Holy Halitosis?

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And with that he breathed on them and
said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20.22

Peacemakers are people who breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then they bring his love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe his grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 11.

Food for Thought

When it comes to the believer’s breath on others, it’s usually one of two aromas — life or death. What does your breath smell like?

Have you ever been around someone with halitosis (bad breath)? Unless you have the patience of Job, most of us back up a little and suddenly remember an urgent appointment. Those with Job’s fortitude stick it out, digging around in their pockets for a mint. Now consider the phrase, holy halitosis. Have you ever been around someone with that? Everything from their denominational wardrobe to their Christian reading list screams HOLINESS. But when they open their mouths, it’s anything but grace they breathe; in fact, it’s usually some variation on the theme of condemnation.

Halitosis, of the natural kind, is usually connected in some way to what we’re taking in. A steady diet of onions or feta cheese and voila! — bad breath. A similar principle applies to the spiritual realm. As Ken writes, we must draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ. Drawing in, or breathing in, Christ’s goodness fills our spiritual lungs with the breath of Holy Spirit filled, lifesaving grace. Then our tanks are full, so to speak, to breathe out that same grace on and in the lives of others.

We’re as much peacebreathers as we are peacemakers. There’s a rhythm there as ancient as creation itself. Inhale and exhale. Breathe in and breathe out. Grace in and grace out. Do a little spiritual diagnosis on yourself, first, and then on others around you. If you find that you rarely breathe grace, it’s a red flag that you’re not taking any in. The same goes for people around you. The only difference is that if it’s you, then some time feasting on the riches of God’s grace is in order. Take. Eat. If it’s your neighbor, then you may be the vessel that God wants to use to bring grace and peace to a troubled soul, marriage, or household. Breathe on us, breath of God!

Remarkably Different: What Does Peacemaking Look Like When Your Mother is a Mentally Ill Addict?

2013-conf-logo-sm As we prepare for the 2013 Peacemaker Conference September 26-29 in Columbus, Ohio and focus on the topic “Remarkably Different” (see Romans 12:1-2), we have asked some of our speakers, instructors, and staff to share their thoughts on the conference and theme. We hope these posts will go beyond basic information about the conference and allow you to see the heart behind it. Below is the first of this series, featuring keynote speaker Tara Barthel. As you read it,  ask the Lord to reveal how you can be “remarkably different” for His glory.

(And please note: the “Smokin Hot Deal“, where you can purchase a conference registration and receive 50% off any Pre-Conference Training, ends February 1). 


by Tara Barthel

Just over a month ago, my mother died in my sister’s arms. I was only minutes away—but my multiple flights from Montana just couldn’t connect to Michigan in time.

Our story—a mother dying, her daughters rushing to her bedside—may not seem that remarkably different. But what if I told you that my mother lived for decades as an undiagnosed suicidal bipolar woman who was self-medicating with Scotch?[1] That my sister and I endured countless hours of neglect and even what would appropriately be described as abuse as a result of my mother’s mental challenges, addictions, sinful heart, and unwise decisions?

Would you find it remarkable if I were to tell you that every single day this past month, I have missed my mother and ached with grief for my mother—even though, for many years, she stole money from me, told lies about me, and slurred horrible things to me:

 “I hate you, Tara! You are the worst thing that has ever happened to me! I wasted my life caring for you. You’re a demon sent from hell to torment me. I wish you had never been born!”

How in the world do you move from that level of emotional abuse to an intimate, real, love-soaked relationship? There is only one way:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1–2

When God saved me as a teenager, He adopted me into His family and this meant placing me under the umbrella of care, counsel, and protection of my local church. When I was sixteen years old and I had to pull my mother’s head out of a gas oven during her suicide attempt, it was friends in the church who gave me a home—both figuratively and literally.[2] My church leaders advised me with the love of a shepherd caring for his baby sheep. And my fellow church members never allowed me to turn my back on my mother, even when it would have been so much easier to do so.

I was taught not only to read and memorize Romans 12:1-2, but to live it out:

Romans 12:1

I honored my mother and even loved my mother not because she deserved it and not because it made me feel good—but as an act of worship of God, in view of His amazing mercy. God loved me when I was yet His enemy (Romans 5:10); Jesus clearly says that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) … so in my personal situation, my worst enemy happened to be my mother? Well. Who am I to quibble with God’s sovereign choice of placing me in my mother’s womb? He understands my suffering. He has always been with me. He works all things together for His glory and my good. And so, I love my mother and I bless my mother and I pray for my mother because I have been loved, blessed, and prayed for by God Himself. This is my spiritual act of worship.

Romans 12:2

Do you know what the pattern of this world is? It’s the same as how pagans and tax collectors treat people (Matthew 5:43-48): love the people who love you. Big deal! That is the easiest thing in the world to do. Be nice to the people who are nice to you? Honor parents who deserve it? Trust people who have never let you down? How do any of those actions require faith and dependence on God alone? Where is the suffering? When do you ever pick up your cross and follow Jesus? But now: you are called to love the unlovable; forgive the unforgivable; move toward that broken, scared, selfish, lonely person, rather than running away from her. This is only possible because we have been supernaturally transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are no longer who we once were. We have been made new. We see how broken, scared, selfish and lonely we would forever be—apart from Christ. And so we relate to the most messed-up, neediest person in our lives—not from a place of superiority or “other-ness.” But we can honestly say, “I am just like you. Your weaknesses don’t even come close to measuring up to my weaknesses. We both need the Savior! Let us run to Him.”

And so, after my mother died only a few weeks ago, I still think about her all the time. I go to call her ten times a day—especially when my young children do something particularly funny that I know she would enjoy. But I have absolutely no regrets regarding the reconciled state of our relationship. It was not easy to build a relationship with her. (I blog often on what wisdom and love look like when you’re talking about relationships with practicing addicts or people with destructive mental illnesses.) It was not easy to forgive her or to begin to view her with compassion and care. It was also not easy to face up to my own failings in our relationship and seek her forgiveness too. But I am so grateful that the Lord and His people helped me to do so.

My mother was a wonderful woman. (You can read my eulogy for her here.) And I would have missed out on a treasure in life if I had walked away from her as a young adult because relationship with her was too messy and hard, exhausting and embarrassing, heart-wrenchingly painful. Oh, how I thank God that our relationship ended up being “remarkably different” from what you would normally expect. This is one of the greatest evidences of God’s grace in my life that I have ever had. I pray the same for you—for all of your seemingly hopelessly broken relationships. God’s grace really is sufficient! In our weakness, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).

To quote my Redeeming Church Conflicts coauthor, Dave Edling:

“We can carry the hope of being remarkably different because His available grace is uniquely remarkable.”

Amen & Amen! (And looking very forward to meeting you in person in Ohio this September!)

Your sister in Christ,

Tara signature



[1] Before she passed, my mother gave me express permission to tell our story publicly and I have done so at women’s retreats, on the Peacemaking Church Women’s Study video series, and in my books as well. And please note that in addition to these life challenges, my mother was also a poet, an artist, and one of the most generous people I have ever known. It’s just hard to keep things short for a blog post …

[2] You can listen to a recording of my testimony (and many other topics) for free on my website.

Smokin’ Hot Deal – Until February 1st!

Smokin' Hot Deal!

We have a pretty smokin’ hot deal going on right now for our annual conference and pre-conference registration.

Now through February 1, 2013 purchase a regular conference registration (workshops) and get 50% off any Pre-Conference training event! That means you can purchase conference registration at $199 and then sign up for Reconciling Marital Conflict, Reconciling Church Conflict, or Conflict Coaching and Mediation for $300 (normal price is $600 until Feb. 1) or sign up for Certification for $350 (normal price is $700 until Feb. 1).

We hope you’ll take advantage of this price as this is an amazing deal and the best deal you can get for this conference and pre-conference (save up to $350!). You will need to register and pay for both by Feb. 1st. You will receive a discount code for pre-conference training in your confirmation email after registering for the conference.

The Maturity in Being Winsome

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If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Matthew 18:15

We need to let go of the idea that showing someone his fault always requires direct confrontation. Although that approach will be appropriate in some situations, we should never do it automatically. Instead, we should ask God to help us discern the most winsome and effective way to approach a particular person at a particular time and to open the way for genuine reconciliation.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 145.

Food for Thought

When Ken wrote, “Instead, we should ask God to help us discern the most winsome and effective way…” he used the word winsome. Do you know what that word means?

The dictionary defines it this way: Generally pleasing and engaging, often because of a childlike charm and innocence.

Most of us are not winsome. When we grew up and put away childish things, we unfortunately put away the childlike as well. So it’s all the more important for us to ask God to guide us in the paths of winsomeness as we seek reconciliation–particularly when we are approaching others to point out their contribution to a conflict.

It’s hard to refuse the little girl selling those cookies door to door, isn’t it? Her charm and innocence is pleasing and engaging. These traits almost always guarantee someone opening the front door and listening to what she has to say. So let us pray for winsome hearts as we approach the closed doors between others and ourselves. And may those doors stay open, leading to genuine reconciliation as the Father guides us in making peace.

Reflections, Veils, and God’s Glory

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And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being
transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” 2 Cor. 3.18

Reflecting or “paraphrasing” is the process of summarizing the other person’s main points in your own words and sending them back in a constructive way. Reflecting may deal with both the content of what the other person has said and the associated feelings

Reflecting does not require that you agree with what the other person says; it simply reveals whether you comprehend another person’s thoughts and feelings. Reflecting shows that you are paying attention and you are trying to understand the other person. When others sense this, they are less likely to repeat themselves or use a loud voice to get their point across.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 167-168.

Food for Thought

Are your peacemaking efforts veiled attempts?

The apostle Paul indicates that the unveiled faces belong to those who are the Lord’s — Christians, believers, sons and daughters of God. As such, our unveiled faces are reflecting the Lord’s glory. Take those thoughts from 2 Corinthians and combine them with Ken’s insights regarding reflection. If we truly allow his likeness to permeate our words, thoughts and feelings, then true reflection can and is taking place between us and the other person. The veil is lifted and the Lord’s glory is in the center of the situation. There is an openness present that allows us to hear and see.

However, when our own thoughts or opinions cloud the conversation, then the reflecting is anything but true. We’re not able to accurately summarize the other person’s words, much less return them constructively. The veil is back on, and our personal glory trumps everything else for the moment. Oh, we can perform a kind of robotic reflection, parroting back their words with appropriately timed gestures or sighs, but reflecting the Lord’s glory? Forget about it.

But just what does this true reflecting look like? The best example, hands down, is Jesus. The Savior walked our sod with an unveiled face. He was constantly deferring to the Father’s will, words and timing. So much so, that it led John to write: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only” (John.1.14). When you saw Jesus, you saw God.

Now consider just a couple of the ways Jesus reflected God’s glory as he went about proclaiming peace. To those burdened with sin, disease or shame, the glory of the One and Only looked like mercy and grace, always inviting the least of these to take his hand and experience his love (“Come unto me…”). However, for the Pharisees and religious leaders, the One and Only’s glory was knife-edged and stern (“Woe unto you…”). It was the same Jesus, the same glory, but different reflections. Jesus was acutely aware of who was standing, sitting, strutting or weeping in front of him; he was always paying attention. If we confuse his likeness with a sterile sameness when it comes to peacemaking, the veil returns. Then the reflections look a lot like us, but nothing like him.

Sticking With It

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If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will
keep you from being ineffective and unproductive. 2 Peter 1:8

Practice. As Paul warned the Philippians, we cannot change unless we put what we are learning into practice (Phil. 4:9). In other letters he used athletic metaphors to teach that godly character qualities must be developed through disciplined practice in which we seek to overcome our weaknesses, master the proper techniques, and make a desired behavior natural and automatic (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:14; 2 Peter 1:4-8).

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 135.

Food for Thought

Did you do well right out of the gates, only to lose momentum during the race?

January and February are excellent months if you’re in the health club business. People resolve to be healthier in the New Year and usually follow-up on that by joining a gym, enrolling in an exercise class, or even hiring a personal trainer. It can be quite challenging to find a parking place in January and February at many health clubs. But come April and May? It’s a different story.

There is always some excitement over the initial moments of anything, be it joining a health club or your Christian life. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. However, many of us fizzle out when the disciplined work of training finally sets in.

As believers, we must consistently be working those peacemaking muscles — training our hearts, minds, souls, and strength to respond to the promptings of Christ and not our natural desires. Jesus needs peacemakers in January and February and March and April and all year long. So let’s all put into practice those things we’ve been learning!

The Right Kind of Gains in the New Year

A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

 When we overlook the wrongs of others, we are imitating God’s extraordinary forgiveness toward us: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:8-10).
Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 106-107.

Food for Thought

Want to experience some gains, fast? Well, you probably experienced some gains over the holidays as the candies, cookies, and festive meals took their toll. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Instead, try this no-fail exercise.

You’ve seen lists of New Year’s Resolutions, right? You’ve probably even crafted a few yourself. Have you ever seen this one on anyone’s list? “I resolve this New Year to overlook more offenses.” Yeah, that’s a rare one.

But the writer of Proverbs indicates that when we overlook an offense, it adds directly to our glory. We experience a gain. And since the only glory we will ever have is a reflection of God’s, those overlooked offenses are adding to the glory of the Most High. God experiences a “gain.”

“What kind of gain?” you ask. By exercising our patience and overlooking offenses, we are increasing His Name and Fame throughout the land. We are drawing the eyes of men and women to Him. We are imitating his compassion. We are being peacemakers, getting in shape for the Kingdom that is coming!