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Today’s guest blog post is from Phil Dieke, pastor of college and young adult ministries at Highland Park United Methodist Church. If you like this post and want to hear more, follow Phil on Twitter @PhilDieke or see his other blog posts here.

Some times I think I read too much.  Then again, maybe it’s not that I read too much, rather I read too much of the wrong stuff.  If you have been following my posts you have probably noticed I read a lot of blogs…  I also check twitter at least a couple times a day (usually leading me to more blogs and articles), and scan my Facebook feed periodically as well.  Typically I do all these things because I want to be “in the know.”  I want to keep up with current events.  I want to know people’s opinions so I have a sense on where they stand in regard to troubling issues.  Sometimes this is really helpful, other times it is frustrating.

Through social media and blogging (among other things) we have the ability to be more connected than ever.  I keep up with friends all over the country (and some international).  I read sociology of religion articles from professors I had during undergrad at Missouri State, faith and technology related articles from a pastor in Oregon, and articles focusing on inter-religious dialogue from scholars I know in Jerusalem… often all in the same day.  Based on all the reading I do it is clear to me…

We are a connected world, yet we are a divided world!

I recognize that is not a profound statement, but it is all too true.  People hold strong convictions and are often quite vocal about them via social media.  I am a huge proponent of conversation, both face to face as well as online.  I think conversation allows us the opportunity to understand one another, and when we better understand one another we can better (and hopefully more easily) love one another.

However, all too often, I see conversations lead to greater divisions and judgment rather than understanding and loving.  We invite people into our conversation for the purpose of disputing their point of view… their opinion… and rather than understanding them and loving them, we try to make them more like us.  We try to make their opinion be the same as our opinion.  Many times this comes from deep-rooted personal convictions with the best of intentions, yet ends up doing more harm than good.

This is not a new phenomenon, rather one that has been heightened by our greater sense of connectedness.  Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, addresses a similar issue:

Romans 14:1-12

14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
14:3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
14:5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.
14:6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
14:7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
14:12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Paul is addressing a common dispute that arose among Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  What was acceptable to eat and drink?  The Jewish Christians believed these “new” Gentile Christians needed to abide by all the rules of the Law, thus there were food restrictions they needed to adhere to.  Apparently this dispute had become such a problem, it had caused such divide, Paul felt he needed to address it in the letter he wrote to this church.

I’m sure Paul, having been a devout Jew, had his own opinions on the dispute between eating and drinking, but rather than sharing his opinion he acknowledges the legitimacy of both sides of the argument.  And, rather than creating deeper division among the differing views, Paul offers advice on a way forward.  Paul recognizes there is a greater calling for the church.  I believe he sums up that calling later on in the chapter:

Romans 14:17-20

17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.

This has become my prayer when I face difficult issues.  I have opinions on all kinds of things, yet when it comes to the livelihood of the church my prayer has continued to be these verses:

“For the kingdom of God is not ________ and _______ but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Throughout the history of the church we have replaced “food” and “drink” with all kinds of other things:

“leaven” and “unleavened” bread or “grape juice” and “wine” when it comes to communion;

“sprinkle” and “full submersion” or “infant” and “believer” when it comes to baptism;

“male” and “female”;

“free-will” and “predestination”;

“black” and “white”;

“gay” and “straight”

… the list could go on and on.  Yet Paul says, “Do not, for the sake of ______, destroy the work of God.”

I believe conversations, both in person and online, can lead us to better understanding and eventually better love for one another.  Indeed, you are entitled to your opinion, just don’t let it destroy the work of God.  Rather, may we take Paul’s recommendation to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” And ultimately, may our conversations work toward building God’s kingdom here… the kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!

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