I miss those days when little people lived in my house. I do not miss the need to buy new sneakers when they outgrew them every three months, and I certainly do not miss parent-teacher conferences. This morning I am missing the opportunity to share great literature with one of my daughters or son in my lap after work or before they went to bed. Even before they could understand the words and thought the pages were for eating rather than enjoying the wonderful illustrations we would share those moments.
For example, I have not been able to read words like these for quite a while:
I AM SAM. I AM SAM. SAM I AM.
THAT SAM-I-AM! THAT SAM-I-AM! I DO NOT LIKE THAT SAM-I-AM!
WOULD YOU LIKE GREEN EGGS AND HAM?
I DO NOT LIKE THEM, SAM-I-AM.
I DO NOT LIKE GREEN EGGS AND HAM.
WOULD YOU LIKE THEM HERE OR THERE?
WOULD YOU, COULD YOU, ON A BOAT? I COULD NOT, WOULD NOT, ON A BOAT.I WILL NOT, WILL NOT, WITH A GOAT.I WILL NOT EAT THEM IN THE RAIN.NOT IN THE DARK! NOT IN A TREE!NOT IN A CAR! YOU LET ME BE!I DO NOT LIKE THEM IN A BOX.I DO NOT LIKE THEM WITH A FOX. (Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess)
Oh, what passion, plot, characterization and playful use of the language! I have to smile as I think about the building tension in the story where Sam-I-Am evangelizes the unnamed Other. Other began by disliking Sam-I-Am before disliking his message. Eventually Other overcame his prejudice long enough to sample the delicacy. The story ends with celebration and thanksgiving for Other’s stretched palate as well as for Sam-I-Am.
Of course, I enjoyed reading Bible stories to my children as well. Oh, what passion, plot, characterization, and playful use of language! How could I not laugh with them as we thought about picking little bugs from our teeth while trying to swallow a camel… whether it was one hump or two.
Sometimes the plot got a little too thick to explain to little children. Sometimes the Gordian knots of disagreements became so entangled that even I had to read and believe without understanding all. While those days with little children in my house are memories from the last millennium, I still wrestle with the plot and promised resolution when all things would be reconciled back to the Creator. I still smile when I read the Word, but I must confess I weep a little too.
Acts 15 could be taken from church conferences or ministers’ bulletin board chat pages today. Well-meaning disciples from the Pharisee tradition went from Jerusalem without authorization to make sure the new disciples in Antioch had experienced full salvation. They were appalled to see the lack of circumcision and violation of so many 613 laws from the Old Testament. Perhaps they wanted to add many of their own additional protections to the law to make sure the new Jesus followers kept all of the traditions.
Peter listened to the extended debate before responding.
Much debating and much listening play key roles in becoming a missionary people. Passions flair as deep emotions come to light. Each side lines up their arguments like 17thcentury military tactics that arranged soldiers in nice little rows. Practiced debaters ram the arguments home as so many musket balls driven down the barrel of flint lock weapons. Such rhetoricians live to win, to display the bloodied corpses on the battlefield.
Then someone mentioned God’s work, the gospel, the Holy Spirit, faith and grace. A couple more brothers stood and spoke of signs and wonders in the battle field – a battle field of human redemption rather than triumph of one faction over the other.
Then a godly leader placed aside his own preferences to remember prophetic words where both the tent of David and seeking Gentiles would be saved. The mission won. No party lost. The mission won. They wrote a letter and sent it by the hand of two prophets, Barsabbas and Silas. The prophets went into a place filled with “unsettled minds”, brought words of encouragement and strength, and left the place occupied by the Prince of Peace.
No party lost – the mission won. Confusion and marginalized status left. Prophets brought healing words.
But wait … as we giggle with hope and healing, the plot thickens once again. Another disagreement comes to the surface between two brothers who had seen the angry mob of disappointed idol worshippers. They could stand together against external threats, but the split over disagreements from within. Jesus promised offenses would come; He even told us the real offenses would come from within the body. Demonic forces could not separate the two apostles. Mobs and government agencies failed to divide them. Considering restoring an immature leader did the trick. A chapter with much hope and grace reminds us that we never will outgrow the need hear God’s voice above the arguments of others. More critically, can we hear God’s voice above our own arguments?
God did (and still does) amazing things in sending the Gospel to new people groups through His faithful Sam-I-Ams of evangelism and care. God still calls Sam-I-Ams and Others to focus on the mission rather than the things that separate them.
I prefer to eat green eggs and ham the right way – on a china plate with nice cutlery and a cloth napkin across my lap. I hear some of my brothers use paper plates and plasticware. I hear some of my sisters scramble their green eggs before mixing them with diced ham and jalapenos in a corn tortilla. Will there be no end to the differences? Can I hear grace speak louder than my preferences as we live the green eggs and ham way in the world? Can I go beyond tolerance of my fellow Southeast Asian culinary experts and assist them as they wrap their green eggs and ham in banana leaves before feeding the hungry? Will we ever stop testing God?
I think I really need to pray.
Forgive me for avoiding conflicts in the body. I resist the debate to keep the peace. Instead of sharing the responsibility to find missional unity together under the superintending power of the Holy Spirit, I tend to line up the arguments as tin soldiers in my mind. Walls build. I resist the spiritual gifts of others and lose the opportunity to bless others with the grace you have given me.
Help me to realize the real sufferers in our arguments is a world that waits for You. Give me the courage to examine the yoke I carry and expect others to carry. Help me to give space for other voices rather than just finding five people who agree with me to settle the point for us.
Heal my eyes so I can see again. I really want to see what you are doing in the world today. I really want to see where You call the body to labor together even though our cultural garments, diets, and worship styles may look a little different. Help me to see vital points of agreement must be maintained as we labor together. Help me know what does not matter. Help me hear both the strict James-like party and the testimonies of signs and wonders. You have placed so many different people in Your body. Help us labor together for the sake of the mission.
Help us make space for immature apprentices when they ask to rejoin the team.
Finally, pour more grace on us when we fail to labor together. We must not succumb to cynicism, pride, or despair when we cannot agree. We must learn offenses will still come from within the body, but Your grace is still sufficient.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
In Jesus Name,