Over the last few weeks, I have begun the planning process for a fairly large retiree gathering that I will be leading next year. I have no experience in planning such an event and immediately realized the complexity of just getting the process started.
Fortunately, I quickly found that I have a friend who, in turn, has a friend in the host city that leads a large hospitality company there. So by having a mutual friend, that company president and I connected. And my task instantly became more manageable.
Then when I first talked with that company president, I found out that he had worked for a time at the same company that I am retired from. So immediately, we had something in common, which has fostered a sense of partnership beyond that of just an ordinary business transaction.
Having something in common is clearly a big deal.
So why do we so often focus on our differences rather than on what we have in common? Why is our society so saturated with hostility and anger over our different perspectives? Why can we not navigate life with at least some semblance of unity?
OUR DIVISIVE FOCUS
I believe it is because we have been conditioned to position ourselves from the perspective of our differences first. It seems that looking for something we have in common takes a profound backseat to focusing on our differences.
We find this scenario in every area of life.
In the U.S., we focus more on whether we are Republican or Democrat than we do on our common identity as Americans. We seem pitted against one another by divisions of race, gender, status, morality, relationships, politics, religion, and every other division imaginable.
Even within the common ground of our Christian faith, we find it harder and harder to focus on what we have in common than on where we differ. And the resulting division, disunity, and disharmony is damaging our effectiveness and influence for Christ.
Such divisiveness is not, and never has been, the message or the model of Jesus.
Jesus taught and modeled unity, not division.
He taught and modeled inclusion – not exclusion. His focus was on building relationships – not divisive requirements.
He offered grace – not condemnation.
His entire being was one of love – not animosity. And none of that has changed.
But many of us have somehow gotten lost along the way.
The unfortunate truth is that Jesus deserves better than what we so often model through our words, actions, and attitudes. If it’s not about unity, inclusion, relationships, grace, and love, it’s not about Jesus.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to partner in some mission work with the pastor of a predominantly black church in the area we lived. Not being a pastor myself, and being from a predominately white church, our differences were obvious. But we chose to focus on what we had in common, which was our love for God and for people. And I believe that we represented Jesus well in those efforts.
After some time, the unexpected topic came up of me speaking at their church one Sunday. I responded that I was not a preacher. But he asked that I consider it anyway and so I did. But during that consideration, I lost my focus on what we had in common and instead began to focus on our differences.
Certainly the style and culture of their services were different than I was accustomed to. So that was a concern.
I knew that he and I differed tremendously in our political views. So I worried about that.
I even researched some doctrinal information from his church online and found some points of disagreement on those. So I turned down the offer by saying that I just didn’t know what to talk about.
His response stung like a bee when he said, “You can talk about Jesus, can’t you?”
You see, I had let our differences divide us instead of letting what we had in common unite us. To this day, I regret missing the opportunity to talk about Jesus to those dear people.
OUR UNITING FOCUS
Now that I have stirred up those feelings of regret, I hope you will allow me a few more minutes to soothe that regret by not missing this opportunity to talk a little more about Jesus with you. Specifically four characteristics of Jesus that we all can have in common.
1. Jesus is our teacher.
I am fully convinced that if we would just follow the spoken teachings of Jesus, our lives and our world would be drastically improved. Even if you are not a Jesus or a Bible person, I encourage you to spend a little time reading the words spoken by Jesus in what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount with an open mind. They can be found in Matthew 5-7. These three chapters will give you the most critical teachings of Jesus in short order and I promise that you will benefit from taking the time to do that.
2. Jesus is our model.
Unlike us, Jesus’ words always aligned perfectly with His actions and attitudes. And He modeled perfectly what our actions and attitudes should look like. Even if you never study any other parts of the Bible, I encourage you to study at least one of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Seek to understand the behavior and principles Jesus modeled. And imagine what our world would look like if we replicated those behaviors and principles.
3. Jesus is our Savior.
This simple statement is the foundation and cornerstone of our Christian faith. To be blunt, we cannot rightly even call ourselves Christians without believing in the truth of this statement. We must understand our need for a Savior and accept by faith that Jesus is that Savior by His death on the cross. This is the most critical decision of our lives both now and for all eternity. If you have any doubts about this, I encourage you to seek help and counsel to guide you in that direction immediately.
4. Jesus is our Lord.
The words “Lord and Savior” are often used together. But in reality they are two different things. It is entirely possible for us to accept Jesus as our Savior by faith but fail to submit to His leadership and lordship of our lives. And we will never experience the best God has to offer us until we submit to that lordship. What a shame it is to have so much available to us and not take advantage of it.
So I close by thanking you for letting me soothe the regret of a missed opportunity to talk about Jesus back then by talking to you about Him now. I hope there is something here that is helpful to you. Maybe it will even encourage you to talk about Jesus to someone else.
Until we sharpen our focus on what we all have in common instead of our differences and manmade divisions, we will not see “on earth as it is in heaven” unity remotely becoming a reality.
And what we all have in common is the availability of Jesus as our teacher, model, Savoir, and Lord.
Clearly, having that in common is a big deal.