Provoked Unto Love & Good Works

Dear Fellow Young Minister,

I want to make a confession to you. I have worshipped next to you during song service at youth rallies, conventions, conferences – I have sat by you in young ministers’ sessions and seminars to come to this conclusion.

You make me jealous.

Not envious. But jealous.

I have seen the manner in which you worship our God. I have observed the way you speak of others. I have seen the way you tarried for altar calls. And I must say, I have been deeply impacted. You have provoked me to jealousy and a hunger to magnify the Lord. Quickly, I think it is important for me to differentiate between jealousy and envy, because I see jealousy characterized by a sense of selfless possessiveness of Jesus, while envy is simply selfish possessiveness. The Lord presents Himself as the jealous God (Exodus 20:4-6). Therefore, I believe jealousy is a positive characteristic to be inspired of you, while any negative connotation of jealousy we read, in KJV language, of the New Testament is really envy.

Anyway, I’m glad to have you as a dear friend, because I have learned the importance of provoking one another unto love and good works. A lot of people quote Hebrews 10:25 as the main reason to “go to church”, when I believe it is a gross understatement as to why we should gather. On a brief note, not only is verse 24 the real focus, but it is biblically inaccurate to say “I’m going to church”. Pardon me, that’s for another time. Because friend, I have had legitimately deep moves of the Spirit gathering with you and other friends outside of a church service setting. Frankly, I have ZERO motivation to assemble myself with other believers if I’m not going to provoke or be provoked unto love and good works. I believe that if we are not careful, we can sin by gathering with the people of God, by simply having the wrong attitude and approach. The Scriptures state in Romans 14 that “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin”. Not to mention that whomever knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, commits sin, too (James 4:7).

I believe we ought to be mindful of what atmosphere and provocation is cultivated by our closest friendships. I understand that some people get into a competitive mindset at times, but the love and good works you provoke me to, cause me to want to become competitive with myself. That’s what I want in a close friend. I hunger to become more like Jesus, than I was yesterday. For today truly is the best, opportune day to serve the Lord. I proudly blame you for contributing to that. I have had friends that provoked me to compromise and even discomfort, for simply wanting more of God. This became painful at times because I love my dear friends, but the atmosphere conflicted with the direction I wanted to go. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way.

Mark told me once about a time he was at Senior Camp, and one of his best buddies, Sam, who was in town from bible college, came up to him after making some rounds with old friends. Sam told Mark that Mark’s name was being tossed around, but in the context of “this guy thinks he’s all that”. I remember Mark told me the story and broke down weeping at the pain these accusations caused him. Mark told me he didn’t know how he had carried himself in such a way to make others feel inferior. It was never the intention – and possibly never the reality.

Truth is, some people don’t want to be provoked unto love and good works. While many do. It can be a difficult course to navigate because people vary in their responses, yet possess the same desire. Some people are comfortable in their relationship with God, while many have a deep sense and longing for more. I partially wish I could write today that ALL of my friends want to be provoked unto love and good works. But my ambivalence proceeds from the fact that the pain that comes from these “unequal yokes”, has provoked me to seek those that are going in the same direction.

Here lies another challenge. What becomes of my attitude, towards those whom I have had to create some distance with? Do I then fall into becoming a Pharisee? Am I excused from provoking at a distance? I must answer these questions for my own sake. Paul said he “always [strove] to have a conscience without offense toward God AND men” (Acts 24:16). I did not know this at first, but leadership is highly characterized by the manner in which we deal with pain, especially when others are involved. Can we still retain the momentum of provocation unto love and good works, when the current of compromise beats against us?

It comes down to this.

People are watching.

That in itself can paralyze many. But to know that Jesus is watching, is all the more motivating. Although, I did want to let you know that watching you has been a blessing to me. I want to be guilty of being a match in God’s kingdom. I heard a minister once say, “I don’t desire to be a bonfire. I just desire to be the match. The match that starts the bonfire gets consumed by the bonfire. Nobody even remembers who the match was.” I pray that God help our motives in provoking others unto love and good works, resulting in Jesus becoming the bonfire – while we are consumed in Him.

Thank you for being a match in my life.

Fellowshipping or Socializing?

Have you ever spent time with friends and left feeling empty? Maybe because of a subject that was brought up, a person that was there, or something that was done while you were there?

How about this: everything was fine, but you still left feeling like nothing was done. I think in an honest, conscious or subconscious, effort to fellowship, you ended up socializing.

It doesn’t make your friends evil – or you boring. I believe there was just a lack of intentionality. I think this is one of the most powerful elements of fellowship. With fellowship, there is a deliberate behavior to engage someone else for the betterment of the individual and atmosphere. With socializing, there is an unspoken pressure to conform to what is acceptable to everyone else. GOOGLE IT. That is the #2 definition of the word.

This isn’t a jab at my friends or self-deprecation, it’s just a real situation we would never want for others, especially those we call our friends. In an effort to make myself available to others, I have miscalculated my presence as being equal to my influence. As much as I would want to carry myself in a manner that influences others in a positive way, it is not always the case. In the 1st century, believers were intentional about this principle of fellowship (Acts 2:42). Biblically, the word means joint-participation and joint-contribution (Strong’s Greek 2842). There are quite a few angles to consider at this point. Who is responsible for engaging who?

WE ARE. Whoever has or wants friends must show himself friendly (Proverbs 18:24). Unless we don’t want friends, then this can easily apply to us. There are some people that act like they don’t need anybody, when in fact they tend to be the most desiring for friendship. So what does it mean to show myself friendly? I think this simply means, looking for avenues in which to engage somebody or provoke them to healthy engagement. I have gone out to eat with friends and acquaintances in the name of a “good time” and my most prominent memory of it was how much money I ill-spent or how much REAL conversation was eluded or diluted to shallow talk. I have realized that if I am generous in my friendliness with others, I am going to be met with generous friendliness. This may shock the person you are trying to fellowship with, but ACTUALLY cause them to answer the question, “Hey, how’s it going?”. Don’t settle for them saying, “Good”, or “Hey, how are you?”. I have been guilty of telling people that answered my “how are you” in such an echo, that they ought to answer me first. I mean, how is that response an answer to the initial question? I have used it a thousand times in moments I wanted to keep my guard up, too; but to engage others, we must be intentional about our communication – understanding our own need for fellowship, and helping it be met in others.

What is the alternative? I do my own thing when hanging out with friends and just care about what I get out of it. I know we all need an escape sometimes from life’s circumstances to just enjoy the safety of our friends. But we must guard the climate of our friendships as a consistent lifestyle choice. If we socialize more than we fellowship, we end up compromising the meaningfulness of the relationships where people feel safe for who they REALLY are. Fellowship is about helping others transform into who they dream to be, while socializing is about letting others conform into who they secretly despise to be. Fellowship is about building others up, while socializing let’s people be dishonest with who they are. I don’t want to pressure people to be like me, but I should be able to provoke them into becoming better. It is amazing to me how God meets people where they are at and ENGAGES them into change. We would be amazed to find out how many people would want to fellowship with us if we understood this. I want people to say they feel better about the value of their own life, when they walk away from spending time with me. Am I 100% performer in this regard? Absolutely not. But even a baseball player that makes it to FIRST BASE, 4 out of 10 times, is considered a mega-star. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Next time you meet with your friends or even some acquaintances, you get to pick whether you fellowship or socialize.