Peacemaking Q&A

 

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Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there
remember that your brother has something against you, leave
your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to
your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

If you learn that someone has something against you, God wants you to take the initiative in seeking peace — even if you do not believe you have done anything wrong.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 148.
 

Food for Thought

Q: What if I had no idea that I had offended Jim?

A: If you had no idea, then you’re not responsible. But if you learn or overhear or even get a vague sense that things aren’t quite right between you and Jim, then you are responsible.

Q: So I’m responsible to do what? Talk with Jim? Confront him? What?

A: We must remember that taking the initiative always has a goal — seeking peace. Peacemaking may begin with conversation and progress to confrontation. Then again, it may involve extending kind words or clarifying hurt feelings. There are many different facets, but the gem is called making peace. And the first step is to “go.”

Q: But what if I haven’t done anything wrong to Jim? To take the initiative seems so counter-intuitive.

A: It’s all a matter of obedience. The heart of the matter is not, “Were you right or wrong?” but “Will you be obedient?” God asks you to take the initiative in seeking peace. In this way, you are imitating God himself, who took the initiative to seek peace with you. Yes, it may feel counter-intuitive, but the ways that seem right to us oftentimes lead to death. God’s ways lead to life. It’s not just because He said so. It’s because He loves us so.

Life Together: Painful, but Oh So Rewarding

The theme for the Peacemaker Conference this September is “Life Together.” This title is drawn from Dietrich Bonheoffer’s classic book by the same title, which our staff studied together last year.

Since studying it, God has given some of us major homework on this topic. Take last night for example. I was sitting in a restaurant across the table from a man who had repeatedly lied, stolen, and broken promise after promise to several people, especially his wife. I did not even want to be in the same room with Max (not his real name), much less pursue a “life together” with him.

But Jesus brought to mind one of the many profound insights from Bonhoeffer’s book: “The goal of all Christian community is that we meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

So although I felt like throwing all of Max’s wrongs right in his face, God gave me grace to bring him the gospel instead.

“Max,” I said, “I have a gift for you. I believe you are a Christian, so I want to assure you that all of your sins have been forgiven in Christ. Every single one. Every lie, every theft, every broken promise. Jesus took them all to the cross and paid for them with his own blood. At the same time, he transferred to you his spotless record. So when God looks at you right now, what he sees is someone who is clothed in the righteousness of his Son.”

Max’s look of defensiveness morphed into one of confusion and puzzlement. I could imagine some of the thoughts running through his mind: “Why is Ken saying this?” “What’s he up to?” “What’s the catch?” “Where will we go from here?” So I went on …

“Because God loves you, Max, he’s not going to give up on you. He’s already given you a perfect record for heaven and he’s going to keep working in you so that your life increasingly matches up with who you are in Christ. If you resist him and continue in these habits, he will probably bring increasingly unpleasant consequences into your life, because he promises to discipline those he loves.”

“But if you want to break free of these patterns, God is ready this moment to pour grace into your life and give you counselors who can guide you into a whole new way of living. The choice is yours … continued stumbling, grief, and regret, or a life of freedom, supportive accountability, and renewed relationships with your wife, family, and church.”

After a long pause, his shoulders sagged, his face softened, and he started to ask questions: “How can I break these patterns after so many years?” “How can I pay for what I’ve stolen from you?” “How can I start rebuilding trust with my wife?”

We talked for another hour, and when we parted I felt a genuine love and hope for Max. He’s got a long road to walk, but today I learned that he’s already met with the counselor. He’s started to return things he’s taken from others. And he’s searching for ways to restore his family. It won’t be easy. It will probably be three steps forward and two back. But that’s a net gain of one.

That’s life together … walking side by side so when one of us stumbles the other can lift him back up through the love of Christ.

Be sure to visit our conference website for more details on our conference or how to register. 

The Other Great Commission

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If you learn that someone has something against you, God wants you to take the initiative in seeking peace–even if you do not believe you have done anything wrong. If you believe that another person’s complaints against you are unfounded or that the misunderstanding is entirely the other person’s fault, you may naturally conclude that you have no responsibility to take the initiative in restoring peace. This is a common conclusion, but it is false, for it is contrary to Jesus’ specific teaching in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 148.
 

Food for Thought

 

Do you recall the “Great Commission?” This was Jesus’ command to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Think about Matthew 5:23-24 as “The Other Great Commission”– and it may be even more challenging for us to fulfill. Going to reconcile with someone who has a complaint about us involves humility (“Why should I go to them if they’re the one who’s upset?”), empathy (attempting to see the situation from someone else’s perspective), and obedience (we go because Jesus commands us, not because we want to or even because we feel that reconciliation is possible). Are there any people in your life to whom you need to “go” today in order to reconcile? Maybe there is a long-standing feud between you and a family member or former friend that God is inviting you to begin to address today through this reminder.

Biblical Peacemaking in an Egyptian Context

Part 2 of a trip report from Chip Zimmer, VP of Global Ministry for Peacemaker Ministries

(If you missed part 1 of Chip’s report, you may read it here.)

The rest of the training time was focused on Conflict Coaching—the skill of helping one side of a conflict respond to the situation in a way that honors God. Each session featured a basic concept, such as how to listen well, gently ask probing questions, or structure a negotiation so that it builds on everyone’s interests. I presented the concept, then Farag and I role played its use. The session concluded with participants practicing what they had learned.Egyptian Anglican Church

We wanted to make our role play realistic and compelling, so Farag and I designed a scenario that included themes of corruption, revenge, and using professional friendships to advance private agendas. Here’s a synopsis:

Hanif, Farag’s character, works at the denominational headquarters of the fictional Christian Church, where he oversees all of the church’s outreach ministries, including a health clinic run by Anwar.

One day, Anwar fires his accountant at the Clinic, a young man named Tariq, after Tariq realizes that Anwar has been overpaying for the vitamins and minerals he buys from a company called VitaHealth. VitaHealth is owned by Anwar’s brother in law.

After he’s fired, Tariq complains to Hanif, who must now investigate. But, it turns out that Hanif has a grudge against Anwar, since on several occasions Anwar has gone over Hanif’s head to the denominational CEO, a friend of Anwar’s, to get approval for something that Hanif had denied. Hanif, embarrassed by Anwar’s circumnavigation, has vowed revenge, just waiting for the right opportunity.

So, by the time Hanif meets with his Conflict Coach, all Hanif wants to do is nail Anwar. There is just one thing he had not anticipated – his Coach wants to slow him down and help him reflect biblically on the situation and on what God would have him do.

I was to play the role of Hanif’s Coach. As an American cast in this Egyptian drama, I was way over my head. But, Farag and I talked things through before each session, plotting in advance how to structure our conversation to make it real.

Our first big teaching session was all about how to listen to someone’s story. Farag, as Hanif, told me about all of the horrible things that Anwar had done, while I did my best to model empathetic listening. By the time Farag finished, the entire class was convinced that Anwar deserved serious jail time. But, we were peacemaking veterans by now, so we knew the story couldn’t end there. It was time for me to ask some questions.

“How well do you know Tariq?” I asked.Rev. Farag

“The first time I met him was the day he came to my office,” Hanif replied.

“Do you know whether he is trustworthy?  How can you be sure that what he told you is true?” I asked.  Farag hesitated.  I pushed harder.  “Have you checked on prices yourself, or are you just relying on what Tariq told you?” I asked.  I was glad that I’d written such a wise and insightful role for the Coach.  I am seldom this good in real life.

Farag gave me a pained look.  “Well…” he said, his voice drifting off.  As Hanif, he was doing a wonderful job of coming to grips with his desire for revenge, his longing that Anwar suffer the same humiliation he’d experienced at Anwar’s hands.

Little by little, over the remaining teaching sessions yesterday and today, I asked questions and shared passages from Scripture that helped probe deeply into his heart and his motives.  The message was powerful.  We concluded with a plan of action.  Farag’s character, Hanif, decided he needed first to try to reconcile his personal differences with Anwar before determining how best to handle Tariq’s complaint.

After lunch today, the participants tried coaching for themselves, using role plays Farag and I had created for them.  They discovered that coaching was easier than they had feared, but harder than it looks.  Some of them were reminded, when the person they coached showed a stubborn streak, that things don’t always work out.  Real life is messy and real people are hard to control.  This is where God enters the scene, that mysterious yet very present part of every coaching session, transforming hearts in ways we could not have foreseen.

We had a small graduation ceremony at the end and I helped by handing participants their Certificates of Completion.  Watching them coach for the first time had been humbling and it had been a joy.  I admire them greatly.  Egypt today is unsettled and each of them lives with great uncertainty.  The time may come, perhaps soon, when they will be called on to be coaches and peacemakers in earnest.

Reflecting on the Trip

My last afternoon I went for a walk around Zamalek.  The Anglican Church has been active in Egypt since 1815, but Christian presence in the country is much older than that.  According to tradition, the Patriarchate of Alexandria was founded by Mark in 33 AD, although little evidence exists.  By 200 AD, however, the city had become one of the main centers of Christianity.  Both Clement and Origen counted Alexandria as home.

All that has changed. Today the Christian community in Egypt is small, as it is throughout the Middle East. There are only 8 million Christians among Egypt’s 80 plus million people. Most of the Christians I met said they are anxious about their future. One leader admitted, “It is no longer a question of whether Egypt will be an Islamist state. It only remains to determine whether it will be moderate, or radical.” He did not need to finish his thought. The more radical the state, the more difficult it will be to live as a Christian in Egypt.

Despite this, Bishop Mouneer and the Church he heads have decided that peacemaking is a central part of their calling. For me, their presence in Egypt is both a sign of God’s faithfulness and of his promise, implied in James 3: 5, that “Peacemakers who sow in peace will raise a harvest of righteousness.” They live in difficult times, but they serve a faithful God. I cannot wait to return.

Does Biblical Peacemaking Work in Egyptian Culture?

Part 1 of a trip report from Chip Zimmer, VP of Global Ministries for Peacemaker Ministries
Chip and Ken in Egypt“There is no tradition in our culture of going to someone to speak the truth in love,” Bishop Mouneer Anis, the head of the Anglican Church in Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa, told me recently as I sat in his Cairo office. “Egyptians don’t know how to do this. When people are in conflict, they simply stop speaking to each other.”

Helping conflicted Egyptian Anglicans speak the truth in love is high among Bishop Mouneer’s priorities, so high, in fact, that he invited Peacemaker Ministries back to lead a second round of training for members of the Church’s staff. Ken Sande and I provided an introductory course for 20 participants, mostly Anglican priests, when we visited in May 2011. This time, the Bishop requested a more advanced program that would equip 77 of his church and ministry leaders with peacemaking skills.

Designing a training program for such a group is always an adventure. Although I have been at this for more than 10 years, I am still never quite sure what to expect. To be fair, neither are my hosts. We join in a kind of dance in which who leads and who follows are figured out as we go along. I constantly assess what’s working and what’s not working and make adjustments.

There is another element in all this, something that is impossible to predict, yet which plays a critical role – the presence of God’s spirit and of what he intends to do. Sometimes, all the parts just fit, the moves each partner makes complementing what the others do. For me, this was one of those times. We danced together well.

I landed in Cairo after a 27-hour trip from Billings, and I spent the late afternoon and evening with Rev. Farag Hanna, the Anglican priest who is coordinating this year’s training program.

Training for the Egyptian Church

We headed out early the next day to the Catholic retreat center, where our training took place. Our audience included not only Anglican priests, but also the heads of various Anglican ministries, such as schools and a hospital. Other than a handful who participated in our 2011 training, this year’s group had little prior experience with peacemaking. Somehow, I needed got to get them thoroughly comfortable with the basics and teach them coaching in three days, including the time needed to translate my English into their Arabic.

To accomplish this I stripped peacemaking and conflict coaching down to their essentials. I embedded basic principles into stories and narratives that would be both authentically Egyptian and memorable. Farag provided me with typical conflict scenarios, then we went back and forth by e-mail, as I built his original sketches into the case studies, demonstrations and role plays we would use for the training.

I was determined to build another element into our program. Like most of us, Egyptians confront barriers within the church and the larger culture that operate like big “No Trespassing” signs. Authority, age, gender, social standing, all play important roles in giving society its structure and shape. But, this relational architecture also sets boundaries around how people engage each other when conflicts arise. As a result, cultural norms and biblical precepts collide.

I wanted us to examine such boundaries carefully. Farag and I built into our cases and role plays some typical relational quagmires, such as a conflict in which an older, more senior leader sins against a younger, less influential member of his church. In many cultures, elder status automatically acquits senior leaders of responsibility when they act wrongly toward others, especially those who stand lower on the social scale. This touches the very heart of peacemaking and I felt it was critical that we press hard when such issues arose.

As I welcomed our 77 participants to the first day of training, I wondered how all this would play out…

It went even better than I had hoped. Participants readily grasped the concept of “heart issues,” that is, how the sinful motives result in sinful words and deeds.

The Innocent One Who Takes the Initiative

But, our Case Study raised a sensitive issue. The Senior Pastor in the case, Rev. Ibrahim, had acted both wrongly and abusively toward his young choir director, Samir, firing him without cause after blaming him for an event over which Samir had no control. Although troubled by the Senior Pastor’s actions, participants hesitated over whether he should go to the ex-choir director to apologize and offer his job back.

After a short break, I told the participants that I wanted them to continue in their small groups to answer the question, “Who should say what to whom?” Rather than continue to press them directly, I sensed God prodding me to find out what participants believed would be most appropriate in Egypt.

I was surprised when we gathered back in the plenary session. The first group to de-brief announced, “We think Rev. Ibrahim must talk directly with Samir. He needs to apologize.” A second group added, “Yes, but he’ll never do so without pressure. The other choir members need to go to Rev. Ibrahim to encourage him to talk to Samir.” Then a third group pitched in, “But, the choir members are all young and they’ll never go to Ibrahim. Their parents need to put pressure on Ibrahim to talk to Samir.” “No, the elders should talk to Ibrahim,” said another group. And so it went.

I was thrilled. Our group had gone beyond the question I had posed and was wrestling with the mechanics of how such a conversation could actually happen in Egypt, a place where admissions of wrongdoing are rare and seldom flow downhill.

But, now things got really interesting. A final comment came from the back of the room. “I think Samir should go to Rev. Ibrahim. He’s the innocent one in all this. So, he is in the best position to bring about a solution.”

“I agree,” I said. “What do you think would happen if, instead, Samir reached out to Rev. Ibrahim? What sort of impact would that have?”

One of the participants raised his hand. “It would have a very strong impact,” he said. “Usually the person who is innocent waits for the guilty person to come to him.”

Students Discussing Case Study

“Can anyone think of examples from the Bible where we see this happen?” I asked. There was silence. “Isn’t this one of the great themes in Scripture, the innocent taking the initiative to reach out and restore the guilty?” I paused to let the idea sink in.

“Who took the initiative to reach out to us, to restore us to God?” I asked. A couple of people raised their forefingers and pointed skyward. “That’s right. Jesus, the innocent, came to earth and gave his life to restore us, the guilty.” There were nods of recognition.

We turned to look at key verses in Matthew 18. I summarized the story of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one who has wandered off. Then, we read Matthew 18: 15: “If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens, you have won your brother over.” Again, the grand theme, the one who is wronged reaching out to restore the wrongdoer.

There was no need to press further. They got it. For the rest of our time together, participants would no longer wrestle with whether to apologize when they had sinned against others, or go to those who had sinned against them. From now they would wrestle with the question, “How do we do this, here, in Egypt?”

In the next installment: A role play exercise that was uniquely Egyptian…

Grace and peace,

Chip

 

The Faith That Forgiveness Requires

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Above all else, remember that true forgiveness depends on God’s grace. If you try to forgive others on your own, you are in for a long and frustrating battle. But if you ask God to change your heart and you continually rely on his grace, you can forgive even the most painful offenses. God’s grace was powerfully displayed in the life of Corrie ten Boom, who had been imprisoned with her family by the Nazis for giving aid to Jews early in World War II. Her elderly father and beloved sister, Betsie, died as a result of the brutal treatment they received in prison. God sustained Corrie through her time in a concentration camp, and after the war she traveled throughout the world, testifying to God’s love. Here is what she wrote about a remarkable encounter in Germany:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendall about the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? “Lord Jesus,” I prayed, “forgive me and help me to forgive him.”

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on him. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 217-218.

Food for Thought

Why do we agonize over whether we ourselves will be able to forgive those who have sinned against us? Our forgiveness is a pale substitute of what is needed. Instead, what is necessary is just this: that we allow Christ’s forgiveness of us–the forgiveness that flows through us and brings life to us–to flow outward from us to reach the others in our lives who, like us, are equally undeserving of his mercy. For “[i]t does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Rom. 9:16).

There is a Difference Between Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Last week, Steve Cornell at  The Gospel Coalition blog posted some really great insight into the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. They also offered up some excellent and biblically sound steps in dealing with a situation where an offending party is hesitant to reconcile.

Here he summarizes a key distinction:

It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with her offender. But reconciliation is focused on restoring broken relationships. And where trust is deeply broken, restoration is a process—sometimes, a lengthy one.

and then he continues to explain why recognizing the difference is important:

The process of reconciliation depends on the attitude of the offender, the depth of the betrayal, and the pattern of offense. When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is the confirmation of genuine repentance on the part of the offender (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. The offender may resort to lines of manipulation such as, “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving,” or, “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

Such language reveals an unrepentant heart. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. It is advisable in difficult cases to seek the help of a wise counselor, one who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

His ten guidelines for those hesitant to reconcile are rooted in scripture and, I think, incredibly helpful.

1. Be honest about your motives.
2. Be humble in your attitude.
3. Be prayerful about the one who hurt you.
4. Be willing to admit ways you might have contributed to the problem.
5. Be honest with the offender.
6. Be objective about your hesitancy.
7. Be clear about the guidelines for restoration.
8. Be alert to Satan’s schemes.
9. Be mindful of God’s control.
10. Be realistic about the process

You can read his explanation of each step here.

 

Promises For You

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“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he
removed our transgressions from us.”
Psalm 103:12

I once heard a joke that described a frequent failure in forgiving. A woman went to her pastor for advice on improving her marriage. When the pastor asked what her greatest complaint was, she replied, “Every time we get into a fight, my husband gets historical.” When her pastor said, “You must mean hysterical,” she responded, “I mean exactly what I said; he keeps a mental record of everything I’ve done wrong, and whenever he’s mad, I get a history lesson!”

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 207.

Food for Thought

Take a moment today to remember the Four Promises of Forgiveness:

1. I will not dwell on this incident.
2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Then take a moment to remember something else: This is the way God forgives you.
It’s natural for us to read the Four Promises of Forgiveness as another set of laws to which we’re presently failing to live up; however, the gospel reminds us that they should be read first and foremost as God’s commitment to us because of the sacrifice of his son. That commitment says that he will never “get historical” in bringing up sins for which we have been forgiven!

Is there an area in life where you feel condemned even though you’ve genuinely repented before God? Take a moment to hear God speaking the Four Promises of Forgiveness to you with regard to that particular issue. As you read them again, try adding your name to the beginning of each promise as a reminder that God speaks them personally to you. Remember Romans 8:1 applies to you, not just other Christians: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

When you accept this and apply it to your own life, prepare to be pleasantly surprised how much easier it will become to apply the Four Promises of Forgiveness to others who have hurt you.