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By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:35 (NIV)
I saw a post on social media recently that defined traditions as peer pressure from dead people. I find that equally accurate and amusing. Peer pressure can be good or bad, just as traditions can be.
We eat lasagna on New Year’s Day. I have no idea why other than that is what my grandmother and my mother always served. If you want to see my family defend something they believe in from a unified front, just come over sometime and watch me mention I might not make lasagna for New Year’s Day. It is not optional as far as my family is concerned!
We cling to traditions because they mean something to us. They bring back memories, they comfort us, and they unify us. Our lasagna tradition is a great thing, but what will happen when one of my children marries someone who has a different longstanding New Year’s Day meal tradition that means just as much to them? I guess they can pick one or the other, or maybe make both, but the important thing will be that they are unified as a married couple, not what they eat.
When God calls His church to unity, He isn’t talking about traditional versus contemporary worship; He isn’t talking about studying the Word from the NIV versus the ESV; He isn’t even talking about wearing a suit and tie versus skinny jeans to church. He’s talking about our faith in Him and Him alone and our love for one another. None of our traditions will save us or the watching world. God says it will be our unity that will bring others to Him.
When we elevate our opinions and traditions, making them more important than the nonnegotiable truths in God’s Word, it brings confusion. Confusion is not attractive to the watching world—it taints their view of God. Let’s make sure we are seeking unity around the things that are important to God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… - Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
Picture this: It was New Year’s Eve 2003… I was very pregnant and on the subway in Atlanta sporting the only orange shirt I owned that I could fit over my ever-increasing belly. The trains were packed with people wearing the same color as me, but there were also just as many people wearing a close but oh-so-offensive shade of orange.
We were all headed to the Peach Bowl in the Georgia Dome to watch the Clemson Tigers beat (woot! woot!) the Tennessee Volunteers. What a dichotomous display of unity! It was clear that there were two distinct sides, and it was clear which side each person had chosen to be on.
Sports teams can bring people together from any background in an almost unbelievable way. Even here in Kentucky, I have had many random strangers honk and roll down their window and yell, “Go Tigers!” because they saw the Clemson sticker on my car. They don’t know me, but they know we have something in common, and that unifies us.
God wants all His children to be unified through our commonalities that reflect Him. God lists those traits as the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. These are parts of our character brought out by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, not by our will power or determination.
In a world full of chaos, God is calling His church—His team—to look different than all the others. He calls us to be unified in Him. It should be obvious that we are different from the rest of the world, almost like we are clothed in a different color—His love.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. - Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)
As we continue in our discussion on unity, we’ll return to yesterday's sports analogy but switch to teams that you might be more comfortable with. Let’s say you are a UK fan at Rupp for a basketball game against Louisville. You probably won’t run across many people wearing anything other than red or blue. From sweatshirts to hats to pom poms, you will be able to tell who is rooting for UK and who is rooting for Louisville. (There is even someone in my office who wears blue mascara on game days!)
People really take their fandom seriously—sometimes too seriously. A quick Google search will bring up story after story of fights between fans of rival teams, even to the point of injury or death. I know some of you don’t want to hear this, but your choice of the team you root for doesn’t have much eternal value. Being on God’s team, however, does.
God calls us to live in harmony with other believers, but this isn’t just a command. It is a command with a purpose—that others will see our unity and the love of Christ and believe.
The question then becomes: How do we respond to those on the other team, those who do not yet believe? Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT) has the answer: Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
Unfortunately, sometimes Christians aren’t known for gracious conversations with unbelievers any more than UK fans are known for complimenting a Louisville fan. (We won’t even discuss how they treat Christian Laettner!) God calls us to more. We are an example of Jesus’s love to the world when we are unified in the truth of God’s Word, not when we sit in judgment of those who don’t yet believe.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. - Philippians 1:27 (NLT)
I have two children in high school and one in college, so we are knee-deep in college emails, visits, tuition, books, and the list goes on! This is what we have been preparing for their whole lives, right? It started when they were little by picking the right neighborhood near the right schools. All those clubs, sports, volunteer hours, and mission trips won’t look bad on the college applications either. Kids have to stand out from the crowd so they can get into the right school and get the right job. RIGHT?!
My kids have had all kinds of aspirations. When one of my daughters was little, she just wanted to be a football player. My son wanted to be “famous”. One of my kids even wanted to be a cat for quite a few months.
Eventually, my child realized trying to be a cat wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. My petite daughter realized professional football probably wasn’t in the cards, and even as a good soccer player, she most likely wasn’t going to make the US Women’s National Team either. I guess the jury is still out on whether or not my son will be famous!
As we grow and mature—not just in age, but in our relationship with Jesus—we learn that our goals are really quite simple. What we hope for our kids is simple. Whatever their education looks like, whatever career they end up in, are they allowing God to use them to glorify Him as they stand unified in the body of Christ? In the end, that’s all that really matters.
For you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28 (NLT)
Have you ever seen a Rube Goldberg machine? They can range from relatively simple to extremely complex. You can watch this amazing video of the World Record holder here. While a Rube Goldberg machine’s goal is to accomplish something simple in a very complex way, they really can be a marvel of engineering.
They take planning and precision to create. If one part doesn’t work correctly, the whole machine is basically useless. Every piece has a specific and unique role and each piece can only accomplish its individual goal if the other pieces do their jobs as well.
These machines are a great picture of how God designed His church. God isn’t asking us to abandon our individuality when we commit our lives to Him. He designed you to fill a specific and unique role. He made you intentionally with your gifts and abilities like no one else.
Although we all have a different role to play, each role is important. And, it’s not just that it will be better if we work together as we seek Him, just like a Rube Goldberg machine; it’s really the only way He designed us to work—as one.
Just like a musical harmony where two notes are heard at the same time to create something more beautiful than each note on its own, God desires us to work together in harmony. It’s beautiful when you see the body of Christ operating as it was designed!
God has a plan, and it includes you. He is calling you to join up with your brothers and sisters in Christ.