Beliefnet
Next Steps

Sometimes the Christian life can seem like an uphill grind, like the world is out to get you. Wasn’t life supposed to get easier once you became a Christian? Sometimes, if you stopped long enough to really think about things, it might even seem like God Himself is putting up roadblocks at every turn, trying to make life as difficult as possible for you. Is that even possible? How could that be?

We see clues sprinkled throughout the New Testament to a deep truth about God that too many Christians neglect today. Jesus starts his most famous sermon (the Sermon on the Mount) this way: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Blessed are the spiritually destitute. Blessed are those who are spiritually bankrupt. Blessed are those who have come to an end of themselves. Blessed are the broken. Blessed are the humble.

James makes it even more explicit: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). And there it is in black and white. The reason it may seem like God is putting up roadblocks for you at every turn just might be because God is putting up roadblocks for you at every turn. God hates pride. Pride is the sin that cast the angel Lucifer out of heaven (we know him today as the devil). God doesn’t tolerate pride or wink at the sin of arrogance. God actively opposes the proud. God is jealous for His Name and for His glory, and when we attempt in any way to take His glory for our own, we gain God as an opponent. And if you ever wonder who would win that battle: God does. Every time.

The one virtue that most Christians don’t realize they can’t live without is humility. When we cultivate humility in our own lives, God shows us grace and favor. But when you allow pride to twist and corrupt you, you’ve gained God as an opponent, and that will never ever work out well for you.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. Luke 11:17

Unity in the church is essential, but it is rarely achieved. We can easily get caught up in denominations, styles of music, theological intricacies or personal preferences rather than uniting around the mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Here are three practical steps towards church unity:

 

1. Determine that the mission truly is more important than your preference.

 

 

If we’re really going to be united, we have to be united around something and someone. We need to be united around Jesus and the mission he gave us: make disciples in all nations. That’s it. That’s the mission. 

At the end of our lives, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ and have to give an account with how we utilized the vast wealth, time, knowledge, resources and energy he gave us, what kind of questions do we expect him to ask? When he asks us to give an account for our lives, do we really think he’ll ask:

    Were you able to go to church at least once a month as long as your weekends were free?

    Were you comfortable in church? Did you have all the programs you wanted? Did you get the parking space you wanted? Did you sing the songs that you wanted to sing?

No! He’s not going to hold us accountable for our preferences. He’s going to hold us accountable for the mission. Did you make disciples? “Well, I attended over 1000 hours of Bible study, can name the books of the Bible in order and even memorized an entire chapter!”

Did you make disciples?

That’s the mission. We have to decide that the mission truly is more important than our preference, and then we have to act like it. That’s how we become united.

 

2. Have skin in the game.

Shared sacrifice creates a powerful bond of unity. When you felt the most united with your coworkers wasn’t when you had an easy week, no major projects and everyone got to go home early. You felt the most united with your coworkers when you had to come together, there was a major project, something changed last minute, you had to pull an all-nighter or work through the weekend, but you made the deadline, got the contract, made the sell, whatever.

When you sacrifice, you become united. How do you have skin in the game at church? Volunteer at your church, don’t just attend. Give generously to fund the mission and ministries of the church. When you bring someone with you to church, you have skin in the game. I guarantee you’ll see church completely different when you’re sitting next to an unchurched person you’ve brought for the first time.

 

 

3. Instead of criticizing, be curious.

This is key. We can hope for pie in the sky unity, but sooner or later, we’re going to disagree on something. You may not like how someone else dresses, how someone else sings, what they sing. You may take it upon yourself to start handing out breath mints to certain people as a public service. We’ll disagree. It’s going to happen. But instead of criticizing, if we can be curious, it will go a long way towards unity.

Be curious. Assume the other person isn’t a complete idiot. They probably have a really good reason to believe what they believe, even if you don’t agree with it. If we put more of our energy on being curious about what drives the other side of the argument than automatically criticizing it, we’ll see our unity strengthened to new heights.

Man Code entries are designed for parents or adults seeking to mold young boys into strong Christian men. Previous entries can be found here.

“Walk with the wise and become wise,  for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20

Son, we’ve already talked once about the importance of your friendships, but friendships are so vital we’ll talk about times numerous times in the coming years. In Man Code #3 we said that your friends determine the direction of your life, you determine your friends. The follow-up question to that statement is this: how do you determine your friends? That’s what I want us to talk about for a few minutes.

We all need friends because that’s how God designed us, to live in community (friendship) with other people. But most of us don’t pick our friends in the wisest way, because we’re picking them based on the wrong thing. The most common way to pick your friends is to pick them based on common interest. Who likes the same sports team as you? Who plays the same video games as you? Who likes the same music as you? That’s the most common way to pick friends, but is isn’t the wisest way to do it.

When you build your friendships based solely on common interests, you’re not taking into account their character. What does that mean? It means that as we get older, we grow and change. Some of us will choose to grow wiser while some of us will grow more foolish and unwise. It’s why the best friend you had in third grade may not be a very good person to hang around with in ninth grade. As you’re growing closer to Jesus, he may be growing farther away. Instead of encouraging you to become a man of God, that long-time friend may be tempting you to make unwise decisions that will mess up your life. But because you’ve been friends for so long, you feel loyal. You don’t want to abandon them. So you continue the friendship, and more often than not you make the same decisions your friends do, because as King Solomon wrote thousands of years ago, “a companion of fools suffers harm.” So, what should you look for in your friends? Solomon again tells us, “Walk with the wise and become wise.” Obviously you need to pick friends that you like to hang out with now, but be sure to pick friends that you want to become one day in the future, because sooner or later you’ll become like whomever you choose to hang out with.

Pick friends that share your values, friends that are honest, good, caring, respectful, hard-working and wise. Watch how they interact with their parents, how they treat others who are younger and weaker than them. Watch the decisions they make when no one is looking, how passionate and how real their relationship with Jesus is. Pick wise friends, and you’ll become wise yourself.

QUESTION: What are some values or characteristics that you want to start looking for as you build friendships?

 

Andy Stanley recently preached a brilliant sermon where he talked about the absolute vitality of self-leadership. Leadership rightfully gets a ton of attention, but when we think of leadership we mostly think about leading others. Self-leadership (or the discipline of leading yourself) is vital because you are a part of every bad decision you’ve ever made. Every regret you’ve walked through in your life is at least partly to the blame on the person staring at you in the mirror. So if you can lead yourself, everything else will benefit as a result. To lead yourself, here are three decisions you need to make:

Decision #1: I will not lie to myself even when the truth makes me feel bad about myself. Is there something about yourself that you’re currently trying to ignore? Self-deception is a leadership killer. If you’ve got a problem but you’re unwilling to admit it to yourself, you will never be able to lead yourself. Who can help you better see your blind spots and be honest about them?

Decision #2: I will prioritize what I value most over what I want now. Everyone else lives for the moment, they live for now. If they get ambitious, they might even live for the weekend. But living for what you want now will steal the things that you ultimately value. What is it you value the most? A strong relationship with your family? A legacy that remains long after you leave? How are your priorities now lining up with what you ultimately value?

Decision #3: I will not attempt to lead myself by myself. Our friends determine the direction and quality of our lives. Do your friends make you a better person? How specifically? Who in your life has permission to speak truth into your life, to ask you hard and uncomfortable questions? How receptive are you to their feedback? God never designed us to thrive in isolation. If you want to lead yourself, you cannot do it by yourself.

For these and many other valuable leadership lessons from Andy Stanley, visit his website here.