God’s “Won’t”

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You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought
to be like the clay!” Isaiah 29:16

God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events (Exod. 4:10-12; Job 1:6-12; 42:11; Ps. 71:20-22; Isa. 45:5-7; Lam. 3:37-38; Amos 3:6; I Peter 3:17). This is difficult for us to understand and accept, because we tend to judge God’s actions according to our notions of what is right. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we say to ourselves, “If I were God and could control everything in the world, I wouldn’t allow someone to suffer this way.” Such thoughts show how little we understand and respect God.

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 61
 

Food for Thought

In seeking to follow God’s will, are you open to His won’t?

There have been countless sermons preached and numerous books written concerning God’s will. But have you ever heard someone talk about God’s won’t? How many times have you asked, sought and knocked, only to hear God say, “No.”? We often find ourselves in painful and unjust events; we discover thorns in our flesh or hear peace proclaimed where there is no peace. And we cry out, “Save us! Take it away! Roll down your justice, O Lord!” We might ask three times or maybe even keep at it for three years. But the answer from heaven appears to be, “I won’t.”

As Ken points out, this is difficult for us to understand and accept. We’re convinced that God should do this or should intervene there. And when it appears that he won’t, we question his control. Or his love. Or both. And it’s not that the questioning is wrong, per se, but that the questioning frequently gets “ment-ed” — filled with judgment or resentment toward God. However, “such thoughts show how little we understand and respect God.” We turn things upside down and seek to understand them based on what little we really know or see. We have to remember that we are the clay, not the potter. There is a God and we’re not him. The life of faith is allowing our lives to be lived God-side-up, obediently trusting his infinitely, tender hand to mold and shape us according to his good will. And that includes his good won’t.

Blindness and The Risen Savior

By Dale Pyne, CEO of Peacemaker Ministries

“He has risen, He has risen! Praise God, Jesus has risen from the dead!”

That might have been the cry from Peter and others when they found the empty tomb of Jesus. But it was not. Instead they were bewildered, speculating among themselves what had happened to Jesus’ body.

Why? we ask. Why would Peter doubt? After all, Jesus himself told Peter and the other disciples that the crucifixion and resurrection would take place. Mark writes, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…” (Mark 8:31-32 NIV).

In fact, after Jesus “plainly” told Peter of his impending crucifixion, Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. We would think that later Peter would remember that teaching moment well, since Jesus responded to his rebuke with, “Get behind Me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man” (Mark 8:33 NIV).

Wouldn’t you remember a rebuke like that? I have thought to myself on occasion, “If I had been there, seeing the miracles of God, or walking and talking with Jesus, I wouldn’t have doubted.”

But here are the facts. Today we have a distinct advantage over Peter. We have the written, living Word of God. We see a more complete story in a larger context than Peter did. We have the testimony and fellowship of the body of Christ. And ultimately, we have the Spirit of God living within us. Yet we, like Peter, sometimes question God. We, like Peter, sometimes deny the Lord. And we, like Peter, forget the very things God promised us.

Why do we call these “blind spots” anyway? Because we sometimes cannot see what is right in front of us.

As a mediator, I often have a front row seat to the reality of broken relationships. As peacemakers, we may be especially sensitive to the struggles of life in family, church and community. From an objective viewpoint, it seems so easy to identify heart issues in others, yet when we ourselves are in the middle of conflict, this is not the case. We end up just like Peter, often not “setting our mind on the things of God, but the things of man.” We act on our own and for our own benefit.

Here is some good news – in spite of Peter being a slow learner, rebuking Jesus, and even denying Christ, God empowered and used him in mighty ways to establish the church of Christ. What does that mean for us?

He has risen! He has risen! In spite of our blindness, our brokenness, and our inability to love God and others on our own, God draws us to himself and grants “incomparably great power for us who believe… which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20a NIV). It is only by his grace that can we love him or love others. Yet he changes us, allows us to see where we are blind, and now through his resurrection power, he uses us to make a difference in the lives of others.

I thank God for His willingness to use us all as his vessels of peace in a broken world. And I thank you, our Peacemaker community, for your significant contributions of time, talent and treasure, without which we could not continue forward with this vital ministry. I am especially mindful of the intentional effort many of you are making to persevere as we navigate through our time of transition. Thanks to each and every one of you. May God richly bless you as together we celebrate the risen Savior this week and all year long.

Remarkably Different: Gaining Ground in Relationships, a Message from Paul Tripp

Welcome back to another installment of our “Remarkably Different” series as we look forward to our 2013 Peacemaker Conference in Columbus, OH this September. This time we are sharing a message written by keynote speaker Paul Tripp.

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Paul has written extensively on relationships on his blog, authored several books and speaks on the topic of relationships. We are all involved in relationships but often times find ourselves disappointed with the relationships that we are in. Sometimes we wish our relationships were further along, sometimes we get stuck in the same old rut of relationships and sometimes relationships take a downward turn. How do we gain ground in our relationships instead of losing ground? Paul Tripp presents 4 ways to better the relationships that we find ourselves in. He reminds us of the key role our hearts play in our relationships. One of the points that stuck out most to me was this:

3. Determine to focus on yourself.

No, I’m not counseling you to be selfish – I’m encouraging you to be humble. Good relationships are the result of both people being committed to personal change and growth. Self-examination is a key way you demonstrate love for the other person. It’s very easy to be all-too-satisfied with yourself, while being irritated and impatient with the weaknesses of another. When you have two people who are committed to heart change, the relationship will change and grow as well.

I encourage you to read the whole blog post; it is well worth your time and will have a huge impact on your everyday relationships.

I also encourage you to join us in September to hear from Paul directly. We don’t want to have the type of relationships that you find in the world where gossip, unforgiveness, brokenness, selfishness, and pride reign. Instead we want to have “remarkably different” relationships that, though broken and fallen at times, show the redemptive power of the Gospel to remind ourselves and those that we are in relationship with that Jesus came to bring us hope and healing in this sinful world. The Gospel makes the difference in our relationships. How will you let it transform your relationships today?

The Sweetness of Forgiveness

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Corlette summarized The Four Promises of Forgiveness in a little poem for her children’s curriculum, The Young Peacemaker:

Good thought,
Hurt you not.
Gossip never,
Friends forever.

Whenever I need to forgive my children for something they have done, I pull them onto my lap, put my arms around them, and remind them of the forgiveness we all have in Christ, which enables me to forgive them. Then I recite Corlette’s poem to them. As I say the final words, I pull them close, give them a tight hug, and whisper “Friends forever” softly in their ears. I want them to know that no matter what they have done wrong, Jesus has opened the way for a complete restoration of our relationship … I hope that as they experience genuine, affectionate reconciliation with me over and over again, they will come to know more fully the far better forgiveness they will always find when they run into the arms of God through prayer and faith.

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 209

Food for Thought

Have you ever been told words like these?

“Well, you know I’ve forgiven you. But I’ll never forget the time you …”

If so, what was your relationship like afterwards? Was trust restored? Did you feel the warmth and intimacy of true friendship and a restored relationship? Probably not.

Why is such false forgiveness so incredibly unsatisfying? It is because this is not forgiveness modeled on the forgiveness we receive from God in Christ.

When someone claims to forgive you, but continues to remind you of your wrong over and over again, it is easy to feel ongoing guilt and shame. This is in contrast to the happiness–blessedness–and freedom we have knowing that when God forgives us, he removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

If the person you wronged constantly brings up your past offense and keeps you at a “distance,” it is incredibly hard to relax and be yourself around that person because of the sense of ultimate rejection. Compare that to the sweetness of our loving relationship with “Abba Father” who grants us the gift of repentance and then runs to his prodigal children to lavish forgiveness on us and restore us into his family.

So what are we called to do? First of all, we worship God and thank him for his amazing forgiveness. Secondly, we pray for the grace to never say such harmful and unforgiving words to anyone ourselves. And lastly, we are called to persevere in relationship with someone who claims to “forgive” us, but who consistently brings up our past offense, tells others about it, and keeps us at arms-length. We look for opportunities to bless them, share Christ with them, and prayerfully strive to help deliver them from their bitterness and unforgiveness towards us.

Memory

How reliable are our memories, really?

I’m not trying to pull a “Matrix” move on you, I just think a lot of us think of our recollections as completely without error while in reality our remembrances of things past can be fuzzy and, especially when relating to a conflict or relationship-gone-sour, it can be biased. This is why it’s so important to think charitably about others and to be certain that we’ve gotten the log out of our own eye.

Andy Naselli has a great post about our memories that relates directly to this and expounds a bit on how shaky our memories are. He offers three lessons that I’ve listed below on this strange facet of our mind:

Lesson 1: Your Memory Might Not Be As Accurate as You Think

Lesson 2: Your Memory Tends To Privilege You

The way our minds store and remember information tends to give ourselves but not others the benefit of the doubt. That’s one reason that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13:4–7.

Lesson 3: Your Memories May Result in a Relational Impasse

There are times when trying to achieve resolution seems to make matters worse. People remember what has already taken place differently. And they disagree about how to move forward. It is an impasse, a hopelessly complicated knot. Despite prayer, despite efforts, despite meeting after meeting, reconciliation seems impossible. . . .

This is not because there is any deficiency in God’s Word. It is because we are fallen people who do not always think alike. (pp. 179–80, emphasis added)

To read further explanation of his points, read the whole thing.

The Stupidity of Bitterness

Ken has another great post over at his Relational Wisdom blog about bitterness. He starts it off with this blunt, but completely accurate, statement:

Indulging in bitterness is one of the most stupid things we ever do.

and then continues to explain why it’s so foolish for us to dwell in bitterness:

How stupid is it? Well, think about it this way.

Imagine that someone stabbed you in the arm with a knife, leaving it there. After he flees, you stare in horror at the knife, then in agony take the handle in your other hand and pull it out.

After a moment, you impulsively stab yourself again. With your own hand and by your own choice. You do it again and again, day after day, week after week. It’s one of the most self-destructive acts you could ever do.

But that’s exactly what bitterness is.

People betray us, lie to us, gossip about us, fail to support us. It hurts. It hurts badly. It’s like they’ve stabbed our hearts with a knife.

All too often, rather than turning to God for grace to respond to the wrong with wisdom and forgiveness, we choose to indulge bitterness. We keep thinking about that wrong. We play it like a video in our mind over and over. We stab ourselves with the sharp memory of the incident, feeling the pain again and again.

How familiar does this sound? It seems that bitterness is so common that even if we’re not dealing with bitterness in our own lives, someone close to us certainly does. Ken offers this great advice for anyone struggling with bitterness:

The key to getting rid of bitter memories is to get my focus back on God. In the terms of relational wisdom, to become more God-aware and God-engaging. How?

First by remembering that bitterness in my heart grieves my Father’s heart … which I never want to do.

Second, by thanking God over and over for all he has done for me through Christ … especially for the countless times has forgiven me for disobeying and hurting him.

And third, by asking him to fill me so full of his grace and love that I naturally imitate him as I respond to those who have wronged me.

It really is worth the time to read the whole thing and mediate on it a bit using the provided reflection questions.

Know Limits or No Limits?

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When dealing with difficult people, it is also important to recognize your limits. Even when you continue to do what is right, some people may adamantly refuse to admit you are right or to live at peace with you. This is why Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). In other words, do all you can to be reconciled to others, but remember that you cannot force others to do what is right. If you have done everything within your power to resolve a conflict, you have fulfilled your responsibility to God and may stop actively trying to solve the problem.

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 252

Food for Thought

It was a credit card advertisement. It had the usual assortment of young, good-looking people out pursuing young, good-looking things. Right below the name of the credit card company were these words: No limits. That was the impression they wanted to leave you with — this card allows you a life of no limits.

We all know, however, that every credit card has limits. In fact, going beyond those limits might possibly get you a personal visit from an assortment of older, not-so-good-looking debt collectors. But the advertising never mentions that. Everything has limits. Even our peacemaking efforts. “If it is possible…live at peace,” Paul says. We go as far as we possibly can, but we are not able to change the behavior of others. That’s beyond our limits. And the deceiver, the father of lies, knows that.

His spin on the truth convinces us that surely the right thing to do is keep on knocking on the door, confronting, calling, writing, pestering, etc. In other words, he wants us to doing anything other than wait on the Lord and trust Him. But do you see what a lie that is when we become so anxious about making peace? It takes God completely out of the picture. It attempts to make us the god of reconciliation.

But of course, just like the credit card ad, Satan never mentions that.

No Other Way But to Trust and Obey

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Perhaps the most important characteristic of a steward is faithfulness: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (I Cor. 4:2). Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience. God knows that you cannot control other people, so he will not hold you responsible for the ultimate outcome of a conflict (Rom. 12:18). What he will look at is whether you sought his strength and guidance, remembered the freedom and power you have through the gospel, and obeyed his commands and wisely used the resources he has given you. If you have depended on him and done your best to resolve a conflict in a loving and biblical manner, no matter how the situation turns out, you will have earned that marvelous commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21a).

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 40.

Food for Thought

Just because it looks like faith, doesn’t mean it is faith.

“Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience.” Ken’s statement boldly shows just how contrary the spiritual life is to what so many of us are living. In practically every area of our lives, results matter. Consider your job. It matters whether or not you complete a project by a due date or have your stats in place for the next project meeting. Consider your family. It matters whether or not your kids are bringing home A’s and B’s or C’s and D’s. Consider your physical health. It matters whether or not all your efforts on the treadmill are translating into a better heart rate or reduced waistline. Results matter. And of course, this mentality profoundly affects our churches.

But this may be why true faith is so rare. It runs completely contrary to the way most of us spend our days. “Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience.” Whoa! What was that word–dependent? Maybe that’s where the real rub begins, for faithfulness is about being dependent. Not a little bit. Not every once in a while. But daily, hourly, minute by minute.

When you check the boxes on your tax forms for dependents, you’re usually listing your children. Faithfulness is about becoming as a little child (dependent) and walking hand in hand with the Father. Jesus said something about that, didn’t he? And he added that those who didn’t approach him that way wouldn’t enter the Kingdom (Luke 18:17). Now that sounds like a result that really matters.