misunderstand |ˌmisˌəndərˈstand | // New Oxford American Dictionary
verb (past and past participle misunderstood)
Example A: fail to interpret or understand (something) correctly: he had misunderstood the policeman’s hand signals | [no object] : I must have misunderstood—I thought you were anxious to leave.
Example B: fail to interpret or understand the words or actions of (someone) correctly: don’t misunderstand me—I’m not implying she should be working | (as adjective misunderstood) : he is one of football’s most misunderstood men.
What is it?
What is it about how when someone shares something, it can be so easily misunderstood?
Having taken enough Psychology courses throughout my days in college, I’m far from an expert in the subject but do know enough to understand some pretty significant ideas, and how one receives information compared to how it was intended by the giver of information almost always boils down to an individual’s personal perspective. In other words, each one of us receives information based on our own perspective and that perspective almost always becomes our reality.
While I understand that each one of us is a bi-product and culmination of past experiences and education and personal preferences and vested interests, it never ceases to amaze me how in a room of 10 people whom all receive the same information, you will end up with so many variations of what was said and intended.
Yesterday I had the awesome privilege of preaching – a responsibility that I do not take lightly – the opportunity to share what I hope was nothing more than a Holy Spirit led understanding and insights of a incredible passage of Scripture (1 Peter 2:11-12 / see below). As a Pastor and teacher, I am privileged to be able to share my God-given gift and look forward to it week after week. There is something about that “ah-ha!” moment in my life and in the life of people who encounter God through the active, living Word for me that never gets old. It’s to that end that I do all that I can to study and prepare myself to share with accuracy, with authenticity, and with relevance. In the end, no matter how much preparation I put in, what I have to offer will never suffice – it will never be enough. Simply put, I beg God week in and week out to redeem my energies, efforts, studies, and preparations, and to use my efforts for his good and his glory. Without the Spirit of God showing up and meeting us where we are at, changing the composition of our hearts, what I have to offer is little more than an informational and motivational understanding of Scripture. On the other hand, when we allow God to move in our heads and hearts, it changes everything!
Keeping It Real!
“Keeping it real” is a term that was grossly overused when I was in college (early 2000’s).
“Hey! I’m just keeping it real.”
The intended meaning behind this statement was to suggest that what someone was speaking was the truth regardless of what was expected or heard or how you felt about it. They were being true to themselves regardless of the outcome. While I am taken back to a space and time which included bad haircuts and boy bands when I hear this statement, there is a beautiful intention behind this statement that I deeply appreciate.
However well-intentioned sharing the truth in love is, there is always potential for people whom are receiving information to grossly misunderstand and even misrepresent what is being shared. Yesterday in my sermon was one of those keeping it real moments for me.
Don’t Miss This!
Don’t miss this! If I had a dollar for every time my Communication Prof said this to me and my fellow classmates in college, it would cover my Chick-fil-A habit for quite a while.
The point of my professors encouragement was for us to lean into what he was saying and to be aware, to not allow our personal experiences, prejudices, and preferences to take away from the intended truth that he was about to share with us. It was brilliant and readied us to listen to what he was intending to say rather than what we wanted it to mean. We learned how to ask clarifying questions in order to truly understand what he was intending and it made a platform for us to be intentional in listening to what he was about to share.
I want to share a don’t miss this moment from my message yesterday.
47:24 = 47 minutes and 24 seconds. This is how long my message was to our church yesterday. Forty seven minutes and twenty-four seconds.
Of these 47 minutes and 24 seconds together, 7 of these minutes consisted of me sharing passionately about perspectives and priorities. Now there was a whole lot more to the message and I will share that with you in a bit for those that are interested in hearing more, but 7 minutes or less than 0.16666666666 (one/sixth) of my message was an impassioned plea for our people to lean in and listen up as I shared about perspective(s) and priorities(s) specific to the ministry of our church, though certainly not a unique concern for us alone.
The irony of this for me as a communicator is that there will inevitably be those that missed the other 40 minutes and 24 seconds of the message all together. That’s not to say that they didn’t hear it to begin with, but 35:00 minutes into my message, at the point where I passionately and intentionally sought to keep it real with our church, all else ran the risk of being forfeit to personal perspectives and realities based on people’s past experiences, bias’, education, and feelings. The ironic part of all of this is that what I shared (illustration), wasn’t even the point of my impassioned plea.
All 47 minutes and 24 seconds of my message was a culmination of 2 verses from the book of 1 Peter:
11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
I spent the first 35:00 minutes walking our church through several incredibly important ideas and understandings from these 2 verses, including:
- Dear friends – Peter’s use of endearment as he addresses both Jews and Gentiles on a very personal level through the lenses of his own persecution and understanding their current plight.
- Warning – Peter’s incredible reminder to his fellow Christians not to get caught up in their new context and culture (the ways of this world) in their new and foreign communities, but to remember WHO’S they are and WHO they are in an effort to keep their priorities straight and focused on things not of this world, but on what is to come. In other words, we must be incredibly purposeful in where we’re investing our time, energy, and resources, and not to waste these precious commodities on the temporal things this side of heaven. It’s a bad investment with a horrible return!
- Desires – Peter educates his fellow Christians on the obvious understanding that sin, in part or in whole, is “fun” and desirable when we are living in our flesh. He wants them to understand that there is a war being waged for their souls in an effort to encourage them to keep away from the things of this world that separate us from God.
- Be careful – Here Peter draws out the value and importance of purpose, which also happens to be where the title of my talk (“The Potential of Purpose”) came from yesterday. By warning the early church to be purposeful in how they live their lives, he is establishing a groundwork from which they are to LIVE their lives.
- Live among – Peter demonstrates with his words the practice of living amongst non-believers. He doesn’t establish a framework from which Christians are to live within the palatial comforts of their Christian community separate from the rest of the world (Christian tee-shirts, Christian bumper stickers, Christian jewelry, Christian music, Christian concerts, Christian conferences, Christian symbols, Christian friends, Christian greeting cards, and so on…you get the picture). HEAR ME ON THIS! I am not in any way suggesting that the above aforementioned are inherently wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn’t surround ourselves with other Christians in community and partake in these Christian activities. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I find tremendous value in these things. However, when these things become ALL that we are focused on at the risk of isolating ourselves and living exclusively, keeping the “unbelieving world” outside of our Christian bubbles, we have a problem! We are warned to keep away from the sinful, cultural norms of our society and to live amongst everyone as the example and standard of faith in action, a standard by which others can see exhibited by our actions and encounter Christ through how we live. What I am convinced of and concerned by is that we, in our Christian communities, run the risk of becoming little more than “light bulbs” trying to shine brighter than the other “light bulbs” within our churches. What Jesus calls us to is made clear in Matthew 5:16; that we are to be a light for Christ in our communities; a light which shines bright our testimony for all to see.
They will “see”
This is where it gets interesting. This is where I shared with our church that Peter doesn’t call us to share our faith with mere words or Christian symbols, but with our standard of living. In other words, what people see in how we live our lives might very will be the only Gospel (good news message of Jesus) that they will ever encounter. The Bible does not say that what our Christian tee-shirt says or what our Christian bumper stick reads or even what decorations we hang on the walls of our church will be the standard by which people are saved. The Bible does say that people are watching how we live our lives and that our lives will be the standard by which people come to encounter God, that as we live in such a way as to lift up the name of God, he will draw all people unto himself. This is when people will bend their knee and bow their heart to Jesus. This also happens to be where I shared a pretty impassioned admonishment to our church about priorities. Part of what I shared had to do with some complaints that a few people within the church have apparently shared with our staff and other leaders in the church as well as some anonymous notes that they have placed in the offering recently. My frustration isn’t for people’s concerns, whether I agree with them or not. Instead, my concern is for where people’s priorities are and how they are going about sharing their concerns.
My intention in sharing with our church yesterday was to draw people away from things that are non-essential, non-eternal, and to point them toward what really matters – sharing our lives of faith in such a way as to lead people to an encounter with Christ.
Rarely do I say things for “shock effect”. What I shared with our church yesterday was no exception. I wasn’t looking to be dramatic or create conflict. Instead, I fully intended for our church to hear that we need to get our priorities straight; that we need to become a church of PURPOSE; a church on purpose, with purpose, and for His (God’s) purpose!
If there is any fear (fear used loosely) that I have coming away from the message yesterday and what was received compared to what I intended to share, it is that people might be more concerned about our religious symbols and decorations on the wall, i.e, the paint color, the stage layout, the cross and other religious symbols, the bricks and mortar of the church building, their music preferences, than they are about actually living out our lives as the church. I also fear (again, term of fear used loosely) that people who received yesterday’s message may have heard me suggest that if they don’t like what we’re doing as a church or the direction that we believe God is clearly calling us to go, that they can leave our church. Instead, what I believe I said and certainly intended to communicate is that we are absolutely committed to being the church that God is calling us to be on purpose, with purpose, and for His purpose, and that this may not be the direction that someone might feel they can fully support. My challenge was for our staff and leaders to help these potential individuals find a community of believers where they can commit to doing life and ministry in a way that encourages them to grow in their faith and be active in their community. What I did not intend to say nor did I ever communicate is the idea that, “If you don’t like the direction that we believe that God is calling us to go, than you’re welcome to get out of our way and leave.” It’s really quite the opposite.
I care so much about people loving Jesus, growing in their faith, and living out the Gospel in their lives that I will stop at nothing under my leadership in our church to help us get there. It is my hope and desire that everyone in our church will see and understand our heart for life and ministry together within the church and throughout the community and that they will get excited enough to be a part of what God is doing here at our church and beyond. However, I’m not naive enough to believe that our community of Christians and our approach to ministry will be the best fit for everyone. If there is anything that we, as a church and leaders, can do to help people find a church where they can fit and flourish, I’m all about that!
What’s next? This is a question that I know some are probably wondering about and wrestling with. What will they do?
While I cannot answer this question for anyone on a personal level, what I can share with absolute certainty is that under my leadership here at our church, whether for the next 30 minutes or the next 30 years, I will lead our church to be a church on purpose, with a purpose, and for his (God’s) purpose. Under my leadership I will always seek to speak the truth in love, practice bold authenticity, teach the Word of God unapologetically and with absolute accuracy to the best of my preparations, knowledge, continued learning and abilities, and to lead in such a way as to honor God in obedience above all else. This includes the praises and criticisms of man. Though as a pastor and person I may not always get it “right”, I will always seek to bend my knee and bow my heart to God and to more fully surrender daily to God as Lord of my life and as the Head of our church.
I love you, church, and still believe with absolute certainty that you, the Bride of Christ, have the ability to be the hope of the world today as you allow God to work in you and move through you.
If you’re interested in hearing for the first time or listening in again to what I shared with our church yesterday, below is a link to the message. I pray that the Word of God will fill not only your heads, but infiltrate your hearts and that you will encounter Christ in new and exciting ways as you not only hear but receive the Word of the Lord.
Humbly and sincerely,