Push Me and I’ll Push Back

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Every year I make an opening talk at the conference and today’s blog is an excerpt.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” Hebrews 10:24

Nothing could be more important than the ability to “consider” one another, for right now not only our country feels divided on every issue but we as friends and family are encouraged to choose sides in ways that separate us from each other. There is a mean spirit in the land that tells us not to consider others but to demonize them. It tells us to twist words and spread false rumors. It encourages us to jump to conclusions and defend the indefensible. From the earliest days of the church, there have been disagreements and serious differences among believers. Almost every book in the New Testament deals with discord both mild and fatal but not like we are witnessing today. This is why Hebrews tells us not only to be considerate of one another but, as John Piper says, to study one another. “Literally this is God’s call on us to consider one another, that is, to look at one another, think about one another, focus on one another, study one another, let your mind be occupied with one another.” It is not asking the Rodney King question, “Can we all get along?” but the more serious question, “How do we learn to live with our deepest differences without looking for the lowest common denominator or some patronizing sense of tolerance?”

For what reason are we to let our minds be occupied with one another? In order to provoke each other! You could even use the word incite one another. Now that is something I can get enthusiastic about. The only other time we see this word is when Paul and Barnabas are having a heated dispute about young John Mark. In fact, it is so intense that Paul and Barnabas separate and never see each other again. We need to be prepared for and understand how important it is sometimes to disagree – but not to separate. One of the best gifts we can give each other is to figure out how we can provoke and stir each other up. In so many words, we are to push each other. There are so many ways to do that. We push when we stretch one another. We push when we get behind someone and make it possible for them to accomplish a dream. We push each other when we are determined not to give up on each other simply because we have differences. We stick it out. We persevere. We are committed to each other.

It does not say we are to disturb irresponsibly. We are not to stick it to each other or choose up sides for a tug of war. No, we are to provoke each other to love – even before we think about good works. There is a reason for that. Good works done out of duty, compulsion, guilt, tax-incentives or even compassion will eventually wear us down. Oswald Chambers warns us to beware of any work for God that causes or allows us to avoid concentrating on God. “A great number of Christian workers worship their work and they become burdened by it, burned out and defeated. There is no delight in life at all. His nerves, mind, and heart are so overwhelmed that God’s blessings cannot rest on him.” Unless we begin out of love we will soon exhaust ourselves.

But, of course, love is not where we stop or where we say we cannot do good works until we have learned to love perfectly. Love motivates. Love is the source. But the whole purpose of our consideration and provoking is good works.

So, we gather each year to do just that. Without each other, we are not likely to keep on. Wendell Berry says “It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.” We need provoking and love and encouragement.

And you are going to get that this year. You are going to be pushed and prodded. We are all going to be challenged in our presuppositions and positions by talks, classes, speakers and even other participants. That is exactly why we are here this year. That is part of what it means to be a fellowship.

Part of your purpose here this weekend is to consider how you may provoke someone in love toward good works. Someone’s life will be different as a result of your being here. Someone will have been challenged but not threatened. Someone will have found a safe place to consider new ideas among old and new friends. I hope you will be the one who says, “I’ll Push You” because I love you.

On Sunday morning we are going to have communion together and we’ll consider how we have incited and provoked and stirred up each other toward love and good works. We’ll see how many ways we have said, “I’ll push you” and “I’ll back you” and “I’ll stretch you” and “I’ll let you do the same for me.” That is why we gather year after year and why we do not forsake it because it is not easy or comfortable. But it is what we have done for over thirty years and I am so pleased to have found the words in the most obvious place that gives us a reason to do just that.

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    Paul L. H. Olson

    We’ll put, Fred.

    Some years ago, in the midst of a thorny business issue that generated entrenched points of view, it forced me to think deeply and pray about my response to the situation. The solution seemed so obvious to me; why didn’t the rest of the team agree with me? Then it hit me. Had I taken time to listen, really listen, to others’ points of view? Did I truly understand where they were coming from? I had been quick to speak and slow to listen.

    The break through began when we all sat down and truly listened and sought to understand each others’ perspective. That wasn’t enough, though. Yes, we reached a better understanding of our respective thinking, but did we appreciate the value of each others’ point of view?

    Understanding sorts out facts, discards perceptions, and requires honesty between all the parties. Having an appreciation of others’ points of view honors the differences in interpretation and impact of those facts on the situation or issue, often from a values-based perspective.

    Once we understand and appreciate the thinking and position of others’ on a thorny issue or situation, we can reach a consensus. That consensus may be unified agreement or not. If agreement is achieved, great! If not, the push back will be positive and constructive because of the push to honestly understand and honorably appreciate others’ points of view is essential.

    This hierarchy – Understanding, Appreciation, and Agreement is a bit like Maslow’s. Understanding is air, food, and water to a married couple, the believing church, a community, and our country. Agreement, as Self-actualiztion, is an ideal to reach in any conflict or issue. Yet, we can live without Agreement so long as there is Appreciation; bonafide safety, relationship, and esteem in the midst of conflict.

    Thanks again, Fred, for your provocative topics.

    • Fred

      Thank you, Paul. A friend of mine once told me that I have to start with their reality and not mine. That only comes through empathetic listening and not having an answer on the tip of my tongue. That is so hard!

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    Craig Harrison

    Looks like I should have gone to the Gathering this year. Stretching is becoming more of a need here in my old age. Appreciate you challenging insights.

    • Fred


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