but rather as a way to press against whatever it was that had lobbied so convincingly to keep me only a spectator.
Though this type of situation now happens infrequently, there was a time when I was controlled by many unhealthy voices; voices that validated fears and dismissed any positives in my life. Some, where spoken into my life by people whom I should have been able to trust, others were internal, but all served to squelch my joy and confirm my doubts. “If people knew the real you they would not like you.” “You’re a fake.” “Everyone else is better than you.” “How can you call yourself a Christian when you (fill in the blank),” and the list goes on.
The voices we listen to determine a great deal about how we live our lives; in victory or defeat, in sorrow or joy, in freedom or in bondage, in truth or in fear. Jesus said, My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27) To walk in our true calling, to be our true self, is to follow the voice of Jesus.
So how do we discern the voice of Truth and move beyond habitually yielding to those voices which seek to invalidate our call, silence our witness, and justify our destructive actions or complacency? By renewing our minds through the study of God’s word.
The apostle Paul encourages us, Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
The renewing of my mind began when I accepted as truth and committed to memory several key verses which define who we are as Christians:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (NET)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 1 John 3:1 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (NASB)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:7-9 (NIV)
My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. Proverbs 3:11-13 (NASB)
Committing verses, such as those referenced above, to memory allows us the ability to combat those destructive voices of fear, condemnation, shame, and guilt, which only seek to isolate and destroy. Realizing that God wants only the best for us; understanding the difference between discipline and punishment; and accepting our identity as a child of God; allows us to discern the voice of Jesus who is drawing us to Himself.
I confess, I have sometimes felt inadequate when asked my opinion on any number of subjects prevalent in the church today, only to have no definitive answer. But often, it seems, those are the very subjects that will – if allowed – divide us. I am not talking about those petty – though all too real – arguments about the color of the carpet in the church foyer. But rather, those things which, while bearing some theological semblance, have no real consequence on the practice of our Christian faith; a pre or post tribulation rapture, contemporary or traditional worship, the length of ones hair, and the list goes on.
But as I heard a friend say recently, “When we stand before the Lord these will not be the reasons we are welcomed into His kingdom, but rather that we served the least of these; those in prison, the widowed, the orphaned, the poor, out of a grateful heart.” John 15 tells us that when we abide in Christ we will bear much fruit. As we abide in Christ we serve, not out of obligation or as a means by which we receive salvation but rather out of a simple response to His great love.
There are many ways in which we can serve, one such way is to partner with a local pastor in a far away village we may never visit, helping children to have not just their immediate felt needs met, but also allowing them the opportunity to find hope through the understanding that in Christ they have purpose, they have value, and they are loved.
Over the years, my family and I have received many beautiful letters from our sponsored children and their pastors helping us to see that our support is indeed having an impact in their lives. We would love to take this opportunity to introduce you to a child in need and join us in releasing a child from poverty in Jesus name through the ministry of Compassion International. To learn more how you can make a lasting difference in a child’s life please visit www.Compassion.com/FryeFamilyBand
Close-Knit Family, Family-Values, Family-Friendly: These phrases are used to appeal to our senses when looking for a new church, considering which movie to watch, or shopping for a new vehicle. The consideration of family drives many of our decisions, and yet we see regularly see families torn apart in so many ways. Divorce may be the ultimate divider, but maybe not. In the fifty percent of marriages that do honor their vows “until death do we part” it seems relational strife between spouses, siblings, and in parent-child relationships are often accepted as normal, causing many to dismiss the angst this strife often brings with a passing pun, or a barbed retort. Even in our churches, where we talk about the “abundant life” Christ has to offer, these struggles are often no less frequent; Why?
I have experienced in my own life the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. This may speak of information I knew intellectually, though it took time, experience, and a few hard knocks, to make its way down to my heart. Or perhaps it speaks to the much easier route: Accepting God’s truth through faith from the beginning.
Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, he who builds in labors in vain.” To enjoy the fruits of the “abundant life” in our homes, necessarily requires the Lord’s building. This means – not necessarily the surrender of, but – the surrender of the right to our vanities. The release of those things which hinder us from allowing the Lord to build our homes. So how do we do this?
Like any investment, it requires a willingness to delay gratification: to deny selfish spending of our time, money, energy in the moment so that we might know a greater future return. This may require that we reorder our lives by; Forsaking the corporate ladder for the family tree, trading in our sports car for a minivan, or giving up the bowling league in favor of family-game-night.
However, it is more than simply spending time together, it is about making our relationship with our Heavenly Father and each other a normal part of our life, through – not just going to church together – but through leading our families in prayer, devotions, and simply looking for those learning moments to naturally talk about life, faith, and truth. By sharing our hearts, our passions, and our hopes with our families, through the Deuteronomy 6 method, as we get up, lie down, and walk along the path, and by looking for opportunities to play, work, and serve together.
We can live in the same house as utter strangers, or we can invest our time, our faith, and our love into the lives of our family members and in that process we allow the Lord to ultimately be the builder of our home.
This will certainly not negate the difficulties of life, but it will give us peace and hope and allow our families to thrive as we navigate through this life together.