It’s human nature to divide everything into sides. We take sides in insignificant matters like what toppings to have on our pizza, or whether to drink Coke or Pepsi. (Some here in North Carolina may be a little partial to Pepsi since it was invented in New Bern.) College basketball and barbecue are two other things that North Carolinians are known to be passionate about and take sides over.
We don’t just take sides on trivial things. The past year has seen our nation deeply divided politically, racially and culturally. Our churches have experienced divisions over issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic like whether or not to meet in person for worship, how we should worship, and whether or not we should wear a mask in worship.
In the broader scope of Baptist life, individuals are taking sides as the Southern Baptist Convention prepares to gather in Nashville in June with an agenda that includes one of the most contested presidential elections in our convention’s history. These weighty things can make us look at our brothers and sisters in Christ and wonder, “Whose side are you on?”
One of my favorite encounters in the Old Testament is found at the end of Joshua 5. Joshua is scouting the land in preparation for the battle of Jericho when he meets “a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand” (Joshua 5:13). We soon come to realize this is an encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua asks him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The Lord’s commander answers, “No,” which could also be rendered as “Neither.” Following this encounter, Joshua falls on his face in worship.
God doesn’t come to take sides – He comes to take over.
Like Joshua, it’s part of my nature to sometimes wonder, “Whose side is the Lord on?” When it comes to issues in the life of the church, our state convention or Southern Baptists at large, sincere people with opposing viewpoints can be certain that the Lord is on their side. But God doesn’t come to take sides – He comes to take over. It’s not a question of whether or not He is on our side. It’s a question of whether or not we are on His.
My ongoing prayer for N.C. Baptists during these days of transition has been for God to give our family of churches an unparalleled sense of unity around the mission of God. After all, that’s what Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-25 when He prayed that all believers would be “one” (vv. 21-22) and “brought to complete unity” (v. 23).
Personal evangelism is at the heart of that mission. Jesus didn’t focus on the debates that divided the crowds. Jesus kept his focus on the one. When our focus is put where Jesus put His, it’s harder for us to take sides.
Perhaps if each of us took our personal responsibility to share the gospel more seriously, we would focus more on what unites us rather than what divides us. Your state convention staff provides wonderful mentoring, training, resources and videos in personal evangelism to encourage you and your church at our website. Visit ncbaptist.org/disciplenc for relevant links and more.
As we anticipate a new executive director-treasurer, my prayer is that N.C. Baptists will unite around his vision to reach North Carolina and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The urgent need to reach the world for Christ is something we should all agree on.
by Brian Upshaw / Interim Executive Director-Treasurer / Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
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