COUNT TO EIGHT FIRST

A Listening Strategy for Keeping Your Cool and Loving Others Well

Blonde woman having tongue in clothespin

One night last week, Jan and I welcomed new friends into our home. We shared a meal with a couple who have served locally as missionaries for twenty-six years among First Nation peoples, especially the Nez Perce Tribe.

As newcomers to the area, we were eager to gain insights from their experience for understanding this special part of rural Idaho’s population.

We quickly learned that a number of complexities accompany building relational bridges with Native Americans. Their painful history and challenging circumstances present significant hurdles.

At one point in the conversation, I heard the most important takeaway for me:

“We’ve learned to count to eight first.”

Before saying anything, especially in more stressful conversations, they’ve discovered that mentally counting to eight before offering any verbal response communicates empathy and a desire to understand, not just be understood.

I then recalled this biblical admonition: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).”

I also felt convicted. Not only do I not use this particular strategy, I typically find myself mentally framing my responses to others before they finish speaking!

The Scriptures counsel repeatedly about this dynamic.

“When words are many transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27).

“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).

The Count-to-8-First Strategy benefits relationships in another way.

It loves others well by showing empathy through listening–the deepest form of understanding another person.

The authors of Difficult Conversations explain:

As an empathetic listener, you are on a journey with a direction but no destination. You will never “arrive.” You will never be able to say, “I truly understand you.” We are all too complex for that, and our skills to imagine ourselves into other people’s lives too limited. But in a sense this is good news. Psychologists have found that we are each more interested in knowing that the other person is trying to empathize with us – that they are willing to struggle to understand how we feel and see how we see – than we are in believing that they have actually accomplished that goal. Good listening . . . is profoundly communicative. And struggling to understand communicates the most positive message of all (184).

Next time you find yourself in a tough conversation, keep your cool and try listening empathetically by counting to eight before opening your mouth.

But skip the clothespin!

Question: When have you felt understood well by someone? What did they do?

WHEN OVERLOOKING IS NO GLORY

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.

Toy forklift hold letter block d to complete word avoid on wood background

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.

WHEN RELATIONSHIPS RUPTURE (2)

How To Navigate Sharp Disagreements Which End in Separation

A single mountain road splits in two different directions. It's an autumnal cloudy day.

The magisterial reformer Martin Luther once offered this candid self-admission:

“I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether war-like, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests.”

Even history’s giants of the faith suffered their share of personal issues. Sometimes their difficult natures resulted in relational train wrecks. My last post zeroed in on one of the Bible’s most infamous examples in Acts 15:36-41.

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Sad but true, not all attempts at peacemaking end well. Breakups do happen among the best of us. What principles can we apply in those unfortunate circumstances to ease the pain and gain perspective?

In part one, I suggested three: accept reality, examine self, and understand interests. In part two, let’s consider four more helps for navigating sharp disagreements.

One, stay calm.

No matter who was right about John Mark, both Paul and Barnabas failed miserably in the way they conducted themselves. R. Kent Hughes notes in his commentary on Acts that the word paroxysm translated “sharp disagreement” denotes “violent action or emotion. This was not a mild gentleman’s disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict.”

Outbursts of anger shatter peace and multiply transgressions (Prov. 29:22). Determine to remain filled with the Spirit at all times (Gal. 5:22-23).

Two, seek help.

Did they? We don’t know. I want to hope these brothers attempted to climb up the slippery slope of peacemaking by enlisting mediators in the church at Antioch to work through their dispute (Phil. 4:2-3). To keep your conscience clear, make your own choices at every turn in sharp disagreements with a Four G’s ethic –no matter how the conflict ends up.

Three, trust God.

The worst of conflicts do not erase Romans 8:28 from the Bible. The Lord is always working to accomplish His purposes. Our frailties never thwart His ultimate plan (Phil. 1:12). As painful as their separation must have been, no doubt both men took comfort that one missionary team multiplied into two in God’s providence.

Four, allow time.

Let’s hope Paul and Barnabas, though parted, first reconciled with a conciliatory agree-to-disagree spirit. Always make this your goal, even if a dispute leads to dissolution of a partnership.

The sting of this breakup lessened eventually with a softening of Paul toward John Mark (2 Tim. 4:11). I imagine that put a smile on the Son of Encouragement’s face! God can and often does a lot of healing over time. Pray to that end.

Do you find yourself embroiled in a paroxysm-like conflict? These seven principles may help you survive the outcome in a First G kind of way (1 Cor. 10:31).

Question: What else has helped you do peacemaking in sharp disagreements?

Overlooking Offenses

Last Sunday I hammered away at peacemaking in the body of Christ as an application of Jesus’ prayers about our oneness in John 17. You can listen to that message here.

An essential strategy in the peacemaking process is the glory of overlooking offenses. I say glory because of a text like Proverbs 91:11.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

It makes bad sense to blow your top. One way to stay on the good sense side of things is to regularly overlook offenses. But why call that disposition glory and when must we not overlook an offense?

Ken Sande explains:

Since God does not deal harshly with us when we sin, we should be willing to treat others in a similar fashion. This does not mean that we must overlook all sins, but it does require that we ask God to help us discern and overlook minor wrongs. Overlooking offenses is appropriate under two conditions. First, the offense should not have created a wall between you and the other person or caused you to feel differently toward him or her for more than a short period of time. Second, the offense should not be causing serious harm to God’s reputation, to others, or to the offender.

It is to God’s glory that He passes over our offenses because of the blood of Christ. We share in that glory and put it on display when we choose to be not easily offended and overlook the offenses of others.

Why Don't You Hate God?

Someone actually put that question to me not long ago. Why don’t you hate God?

Granted, he had his own anger issues, by his own admission. It never ceases to amaze me how rage can grip the human heart so as to strangle superior affections.

He posed the question in light of my head and neck cancer battle back in 2005. I didn’t recall the occasion, but he told me he actually saw me curled up in a fetal position on my family room couch suffering from the effects of treatment, balancing precariously between life and death. Somehow, and I hurt for him on this, he couldn’t imagine that somehow I would feel anything towards God after such suffering than outright hatred.

I paused. It was a legitimate question. Of all the things I said to him to try and redeem pastorally the opportunity presented before me, I simply said, “Jesus was enough.”

I also quoted Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Have you ever heard someone say, “As long as you have your health, you have everything?” I have. Among the things people tend to idolize, good health ranks near the top of the list along with lovers, wealth, power, and no doubt a few other so-called messiahs. I learned in 2005 that health makes a lousy functional savior. Cancer taught me, among other things, as long as you have Jesus, you have everything. And that’s why I don’t hate God.

Preventing Provoking

This Saturday our Oxford Club for Men meets at 7 AM at the church office. We will continue our discussion over Richard Phillip’s book The Masculine Mandate.

Chapter ten deals with our keeping role of disciplining our children as godly men.

Here is a taste from the chapter, some excellent words relating to not provoking our children to anger as Paul prescribes in Ephesians 6:4

In order to avoid provoking our children to anger, we must be fair and judicious in placing demands on our boys and girls. We should not be personally abusive (agian, all abuse  undermines rather than enhances authority). I want my children to think of themselves with God-given dignity and self-respect, and this requires the proper praise and respect of their father toward them. Here’s a rule I try very hard to follow: I will always be on my children’s side, even if I am punishing. I will never be against them and I will never speak to them with contempt (pp. 117-18).

Lots more good stuff where that came from. Look forward to digging in with you on September 17 for breakfast, fellowship, and study.

When Deity Delivered from Dying (Part One)

Today’s message from John 11:38-44 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

I reiterated the theme this way:

Because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we should believe on Him as the Messiah, God’s Son.

We covered four of seven observations about Jesus from the text that present Him to us as undeniably true and strikingly beautiful:

  1. His passion – deeply moved with anger over death.
  2. His pattern – test and grow faith.
  3. His patience – with our slow-to-learn unbelief.
  4. His precept – believing is seeing not seeing is believing.

I closed with this incisive quote from Oswald Chambers:

Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. What is your faith up against just now? The test will either prove that your faith is right, or it will kill it. “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” The final thing is confidence in Jesus. Believe steadfastly on Him and all you come up against will develop your faith. There is continual testing in the life of faith, and the last great test is death. May God keep us in fighting trim! Faith is unutterable trust in God which never dreams that He will not stand by us.

Next Sunday, Lord willing, we will finish the account of the seventh sign with three more observations – His purpose, prayer, and power.

And we will finally get poor Lazarus out of the ground, so to speak!

When Deity Dissolved Over Dying

Today’s message from John 11:28-37 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here is the quote by B. B. Warfield characterizing the depth of emotion displayed by Jesus as fundamentally rage.

It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, “as a champion who prepares for conflict.” The raising of Lazarus thus becomes, not an isolated marvel, but — as indeed it is presented throughout the whole narrative (compare especially, verses 24-26) — a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell. What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.

Praise God for Jesus our champion who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10)!

In Praise of Constructive Peacemakers

OGC made the local paper not long ago.

Someone sent this little ditty into the Ticked Off section a few weeks back.

A sign that says “The Future Home of the Orlando Grace Church” has been posted on Maitland Avenue in Altamonte Springs across from St. Mary Magdalene Church for at least 38 years now. How much longer do we have to wait?

I have to admit. At first I wondered if someone from OGC put that in the paper! Just kidding, sort of.

No matter who submitted it, I sincerely hope no one will have to wait much longer for us to get into a facility, certainly not another 38 years (don’t you just love sarcasm?). But this post doesn’t concern building programs and God’s providence for when a project of that magnitude gets off the ground and when it doesn’t. This post is about peacemaking, constructive peacemaking, in particular.

I HATE this section of our paper. Nothing about anonymous griping and grousing over anybody or anything promotes constructive peacemaking when someone gets ticked off. That’s peacebreaking, even peacefaking at its worst.

Peacemaking, the biblical kind, governed by the principles and constraints of scripture, is constructive in every way and commended by God (Matt. 5:9).

I decided to write about this for a couple of other reasons beyond the snipe in the paper.

First, someone recently confronted me about a beef they had with me. They honestly shared their feelings in a calm and constructive fashion. The first words out my mouth were, “Thank you for telling me. This gives us an assignment from God to do biblical peacemaking to the glory of God.” And we did. We prayed. We talked. God was honored. The relationship was restored. Confessions were made (by me too). I emailed the party after the fact and thanked them again for loving me well as a constructive peacemaker. May their tribe increase!

Second, I just finished teaching on peacemaking in our new member’s class. I am not sure why, but I think it might be my favorite session. Probably because of the practical value of the content and its enormous importance to the peace and purity of our church.

SandeIn the class I cover the 4 G’s of biblical peacemaking as outlined by Ken Sande in his book, The Peacemaker. Do you have them memorized? I pray you do. They have saved my pastoral keister in more than one conflict. Here is a quick refresher.

 

  1. Glorify God – determine to conduct yourself in the conflict in a way that honors God from first to last (1 Cor. 10:31).
  2. Get the Log Out of Your Own Eye – examine your own contribution to the conflict and admit any sins/faults you contributed along the way (Matt. 7:3-5).
  3. Gently Restore – engage the conflict with a view toward another’s restoration all the while moving through the various steps with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1-2; Matt. 18:15-17).
  4. Go and Be Reconciled – pursue the complete restoration of the relationship through the practice of biblical forgiveness (Eph. 4:31-32).

So the next time you get ticked off (and we all do), what will you do? Determine to be a constructive biblical peacemaker. I for one will rise up and call you blessed.