Loving his Muslim Neighbor

Friends, I’m really pleased to be able to share with you a story that one of our ministry friends sent to us on Monday.  Philip is a Nigerian pastor and seminary professor whose region of the country has seen ongoing violence between Muslims and Christians, and Islamists advocating sharia law are in conflict with the state (you can find a number of articles, like this one in The Economist, for more information).

What I love about Philip’s story is that in the midst of a tremendous conflict swirling around him, Philip was called by God to show his reconciling love to one of his enemies in a very tangible way.  The same love that God showed us when we were yet his enemies is what motivates Philip — and all of us — to love those who have offended or hurt us.

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Can you comfortably sit in the same car with someone that you think is an enemy? Would it be God’s plan for you to sometimes sit together or help such a person in some way? Today, July 26, we woke up in Nigeria with the news of burning down of 3 churches and killing of over 100 people in Maiduguri. There is violence also in the states of Bauchi and Yobe all by Muslims. Bauchi is bordering our state so there is tension in the city of Jos. These Muslims came out in large numbers protesting against Western and what they call secular education in their sharia states. The implication of this is that only Islamic education should be taught in all their institutions of learning. I discussed this situation with my students in the class.

And as soon as I finished teaching my two classes and was driving slowly to the city I started pondering over this notorious Muslim violence in Nigeria. Then on my way, someone, an aged person dressed like a Muslim waved me to stop and give him a ride. Indeed, he was a Muslim. I did not stop. I passed by appearing as if I did not notice his presence by the roadside. As I drove off my heart would not allow me ignore the need of this Muslim just because he is a Muslim. The Lord convicted me of my own sin of resentment and anger against Muslims. I needed to show him the love that he does not deserve, the love of Christ that makes Christ to be the unique Savior of the world.

I went a short distance and then decided to reverse my car and come back to where he was standing. I asked him in Hausa language where he was going and he told me that his house was down along the road. I picked him and as we moved on, he asked me how the day was for me. I told him that the day makes me sad because Muslims are killing Christians and yet we are one people in one nation. That opened a dialogue between us and he confessed that he was truly against all these violent occurrences. He told me that he was the elder brother of the Governor in Bauchi where there was violence and that he has always told them to eschew violence.

We had a lengthy discussion which consequently developed into friendship. I let him out in front of his house and he told me to come back another day for further discussion. Is the Lord opening a way for the Gospel? I believe so. Our discussion removed the heavy burden of resentment against the Muslims and I found joy that I have an opportunity to present the gracious life of Christ to this old man. It is humanly difficult to love our enemy especially the Muslims but the Spirit says we do. So we comply.

Please, my loving friends, pray that the Lord would turn this man to himself through my further interaction with him. I would like to show him the undeserving love of Christ who died on the cross even for Muslims. I intend that if he is saved unto Christ, then through him I can also reach out to other Muslims in the city of Jos.

Prayer for a Peacemaking Church: Prayer for thick skin and a big heart

Last week, Pastor Tullian Tchividjian posted on his blog a prayer written by Pastor Scotty Smith called “A Prayer for Thick Skin and a Big Heart.”  It’s really an ideal prayer for a peacemaking church, reflecting on Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:17-21 to overcome evil with good.

Here is the prayer, in its entirety:

 Dear Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, apart from you, the admonitions in this passage mock our sensibilities. Everything within us instinctively wants to get even when we are hurt by others. Whether it’s a “light-hearted” insult or an outright assault; whether it’s our forgotten birthday or a remembered failure; whether we’re excluded from a party or included in someone’s madness… so often, too often, the pain we feel gets recycled and redistributed to others.

We ask you for thick skin and a big heart, Jesus. We want to love well in the presence of everything from non-intended slights to full bore evil. Where evil has already deeply wounded us or is presently lurking, Jesus, let us remember, even deeper in our hearts, that you will repay, you will avenge. Because you have already overcome evil on the cross and have secured its utter annihilation, we can dare to imagine overcoming evil with good. We are clueless about feeding hungry, thirsty enemies, Jesus. Take our hand and show us the way.

And where we are just too sensitive, Jesus, too easily offended, too ready to keep record of wrongs done to us… may the gospel bring us much greater freedom. May this be a week, Jesus, of overlooking everything that should be overlooked, of dealing wisely as peacemakers with the situations we must confront, and a week of revoking all revenge in light of the Day you return to make all things new. All for your glory we ask these things, Jesus. Amen

When Conflict is Constructive; When Conflict is Destructive

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I was just reading a draft of an article written by a missionary about conflict, and I was struck by two very helpful lists that he quotes from a book called Making Peace with Conflict, edited by Carolyn Shrock-Shenk and Lawrence Ressler. The lists describe indicators of whether a conflict will produce good or bad changes in us.

According to the authors, conflict is constructive when people:

  • change
  • interact to learn rather than to protect
  • are not defined by the conflict
  • focus on their relationships
  • exhibit empathy, and
  • have egalitarian, cooperative relations with those with whom they are in conflict

Conflict is destructive when people:

  •  are rigid and inflexible
  • interact in order to protect themselves and punish others
  • are defined by the conflict
  • demonstrate fear, anger, and insecurity
  • employ fight or flight patterns
  • look to their own self-interests
  • use demeaning verbal and non-verbal communications, and
  • approach each other in competitive and destructive ways in order to dominate

This list made me contemplate how I think of people in general as well as how I think of them when we are in conflict. I know my tendency is to default to list #2 when I am in conflict with someone, but what about in my every day life?  I can’t help but think that the more I train my mind, by God’s grace, to engage with people according to the principles in the first list, I will be better prepared to respond in a Gospel-centered way when we are in conflict.

I can’t do this on my own!  Oh God, help to love others as I love myself, to see them as having been created in your image and purchased by your blood.

photo by Peacemaking Team leader Brent Stutzman, copyright 2009

Let’s Chat

Often people will find themselves in conflict and not have any idea how they got there.  When asked about the progression of the conflict, the response is many times, “Well, when Joe emailed me I could tell that he was unhappy about something.  When I replied to his email I thought I did so appropriately, but things just exploded.” 

I am amazed at how often a conflict could have been nipped in the bud if someone would have sat down and talked with the person at the first hint of a problem, or even called the individual.  Regardless of how careful an email (or letter) is worded, it is one-dimensional, one-way communication and leaves much interpretation to be done by the person receiving it. 

In my role as the HR Director at Peacemaker Ministries, one simple (but key) learning point for me has been this – if you think there is a problem brewing, or even if you are getting ready to communicate about a sensitive topic, take the time to sit down and talk, or at least give the individual a call.  You may feel that you don’t have the time to invest in this.  If you don’t invest the time in it now, you’ll spend it later! 

I am grateful to work at a place that strives to practice this principle.  Our staff members often stop everything to sit down and talk through an issue instead of allowing it to fester. At times this commitment even requires a plane flight.  This may seem like a lot, but we have a God who went to the cross to redeem our relationship.  In comparison, taking the time to go to one another for the sake of our relationships does not seem like that great of a sacrifice!

Check Engine Light

Have you ever been driving in your car, rushing to your next destination and your check engine light comes on?  You start wondering:  could this actually be the engine, battery, or a malfunction with the switch?  There have been many times when I have taken my car in for a diagnostic, just to find there to be no causes for the actual light to come on.  Well at least, no causes that the diagnostic tool picked up.

Have you ever thought that perhaps our check engine light could be the Holy Spirit reminding us that we need to check our heart and attitude?  I can often find myself grumbling and complaining about my current situation instead of being grateful for God’s provision.  When I do this, I am not any different then the Israelites. 

Was it because there were no grave in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?  It would have been better for us to serve Egyptians than die in the desert!” -Exodus 14:11

Despite their lack of faith God provides for them. 

The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on.  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea to dry ground.”
-Exodus 14:28

After watching this miracle, going forward on their journey the Israelites forget again about God’s awesome provision. 

 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites said to them, “if only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”-Exodus 16: 1-3

God then provides them manna to eat.  He provides them with just enough to be satisfied and even provides them with quail.  Despite this, they complain again. 

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses.  They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” -Exodus 17:3

The Israelites were not thankful for God’s continual provision.  They were not thankful for their salvation from being enslaved in Egypt.  Despite how God rescued them, they only thought about their current struggle not about God’s continued faithfulness.  Instead of remembering how God rescued them, they instead remembered how they were free to eat what they wanted while in bondage.  How often do we reflect on our life as unbelievers as being like a whimsical dream, when in reality we were stuck and enslaved?  We did not have joy or freedom.

Even though we have been saved by God’s grace, it’s easy to get distracted from our own hurts and hang ups.  When we focus on our own struggle and forget about how God has rescued us, we sin.  When we remember that God loves us, provides for us, and saved us by his grace, we are grateful.  When we are grateful we have a desire to submit.  When we submit we trust.  When we trust we have faith.  When we have faith, we don’t complain.  When we don’t complain we are able to love God and others.  And when we love God and others we have joy.

The good news is that despite my selfishness, I am forgiven.  I am thankful for God’s grace and I am thankful for a check engine light.  The only trick now is for me to not ignore that light, and keep good maintenance of myself by studying God’s truth (His Word) while remembering Christ’s death and his continual provision in my life even when I experience pain and hardship.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your ATTITUDE should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himslef and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tounge confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Glory of God the Father.”-Philippians 2:2-11

Packing for the Journey

This year our Peacemaker Conference theme is “Church on a Journey” and is ever more relevant as summer vacations begin in earnest.

My husband Rick (Director of Ministry Relations) and I are taking our own journey this summer. We are riding the Harley and camping our way to Alaska for a little family reunion. 6 days, thousands of miles, unpredictable weather, all mean we have to be prepared for about everything!

Packing for this journey has been fun to watch. Rick started planning months ago. He did his research on the road conditions, camp sites, tales of previous travelors, and made lists of what to take to handle any eventuality. Once he had gathered all that we would need, he considered the best place to pack it on the bike to keep weight balanced and even. We packed our clothes not taking too much, but just enough to keep us warm and dry. And later this week after much care and strategy, we take off.

Paul Tripp in his great book on raising teens, Age of Opportunity, says this about vacations:

“…many parents are more organized, more intential, better researched, and more goal-oriented when planning their vacations than they are in raising their children.”

How true not only with raising teens, but in all areas of life. As Rick and I have prepared for this bike trip and he has worked on plans for the upcoming Peacemaker Conference, we have thought much about how churches prepare for conflict. In reality, most don’t, or they don’t know how to prepare. Alfred Poirier, in The Peacemaking Pastor, elluds to how badly churches have responded to conflict in the past when he states:

“Unfortunately, when the world turns its attention to the church, it finds little evidence that we are sons of God, for it finds little evidence that we are makers of peace.”

How can a church prepare, or pack for the journey of being peacemakers? I encourage you to consider the Peacemaker Conference as a place to begin the research. 

 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps”, is the wisdom of Proverbs. Rick and I have planned a course for our Harley trip to Alaska. We are excited about the adventure. Is your church as intentional about planning for peace?

 We look forward to seeing you in Dallas in September!