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37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.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?

APPEALING & THE PEACEMAKER

How Appealing to Others, Not Demanding of Them, Enhances Peacemaking

Greeting and congrats

It has been some time since I introduced a series of post entitled The Ways of a Peacemaker. I want to return to developing this theme from the book of Philemon.

Affirmation and prayer play huge roles as peacemaking virtues. Making appeals matters greatly as a peacemaking skill as well.

Philemon reveals Paul’s heart in brokering reconciliation between Onesimus, a runaway slave, and his owner.

Having affirmed his friend and prayed for him, Paul next broaches his appeal to him.

Don’t miss the choice he makes here in terms of the approach. He could have pulled apostolic rank and simply told Philemon what to do.

He admits as much in v. 8. And he has the moxie (bold enough in Christ) to do it too!

But no. I prefer to appeal to you. He says it differently in greater detail in v. 14.

But I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.

He says it even more simply at the top of v. 9—yet for love’s sake.

Paul so wants Philemon to profit spiritually in every way through this relational transaction.

“Dig deep, man, in the depth of your heart and let your choices flow from the reservoir of gospel love contained within.”

How much more God-honoring and glorious a way to resolve things than a begrudging, externally constrained, kiss-and-make-up superficial affair!

If the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13), then aim for that in your peacemaking.

Set the bar that high and entreat, appeal, beg, plead for hard hearts to melt into grace-laced loving ones.

Alfred Poirier, in The Peacemaking Pastor, writes:

Mediation is when parties in conflict call upon a third party to assist them in reaching a mutually agreed upon settlement of their dispute. The key word here is assist. . . .  Mediators do not decide for the disputants what their agreement will be. The decision is left to the disputants to mutually determine. However, Christian mediators do help shape the final agreement by giving wise biblical counsel (210).

And they shape it by how they call for response to that counsel—sincere, passionate, appeal.

Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties—leading with specific affirmation, praying with singular aim, and engaging with sincere appeal.

How does your approach as a peacemaker compare with these three virtues?

Please note: I will be traveling outside the country for the next two weeks and unable to post. See you in November!

 

AFFIRMATION & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #1 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

Bridge of Spies

Based upon true events during the Cold War, the gripping film Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as attorney James Donovan.

The CIA hires Donovan to act as a mediator in a prisoner exchange between the US and Soviet Union in East Berlin.

Hanks’ character displays much of the relational wisdom skills necessary for effective assisted peacemaking between opposing parties.

For an excellent post exploring these concepts click here.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

This post explores the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

After the customary greetings of an epistle in verses 1-3, Paul does what he so often does in his New Testament letters in verses 4-5. He expresses his gratitude to God for this man.

This “thanks” saturates his regular praying for Philemon. And he goes way beyond a mere generalized appreciation of this brother.

He gets quite specific as to the reasons for his thanks in v. 5—because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Do you see what Paul values and how he reinforces it with praise? Love for all the saints and faith in the Lord.

Normally Paul would put faith first and love second, but not here.

He reverses them knowing that he will call on that love and more from Philemon with the peacemaking requests he will make of him.

Ken Sande writes:

A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process (The Peacemaker, 231).

The same goes for all-in mediators trying to broker reconciliation—they lead with specific affirmation.

For a helpful rubric for biblical negotiation which leads with affirmation please see The PAUSE Principle.

One word of caution. Lead with sincere, legitimate affirmation. Avoid the temptation to manipulate with ingenuine words. That’s bound to backfire and doesn’t honor the Lord.

Affirmation communicates your value of persons made in God’s image. The way of a peacemaker never forgets using the tongue to bless others rather than curse them (James 3:6-10).

Virtue #2 in the ways of a peacemaker–praying with singular aim–will be the focus of my next post.

Question: What kinds of things can we readily affirm in others when engaged in conflict?

 

THE WAYS OF A PEACEMAKER

Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers Who Excel at Mending Relationships

reconciliation

Alfred Poirier says this about pastoral ministry in his book The Peacemaking Pastor:

Pastoring is peacemaking. . .. Pastors are waiters serving the Lamb to sworn enemies. Pastors are busboys washing the dirty dishes of our hatreds, anger, lusts, deceits, malice, and filthy words in the purifying stream of Christ’s blood. It is tiring work. It is battle work. It is Messiah work. But we are compelled to persevere, because serving this way is at the heart of our calling as pastors, as mediators (188).

I’ve come to agree with all of that more than ever over the last fifteen years of pastoral ministry.

As a result, I read the Scriptures regularly with an eye for what will help churches guard unity and pursue peace.

In the next few posts, I want to focus on Paul’s letter to Philemon for its emphasis on forgiveness. So much of peacemaking involves both asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness.

And the book does involve that.

Onesimus, the thieving runaway slave become a Christian with Paul’s help (v. 10) in a Roman prison, needs forgiveness; Philemon, himself a convert of Paul (v. 19) and Onesimus’ owner, needs to forgive the wrongs done to him.

But the more I drilled down in my study of this shortest and most personal of Paul’s letters, I gained a different perspective on the thrust of Philemon.

What unfolds beautifully and powerfully in these twenty-five verses is the stunning ministry of the apostle Paul laboring busboy-like as a peacemaking mediator to bring the two estranged men together in reconciliation!

It appears Paul took Jesus quite seriously in Matthew 5:9 when He said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Philemon presents a text-book example of how to act out the virtue Jesus longs to see embraced by each and every one of His followers.

The gist of things reads like this: Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties.

Paul became quite attached to Onesimus after his spiritual birth. He calls him my very heart (v. 12). He describes him as useful (v. 11). He even felt tempted to keep Onesimus with him for his services while still imprisoned (v. 13).

But he knew at the very least that would constitute a breach of faith with his brother, Philemon. So he rightly chose to send him back.

But how to do that knowing so much damage remained unresolved?

Paul’s strategy in this masterful letter gives us five practices of effective peacemakers who excel in helping mend broken relationships.

They lead with specific affirmation. They pray with singular aim. They engage with sincere appeal. They mediate with skillful aplomb. They invest with sacrificial action.

These will be the focus of my next posts.

Question: When has someone helped you mend a broken relationship and what did that look like?

RESOLVING EVERYDAY CONFLICT

New Equipping Hour Class Starting January 7, 2018

This Sunday at Orlando Grace Church we begin this video curriculum study.

Peacemaker Ministries describes it like this:

We all have conflict. Think about the people you know. They may not be in the middle of a big blow up, but they certainly have tense conversations around the breakfast table or difficulties with an overbearing boss. Or more seriously, perhaps their marriage is on the verge of falling apart. Regardless, they are looking for answers.

Resolving Everyday Conflict is an eight-lesson study that unpacks the amazing things the Bible has to say about conflict and relationships. As you go through this study, you’ll find the powerful and practical answers you are looking for to forever change how conflict looks in your life.

Join us for group discussion and video instruction on this strategic subject starting at 9:30 AM in Room F5.

Watch the video promo below!