Resolving Conflict

As we gather together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we begin the Holiday season that provides significant time with family and friends. For many, however, the extra time with family or friends is not a time of celebration, but of significant stress because of unresolved conflict — maybe even many years of it.

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The easy thing, the normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise?carnage1jpg-f75362bb0d786a9c-2

 

What we need when sharp disagreements arise and when differences have caused serious pain is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships. How? 

Humble yourself before the Lord to recognize different viewpoints.

Often when we “agree to disagree”, what we mean is, “well, I’m right and you’re wrong, and you’re too stubborn to see it.” It’s easier to be objective when you don’t have a personal emotional stake in a situation or conflict, so sometimes we need someone else with some emotional or relational distance to help us see and hear what we can’t on our own.

Humble yourselves (not defend yourselves) before the Lord, and He will exalt you….don’t criticize one another” (James 4:10-11) Humility is able to say and believe, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” It also says, “Hey, that hurts…”

Engage in conversation before jumping to conclusions.

Emotions can move us to action, but as they intensify, reasoning diminishes.  If we slow down, calm down, are able to listen, and be controlled by the Holy Spirit (rather than our emotions) we can begin to see the issue from the other side. And if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that the conflict is really a matter of personal perspective (viewpoint) rather than who’s right and who’s wrong. If the other person has valid viewpoints, what is it that I don’t see or understand? Sometimes the picture is not as black or white as we want to see it. What we personally observe or intelligently perceive isn’t enough. We have to listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, then listen to others.

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19–20)

Recently, I was feeling unfairly criticized by a friend. I felt like they were being somewhat condescending in our conversations, and I was hurt, upset. God’s Spirit prodded me to talk to this person. So, I asked, “How are we doing? I’ve noticed…. And felt… Is there something I’ve said or done?” They were shocked and surprised. It led to a good conversation and resolved a conflict that I was feeling.

Ask for forgiveness for what you are personally responsible.

You are 100% responsible for your attitudes, words, and actions.  Most of us give lousy confessions… if we confess at all. Most of us are pretty sorry at saying, “I’m sorry.” When we do something wrong or hurt someone personally, our typical responses are to conceal it, deny it, excuse it or blame it on others. (Gen. 3:12-13). Here is some relational wisdom and key components of asking forgiveness from Ken Sande:

7 A’s of Asking Forgiveness:

  1. Address everyone involved. (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe, (Don’t try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically, (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt, (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences, (Such as broken trust, restitution, etc)
  6. Alter your behavior, (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness. (Say the words, “I’m sorry, will you please forgive me?”)

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)

Perhaps the greatest, most notable difference between a believer in Christ and an unbeliever is the ability to seek and extend forgiveness. It’s when we forgive, as Christ has forgiven, that we are most like Him.

Look for ways to compromise more than seeking to be proven right.

When the conflict persists, care enough to work it out. Don’t run from it, gossip about it, rally support for your viewpoint, or stuff it. Don’t quit your job, your church, or your marriage because of disagreements. In Christ-like love, look for common ground and creative solutions. DeeDee: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness.”

St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Truly loving others and forgiving others requires the power of Christ who loves and forgives us even while we were still sinning against Him.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise? HEAL: Humble yourself, Engage in conversation, Ask for forgiveness, Look for compromise.

Conflict between friends and, especially, family is inevitable. Unresolved conflict is a choice.

As you prepare to celebrate the Holiday season maybe the best gift you could give to loved ones is initiating some healing in your relationships because reconciliation is the best celebration.

People are celebrating Thanksgiving day

We don’t know how or when, but we find evidence that Paul and Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:36-40) were reconciled and celebrated their friendship and partnership in the Gospel.

  • (1 Corinthians 9:5–6) “Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working?
  • (Colossians 4:10–11) “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.”
  • (Philemon 23–24) “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.”
  • (2 Timothy 4:11) “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.”

Resolving personal conflicts is a work of God’s Spirit controlling the spirit of a believer in Christ. We can talk about God’s grace, sing about His love, preach the Gospel, and share its message, but it’s in resolving conflict, sharp disputes that we prove its worth and work.

In the same way God personally reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, we have been commanded (biblically) to reconcile with each other. Only God can HEAL the wounds and reconcile relationships when sharp disagreements come up, be we can’t ignore our part in His healing work in our hearts and in our relationships.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.
Happy Thanksgiving! And Merry Christmas!

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church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Honesty

Sometimes truth is harder to find than love. There is often an inherent lack of complete honesty even in the closest of relationships.

Billy Joel sang about it,

If you search for tenderness
It isn’t hard to find
You can have the love you need to live
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind
It always seems to be so hard to give

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

Honesty is not just telling a portion of the truth or what we think the other person wants to hear. Honesty doesn’t beat around the bush. Honesty is what another person needs to hear - about them. And about us. Honesty gives a straightforward answer without evasion, compromise, or deception.

The wisdom of Proverbs says it best.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” (Proverbs 24:26).

As a sincere kiss shows affection and tenderness, so an honest answer shows genuine care and concern for another. A kiss on the lips is intimate.  Close. In the same way, honesty requires invading someone’s personal space and allowing someone to invade yours. Honesty is the bedrock foundation of a solid friendship. Honesty makes good friendships great. Honesty makes close relationships closer.

175722974We need people in our lives who will be honest with us, telling us where we are wrong and where we need to change. We need friends that will tell us the truth about ourselves in loving ways. We need people who will accept us for who we are and not accept selfishness.

We also need people who are willing to be open and vulnerable about themselves. We need people, and need to be the people, who let their guard down and let others get to know them. We need people who are willing to be real. This kind of honesty from others helps us to feel that we’re not alone in the world. If we do not, we can experience isolation and loneliness, even if we are in some kind of relationship or around people all the time.

Honesty increases love because people who are free to be completely honest with each other are free to love each other completely.

Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what people need from you.

Raising Kids

“Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

parentingThis verse about parenting, like many of the Proverbs, is a general principle, not a guaranteed promise. Raising kids, like any relationship, can’t be reduced to a rigid recipe. It requires grace.

Training children to become thriving adults requires constant exposure to the truth of God’s Word (loving boundaries) and consistent experiences of His grace (unconditional acceptance). And for better or worse, kids learn more from what they see in our actions than what they hear from our mouths.

The Hebrew word for “train” (noun, hanukkah) means “to dedicate.”  It carries the idea of “dedicate a child to God,” “prepare a child for future responsibilities,” or “equip a child for being an adult.” In the context of Proverbs, the verse encourages parents to direct a child in the way of wisdom to live in the fear of the LORD (trusting, worshiping, serving, obeying) and then trust the results to Him.

For our kids (and someday, future grandkids), I pray my words and actions will encourage them to follow me, as I follow Jesus Christ.

Jesus is so… yesterday.

christmas-chaosI remember it was last August, in the heat of summer with 100+ temperatures in Texas, I saw my first glimpse of preparations for Christmas. The store where I was shopping had already cleared out the seasonal section to begin the merchandising build up for Christmas shoppers. Since then, we have had weeks of anticipation and we were reminded once again that every kiss begins with jewelry. We’ve also had very meaningful times of worship and celebration with family and friends. Certainly for me, this has been a wonderful year of remembering the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

But today is December 26. Now that Christmas Day is over, it seems that Jesus is just so… yesterday. Many have already boxed up their decorations until next year. The world is ready to move on to New Year’s Eve and all that the new year will demand. So, what’s next…?

Not so fast.

Jesus isn’t out of the manger and we’re ready to move on?

Jesus-bornOur family went Christmas caroling tonight, yes, December 26, and although it did seem a little weird at first, I really liked it. Perhaps Christmas should linger in our minds longer than just one day. Christmas should remain in our hearts long after the shepherds return to their fields (Luke 2:20). We should search for the star over Bethlehem for more than 24 hours after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-2).

Before you move on to the next big thing, let the wonder of Immanuel stay with you just a few more days. Don’t take the Christmas decorations down at least until all the leftovers are gone from the fridge. And before you box up Christmas for another year (or at least until August) take a few more quiet moments to let the Incarnation boggle your mind and change your perspective (Philippians 2:5-11). Like Mary, treasure all these things about Jesus in your heart and meditate on them a few days more (Luke 2:19). And like the shepherds, we have some more praising to do and some people to tell about all we have seen and heard in the days leading up to Christmas Day.

Let’s keep singing with the angelic chorus:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!

Jesus is so…yesterday. But He’s also today. And He’ll be with us forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Follow me as I follow the star that leads us to Bethlehem – to Jesus. Merry Christmas… still.

God planned it for good

dog-growlingTwo boys were walking along a street when they encountered a large dog blocking the sidewalk. “Don’t be afraid,” one of the boys told his more timid friend. “Look at his tail, how it wags. When a dog wags his tail he won’t bite you.” “That may be,” admitted the other, “but look at that wild gleam in his eye and his big teeth. He looks like he wants to eat us alive. … Which end are we going to believe?” You may have felt like those two boys when you’ve had to face adversity in your life. Sometimes we aren’t quite convinced whether to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises or that wild gleam in the eye of the adversity confronting us.

In Genesis 37-50, Joseph was able to see how God planned years of adversity in his life to ultimately bring about a good result. God encourages us to “consider it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). God promises that He is working “all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Still, we wonder, “What if we consider adversity a joy and it comes back to bite us?” In the end, it all comes down to trust. God’s Word assures us that we can trust Him to fulfill His promises as we demonstrate our faith in Him through all the adversities of life.

As Joseph looked back over the course of his life to see God’s loving control through his personal adversity (betrayal, false accusations, unjust imprisonment, abandonment), he could also look ahead to God’s fulfilled promise to his family by faith.

20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.
21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
22 Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph. 24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.” 26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt. Genesis 50:20–26

Joseph lived to see God’s blessing on his children’s children. He died 54 years after his father’s death when he was 110 years old. He found God to be absolutely trustworthy – through all things.

As believers in our promise-keeping God, we know that He will surely come to our aid, in spite of death and discouragement. The nature of our adversity alone does not determine its spiritual value in our lives. It is our reaction to adversity, the way we deal with it, the way we respond to God, that makes it valuable. God is extremely interested in how we respond to adversity because our response determines whether or not it is going to bring about its intended result.

Joseph shows us how to respond to God by faith through all things – especially through adversity.

1. Accept God’s perspective of adversity. When tragedy strikes or difficult times overtake us, our worldview, and our view of God, comes under attack. Questions of fear reach the surface of our consciousness. We begin to worry and doubt.

road-blockIf we are only marginally interested in maturing as followers of Jesus Christ will have a difficult time with adversity. Our tendency will be to blame God or blame others, and become bitter. Instead of seeing adversity as something God is trying to do for us, we will see it only as something He is doing to us. If our perspective of life is comfort, convenience, and pleasure, we will have very little tolerance for adversity. We will see difficulty as a road block rather than a part of God’s plan for us. But when we truly embrace God’s perspective by faith, adversity takes on a whole new meaning. We see pain as an integral part of what God is doing in our lives. Like Joseph, we begin to understand that adversity is a means to God’s greater good.

The person who has God’s perspective in this life and the life to come will always emerge victorious. Like Joseph, however, we are often forced to deal with the prolonged silence of God in the midst of grave adversity. When God is silent, you have only one reasonable option – trust Him. Hang in there, wait on Him. Yet, often He remains silent. God’s silence is always amplified by the anguish of adversity. Then more than ever we need a word from God. Joseph was able, by faith, to trust God’s perspective and plan to bring about something good through the painful years of difficulty – “the survival of many people.”

We learn from Joseph’s perspective that God’s silence is in no way indicative of His activity or involvement in our lives. God may seem far away, but He hasn’t forgotten. He may be quiet, but He hasn’t quit on you. He may be silent, but He’s not still. Trust Him.

2. Rely on God’s promises through adversity. The book of Genesis ends with the Promise yet unfulfilled, but with the expectancy of God’s deliverance. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they died, Joseph’s greatest concern was the fulfillment of God’s promise (cf. Genesis 24:1–7; 28:1–4; 47:29–31). Like his father before him, Joseph requested that his bones be taken out of the land of Egypt when God returns them to the Promised Land. His repeated expression “God will certainly come to your aid” guarantees that the fulfillment of God’s promises lay in the future (as Exodus 3:16–17 affirms). The Hebrew verb pāqad, “come to your aid” also translated, “visitation,” usually carries the connotation that destinies would be changed because God is faithful to His promises. Joseph expressed his complete belief that God would keep His promise to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites (vs. 24). Hundreds of years later, Moses would keep the Israelites’ oath by taking Joseph’s bones with the people into the wilderness (Exodus 13:19). Finally, Joshua would bury the bones of Joseph at Shechem after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:32). The writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). What’s amazing to me is that God, through writer of Hebrews, approves Joseph for believing the wagging tail of His promises. Joseph is praised, not for his faith through adversity, but specifically for his faith in God’s promise that was not yet visible (Hebrews 11:22).

night-drivingOver the past year, I’ve had the privilege of teaching our oldest son, Michael, how to drive. Recently, while driving at night on two-lane road, I reminded him of what you have to do to keep from crashing into the oncoming vehicle – avert your eyes from the blinding light of the oncoming traffic to, instead, focus on the road ahead and the white line on the right that leads the way. In the same way, the oncoming difficulties of adversity can often blind us, but when we avert our eyes away from it and focus, instead, on the promises of God, we find He’ll lead us through the darkest nights. God keeps His promises. Trust Him.

3. Embrace God’s purposes for adversity. God planned all of Joseph’s suffering for His good purposes. Perhaps the reason so many of us struggle so intensely with adversity is that we have yet to embrace God’s purposes for it. Adversity is not just a tool that God uses. It’s God’s most effective tool for the growth and development of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as roadblocks are oftentimes the very building blocks that lead us down roads of intense spiritual growth. God uses all things, especially adversity, even the evil of others, to bring about His ultimate purpose in our lives.

Joseph embraced God’s specific purpose for the adversity in his life: the survival of many people. In the same way, Jesus embraced the Father’s will to suffer and die to bring about the salvation of all those who trust in Him.

So what is God’s purpose for adversity? Paul makes it clear:

28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8:28–29

God’s ultimate, goal is that we be conformed to the image of His Son – in other words, Christ-likeness. His aim for us as followers of Jesus is not to make us happy, materially prosperous, or famous, but to make us Christlike. He now uses “all things,” the sad as well as the glad, the painful as well as the pleasant, the things that perplex and disappoint as well as the things they eagerly strive and pray for, to further His eternal purpose for us. In His infinite wisdom He knows what is needed to bring about that transformation.

God’s goal for us in not that we merely imitate the behavior of Christ. His ultimate desire is that the life of Christ be lived through us.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Christ-likeness is not “self” camouflaged in Christian activities. It is a lifestyle that flows from the very life of Christ Himself and His sufferings as He indwells the believer.

What does all this have to do with adversity? God is not satisfied with well-mannered, respectable “self” on the throne of our lives. He wants to remove all traces of “self” so that we can be presented to Christ holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:3-4). One way God accomplishes that is by sending adversity into our lives. Adversity stirs us up and causes us to look at life differently. We are force to deal with things on a deeper level. Nothing causes “self” to cave in like suffering. And once our religious façade begins to wear thin, God moves in and begins to teach us what real Christ-likeness is all about. “Self” is concerned with preservation. God wants the “self” life crucified. He does not want it dressed up, patched up, under control, renovated, decorated, or ordained. He wants it crucified.

Christ-likeness is not about behavior modification or self-improvement. Christ-likeness is not simply the imitation of a life – it is the impartation of new life – His life. Adversity is God’s most effective tool to make us live, think, and love like Jesus Christ.

Debbie, my wife’s sister, has had more adversity over the last year than anyone should have to endure. One year ago, she and her husband, Jeff, were working through some difficult issues in their marriage. On Veteran’s Day, November 11, they had an argument. Jeff angrily reacted by getting on his motorcycle and driving at an excessive speed on a two-lane road in rural Mississippi. He lost control and crashed. Care Flight transported him to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg where their daughter, Kaelyn, goes to college at the University of Southern Miss. At first, it seemed that God had spared Jeff’s life and that he would, over much time, recover. Our thoughts and prayers began to turn toward how his choices and the crash would impact their marriage and family. Debbie had many unanswerable questions. “Why would God allow this when their marriage seemed to be getting better?” “Why would Jeff put our family through this pain?”

Wolfe FuneralOver Thanksgiving, Jeff’s health began to decline and his body began to shut down. He died just a short time later on December 1. Debbie and Kaelyn’s grief and pain was, and continues to be, beyond measure. More questions rose to the surface. As they began putting the pieces of their lives back together, even more adversity came their way. Over Spring Break, a tornado ripped through Hattiesburg and the USM campus where Kaelyn goes to school. This summer, they discovered that someone had stolen Jeff’s identity and filed a US Tax Return under his Social Security number. The resulting financial mess, personal headaches, and continuing heartaches are very real. Yet, with all the pain and all of the adversity, something incredible, something amazing, is happening in Debbie’s life. She has responded by faith that “God is good, all the time.”

She is demonstrating heroic faith in the LORD God to fulfill His promises by conforming her to live like Christ through all these things. God’s ultimate purpose is being accomplished through her blinding adversities. There are still many questions left unanswered, but she is trusting that “God planned it for good to bring about the present result” (Gen. 50:20). Those watching Debbie and Kaelyn live and grieve can clearly see God’s ultimate good – Jesus living through them. God has been good, thru so much that has been bad, to make both of them more alive through His Son.

Whatever you’re facing today, you can choose to avert your eyes to see beyond the growling teeth of adversity confronting you to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises to transform you. Whatever your difficulty, God planned it for good. Trust Him.

Forgiving Others

Inigo_Montoya“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
For over 20 years, Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride, 1987) was in the revenge business. His father was a great sword-maker who worked for the king. When a six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, Inigo’s father took the job. He slaved a year before it was done. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at one tenth his promised price, so his father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. At the age of 11, Inigo challenged his murderer to a duel, but failed. The six-fingered man left him alive, but gave him two scars on his face. When old enough and strong enough, Inigo dedicated his life to the study of fencing so the next time they met, he would not fail. He vowed to go up to the six-fingered man and say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Another man who had a “right” to be in the revenge business for personal wrongs, family injustice, and just plain evil was Joseph (Genesis 37-50). His brothers had badly mistreated him for a dream that turned out to be exactly right. Their selfish hatred and jealous actions had led to years of slavery in Egypt, unjust accusations by Potiphar’s wife, the hardships of prison, and untold loneliness for Joseph. He had every right to get even with his brothers… but he didn’t.

In Genesis 50 things changed dramatically for Joseph. His father died, and his brothers began to fear what he would do. They knew of his deep love for their father and, therefore, assumed that Joseph would have done nothing to grieve their father any more while he was still living. Joseph previously assured them upon their reunion during the time of famine that he had no hostility in his heart toward them. Both his words and his actions demonstrated his heart of forgiveness based on God’s sovereign plan:

Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. – Genesis 45:4–5

Even with Joseph’s assurance, they were overcome with feelings of paranoia. Now that Jacob was gone, they braced themselves for the worst! They feared there was no one to protect them from their brother’s wrath.

This nagging question kept going through their minds: “’What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’” (Genesis 50:15). What if Joseph is still in the revenge business?

Their problem was that they didn’t comprehend God’s sovereignty or understand His grace. They believed the only reason Joseph took care of them was for their father’s sake, but would now seek revenge.

What was Joseph’s response? He wept. Not because of their sin this time, but because the forgiveness he had already extended to them had not been fully accepted. So, Joseph reiterated what he had said the day he had revealed his identity to them 17 years earlier. At that time, he told them not to “be worried” or “angry at themselves” because God had a sovereign plan that incorporated their human failures.

What we learn from Joseph is a key principle that can transform our relationships, too, if we are willing and rely on God’s Spirit for the enabling: Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and experience of His grace personally. Joseph’s reply to his brothers is a model to help us bring restoration to our relationships by completely forgiving others who have hurt us deeply. His forgiveness is also a type of the forgiveness and grace we receive through Jesus Christ by faith.

Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride"

Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride”

1. Forgiveness refuses to replace God by retaliation of others. Joseph quickly reiterated why he would never retaliate. He made this divine point of view very clear when he asked his brothers a revealing rhetorical question: “’Am I in the place of God?’” (Genesis 50:19). Even more than his gentle spirit and compassionate heart, Joseph’s faith in God affected his attitudes and actions. Because he had a divine perspective, He could not and would not retaliate. Joseph understood God’s perspective regarding what had happened.

Joseph was also modeling what Paul wrote hundreds of years later. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (12:19). Joseph may have been tempted to use his position of power to deliberately get even, but his divine perspective and God’s power in his life enabled him to overcome that temptation just as it had helped him overcome temptation with Potiphar’s wife – “how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

For us today, does that mean I don’t press charges when a law has been broken or a crime has been committed? By no means. Romans 13 affirms that the government and its legal system is God’s servant for justice. Forgiveness rejects personal retaliation – whether actively or passively. So, guard your heart when you have the power to place guilt on someone else. Refuse to take the place of God by trusting Him to be just and deal with the sin of others.

2. Forgiveness requires a realistic appraisal of sin. Joseph’s brothers had sinned terribly when they sold him into Egypt as a slave. They had also sinned exceedingly when they lied to their father and put Jacob through such terrible suffering. His brothers needed to hear him acknowledge that what they had done was indeed wrong. Their attitudes of sin and eventual actions of sin had to be clearly acknowledged and exposed for what they were. And so he did!  “You planned evil against me,” Joseph said (Genesis 50:17-20a). Joseph didn’t go into detail about their sin, but for complete forgiveness to take place, the evil in their hearts (you planned) and their evil actions had to be addressed for what it was: sin.

3. Forgiveness requires complete reliance on God’s sovereignty.  Joseph revealed his trust by saying to his brothers, “God planned it for good to bring about the present result.” (Genesis 50:20b) Jacob’s sons were responsible for their sins against Joseph and their father, but God took their evil deeds and used them to accomplish His purposes.

God’s display of His sovereignty is scary sometimes, isn’t it? In our need for control, we want circumstances and relationships we can manage, so we prefer a god who is manageable. So during times when we question His management of our lives, we want to take over. Ok, Jesus, that’s enough, it’s my time to drive – Jesus, let me take the wheel. But the great hope we find in the truth of God’s Word is that God is not like us, and we can’t manipulate Him. Over and over throughout the pages of Scripture God says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” God controls His desired ends regardless of the choices we make. His total sovereignty blows the circuits of our finite minds. God took the evil of Joseph’s brothers, turned it around, and made something good come from it. It takes a mighty God who is nothing like us to accomplish something like that. Joseph understood that God is sovereign, so nothing happens to us without Him knowing it. He is in control, even when things seem completely messed up.

“God’s sovereignty is first painful, then slowly powerful, and only over much times is seen to be profitable, if in this life at all.” – James MacDonald, Gripped by the Greatness of God

God was so much a part of Joseph’s life and breath that he saw and trusted the LORD in every circumstance, and through every difficulty. Everything that happened to Joseph, both bad and good, he viewed through the lens of God’s control. By faith, Joseph was able to move beyond his pain to see God’s power, and eventually how His sovereignty was profitable for everyone. The reason Joseph was able to forgive had nothing to do with his brothers’ apology and everything to do with his trust in God’s sovereignty. Let that sink in: Our ability to forgive others has nothing to do with their apology and everything to do with our trust in God’s sovereignty.

The-Princess-Bride4. Forgiveness results in the personal application of God’s grace. It’s easy to use words of forgiveness, but impossible, apart from the sovereign work of God’s Holy Spirit, to forgive with a heart of grace. Joseph said to his brothers, “‘I will take care of you…’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (vs. 21) Joseph’s forgiving spirit was the result of a heart that had been emptied through all the troubles of his life only to be filled to overflowing with the sovereign grace of God. You must first experience God’s grace before you can extend His grace to others.

To Joseph’s brothers, grace was counter-intuitive. It’s the same for us. Grace feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. It’s not rational. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness because it wrestles control out of our hands and destroys our safe, conditional world.

The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our selfishness with His goodness. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christian living.  Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

Joseph was led by God’s grace. He spoke by grace. He forgave by grace. He remembered by grace. He forgot by grace. He loved by grace. Because of grace, when his brothers bowed before him in fear, he could say, “don’t be afraid. I will take care of you.”

“Don’t be afraid” is Christ’s word to us just as it was Joseph’s word to his brothers. In their blindness, they wanted to work for his forgiveness (“We are your slaves” v. 18), but Joseph had completely forgiven them through grace. Some of us face the same problem when we learn that God forgives our sins—not because of any works we’ve done, but only because of His grace. This is why some go through life trying to compensate for their sins as a slave to guilt, rather than accepting God’s forgiveness as a free gift—an act of His grace. Grace is God’s gift for us to freely enjoy and personally experience.

Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and experience of His grace.

This is the power of the Gospel: while we were still sinning, Jesus, God’s Eternal Son, died for us when we deserved to die (Romans 5:8). What we deserve for the sin in our hearts and the sin we have done is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Before you and I could possibly forgive others completely, we must first believe that Jesus has forgiven our sin completely through His death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. Then, by trusting in God’s sovereignty, we can be kind and compassionate to others, forgiving just as God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ by His grace.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:32

As God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. – Colossians 3:12–13

Joseph challenges us to make a difference in our world by being different in our lives—by God’s grace and for God’s glory. Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and our experience of His grace.

Inigo's Revenge

Inigo Montoya’s Revenge

At the end of The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya finally gets his revenge. Inigo corners Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, knocks his sword aside, and slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like Inigo’s. He runs him through with a sword and shoves him back against the table. The six-fingered man falls to the floor, dead. When it was all over, he said to the Man in Black, “I’ve been in the revenge business for so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with my life.”

That’s the point – the purpose of revenge is completely pointless whereas our ability to forgive others by trusting God’s sovereignty in all things fills our lives with purpose.

Are you still in the revenge business? Have you truly forgiven those who have wronged you, ignored you, or been insensitive to you? How do you handle forgiveness, particularly when it comes to forgiving someone who has sinned against you and has not admitted it or sought forgiveness?Are there circumstances in your life where you’re tempted to take the place of God? Is there someone who you need to forgive that you’re afraid that if you do they will have control over you?

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.