Heading Off Social Distancing of a Different Kind
Our church reopened last Sunday! After six long, challenging weeks of stay-at-home lockdown, we eagerly gathered for worship in stage one of Idaho’s Rebound plan.
Given health risks, we observed safety protocols. Everything got sanitized. Social distancing was employed. We cancelled our regular weekly luncheon together.
Thankfully we survived week one of the new abnormal—but it wasn’t easy. Honestly, last week was the toughest this pastor pushed through thus far in his short tenure at Trinity.
Health issues aside, another threat posed by the pandemic tends to keep me awake at night.
One blogger astutely asked: “What will it matter if we re-assimilate only to end up ‘socially distant’ again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?”
Consider four ways to minimize the looming relational risks.
One, Pray for Leaders
Someone has to call the ball. Sheep are not stupid; they are dependent on good shepherds to serve them. Wisdom is needed everywhere.
Paul pleads of first importance “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people–for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).”
What might change if we pray more for leaders at every level than we post criticism on social media about their judgments?
Two, Be Patient
I’m in Indiana Jones mode these days—making things up as I go along! They don’t teach “Pastoring in Pandemics” in seminary.
I feel in over my head. This thing seems way above my paygrade. The challenge to get things right grows bigger each day.
Leaders need followers who remember the first mark of love is patience (1 Cor. 13:4).
Three, Do Peacemaking
Opinions on all things COVID abound. With them comes the potential for sharp disagreements. What are we to do?
Of all the conciliatory principles I could cite, I suggest at least these three guidelines for avoiding falling out with others, if at all possible.
“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
“Let us not pass judgment on one another” (Rom. 14:13).
“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7).
We need to give others a wide berth in figuring things out, in the same way we desire for them to treat us (Matt. 7:12).
Four, Keep Perspective
Days after Nancy, my first wife, died of cancer, a lunatic gunned down 49 souls at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
KLTY radio 94.9 in Dallas-Ft. Worth asked me the ultimate question. Why? Among my answers: We live in a sin-broken world. Romans 8:22 explains: “the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Hardships like COVID shout to us, “This is not the way things are supposed to be. But it is not the way things will always be.” “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:23).
Jesus will come again to make all things new! That’s the big-picture perspective.
Hope for that—but wait for it with patience (Rom. 8:25).
Question: What’s one thing which helps you love others with whom you differ?
All or Nothing or Both/And Wrong in Conflict?
Knowing my passion for all things peacemaking, a friend recently shared this TGC post, Church Conflict 101, with me. I read it. My text reply was succinct: “Helpful distinction. Thanks.”
And I stand by that. An assertion like, “In every conflict there is always wrong on both sides.” is a dangerous overstatement.
Beware all-or-nothing words like “never” and “always.” Exceptions always exist. Arrgh–I just violated the rule!
Seriously, I appreciate what Pastor Ray–for whom I have much respect–labors to protect in this piece.
I take his underlying concern to be a 1 Timothy 5:19 one. “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
He explains: “My appeal to all church leaders is that you will not be caught off-guard. Expect false accusations to surface, inconsolable hysteria, church crazy in various forms, targeting your pastor.”
He cautions wisely. At times church conflict is entirely one-sided. It can be on occasion more Cain and Abel-like or Saul and David-like or Ahab and Naboth-like or the Pharisees and Jesus-like or even the whole world and the apostles-like than not.
But if I may push back some from experience and the Scriptures with a 101 A addendum to his redemptive post, that kind of all-or-nothing lopsidedness in church conflict seems more the exception than the rule to me.
My forays into the battlegrounds of fights between believers have been more Paul and Barnabas-like (Acts 15:36-41), more Euodia and Syntyche-like (Phil. 4:2-3), and more Philemon and Onesimus-like (Philemon 8-20) than not.
Church Conflict 101 as a rule seems more about genuinely godly people hashing out disagreements over preferences, positions, and passions than plain good vs. evil guilt or innocence.
When confronted with a blatant all-or-nothing fight like Cain and Abel (1 John 3:11-12), by all means we must take categorical stances that unapologetically call out one-sided wickedness.
But caution is advised. The safest way to draw such unilateral conclusions without bypassing one’s own or others’ faults in the mix is to heed Jesus’s charge in Matthew 7:3-5. Take care to extract any logs out of your own eye before trying to remove any specks from your brother’s.
Wise is the pastor or any believer faced with conflict to conduct a James 4:1-3 self-check before proceeding into conversation with an opponent.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
In fairness, Pastor Ray offers a constructive alternative to the unhelpful always posed at the outset of his post.
It would be better to say, “In every conflict there are always sinners on both sides. But whether there is wrong on both sides is the very question that demands a careful, thorough, responsible answer. Is there sin on both sides contributing to this conflict? Or could there be godliness on one side contributing to this conflict?” The Bible leads us into these categories of consideration, and they are profound.
Granted. Careful, thorough, responsible answers to the question of wrong on both sides must occur, but wise are the parties and any who mediate disputes to work both sides of the street thoroughly, lest any idol of the heart go unchecked and unnecessarily perpetuate a conflict.
John Calvin said it well: “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”
We do well to remain mindful of that threat to all parties in our practice of Peacemaking 101.
A Peacemaking Tune by Rich Mullins
While preparing a killer beef stew yesterday, Jan dialed up a Rich Mullins’ playlist to enhance the cooking experience.
I pitched in as sous chef, chopping up a variety of veggies. Both of us love this artist’s contribution to contemporary Christian music, but I had never heard this tune before.
The lyrics come right out of Romans 14 and 15 about the peril’s of judging others in the body of Christ.
The threat a critical spirit poses to church unity is so destructive I included an entire chapter in my book about “welcoming” others who differ with us on matters of conscience.
Mullins spins it with a Genesis 4 positive emphasis about determining to be our brother’s keeper, not his judge.
I commend a quick view/listen and a diligent application of the truth sung.
A Message at Crosswalk Church in Daytona Beach, Florida
It was my great joy and privilege this past Sunday as a guest preacher to bring a sermon about my passion for preserving church unity.
Many thanks to Pastor Mitch Pridgen and the Crosswalk family for the warm welcome and enthusiastic reception.
Fair warning–the video above is relatively long.
My friend begins with a gracious and very kind introduction.
He then has me introduce Jan, who proceeds to play and sing her original song, “Welcome Back to the Throne of Grace.”
If you check out any of this, watch her minister so very well. You will be blessed!
Given the length, the very end of my message does not appear online, but that was about my book and the copies I made available to the church.
Please pray that the Lord uses them in the lives of these precious saints.
I remain incredibly grateful for this new season in my life and ministry where I get to spread a passion for the God of peace and the unity of the church for which the Prince of Peace died and made into one body.
How to Have a Difficult Conversation without It Blowing Up in Your Face
My post The Beauty of Overlooking stressed fighting anger with magnanimous forgiveness.
The follow-up post When Overlooking Is No Glory unpacked diagnostic questions to determine the difference between active overlooking and passive denial.
Now, how do we proceed with a difficult conversation with someone who offends without escalating conflict?
Douglas Stone and company, in their book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most, nailed the challenge at hand:
Delivering a difficult message is like throwing a hand grenade. Coated with sugar, thrown hard or soft, a hand grenade is still going to do damage. Try as you may, there’s no way to throw a hand grenade with tact or to outrun the consequences. And keeping it to yourself is no better. Choosing not to deliver a difficult message is like hanging on to the hand grenade once you’ve pulled the pin. So we feel stuck. We need advice that is more powerful than “Be diplomatic” or “Try to stay positive.” The problems run deeper than that; so must the answers.
Galatians 6:1 gives us four deep answers.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Remember Your Goal
If you think someone has sinned against you, then they’ve gotten caught in a transgression. Your goal is not to vent; it’s to restore.
Don’t just look out for your own interest in repairing the harm done to you. Aim for his best interest in escaping the trap which has ensnared him (Phil. 2:3-4).
Walk in the Spirit
Offenses often trigger fleshly reactions–especially fits of anger (Gal. 5:20). Work them through BEFORE the difficult conversation. That might take some time.
Paul stresses this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit for these assignments. Gentleness tempers an approach, lessening hand grenade impact.
Ask questions way more than making judgments. I love to lead such conversations with something like: “Remember that thing you said/did that time? What was going on there? Can you help me understand what that was about?”
Strive not to put others on the defensive; make them a partner in solving the matter.
Inventory your Contribution
You may have sinned, however slightly, so as to affect the situation. Heed Jesus’s instruction to remove any logs from your own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).
A preemptive, legitimate confession goes a long way to deffusing bomb threats to the conversation. You may only be 20% responsible for the conflict, but you are 100% responsible for your 20%.
It shocks me how often folks tell me how they’ve been hurt by others but never talked to the offender about it.
When you can’t overlook an offense, the best advice is TALK TO THE PERSON (Matt. 18:15)!
Just take care how you do it. Leave the hand grenades behind.
Question: What is something that has helped you navigate difficult conversations?
How To Avoid Denial When Someone Offends You
My last post urged fighting anger by choosing magnanimous forgiveness whenever possible when someone sins against you.
Proverbs 19:11 applauds that kind of covering-a-multitude-of-sins love.
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
Choosing to graciously forgive an offense with no need to confront the offender is a beautiful thing–a glory. And the gospel compels us to do so often.
There is, however, a danger worth noting inherent with this virtue.
In the name of overlooking we can actually shut down in silence and even file the offense away for later use.
Ken Sande rightly labeled that “a form of denial that can easily lead to brooding over the offense and building up an internal bitterness and resentment that will eventually explode in anger.”
I get this form of “peacefaking” all too well. My inherent loathing of conflict can deceive me into a faux-overlooking that is no glory at all.
Pastor Alfred Porier, in his excellent book The Peacemaking Pastor, prescribes two helpful diagnostic questions to help avoid this mistake.
Question #1: Is the Offense a Persistent Sin?
Galatians 6:1-2 speaks to this:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens , and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Paul pictures someone sinning habitually as trapped like an animal in the wild. The law of Christ’s love demands a spiritual process of restoration for that person’s welfare to help free him from sin’s grip.
When you encounter an offense that is an ongoing, spiritual problem, it is no glory to overlook; it’s a lack of love.
Question #2: Is the Offense Hindering My Relationship?
If the matter keeps invading your thoughts and alters the way you interact with the offender, you likely need to address the situation in love.
Poirier gives himself a two-day test:
If I find myself frequently reflecting upon my brother’s or sister’s sin for more than two days, if it is there when I rise and when I go to sleep, if I think about it while I am showering and when I am driving, and if I am reticent to greet this fellow believer at church, then I cannot overlook the offense. I must address the matter with the person (139).
Either way–overlooking with magnanimous forgiveness or confronting with truth in love (Eph. 4:15)–fighting anger in the face of offenses is a matter of wisdom, choosing one or the other with God’s help.
Question: What’s another sign which helps you know when you cannot overlook an offense?
You can leave your comment below.
Fighting Anger with Magnanimous Forgiveness
A Google search of royal jewels yields, among others, Queen Elizabeth’s Imperial State Crown.
The crown is set with 2868 diamonds in silver mounts and colored stones in gold mounts, including 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls. What a glorious treasure that must be to behold!
Proverbs borrows that kind of imagery to describe a figurative glory to behold–overlooking personal offenses. I’m talking about Proverbs 19:11: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it his glory to overlook an offense.”
The word “glory” is the same Hebrew term used in Proverbs 4:9. “She [wisdom] will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
When we choose forbearance in the face of insults by granting unilateral forgiveness of wrongs without confrontation, Scripture likens that to wearing a priceless tiara–a glorious crown. It makes us spiritually beautiful!
In this introductory post about this virtue for peacemakers eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in their churches (Eph. 4:1-3), please note that there are three essentials to grasp from the text.
The Aim Is Good Sense
The Hebrew is variously translated discretion, wisdom, understanding, and insight. The book of Proverbs champions this pursuit as priority-one in life. “Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly” (16:22).
Wisdom is a moral issue won or lost on the battlefield of human relationships.
The Enemy Is Anger
Proverbs warns often about this nemesis to a life of wisdom, pleading for long-fused restraint in the face of wrongs.
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (10:12).
“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult” (12:16).
“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29).
“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (15:18).
“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (20:3).
“A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression” (29:22).
The takeaway is obvious: the more you are given to outbursts of anger the greater your distance from genuine spiritual insight and discretion.
The Answer Is Forgiveness
Overlooking offenses means regularly choosing magnanimous forgiveness in the face of wrongs without ever talking to an offender. I plead with others all the time: “Please do not be easily offended. Overlook sins in others–a lot!”
Overlooking is not a passive process in which you simply remain silent for the moment but file away the offense for later use against someone. That is actually a form of denial that can easily lead to brooding over the offense and building up internal bitterness and resentment that will eventually explode in anger. Instead, overlooking is an active process that is inspired by God’s mercy through the gospel. To truly overlook an offense means to deliberately decide not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness (83).
How do you know when not to overlook an offense? Stay tuned for my next post!
Question: What is a challenging offense for you to overlook and why? You can leave your comment below.
Why Jesus Stressed Peacemaking in Our Pursuit of Happiness
I majored in theater at Penn State back in the day.
My favorite show was “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” I played the lead role—the blockhead himself—Charlie Brown. Type casting no doubt!
The musical’s theme song, “Happiness” features a litany of things from pizza with sausage to climbing a tree that make for true happiness.
But Lucy and Linus join voices with the best lyric in the tune singing, “getting along.” Happiness is getting along.
It reminds me of a sermon Jesus preached about happiness. He proclaimed nine virtues which make for kingdom happiness called the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12). Each begins with the word “blessed.”
The seventh focuses on the joy of getting along in relationships. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (5:9).
Happy, fortunate, enviable—all synonyms for “blessed”—are those who determine to get along with others whenever possible and help others do the same.
Conflict impacts everyone. No one escapes differences which can lead to relational breakdowns.
I get this. In only my second elder meeting at my new church recently, I stepped on a conflict landmine. A lack of sensitivity on my part about a painful conflict in their past history ended a way-to-short honeymoon. Sigh.
It happens to all of us–even guys who dare to write books on preserving unity! Oh the irony. What to do? I asked the Lord to help me gear up once again as a peacemaker. I suspect it won’t be the last time either.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stresses that true happiness belongs to those who prioritize pursuing peace with others–no matter how often they must do so.
Other New Testament texts echo this. The apostle Paul pleads, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). The writer to the Hebrews exhorts, “Strive for peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Why is peacemaking a kingdom of God true happiness virtue? The answer comes in the rest of Matthew 5:9— “for they shall be called sons of God.”
Working hard at maintaining oneness and repairing brokenness—whether with family, friends, or adversaries–gets us the blessing of being called children of God. It gives evidence that we belong to the God of peace who sent the Prince of Peace with the message of the gospel of peace reconciling us to himself.
There is no greater happiness than that. Are you known as a peacemaker? Would others say that about you? If so, take it from Jesus. You are blessed!
Question: What principle or insight has helped you experience happiness as a biblical peacemaker?
Peacemaking Love To Cover a Multitude of Sins
I require every couple I marry to commit to six premarital counseling sessions with Jan and me. Our aim is to equip the bride and groom-to-be for a lifetime of marital delight and staying power for the long haul in their two-are-better-than-one union (Ecc. 4:9-12).
Conflict resolution skills matter immensely to that goal because every husband and wife sin against one another–a lot. In fact, it requires an earnest kind of love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).
That takes something more than a toolkit of communication principles. It requires a supernatural source of motivation and a vision for marriage on a grander scale than most couples bring to the engagement process.
So the first homework assignment I give is for the two of them to watch this message by John Piper. It’s called “Love Her More, Love Her Less: Living for God’s Glory in Marriage.” It is NOT your average marriage sermon by any means.
In reality it contains hope for persevering love that covers a multitude of sins in every context, not just marriage. I commend the 22 minute investment of time to anyone needing more peacemaking love he/she thinks they can summon in dealing with fellow-sinners in the home, at the church, on the job, or wherever else they may be found–just about everywhere.
Question: What one thing can you do to increase your knowledge of and delight in the glory of God?