What Do Churches and Chopsticks
Have In Common
We recently had “Chopstick” Sunday at church. The title of the sermon was “Be A Chopstick Not A Chop” and the message was quite simple.
Instead of being just an individual attending church, each person should aim more and more toward becoming a collective part of the whole.
The word Church, after all, is a collective noun. It refers to one entity but is made up of many parts working in unison – church members – and chopsticks illustrate what that looks like in practice.
You could say the word hand is also a collective noun. It is one appendage on your body but it has several parts – digits – that work well together to do many complex things, like hold and use chopsticks. Easier said than done.
Chopsticks are very simple gadgets but aren’t so easy to use. They enable a person to eat food one-handedly but it takes more than just chopsticks to accomplish this. It requires the synchronized effort of at least four fingers coordinated enough to perform the task.
Each finger has a different part to play and must practice to get the movements correct. The skill to grip a piece of food with chopsticks and transport it without incident from plate to mouth doesn’t come naturally. It requires each part to perform a different function separately but in unison to accomplish this goal.
I’m not sure why anyone would want to eat food one-handedly but they do and chopsticks in a deft hand make that happen. The point is, like chopsticks, the church involves many different parts working together, with coordination, to accomplish whatever goal they visualize.
And just like chopsticks, it takes practice to get it right. This is important because in a word, the best way to describe a human being is: limited. We are not stand-alone entities. For any individual to accomplish any notable thing, others must do their part. Therefore, the philosophy is:
We have freedom but we don’t have absolute freedom. We are free to stop breathing but we are not free to live without oxygen.
We make choices but not without restriction. We can choose to hurt people but we can’t choose to avoid the consequences.
We are individuals and independent but not in the ultimate sense of the word. We can live as individuals but we can’t avoid being influenced by others.
All of that is to say we are free to make choices and express ourselves as individuals but only to a point.
Every person effects and is effected by, contributes strength to and draws strength from, every other person and we feed off this interaction. Without it we aren’t whole.
So it isn’t unusual to find people migrating into and out of groups throughout weekly and monthly cycles. People enjoy groups because they need them. Group relationships are not an option.
Now lets change directions for a minute.
Animals live in groups also but they do it instinctively, not by individual choice and the groups in which they collect never vary.
Cows are found only in herds, birds in flocks, lions in prides, dogs in packs, hyenas in clans and so on. These groups are single dimensional and fixed unless we domesticate the animals that populate them. Animals are configured for only one kind of group and that for life.
Humans are very different.
- We decide to join groups or not join them.
- We decide to join a group at one point and then leave it later.
- When we join a group we either add to the quality and character of the group or we reduce it. That’s where we get the saying “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.”
And we have many different kinds of groups to choose from: family groups, club groups, gang groups, activity groups, political groups, employment groups, professional groups, neighborhood groups and even just-for-the-fun-of-it groups.
Most individuals are connected with several different groups at once. Some groups are tightly nit and highly organized (Marine units) and some are very casual (pub patrons).
One group I didn’t mention is the church group which was the focus in our “Chopstick” Sunday.
All Groups Are Distinct
Now, to say we are a “church” group, is to say that we are different in some respect to every other group that isn’t a church. We may have values in common with other groups but there must be a distinction between one group and all others or they’re really just the same.
And obviously because churches are organizations that represent God the distinction must have something to do with God. That is an important point because if we don’t understand the God aspect of who we are, then we will just humanize the church.
And when we do, it becomes less distinct than all the other groups we associate with.
There is overlap, yes, but there must also be a distinction made between each one. And that thought begs the question.
- What is it about a church that distinguishes it from every other group?
- What is it that makes a church a church?
The answer briefly stated is…
The church always puts God first and that is accomplished in part when church members relate to one another in well thought out ways.
Believing in Godu is not the issue here. Everybody believes in God. Professional people believe in God, gang members believe in God and James said even the devil believes in God (James 2:19).
So, we’re talking about function not belief.
But, it can be a little bit scary to talk about putting God first.
There are many examples of people who do terrible things in the name of God and claim to be putting Him first when doing those terrible things. Every suicide bomber thinks he is giving God the ultimate honor. But is that really the case? Is God really like that?
The Bible teaches us that God loves people and cares for them everyday. Not about them but for them, practically and in useful ways. Sun, rain and natural laws that operate predictably are evidence of this.
In addition, the Bible says Jesus is a willing Savior every single minute of every single day. Jesus doesn’t operate only within office hours. He is on call 24/7 not waiting for humble souls to call on Him but anxiously wanting them to call and responding immediately when they do.
Maybe we should believe God is insulted and embarrassed when people take actions that needlessly destroy others. And I might also add that instead of pointing fingers at terrorists, maybe we should be honest about our own tendencies to destroy others.
You don’t need a bomb to destroy another life. All you need is the right word, or maybe I should say the wrong word, delivered with a slighting tone to shatter the security of a needy soul.
The slighted soul may not die immediately but they often wish they could and they relive the pain for a long time after.
Putting God first means we should become like Him. We must take on His perspective and adopt His interests. We must love people the way He loves people and we must start with each other.
5 Steps To Being Church
So, the next question is, “How do we do this?” and following is a list of ideas for working effectively with fellow church members. It’s written to read like a first person covenant made between the member and those he or she relates to in the church. Read it as if you are making the promise yourself.
- One, I’m not going to do for anyone in the church what they can do for themself.
This rule clearly applies to life outside the church but is usually ignored or forgotten once we sit in the pew. You get the impression that “serving one another” means doing the other person’s job for them.
No church member should “take over” for any other church member either in matters relating to church activities or in personal issues beyond the church doors.
No one should manage your time, do your job, volunteer for you, make your contributions, wash your cloths or clean your house unless, of course, you are facing desperate circumstances and can’t do without assistance.
And you might ask how does that put God first.
Well, God made each one of us capable individuals and He expects us to use the opportunities we have to develop those innate abilities. Doing things for people when it really isn’t necessary, just to say you care, robs them of opportunity and motivation.
You may feel good for stepping in, which is really selfish, but the person your helping is crippled by the effort. Instead of developing their full potential they become more reliant on you than they should and will possibly resent the help once they realize they’ve been robbed.
Others need us to do our part not theirs. Therefore…
I will do everything necessary to do my part so you can do yours.
But, I will refuse to do anything that feeds your weakness or retards your development.
Believing in God is tantamount to believing in others. God made them capable. We must hold them responsible.
- Two, when you have a problem I don’t understand, I will patiently investigate the issue before I assume the worst or make accusations.
People aren’t like pegs that fit in round or square holes. Each person’s individuality is comprised of different abilities and a wide range of problems. When problems arise, we mustn’t assume the worst. Your first response should be to ask questions rather than cast blame.
In other words, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
- Three, I will confess my owns sins.
The worst sinner in the world is the one who never admits to being wrong. They and the people around them are miserable.
Admitting your failure and apologizing to those you’ve hurt is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person. It is also nice when the wounded accept the apology and express forgiveness.
- Four, I will absorb your anger, irritation and frustration rather than react.
Instead of taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – responding in kind – good church members should turn the other cheek especially to other church members. Jesus modeled that approach on the Cross. If He could take it, with His help, so can we.
- Five, along with expecting you to make a contribution, to show mutual respect, I will encourage you to share your ideas and take the necessary time to understand them.
Everyone wants the same thing but each person has a different idea about how to achieve it and they become emotionally attached to “their” idea. That’s been my experience and the biggest relationship problems I’ve experienced were caused by my inability to patiently listen to the ideas of others and ask enough questions to make sure I understood what they want. I suspect that is a problem in many churches.
Whose idea wins is not important. The only thing that counts is the effectiveness of an idea. Even the success of other churches must be taken with a grain of salt.
With instant messaging and international multimedia capabilities so high today, the individual success of any church is instantly made public and their recipe for success, packaged and made available for every church to buy and use shortly thereafter.
All of that is good. We can learn from others but the best source of success formulas for any church is found in each church. Whatever formula you use must blend with the abilities and resources you have at hand.
So, before becoming emotionally attached to the next great idea, sit down with fellow church members and confer. Approach this meeting with no agenda and with an open mind. Be prepared to dig out the understanding of each idea thoroughly until it is clearly not usable or deserves more thought. Taking this approach with a sincere desire to find the best way forward, rather than force your idea down everyone’s throat, will produce a success strategy that no one has thought of before.
Do It Together
When I do these things individually, I am being a good person. When we do these things together, we are building the church. And once we have learned to do that amongst ourselves, we can then do this for those not in the church.
Which means we are now being the church.
Heaven Is For Real is a bio of a “near death” experience (NDE) but without all the “weird” and “sketchy” images that usually accompany such stories.
This story is different in that it doesn’t focus on “long tunnels with lights at the end” or the sensation of watching medical personnel feverishly operate from a hovering out-of-body perspective. It is a matter of fact story shared from the perspective of an almost four-year-old child who had no preconceived ideas and explains everything casually. To him it wasn’t strange.
“90 Minutes in Heaven” is a true story that covers 15 years of Don Piper’s life and is best described as a tragedy with an unusual twist. We know what is happening in Don’s life now and where his journey eventually ends.
What is surprising is the beginning.