Here’s the problem

Almost any time you get a group of people together for any length of time you’ll have problems.

Take your family, for example. All of you may be trying your best to live right, but I know families well enough to know that you’ve got some problems.

Dad gets grumpy. Mom loses her patience. Little Susie slaps her brother, and little brother doesn’t exactly turn the other cheek.

A Christian family doesn’t always act Christian.

What about your job?

How long has it been since the last big brouhaha?

John’s not getting the recognition he deserves, Jane uses the copier too much, and Jim never shuts his mouth.

[I made all that up, but I suspect that something very much like that happened somewhere pretty close to home . . .]

Oh, but the church isn’t like that, right?

Unfortunately, we’re not exempt either, which is why a significant chunk of the New Testament was written to help us get along with one another.

I think all of the biblical advice could be summed up in four short verses from Paul:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

One short command in that paragraph always jumps out at me: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Aren’t most of our relationship problems—at work, at home, at church—caused by our disobeying that verse?

Dad got grumpy because everything didn’t go his way when he got home from work.

Little Susie slapped her brother because he took a toy she wanted.

Mr. Church-member got his feelings hurt and started a fuss because someone didn’t ask his opinion about some church matter.

What’s the common thread?

I. Like. Myself.

And I think I’m pretty much the most significant person in the room, and it bothers me when you don’t get this.

The problem is, you think the same thing about yourself.

And when you have a whole bunch of people thinking that, you have problems at work, home, or church.

The key, of course, is Christ, who calls us to something bigger than self-love.

He tells us to stop playing the chest-thumping, I’m-better-than-you, grade-school-playground nonsense.

He asks us to follow him down the path of self-denial, to humble ourselves and treat people as more significant than we are.

Try it today.

Wherever you are, treat the people around you as Jesus treated you—as more significant, more important, and worthier of being served by you.

It may not make Jim’s loud mouth disappear, and little Susie may still turn to fisticuffs to settle toyroom disputes, but it’ll help your little part of the world.

That’s really the only part you can control anyway.

Let’s talk politics

We’re a little less than 10 weeks away from Election Day, and with the Republican convention this week and the Democratic Convention next week, everybody’s talking politics.

It’s all over the radio, television, and the Internet. From Facebook to Twitter, everyone is expressing his convictions and frustrations and hopes.

With a tight race, it’ll only get worse between now and November 6.

Perhaps this is a good time for a reminder.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

It won’t jump out at you in that translation, but there are a few translations that bring out the nuances of a word that Paul intentionally used.

“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (TNIV).

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ” (NLT).

The key word there is citizens. Paul used a word that meant “to live as a citizen.”

People who lived in Philippi were extremely pleased with their Roman citizenship. It gave them all kinds of rights that non-citizens didn’t have, so naturally it was a matter of great pride to them.

Paul nudges them gently:

“Remember,” he says, “your most important citizenship is in heaven, so be sure to live consistently with the gospel.”

In other words, don’t let your Roman pride trump your kingdom citizenship.

I think that’s a needed reminder for us.

Politics get ugly sometimes—lines are drawn, convictions are trumpeted, and identities are formed.

“I’m a Republican!” one shouts, while another points to his allegiance to the Democratic Party.

Maybe it isn’t the case, but sometimes it seems that one’s political party becomes all-important, equal to–or even above–one’s devotion to Christ.

If Paul were writing a letter to us today, he might say something like this: “Remember who you really are. You may be an American who loves your country, and perhaps you’re a devoted Republican or Democrat who’s committed to your party. But please remember that above all else you’re a Christian, and don’t let the ugliness and divisiveness of politics cause you to misrepresent what it means to follow Jesus.”

There are serious issues at stake in this election, and these issues should be addressed pointedly and forcefully. The voice of God’s people needs to be heard as we stand up for biblical and moral convictions.

But let’s never allow our political passion to outshout and overshadow the Lord we follow.

We are and will always be citizens of God’s kingdom first. No election will unseat him from his throne.