Give Thanks… For CONFLICT?

From today’s PeaceMeal:

As usual, Paul [in Philippians 4:2-9] urges us to be God-centered in our approach to conflict. Moreover, he wants us to be joyfully God-centered. Realizing we may skip over this point, Paul repeats it: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” What on earth is there to rejoice about when you are involved in a dispute? If you open your eyes and think about God’s lavish goodness to you, here is the kind of worship you could offer to him, even in the midst of the worst conflict!

O Lord, you are so amazingly good to me! You sent your only Son to die for my sins, including those I have committed in this conflict. Because of Jesus I am forgiven, and my name is written in the Book of Life! You do not treat me as I deserve, but you are patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving with me. Please help me to do the same to others.

In your great mercy, you are also kind to my opponent. Although he has wronged me repeatedly, you hold out your forgiveness to him as you do to me. Even if he and I never reconcile in this life, which I still hope we will, you have already done the work to reconcile us forever in heaven. This conflict is so insignificant compared to the wonderful hope we have in you!

This conflict is so small compared to the many other things you are watching over at this moment, yet you still want to walk beside me as I seek to resolve it. Why would you stoop down to pay such attention to me? It is too wonderful for me to understand. You are extravagant in your gifts to me. You offer me the comfort of your Spirit, the wisdom of your Word, and the support of your church. Forgive me for neglecting these powerful treasures until now, and help me to use them to please and honor you.

I rejoice that these same resources are available to my opponent. Please enable us to draw on them together so that we see our own sins, remember the gospel, find common ground in the light of your truth, come to one mind with you and each other, and restore peace and unity between us.

Finally, Lord, I rejoice that this conflict has not happened by accident. You are sovereign and good, so I know that you are working through this situation for your glory and my good. No matter what my opponent does, you are working to conform me to the likeness of your Son. Please help me cooperate with you in every possible way and give you glory for what you have done and are doing.

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 84-85

Food for Thought

When you are gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table this week, instead of giving thanks in spite of the present conflicts in your life… give thanks for those conflicts! Pray the above prayer, substituting the names of those from whom you are estranged each time the prayer reads, “my opponent.” Does this change your view of the conflict? Of God’s role in it? Of your opponent? Of what it means to give thanks?

Change me.

I recently learned of a sin situation within my church that hurt my heart.  Sin is everywhere, but it hurts the most when it happens within our immediate family:  our home church.  Sometimes we do all we think we can and the only thing left is to pray, love, and wait. 

The funny thing about God is when I get angry at the sins of those around me, he seems to always show me my sin that I try to forget or ignore.  He shows me the ugliness of my heart and reminds me of the cancerous wounds that he has miraculously healed.  I am reminded of when I have been lost, when he sought me out and brought me back.  I am reminded of his undeserved grace.  I am reminded of the enemy’s defeat in the end.  Watching others wander off in deception can cause me to desire super ninja capabilities that could allow me to defeat the enemy on my own, right now.  But then God has me circle back to my heart.

The good news of the kingdom is not freedom from hardship, suffering, and loss.  It is the Redeemer who has come to rescue me from myself.  His rescue produces change that fundamentally alters my response to those inescapable realities.  The Redeemer turns rebels into disciples and fools into humble listeners.  He makes cirpples walk again.  In him we can face life and respond with faith, love, and hope.  And as he changes us, he allows us to be a part of what he is doing in the lives of others.   As you respond to the Redeemer’s work in your life, you can learn to be an instrument in his hands.”—Paul David Tripp, Instruments In the Redeemers Hands.

As much as I might desire to change others, I need to allow God to change me.  I need to allow him to change my heart. 

Don’t get too stressed out if there are messes around your church. . .

A great post today from Chris Brauns on the messes that we sometimes (usually?) find in our churches:

Sometimes, we wrongly assume that if we move forward as local churches, then church life will be spic and span.  But, in a fallen world it is quite the opposite.  Proverbs 14:4 reminds us:

Where there is no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come from the Lord.

Tremper Longman summarizes,

The meaning of this verse is that a productive life is messy.  One desires a neat and tidy life, just as the ideal stall would be clean.  However, a clean stall by the nature of things would mean an empty stall since oxen do not have to be in a stall long before it is messy.”

When God’s people are working hard, things aren’t always tidy.  The productive life is messy.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should make messes on purpose.  Rather, let’s don’t be surprised if there are some discussions and differences of opinion.

I would add that we not only shouldn’t be surprised at messes, but we can prepare for those messes by building up “relational capital” so we can have hard conversations while still remaining committed to one another relationally.  And, of course (shameless plug), developing your skills in peacemaking will help you respond helpfully when the messes arise!

Biblical Church Discipline

I noticed that the folks over at Nine Marks put out their latest e-journal on the topic of church discipline. A lot of helpful thinking there, to be sure.

But while I think about it, I wanted to draw attention to the article by Ken Sande recently posted on our website called “God Disciplines Those He Loves.” (Note that this article is in a “policies” section of our website intended to support the teaching in our new resource for church leaders–The Leadership Opportunity.)

Consider this excerpt:

Wanting to avoid legal liability (as well as the controversy and stress associated with holding people accountable for their sinful actions), most churches have abandoned the ministry of biblical discipline altogether. Many rationales have been given to justify this decision. “We believe in grace in our church.” “We don’t want to scare seekers and new believers away.” “We don’t want to be legalistic.” “We’ve seen discipline abused in the past.” “We haven’t disciplined wealthy and influential members who deserved it, so it would be unfair to discipline others.”

It is true that church discipline has the potential to be harsh, legalistic, offensive, abusive, and arbitrary. But the same can be said of parental discipline, a civil court trial or an investigation by civil authorities into alleged child abuse. All these forms of authority have the potential to be misused, yet no one reasonably argues that parents should let their children do anything they want, or judges should close their courtroom doors, or child protection agencies should stop fighting against abuse.

The answer to bad discipline is not no discipline. The answer is good discipline. This means taking Jesus at his word, obeying what he has commanded in Matthew 18:15-20, and asking him to help us carry out discipline in a loving and redemptive way, as he has always intended us to do (Matt. 18:12-14).

Even when church leaders are willing to pursue discipline, they are often so fearful of controversy that they back off on the steps needed to make discipline effective. Thus, if a person resigns his or her membership or leaves the church during a disciplinary process, leaders usually breathe a sigh of relief and think their job is done. Essentially they allow the person to declare “spiritual bankruptcy” and then start running up a new debt of sin at another congregation’s expense.

This passivity only serves to consign a wayward believer to his sin. It also can expose others to serious harm. What if the individual in question has a pattern of seducing young women in the college and career group, or defrauding seniors out of their life savings, or abusing children in the nursery? If a church is not committed to discipline and prepared to follow through on it even when someone tries to short-circuit the process, the sin and damage often go on and on.

Woe to church leaders who passively allow this to happen!