Rising Conflict in a Falling Economy: A Practical Christian Response

The economy is crumbling. Investments are withering. Fear is mounting. But you don’t have to sit there feeling helpless—there is something you can do to turn our country’s financial crisis into a life-changing investment opportunity.

Financial Crises Trigger Relational Crisis

Escalating economic pressures are triggering an intense emotional upheaval in our nation. According to an October 21 CNN poll, “Seventy-five percent of [Americans] surveyed said they are angry about the way things are going. Two-thirds of those questioned said they’re scared about the way things are going and three in four said the current conditions in the country are stressing them out.”

The anger, fear, and stress expressed by most Americans are all ingredients for serious conflict, and the tidal wave of emotion is already taking a huge toll on human relationships—some of it deadly. On October 14, the Associated Press reported a surge in financial-related suicides and murders: “In Los Angeles last week, a former money manager fatally shot his wife, three sons and his mother-in-law before killing himself. In Ocala, Fla., Roland Gore shot his wife and then set fire to the couple’s home, which had been in foreclosure, before killing himself…. Mental health hotlines are jammed, counseling services are in high demand, and domestic violence shelters are full.”

Financial pressures, like any stressful situation, squeeze the human heart. What comes out when our hearts are squeezed might surprise us, though it shouldn’t. This current crisis reveals hidden fears and relational weaknesses, and it also triggers behavior we normally suppress. All too often we take these fears and frustrations out on those closest to us, lashing out in anger and blaming them for our struggles. Before we know it, we have escalated a financial crisis into a relational crisis.

For most of us, that relational crisis won’t be as dramatic as the headlines above, but the crisis is no less real. Hopelessness sets in as retirement plans are in shambles. A declining 401k might trigger an intense argument in the kitchen when a husband clamps down on spending and his wife throws his sports car payment in his face. Family strife increases as children moan over a canceled vacation or fewer indulgent gifts. Left unchecked, these tensions can turn a home into a battleground and eventually spiral into an “I can’t take it anymore” divorce.

That’s not all. Business slowdowns can create similar pressures in the workplace, triggering layoffs, contract defaults, and increased litigation. As a business friend observed to me yesterday, “When the economy is bad, drama is everywhere.” Churches and ministries are also reporting upheavals, including staff layoffs and lawsuits between members whose business relationships are unraveling in step with the economy. All these tensions find their way back into our homes and families and expand the likelihood of relational crisis.

Practical Advice for the Christian: Prime Time to Invest in People

Whatever you do to alter your family budget or investment portfolio, let me encourage you to look beyond your own situation during this crisis. This is an ideal time to invest aggressively in the lives of the people around you. A listening ear, an encouraging word, and a little wise counsel can literally save a marriage from divorce, a co-worker from being fired, a church from splitting, or a business relationship from exploding into litigation.

I would like to offer three practical ways you can invest in other people during a time of crisis.

First, don’t panic or give in to fear. You won’t be a help to others if you are bound by fear yourself. So where are you placing your trust? How can you demonstrate God’s work in your life in the midst of this crisis? God promises repeatedly to meet all of your needs (e.g., Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:19). Think often about these promises yourself and share them with others, so that together you can say, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:3-4).

And if, as you reflect on your own heart and response to the crisis thus far, you realize that you have given in to fear and have inappropriately pointed the blame at others, be quick to confess that to God and to others, practicing the principles of peacemaking in your own life. (If it has been a while, visit www.Peacemaker.net to refresh your memory of the “Four G’s” and other conflict resolution principles relevant to times like these.)

Second, be salt and light by intentionally reaching out to those around you. Few people in our nation are untouched by the situation. I am absolutely certain that you are surrounded by hurting people who are crying out for answers, though they may not be quick to admit it. Notice worried looks and gloomy words. Don’t be brushed aside by a statement like, “Oh, I’m fine.” Imitate Jesus: gently press in, ask personal questions, listen patiently, buy lunch, and show you care. As people open up, draw them out slowly, avoid simplistic answers, share honestly and openly of your own struggles, search together for wise choices and changes, and pray for those in need.

Third, give hope and guidance through the gospel. Regardless of what happens with the $700 billion the government is using to try to turn the situation around, remember that the ultimate “bail out” has already taken place. Like the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, we owed a debt that we couldn’t possibly pay. That debt was paid by another: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Jesus’ death and resurrection tore down the barrier between us and God, opening a pipeline from heaven to meet all our needs. He also exposed the futility of blaming others for our struggles; he modeled the humility, kindness, and forgiveness that we can imitate as we turn financial tensions into opportunities to build deeper relationships. This is our only hope as we face a falling economy and relational crises.

So no matter what the economy does in the days ahead, your investment in the relationships around you can change others’ lives forever. There is no stock on Wall Street that can deliver such a generous, secure, and eternally compounding return.

Ken SandeKen Sande is the president of Peacemaker Ministries and author of numerous resources on conflict resolution, including The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Please visit www.Peacemaker.net for principles on conflict resolution and personal reconciliation, as well as information on educational resources, hands-on training, and building a culture of peace in your church.

PeaceMeal: The Right Kind of Friends

I really appreciated today’s PeaceMeal and so thought I’d share it with you here in its entirety:

The Right Kind of Friends

As Paul says, it is difficult to battle evil alone (Rom. 12:15-16). This is why it is important to develop relationships with people who will encourage you and give you biblically sound advice. These friends should also be willing to correct and admonish you when they see that you are in the wrong (Prov. 27:5-6).

Godly advisors are especially helpful when you are involved in a difficult conflict and are not seeing the results you desire. If a lack of noticeable progress causes you to doubt the biblical principles you are following, you may be tempted to abandon God’s ways and to resort to the world’s tactics. One of the best ways to avoid straying from the Lord is to surround yourself with wise and spiritually mature people who will encourage you to stay on a biblical course, even when the going is tough.

Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 250

Food for Thought

Some time ago, I was miserably slogging my way through a painful conflict. I knew all of the biblical peacemaking principles by heart–but here I was having to live them out after having been terribly hurt by someone. During that time, I wanted to surround myself with “yes men” who would pat me on the shoulder, tell me how “wrong” and “mean” the other person was, and basically just feed my idols, unbelief, and selfishness.

Thank God that instead, he sent me godly and wise advisors who loved me enough to tell me the truth:

“Tara, you are focusing on yourself, your circumstance and the other person. Of course you will only despair! Look to the Cross! Remember Christ! Fix your eyes on eternity!”

“Dear one, we are praying against anything or anyone that would enable you to get out of this situation.” (I wanted to run far, far away–both figuratively and literally!) “Instead, we are praying for the grace for you to persevere in love. How can we help?”

“It’s OK that you don’t have any faith right now, Tara. Take comfort in the Lord and his Body. I’ll believe for you. Trust in him. Let me serve you. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.”

Even though my heart cried out, “No!”, I knew they were right. I am so grateful for these godly advisors.

So the next time you are facing a conflict or broken relationship, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I surrounding myself with people who only tell me what I want to hear? Or do I have true friends, wise and godly advisors, who love me enough to tell me the truth?
  • Are my “friends” just placating my complaining and whining? Or are they leading me in repentance, confession, and faith?
  • What kind of advisor am I? Do I bring others the hope of the gospel and the practical help of biblical peacemaking?

 — Tara Barthel (Billings, MT) is a former attorney and director at Peacemaker Ministries, and the author of our new Women’s Study. She currently serves her family as a homemaker while regularly speaking at women’s events and blogging on God’s considerable grace.

Reflections on the Latest 9Marks Newsletter

Last week, 9Marks published their November/December newsletter; this issue focuses on the subject of counseling in the church. Since I just now got some time to read through it, I thought I’d post some reflections on one interview with one of the CCEF guys that particularly caught my eye (though they are all good, as usual).

Tim Lane talks about Cultivating a Culture of Counseling and Discipleship. My favorite part of the interview is his shameless self-promotion: when asked, “How do you train lay people in lay counseling and discipleship,” Tim responded, “If I were pastoring right now, I would be using CCEF’s curriculum!”

No, really, I appreciated Tim’s emphasis on creating a culture in a church where “counseling” issues are generally dealt with outside of a formal (often professional) counseling setting. This happens when, in Tim’s words, “You’re swimming in a sea of Word-saturated relationships. People are constantly asking, ‘How can we make this message — the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit for us through what Jesus has done in His life, death, and resurrection — drive what we do?'”

I’d also like to quote an extended excerpt of Tim’s article that shows how the Gospel transforms how we think about ourselves, our relationship to the church and how the Gospel motivates us to live and grow (among other things, in peacemaking). This excerpt also shows (in my opinion) why we recommend CCEF’s materials so frequently!

The major category that gets excised in secular psychology is the category of the transcendent—the reality of a living God before whom we’re accountable, a living God who intervenes by his grace in the person and work of Jesus.

In our own work, and in what we try to teach through all our resources at CCEF, is a view of counseling that is utterly Christ-centered. The gospel forms the center of how we think about counseling, and so you will find on-going connections to what Jesus has done for us and the benefits and blessings that are ours if we are united to him…

Another blessing that comes to me because of my union in Jesus is the fact that I am adopted. I am no longer living with God in a court room trying to woefully defend myself and saying “I’m not guilty,” when in fact I am. Because of what Christ has done for me, God is now my Father, and I live with him in the context of a family, and that relationship is irrevocable.

Not only does the doctrine of adoption focus individually. It’s also corporate. I am adopted into a family—brothers and sisters in Christ, and that’s to be worked out in the context of commitment in the local church.

Another benefit of our union with Christ is the assurance of perseverance and glory. If I really belong to Jesus, he’s not going to let go of me, even when I’m struggling at my lowest. Then there is the wonderful promise that one day this struggling sinner will be glorified. There is an end to the struggle, and there’s hope.

Wow, I loved three things about that. First, I liked the emphasis on us being free to live before God without constantly needing to justify and defend ourselves; I can see how that easily translates into being free from feeling like I constantly need to defend myself and make myself look good before other people, and so I can freely confess my sins when I have offended another. Secondly, I appreciate how he shows how the doctrine of adoption puts us immediately into the context of a family — and that commitment (along with our growth in Christ) is worked out in the context of the local church.

Finally, the message of hope — “the assurance of perseverance and glory” — is SUCH an encouraging doctrine! I’ve been contemplating lately how discouraging it can be to find yourself in the midst of a seemingly intractable conflict, or to be trying to help people reconcile. We can’t remind ourselves enough of that “wonderful promise that one day this struggling sinner [and situation] will be glorified. There is an end to the struggle, and there’s hope.” Praise God for that reminder!

One Church on a Journey — Guest Post from Pastor Andy Wulff

I’m pleased today to be able to share with you a guest post by Pastor Andy Wulff, Lead Pastor of Hope Church in Madison, AL.  A couple of months ago, Andy wrote to us and asked if he could use the graphic from our blog for promoting a peacemaking campaign in their church this fall. You can see the results in the pictures below; I love their creativity!  Last week, Andy wrote again, telling us about his experience during this series. Thank you, Andy, for being willing to share your heart and passion with us here as your congregation joins all of us on this journey of living out Matthew 5:9.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

One of my growing passions is for everything in my life and ministry to radiate out from the gospel.  So when I considered what our fall church wide focus would be, it was an easy choice: reconciliation and peacemaking.  Over the last season of ministry, our church has experienced a pretty normal life-cycle of conflicts and transitions.  The chance to apply the gospel directly to those issues was appealing. But even beyond addressing the past, I was drawn to the peacemaking material because of where God is taking us as church.

Over the past year or so God has increased my heart and the heart of our church to reach all of our city. Not just the parts of the city that are like us in socio-economics, ethnicity, and background but all of our city.  As I considered that call, I knew we would need to be well outfitted for reconciliation.  Because when you add to the regular set of conflicts a missional imperative to reach “the other” (whoever that might be), you have just created a recipe for potentially explosive conflict as diverse perspectives collide.

This fall as our children, youth, small groups, and main worship time have worked through these truths, we have been held in the orbit of the gospel.  We have been reminded of our reconciliation with God and how that is our motivation for being reconcilers.  As we live as servants forgiven an incalculable debt, we must mirror that kind of forgiveness.  When we don’t we deny the very gospel by which we have been saved.  

It has been encouraging to see God’s grace revealed in the lives of people.  One adult son shared how the Holy Spirit has used these truths to mend his relationship with his parents.  Another woman recently commented that these truths rightly applied could have changed the course of her failed marriage.  And, at the same time, God is working in me.  I have had ample opportunities to practice what I am preaching!  God is teaching me to lead peacemaking at home as I apply Christ’s crosswork to my relationship with my wife and kids.  

If you want to see how the gospel affects not only how you are saved but how you must live, I would encourage you to consider taking up a study on Biblical peacemaking.  But I warn you: don’t plan to come out unchanged.  

I am praying that as we take steps to reach our all of our city these principles would continue to be remembered and applied.
In Him,
 Andy Wulff
Lead Pastor
Blog – www.hopechurch-madison.com/blog

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UPDATE: My apologies to Andy for mistakenly saying that your church is in Madison, WI … 7 A’s… :)  Thanks for correcting us!

He Put to Death their Hostility

Many of you have probably read the most recent issue of “Peace on Earth” and the powerful story that Peter Kuzmic told about unity in a church among three different ethnic groups while outside those same groups were killing each other.  He talks about a remarkable turn of phrase in Ephesians 2 that I just can’t get away from.  That Christ, through his death on the cross, didn’t kill the enemy, but rather the enmity between them.

 If a picture’s worth a thousand words, how much more a video?  Here’s Peter telling that story:

The Gospel: Breaking Down the Walls of Hostility from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.

Guest Post: The First Time I Was Forgiven by a Friend

We’re pleased to have a Guest Blogger today to talk about forgiveness. Tara Barthel is the author of our new video series for women, The Peacemaking Church Women’s Study: Living the Gospel in Relationships. She may not be well known to you (though she’s certainly well known to me… wink, wink), so I am pleased that you can see a bit of her heart for the gospel and for reconciliation here. And I also encourage you to check out this new resource, and be sure to let the leader of the women’s ministry at your church know about its availability.  

Anyway, a big thanks to Tara for sharing this with us today. Now on to the guest post:

I’ll never forget the first time that I was forgiven–really forgiven–by a friend. I was a college student and I had done something selfish and mean to a kind young woman. She called me on it and in my (rightful) shame, I quickly apologized. Like most teenagers/young adults, I figured that was end of our relationship. Isn’t that what happens in friendship? People like you right up until the moment when you let them down–and then they don’t like you anymore. So you say, “Sorry,” and they say, “Yeah, OK, whatever.” And you both go your separate ways and find yourselves some new friends.But not so with my friend Bethany. She forgave me. And then she asked if I wanted to grab dinner and see a new movie the next night.

           “What?! You still want to be my friend?! After what I did?!”

           “Yes, Tara, but I forgave you. It’s done. There’s nothing between us anymore.
            So, do you want to go and see that show with me?”

Twenty years later and I can still picture us in our big ‘80’s hair, sitting in front of orchestra hall, our jeans rolled up just-so. And I still tear up when I think about her words.

Grace pierced through from eternity to my wretched, desperate heart the very moment my friend forgave me.

She forgave me because Jesus forgives her. I had a fresh start because she forgave me in the way that Jesus forgives her (Col 3:13)–as far as the East is from the West; covered; finished; no condemnation. My chains fells off! And I was more confident in my forgiveness in Christ because of the forgiveness that my friend gave me.

Now I’m parenting a four year-old daughter and loving a wonderful husband (your own blogging Fred!). And every time one of them asks for my forgiveness, I pray that I forgive them with that grace-powered, eternal, releasing forgiveness. “Good thought; hurt you not; gossip, never! Friends forever.” Indeed.

Quick Thoughts on Fear

Annette Friesen, one of our staff members, led our staff devotional time yesterday on the subject of fear. She based most of the time on two sources: Ed Welch’s book Running Scared–Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest as well as a drama from Nicole Johnson. While there were a ton of great insights on fear, let me just point to a couple that stuck with me:

  • Fear usually leads to an attempt to control. When we are afraid, we try to manipulate the situation more to our liking by taking control of it–and most likely that means seeking to control other people. And when we are seeking to control others, there is no room for love.
  • Nicole Johnson writes, “Haughtiness is what fear sounds like when it is laughing.” Fear has many faces beyond that of someone cowering in a corner, and I thought this was an interesting thought connecting fear and pride. I also know that fear can so often come out as anger, blame, bitterness, and envy. When my wife and I have conflicts, many times fear is at the root of why we respond the way we do.

Annette closed with a few quotes and asked us to reflect on a few questions. I’m pleased to be able to pass a few of them along here:

  • Where do we attempt to control our fears by controlling the world around us?
  • In moments of crisis, where do we let fear “hijack our hearts?”
  • It isn’t until we are alone with our own fears that we begin to recognize the damage they have done. Where are we resistant to going where God wants us to go in order to really see how fear is controlling us?
  • “I can’t let go and I can’t hold on.” Where in life are you finding yourself in a place with no answers? Is there a place in our lives where fear has taken control but we have not acknowledged to God we want to change?
  • “Control is an addiction fed by fear, it is a cheap substitute for real love, like any other drug.” Where have you let fear substitute for love in your life?
  • Where are we struggling to trust because we aren’t seeing what we want? How is our fear serving us for good when we don’t trust? (It isn’t.) And what is it about Christ’s sacrifice that says it isn’t enough? (That’s what we are really saying when we fail to trust God when things don’t go our way.)
  • Final question: Where have we let fear prevent us from Love?

Sneak Peek at the Upcoming Peace on Earth newsletter

I am SO excited about the content of our upcoming Peace on Earth newsletter (our quarterly international newsletter).  In addition to a great excerpt from Peter Kuzmic’s keynote speech at our conference and a complementary quote from Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace, we’re featuring a video interview with Samuel Yeo of Korea Peacemaker Ministries.  Sam has some great things to say about KPM’s vision to transform churches and their culture.  Within churches, KPM is seeing an impact as they help people understand how to apply all the teaching they hear on “loving each other” — how to tangibly practice things like forgiveness and confession.  And within their culture, KPM has the remarkable opportunity to help refugees from North Korea learn skills for settling into a new (and surprisingly different) culture.  What’s one of the skills that the refugees themselves are asking for?  Peacemaking!

Enjoy the video, and look for Peace on Earth in your inbox soon (or, if you don’t receive it, click here to sign up).

Peace on Earth Feature: Samuel Yeo from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.

The Prayer of One Who Breathes Grace

I appreciated how Tara Barthel made the concept of “Breathing Grace” a bit more tangible in this week’s PeaceMeal. She writes:

“Peacemakers are people who breathe grace,” Ken reminds us. The peace of God transcends all understanding and it fills their hearts like fountains bubbling over with mercy, kindness, genuine care, and abiding love. They are so filled with God’s grace that they splash it onto everyone around them. They could no more stop breathing grace than a person could stop breathing air-because grace is the air that they breathe. Their prayers sound something like this:
   • Breathing grace in: The one true holy God sent his Son to die for me? I am saved from hell, from my sin; justified before this holy God; forgiven and adopted? What wondrous love is this! Thank you, God. Thank you for forgiving me all my sins and making the way for me to be at peace with you. I worship You!
   • Breathing grace out: And now, dear Lord, as I head into my day-let the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ be the heartbeat of my life. Please, God, let every word I say, every action I take, the attitude of my heart, my desires and inclinations-let my life be used by You, for Your glory and the furtherance of Your Kingdom. Please help me to treat others not as they deserve-but as You treat me. May I be your image-bearer, your representative, your ambassador. Thank You, Lord.

I know that this sense of having the gospel impact every part of our lives, including our relationships, is the core message of the new Peacemaking Church Women’s Study. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a quick snippet to give you a sense of the content of this new series especially for women (but with a message that men need to hear, too!):


Reconciliation and Worship

I’m in a weekly Bible study that is working its way through Richard Foster’s classic, A Celebration of Discipline.  In his chapter discussing the discipline of worship, Foster had this to say: 

“Just as worship begins in holy expectation, it ends in holy obedience. If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship. Resentments cannot be held with the same tenacity when we enter into his gracious light. As Jesus says, we need to leave our gift at the altar and go set the matter straight (Matthew 5:23-24). In worship an increased power steals its way into the heart sanctuary, an increased compassion grows into the soul. To worship is to change.” (P. 173)

When looking to resolve conflict we so often began to tackle the situation head on, examining the nuances of the conflict, the personalities involved, and the possible solutions.  Foster reminds us that the simple act of worshipping God drives us to the heart of reconciliation.

How many times have you been corporately worshipping in your church service and had God remind you of a relationship that needs mending? There is no doubt that worship and reconciliation are intimately connected.