The Power of “And” in God’s Promises of Blessings and Curses

When we make a promise we essentially give an assurance that we will engage in or refrain from a specific form of activity. These commitments are typically made between individuals, and can include quite a range of activities. Simple promises can be written or oral, and may be temporary or lifelong. Such gestures are often sealed by a gesture, such as a simple handshake or a solemn oath. Complicated situations often require a witness and legal ratification. However, a covenant should be distinguished from a contract because it is a personal relationship into which people voluntarily enter. 

Promises may also be between groups of people. Where important bodies are involved, such as government entities, such promises generally assume the form of treaties. Among honest individuals a promise includes an expectation that the promisor is both willing and able to fulfill the commitment to the promise, with the undertaking being accepted on the basis of good faith. Where groups of people are involved, litigation is often resorted to in order to resolve the damage occasioned by the failure of the promisor to fulfill the stated obligations. In the case of broken international treaties, appeal may be made to an international judicial body for some type of redress. In some instances, military action might even be undertaken by the aggrieved party.

Scripture records agreements between individuals in the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia. A classic example is noted in Genesis 31:43-55 regarding Laban and Jacob when Jacob was seeking his independence. A covenant was established between them in which the two men agreed not to act aggressively toward one another. Each man swore an oath by his god, and erected a stone marker to commemorate the occasion. On his deathbed, Jacob promised his twelve sons that the future would hold certain prospects for them, and according to contemporary custom this statutory declaration to each of them gave the pronouncements legal force (see Genesis 49:1-33).

“AND” IS NOT JUST A CONJUNCTION

So let’s take a few minutes to discuss conjunction. My 9th grade English teacher told me a conjunction is a word used to connect clauses or sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause. We all know the usual suspects: and, but, if. Fine, but why “conjunction?” Actually, these clauses are called conjuncts of the conjoining construction. Okay, right. We can take it a step further, noting coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions.

…and who could forget this?

God has made it clear that “and” is not merely a conjunction. He is not interested in grammar. Rather, He is intent on setting the operating principles for His many promises and covenants.

A promise meant to bring great blessing to humanity was made by God to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God said, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (NIV). Abraham, although childless, was to become the progenitor of a great nation. God repeated this promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:5. By faith, Abraham believed God’s utterances. God brought His promise even closer to fulfillment by stating that Sarah would have a son (see Genesis 18:10). Thereafter, Abraham rested his confidence in God’s divinity, and lived to see the Lord’s assurances implemented in what Paul, millennia later, was to call the “covenants of the promise” (Ephesians 2:12; Galatians 3:6-17).

The word covenant is of Latin origin (con venire). It means “coming together,” and involves two or more parties who agree to an arrangement—promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. In Christian theology, it is similar to the word bond. The generally-accepted idea of a bond between two parties in a covenant implies that the arrangement is not unilateral. There are of course pronounced similarities between biblical and secular covenants. God is the originator of the concept of covenant. He used covenant relationships in His creation activity and handiwork. Covenant is an integral part of the patchwork of human life; it is God-implanted.

The basic elements of a covenant are embedded in the Genesis account. God, in His revelation of creation, presented Himself as the Creator. The historical record of what He has done was outlined in Scripture. He created His image-bearers by means of which He placed and kept man and woman in a close relationship with Himself and had them mirror and represent Him within the created universe. God clearly provided man with various stipulations or mandates. This makes perfect sense; as image-bearers, man is to maintain an intimate and obedient fellowship with God. The Sabbath was to enhance this. Humanity was to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth; this was to be done by establishing families; a man was to leave his parents and cleave to his wife (see Genesis 2:24). Becoming one flesh, they would bear offspring.

As families increased, communities were formed. This was the social mandate aspect of God’s covenant. The cultural mandate essentially involved man and woman cultivating (“subduing,” NIV) and ruling over God’s creation. When God saw all He had done, He confirmed it so, but not by expressing an oath or performing a ratifying ceremony. Rather, He declared all to be very good (see Genesis 1:31). He confirmed this by ceasing all aspects of creation and establishing the seventh day as a day of rest, sanctity, and blessing (see Genesis 2:1-3).

WHAT ABOUT THE TWO-WAY STREET?

God did more than just “create” and sit down. He spoke of assured blessings. He blessed Adam and Eve, giving them the authority to serve as His covenant agents. He provided for their sustenance (see Genesis 1:28-30). He also spoke of the possibility for disobedience if they ate of the fruit of the Tree Knowledge of Good and Evil (see Genesis 2:17). God clearly focused on the idea of blessing (life) and curse (death). God’s covenants were all-inclusive stipulations. Basically, He said, “Here’s what you can have if you obey my covenant.” God clearly wanted it understood that His covenants are two-way streets. We cannot pick and choose which aspects we’re going to obey.

His covenants were never terminated. Paul said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV). I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse: “For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself” (MSG). Jesus was quite clear: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, NIV). Frankly, God’s covenants are similar to a lateral contract. When you buy a house or vehicle, you enter into a contract that is essentially a two-way street. You get to keep driving the car or living in the house until all agreed-upon payments (terms) have been met. Title of ownership then transfers to you. You reap the benefits of upholding your end of the agreement. Miss a lot of payments (default on the covenant) and the benefits of ownership will not pass to you.

A PRIME EXAMPLE

Jesus told us in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others of their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NIV). I’m aware that this doctrine causes many to doubt, stumble, question God. The going argument is this: But I thought all my sins were forgiven when I accepted Christ, and that He removed my sins from me as far as the East is from the West. It’s clear that the death of Jesus Christ was ransom enough to cover a multitude of sins. By God’s grace we are saved. Yet we remain in a fleshly body and are, therefore, prone to carnality. We’re likely to stumble, but hopefully we do not intentionally disobey God. To do so is a slap in the face of Jesus.

Believers are rather enthusiastic about grace. We’re quite excited about having been forgiven through God’s grace, extended to us through Christ. So why do many of us have a difficult time extending this same grace to those who have sinned against us? Bevere (2004), in his book The Bait of Satan, notes that there are two types of people: Those who have been offended, and those who think they have been offended. Forgiveness goes much deeper than merely receiving it for ourselves and going about living our lives. We’re commanded to forgive others. This should be part of our testimony. We’re to shower others with forgiveness even as we have been forgiven. Peter was concerned about how many times we should extend forgiveness: “At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven'” (Matthew 18:21-22, MSG).

The true meaning of forgiveness is cancelling a debt. C.S. Lewis (1984) said, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it all in its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.” Forgiveness means releasing resentment. Frankly, suppressed resentment will never go away. It lies in wait, like a subtext, tainting our relationships and convincing us we’re right. It blinds us to seeing whatever part we might have played in a conflict. It’s like a smoldering fire inside a house. It can break out anywhere at any time.

Forgiveness means choosing love. When we choose to not forgive, we construct walls to safeguard our hearts and prevent future wounds. Remember the adage, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? Nearly all of us take that axiom to heart. This rationale causes us to become selective, denying entry to all we fear will hurt us. Unfortunately, these so-called walls of protection become a veritable prison. Our focus becomes, well, rather self-centered. Our focus is inward and introspective. It’s all about what the other person did to us. Our energy is consumed with making sure no one else hurts us. Bevere (2004) said, “If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. Unconditional love gives others the right to hurt us” (p. 16). Of course, that sounds rather counter-intuitive doesn’t it?

 Love does not seek its own, but hurt people become more and more self-seeking and self-contained. They do this in the interest of self-preservation. The offended Christian is one who takes in life but, because of fear, cannot share life. As a result, even the life that does come in becomes stagnant within the walls we build to avoid getting hurt. Bevere (2004) adds, “When we filter everything through past hurts, rejections, and experiences, we find it impossible to believe God” (p. 17). Let’s remember this: A minister or a Christian is what he lives, not what he says. If we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we have not come to the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse others with our hypocritical lifestyle.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

God clearly focused on the idea of blessings and curses. He was quite specific that His covenants are all-inclusive stipulations. He told us what we can have if we obey His covenant. He wants us to understand that His covenants are two-way streets. We cannot pick and choose which aspects we’re going to obey and still expect to be blessed. One of the best examples of this is His position on forgiveness. Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NIV). He forgave the Jewish mob who demanded His crucifixion. He forgave the Roman soldiers who beat Him and nailed Him to the cross. He even forgave Judas Iscariot. He made no threats. Instead, he entrusted Himself to Him judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

We have to come to the place where we trust God and not our flesh—our emotions. We need to understand the quid pro quo of God’s covenants. Of His promised blessings. We must become willing to forgive, even as we have been forgiven. Only then can we walk in the freedom and the joy of God’s blessings.

References

Bevere, J. (2004), The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

Lewis, C.S. (1984). The Business of Heaven. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Press.

Peterson, E. (2006). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing.

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The Peacemaker (Part 3)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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The goal of a peacemaker is to magnify the marvelous undeserved forgiveness that God has given to us through Christ and to inspire people to imitate such forgiveness to others. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). As Christians, it is very important that we understand this verse correctly. Note we’re admonished to be peacemakers not peacekeepers. It would be a drastic error to misquote the Words of Jesus. Although it might sound like mere semantics, Christ urges that we make peace rather than keep the peace. The Gospel and peacemaking are interdependent. The Gospel is the very catalyst for peace. As believers, we are incapable of promoting real peace in the flesh. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peacemakers strive to make peace and attempt to reconcile things and people that are at odds with one another. Peacekeepers, on the other hand, strive to keep peace at all costs. Proverbs 10:10 says, “People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace” (NTL). Peacekeepers, by not acknowledging wrongdoings in an effort to make peace, are actually winking at them. We must be about peacemaking as believers. My church contains in its bylaws language about peacemaking being part of our mission.

Speak the Truth in Love

Peacemaking does not—indeed, cannot—happen by accident. It is a purposeful act. In fact, peacemaking is a higher priority than worship. Of course, love is the underlying commandment. John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). People should be able to catch a glimpse of the Father when they look at us.

Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is Christ.” Words play a key role in almost every conflict. When used properly, words promote understanding and encourage agreement. When misused, they usually aggravate conflicts and drive people further apart. If your words seem to do more harm than good when you try to resolve a disagreement, don’t give up. With God’s help you can improve your ability to communicate constructively.

Bring Hope Through the Gospel

When someone has disappointed or offended us, our human reaction is to come at them with the law, lecturing them about what they have done wrong and what they should do now to make things right. This approach generally makes people defensive and reluctant to admit their wrongs, which makes a conflict worse. The Lord is graciously working to teach us a better way to approach others about their failures. Instead of coming at them from a position of legalism, we need to bring them the Gospel. In other words, rather than dwelling on what people should do or have failed to do, we must focus primarily on what God has done and is doing for them in Christ. This is commanded throughout Scripture.

When Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman, instead of hammering away at her sinful lifestyle (as many pastors sadly do today), He spent most of His time engaging her in a conversation about salvation, eternal life, true worship, and the coming of the Messiah (see John 4:7-26). The woman responded eagerly to this Gospel-focused approach, let down her defenses, and put her trust in Christ. Although Jesus changed this focus when rebuking hard-hearted Pharisees, His typical approach to bringing people to repentance was to bring them the Good News of God’s forgiveness (see Luke 19:1-10; John 8:10-11).

The apostle Paul had a similar approach, even when he had to deal with serious sin. In his first letter the Corinthians, he had to address divisions, immorality, lawsuits, food sacrificed to idols, and the misuse of the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts. But before addressing these terrible sins, Paul’s gracious greeting held out hope for forgiveness and change by reminding the Corinthians of what God had already done for them through Christ. What a marvelous way to set the stage for repentance and change. Paul always kept Jesus in the center of his instruction and admonishment by first providing the believers a detailed description of God’s redemptive plan. When Paul finally got around to addressing errors in the congregation, his readers were already standing on a foundation of hope and encouragement.

Paul took the same approach with the Philippians and Colossians, who also needed correction and instruction. He begins his letters to these two churches by drawing attention to what God has done in each of them. As he continued, he frequently referred to the Gospel as he moved from issue to issue. For example, look at what Paul writes in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Before admonishing these believers, Paul reminds them of who they are in Christ.

Be Quick to Listen

Another element of effective communication is to listen carefully to what others are actually saying. Knowing this is not in our human nature, James gave this warning: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20, NIV). Good listening is particularly important for a peacemaker. It improves your ability to understand others, it shows that you realize you do not have all the answers, and it tells the other person that you value his or her thoughts and opinions. Even if you don’t agree with what others say or do, your willingness to listen demonstrates respect and shows that you are trying to comprehend their perspective. This typically helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect that will improve communication.

Waiting…

Waiting patiently while others talk is a key listening skill that is a must for all peacemakers. Without this skill, you will often fail to understand the root cause of a conflict, and you may complicate matters with inappropriate reactions. As Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (NIV). In other words, avoid jumping to premature conclusions about what others are thinking; give them time and hear them out. Discipline yourself not to interrupt others while they are speaking. Learn to be comfortable with silence and do not respond the moment there is a pause. Moreover, do not offer immediate solutions to every problem others bring to you.

Reflecting or “paraphrasing” is the process of summarizing the other person’s main points in your own words and sending them back in a constructive way. This is the very definition of active listening. Reflecting may deal with both the content of what the other person has said and the associated feelings. Reflecting does not require that you agree with what the other person says; it simply reveals whether you comprehend another person’s thoughts and feelings. Reflecting shows that you are paying attention and you are trying to understand or empathize with them. Besides, reflecting what others are saying can make them more willing to listen to what you want to say.

Engage Rather than Pronounce or Declare

One of the fastest ways to make people defensive is to abruptly announce what they have done wrong. If you launch into a direct and detailed description of their faults, they are likely to close their ears and launch a counterattack. It is wise to think carefully about how to open a conversation in a way that shows genuine concern for the other person and engages him in listening to your words without becoming defensive. If you are going to be candid—this is often doable when speaking to a close friend—you should first affirm your respect and friendship and then describe your concern in direct terms. If strong trust has not been built between you, however, or if the issue is likely to trigger defensiveness, you would be wise to broach your concern in an indirect way that engages the other person’s heart and mind without putting him instantly on guard.

Whatever approach you use, your goal should be to describe your concern in a way that captures others’ attention, appeals to their values, and gives hope that the issue can be resolved constructively. The more you engage another person’s heart and the less you declare his or her wrongs, the more likely he or she is to listen to you. Communicate clearly enough that you cannot be misunderstood. Many conflicts are caused or aggravating by misunderstandings. People may say things that are actually true or inappropriate, but because they did not choose their words carefully they leave room for others to misconstrue what they mean and take offense. Fewer factors can derail peacemaking than miscommunication.

Use the Bible Carefully

It is often helpful to refer to the Bible as a source of objective truth when you have a disagreement with another Christian. If this is not done with great care, however, it will alienate people rather than persuade them. Never quote the Bible to tear others down, but only to build them up in the Lord. Make sure to use Scripture passages for their intended purpose. Never pull a verse out of context and try to make it say something other than its clear meaning. It’s advisable to encourage others to read the passage from their own Bibles; then ask, “What do you think that means?” This typically yields far better results than imposing your interpretation on them.

It is also paramount that you know when to stop. If the other person appears to be getting irritated by your references to Scripture, it may be wise to back off and give him or her time to think about what you’ve presented to them.

Summary and Application

Effective confrontation is like a graceful dance from being supportive to assertive and back again. This dance may feel awkward at first for those who are just learning it, but perseverance pays off. With God’s help you can learn to speak the truth in love by saying only what will build others up, by listening responsibly to what others say, and by using principles of wisdom. As you practice these skills and make them a normal part of your everyday conversation, you will be well prepared to use them when conflict breaks out.  In developing the skills of loving confrontation, you can see for yourself that “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

God bless and thanks for reading.

Join me next Monday when I wrap up this series on peacemaking. We’ll look at the importance of taking one or two others along when confronting others in the interest of peace. Matthew 18:16 says, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

 

 

The Peacemaker (Part 2)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

Blessed Peacemakers Matthew 5.jpg

Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

Peace is essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt about it. God created this world with the intention that it be full of peace. But human sin derailed God’s intention. Brokenness now pervades that which God set in motion. Of course, God’s peace is inextricably related to forgiveness, salvation, redemption, and restoration. Luke 1:77-79 says, “…to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (RSV).

Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (NLT). Our aim as Christians—indeed, as peacemakers—is to encourage others to break free from the habit of focusing on other people’s wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to the conflict. We must essentially develop a passion for peace. First, it is critical that we understand how powerful words are. Peacemaking begins with saying the right thing the right way. Everything is relationship. We are constantly presented throughout each day with numerous opportunities to promote peace.

4 important keys related to conflict resolution and promoting peace:

  1. Resist the natural reaction to blame others and focus on their wrongs and differences. People who to take a moral approach are particularly fond of directions. They stress justice and fairness, noting people typically “get what they deserve.” They concern themselves with tangible rewards and the fruits of their actions. This is a “reap what you sow” perspective. They believe emotions simply get in the way. Those who focus on morals concern themselves with top/down thinking and are dedicated to truth. Simply put, they are concerned primarily with right and wrong. This limited viewpoint, however, lends itself to taking things too literally. Moral-minded people often have difficulty understanding or dealing with emotions, and are frequently highly critical and judgmental. It’s all black-and-white, with no room for gray. Those who focus on relationship concern themselves with intimacy, mercy, grace, and empathy. Focus is on the heart rather than the mind. This can be risky, however, as emotions tend to lie to us and become “reality.” Too much emphasis on emotion risks God’s principles taking a back seat to what we “feel.”
  2. The blame game always makes conflict worse. The more “right” someone thinks they are, the more self-righteous they become. This causes the relationship—the very interaction itself—to be more difficult. When we think the other party is wrong, we are reluctant to offer concessions. Failure to see conflict with an open mind can lead to stalemate. When we’re open and honest, we are more likely to accept our share of the blame in a conflict. We need to resist the temptation to list the other person’s faults. Our approach must spring forth from a problem-solving mindset and not be about proving our point. Sometimes it is best to “drop it” in order to stop the blame game.
  3. Conflict can be altered by taking a soft approach over harsh language. Confrontation is a key element to conflict resolution, but there is a proper way to approach someone about his or her conduct. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). Peterson translates the verse this way in The Message: “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.” This concept holds true in conflict resolution, witnessing, and apologetics. We will be more successful in persuading others of our position, of being certain they actually hear what we’re saying, and increasing the chance to make a friend rather than an enemy, when we take a gentle approach. Even when others have unloaded on us, a soft response can prevent (or at least hinder or limit) an escalation of the conflict.
  4. Genuine reconciliation and lasting change require a transformed heart. Taking a hard-line moral approach when confronting someone is often counterproductive. It is akin to saying, “Here it is. Do it or else.” Effective peacemaking is a matter of the heart with a degree of give-and-take. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV). Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. It is unfortunately never that simple. It can be extremely difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We cannot overlook the direct relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness. Biblical conflict resolution is built on the solid foundation of grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness.

Perhaps This is You?

It is impossible to completely and unconditionally forgive someone based upon our own strength, especially when they have hurt us deeply or betrayed our trust. We can try not to think about what they did or stuff our feelings and put on a happy face, but the feelings will still be lurking. Anger can fester for a long time, and often leads to resentment. Unless we undergo a change of heart—and are cleansed and set free by God—the hurt remains. The conflict goes unresolved. There is only one way to overcome this barrier, and that is to admit that you cannot forgive in our own strength.

Maybe you have prayed like this:

God, I cannot forgive him in my own strength. In fact, I do not want to forgive him at all, at least until he has suffered for what he did to me. He does not deserve to get off easy. Everything in me wants to hold it against him and keep a high wall between us so he can never heart me again. But Your Word warns me that unforgiveness will eat away at my soul and build a wall between You and me. More importantly, You have shown me that You made the supreme sacrifice, giving up Your own Son, in order to forgive me. Lord, please help me to want to forgive. Please change my heart and soften it so that I no longer want to hold this against him. Change me so that I can forgive and love him the way You have forgiven and loved me. God, please forgive me for my own unforgiveness.

Summary and Application

This is what reconciliation is all about. By thought, word, and deed, you can demonstrate forgiveness and rebuild relationships with people who have offended you. No matter how painful the office, with God’s help you can pay honor and glory to God by imitating His forgiveness and reconciliation for mankind that was demonstrated on the cross. By the grace of God, you can forgive as the Lord forgave you. This is of paramount importance in the scheme of peacemaking.

God bless.

The Peacemaker (Part 1)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

Blessed Peacemakers Matthew 5.jpg

Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

The “Four Gs” of conflict resolution:

  • Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Biblical peacemaking is motivated and guided by a deep desire to bring honor to God by revealing the reconciling love and power of Jesus Christ. As we draw on His grace, follow His example, and put His teachings into practice, we can find freedom from the impulsive, self-centered decisions that make conflict worse, and bring praise to God by displaying the power of the Gospel in our lives.
  • Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). Attacking others only invites counterattacks. This is why Jesus teaches us to face up to our own contributions to a conflict before we focus on what others have done. When we overlook others’ minor offenses and honestly admit our own faults, our opponents will often respond in kind. As tensions decrease, the way may be opened for sincere discussion, negotiation, and reconciliation.
  • Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). When others fail to see their contributions to a conflict, we sometimes need to graciously show them their fault. If they refuse to respond appropriately, Jesus calls us to involve respected friends, church leaders, or other objective individuals who can help encourage repentance and restore peace.
  • Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Finally, peacemaking involves a commitment to restoring damaged relationships and negotiating just agreements. When we forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us and seek solutions that satisfy others’ interests as well as our own, the debris of conflict is cleared away and the door is opened for genuine peace.

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Unfortunately, many believers and their churches have not yet developed the commitment and ability to respond to conflict in a Gospel-centered and biblical manner. This is often because they have succumbed to the relentless pressure our secular culture exerts on us to forsake the timeless truths of Scripture and adopt the relativism of our postmodern era. Although many Christians and their churches believe they have held on to God’s Word as their standard for life, their responses to conflict, among other things, show that they have in fact surrendered much ground to the world. Instead of resolving differences in a distinctively biblical fashion, they often react to conflict with the same avoidance, manipulation, and control that characterize the world. In effect, both individually and congregationally, they have given in to the world’s postmodern standard, which is “What feels good, sounds true, and seems beneficial to me?”

Pastor Mike Miller at my home church, Sunbury Bible Church, started a Spring series on peacemakers. He opened the series on April 22, 2018 stating, “Peace matters to God.” The Hebrew word shalom has a comprehensive meaning beyond being content or “at peace.” It also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It can further mean “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” Shalom speaks of a completeness or fullness that encourages you to give back. Jesus is not talking about mediators or political negotiators in Matthew 5:9, but those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is only available through son-ship with God. As you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

3 Relationships Needed for Building Peace:

  1. With God (first). Peace must begin vertically, between us and God, before it can be shared horizontally, between others. Man has a broken relationship with God since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. This has left a God-shaped void—a hole in the soul—which we try to fill with anything and everything. It’s like an infinite abyss.
  2. With Others (second). This is what helps build horizontal connectedness in order that we might live in harmony as much as possible. Philippians 2:5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (NIV).
  3. With yourself (ultimately). We simply cannot expect to have peace within if we are at odds with everyone around us. Jesus knew this when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (NIV). Moreover, we cannot expect to be at peace with others if we are not at peace with God.

But at What Cost?

Genuine peace is a priority, but it is costly. We often have to give up something of ours to obtain or promote peace. Genuine peace is only found at the Cross. We’re part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. Genuine peace has eternal consequences. Most conflicts also provide an opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus. As Paul urged in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul elaborated on this opportunity when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29, italics mine).

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity

Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and He is present and working in your life. The opposite is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the Good News about the saving work of Jesus on the Cross.

unity banner.jpg

One of the most emphatic statements on peace and unity in the Bible is found in Jesus’ prayer shortly before he was arrested and taken away to be crucified. After praying for Himself and for unity among His disciples (John 17:1-19), Jesus prayed for all who would someday believe in Him. These words apply directly to every Christian today:

My prayer is not for [My disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you. May they also be in Us so that the world many believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

In Summary

The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: Whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, God is eager to display His love and power through us as we strive to maintain peace and unity with those around us. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer. If you have committed your life to Christ, He invites you to draw on His grace and commands you to seek peace with others. Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you. Your dependence on Him and obedience to this call will show the power of the Gospel and enable you to enjoy the personal peace that God gives to those who faithfully follow Him.

Please join me next Monday for The Peacemaker (Part Two), when we will look at helping others to break free from the habit of focusing on other peoples’ wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to conflict.


 

The Cross

In today’s advanced aged of technology, terrorism, and the search for peace, there seems to be no concrete answer. People look for an outcome that will satisfy their needs, but forget to look in the Bible for answers from God. Even though the manuscripts are over 2,000 years old, they remain relevant for many generations, to include the present and future populations seeking peace within their hearts.

bible4

The only man-made things in heaven are the scars on Jesus Christ. He was wounded and killed so that we could spend eternity with Him and our Father God. Because of our belief in the sacrifice Jesus endured, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins. It takes faith to believe in something we cannot see. In fact, Hebrews 11: 1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Most people only rely on tangible assets which they can touch, feel, and see.

We are to lead a Christian life, which includes love and sacrifice for the less fortunate. Eternity is forever, and where we choose to spend it is a personal choice that each person has to make on his or her own. The mistakes or confrontations we encounter daily in life bring us closer to God and His Son Jesus. Upon our request, the Holy Spirit will come along side us and provide a spiritual solution.

Water Color of Crucifixion

The Cross is symbolic because it provides us with the solution of forgiveness for our sins, and empowers us to forgive those who have hurt us by their actions or words. Jesus died on the cross even though he healed the sick and taught His disciples how to lead a Christian life filled with love, kindness, forgiveness, and honoring God by being an example to unbelievers. Words certainly can hurt when the tongue speaks in anger, hatred, envy, or jealousy. The cross gives us the ability to lead a godly life.

C=-Christian, R=Redemption, O=Optimism, S=Salvation, and S=Solution.

Without the Holy Spirit to guide us daily, we will be searching for answers we cannot find on our own. There is only one way to the cross; faith and belief that eternity has no end, and that we will be at peace, shalom, living with God forever. When we spend time in the Word daily, we find answers to life’s questions and how it all relates to God’s unconditional, everlasting love. The price for being forgiven of our sins has been paid in full by Jesus as He hung on the cross. God sent him to teach us how to live, and, ultimately, He showed us the unfathomable love of God, who sent His only begotten Son to hang on a cross in our place. Our transgressions have been forgiven, allowing us to spend eternity with our Creator.

Sunset on green Field Landscape

For since the creation of the world God’s visible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

The only way we can begin to thank God for this unbelievable sacrifice is to praise Him, allow Him into our hearts and lives, guiding us in this earthly world. We are to be a beacon. We are salt and light to the world. This is actually not an option. Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” He did not say, “You can be” or “You have the potential to be.” He said, “You are the salt and the light.” Everyone who is born again is the salt and the light of the world. (See Matthew 15:13-16.) We are salt and light to the world, not the church. We are to go beyond the church  and share the Good News. We were saved to shine! We cannot hide our testimony. We have a story to tell. Jesus said we are to let our light shine before men so they might see our good works and choose to glorify God.

salt and light

Actually, as salt we Christians are to counteract the power of sin. As light we are to illuminate or make things obvious. Matters that need to be settled. Sin that needs to be exposed. We are to show others (believers and non-believers alike) that they should lay their burdens, their sin, their strongholds, their fears, their resentments at the foot of the cross. We have been crucified with Christ. Our lives are to be an ongoing witness to the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. When we worship God with a pure heart, when we love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31), and when we do good without expectation of reward, we are shining lights. It is actually not our light, but a reflection of the Light of the Word, Jesus Christ.

We stand forgiven at the cross. We stand healed at the cross. We stand set free at the cross. The cross is the place where all the wounds of sin are healed. If you suffer from emotional problems – guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment – there is healing through the cross of Christ. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree. Clearly, God demands a penalty be paid for sin. Christ took that penalty upon Himself on the cross. The power of sin is too great. We cannot be delivered from it by turning over a new leaf. We can’t behave our way into heaven. Thankfully, we have a substitute, Jesus, who was a propitiation for our sins. When Christ died, those who believe in Him died too. We were identified with him in His death. When He rose from the dead, we were raised with Him into newness of life.

What happened at the cross shows us that God loves all people equally. He has a special place in His heart for those who are hurting – those who are under the penalty and power of sin. Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. It was, after all, a means of execution for centuries. In Christianity the cross is the intersection of God’s exacting judgment and his unparalleled love. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of the cross, those who put their trust and faith in Him have everlasting love. Through the cross, and the horrendous death endured by Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life.

Healing Emotional Wounds From Your Past

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)

Dan and Cindy were a fine, young Christian couple preparing for ministry on the mission field. Then tragedy struck. Cindy was attacked and raped by a stranger in the parking lot one night after work. The police were unable to find her attacker, and Cindy had a hard time bringing any closure to the nightmare. The trauma was so severe that Dan and Cindy moved out of the city. As hard as she tried to get back to normal life, Cindy couldn’t shake the horrible memories and feelings from her experience. She was trapped by her trauma.

One of the most vital things we can learn regarding our Christian life is how to handle the trials that will inevitably come our way. Many Christians naively expect a life of joy once they have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. When hit with adversity, they begin to doubt the love of God. Why me? I love the Lord. I go to church. New believers, especially those who have emerged from a life of failure, are looking for success in their new life, not suffering.

Romans 8:28 is one of the most familiar verses on this subject. The NASB translation states, “God causes all things to work together for good.” Let’s not come away thinking this verse says God causes the very thing itself in order to bring about good in the life of the believer. It is saying, rather, that things don’t just happen to work out for good on their own. God providentially works all things together for good for His people according to His purpose. But while Romans 8:28 is a source of great comfort when it is properly understood, it is often misunderstood and misapplied.

BAD THINGS DO HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE

Your story may not be as severe as Cindy’s, but all of us have hurtful, traumatic experiences in our past that have scarred us emotionally. You may have grown up with a physically, emotionally or sexually abusive parent. You may have been severely frightened as a child. Maybe you have suffered through a painful relationship in the past: a broken friendship, the untimely death of a loved one, a divorce. Any number of traumatic events in your past can leave you holding a lot of emotional baggage. Those experiences are buried in our memories and available for instant recall when we least expect it.

The cycle of emotions goes like this: (1) previous life history determines the intensity of primary emotions you experience when (2) a present event triggers the memory of your past trauma, then (3) you perform a mental evaluation in order to manage your present emotional response, attempting to apply reason, resulting (4) in a secondary emotional response, typically far less intense than your primary emotional reaction. Of course, many of these primary emotions lie dormant within you and have little effect on your life until something triggers them. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen when a seemingly innocuous conversation you are having with someone sends him or her storming out of the room. What set him off? you wonder. You unwittingly touched a nerve.

The problem is, you cannot isolate yourself completely from everything that may set off an emotional response. You are bound to see something on TV, or hear something in a conversation, that will bring to mind your unpleasant experience. Something in your past is unresolved, and therefore it still has a hold on you. I once heard it said that when we fail to deal with past events that have caused emotional baggage, we tend to bring the emotions of that past trauma into our current relationships. When this happens, our decisions are not so much undertaken by us as they are driven by the emotions of the prior event.

LEARNING TO RESOLVE PRIMARY EMOTIONS

You have no control over a primary emotion when it is triggered in the present, because it is rooted in the past. Therefore, it doesn’t do any good to feel guilty about something you can’t control. You can, however, stabilize the primary emotion by evaluating it in light of present circumstances. For example, suppose you meet a man named Bill. He looks hauntingly like the Bill who used to beat you up as a child. Although he is not the same person, your primary emotion will be triggered. So you quickly tell yourself, “This is not the same Bill; give him the benefit of the doubt.” This mental evaluation produces a secondary emotion that is a combination of the past and the present.

You have done this thousands of times, and you have also helped others do the same. When people fly off the handle, you try to help them cool down by talking to them. You are helping them gain control of themselves by making them think; by putting the present situation into perspective. Notice how this works the next time you are watching a football game and tempers explode on the field. On player grabs an enraged teammate and says, “Listen, meathead, you’re going to cost us a 15-yard penalty and maybe the game if you don’t simmer down!”

Some Christians assert that the past doesn’t have any effect on them because they are new creations in Christ. I would have to disagree, and here’s why. Either they are extremely fortunate to have a conflict-free past, or they are living in denial. Those who have had major past traumas and have learned how to resolve them in Christ know how devastating past experiences can be. Many Christians have brought their major traumatic experiences to counseling sessions. Some have been abused to such an extent that they have no conscious memory of their experiences. Others constantly avoid anything that will stimulate those painful memories. Most don’t know how to resolve those past experiences, so they have developed myriad defense mechanisms to cope. Some live in denial. Others rationalize their problems, or try to suppress the pain by an excess of food, sex, drugs and alcohol, or other vices.

A major role of psychotherapy is to determine the root of primary emotions. Sometimes psychotherapists resort to hypnosis or pharmacotherapy to get at the sources of their clients’ problems. I worked for eighteen months in a dissociative disorders unit at a psychiatric hospital outside of Philadelphia, PA. Dissociative disorders involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity or perception. People with dissociative disorders use dissociation, a defense mechanism, pathologically and involuntarily. Dissociative disorders are thought to be primarily caused by previous severe psychological trauma. Patients suffering from possible multiple personality disorder are sometimes treated with sodium amytal interviews in order to assess and manage catatonia, hysterical stupor, and unexplained muteness, as well as in distinguishing between depressive, schizophrenic, and organic stuporous states. My clinical experience at that psychiatric facility involved treating women allegedly suffering from multiple personality disorder, which was thought to be caused by severe, long-term physical or psychological trauma during childhood and early adolescence.

SEE YOUR PAST IN LIGHT OF WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST

I have come to believe that the answer for repressed memories is found in Psalm 139:23-24, which states, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (NIV)

How does God intend you to resolve your past experiences? In two ways. First, understand that you are no longer a product of your past. You are a new creation in Christ: a product of Christ’s work on the cross. You have the privilege of evaluating your past experience in light of who you are today, as opposed to who you were then. The intensity of the primary emotion was initially established by how you perceived the event at the time it happened. People are not in bondage to past traumas so much as they are in bondage to the lies they believed about themselves, God, and how to live as a result of the trauma. That is why truth sets you free.

As a Christian, you are literally a new creature in Christ Jesus. Old things, including the traumas of your past, passed away. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The old you in Adam is gone; the new you in Christ is here to stay. We have all been victimized, lo, even traumatized, but whether we remain victims is up to us. An old-timer I knew in Alcoholics Anonymous used to share, “Victims drink!” Those primary emotions are rooted in the lies we believed in the past. Now we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (See Romans 12:2) The flesh patterns are still imbedded in our minds when we become new creations in Christ, but we can crucify the flesh and choose to walk by the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22-25)

Now that you are in Christ, you can look at past events from the perspective of who you are today. You may be struggling with the question, “Where was God when all this was happening to me?” The omnipresent God was there, and He sent His own Son to redeem you from your past. The truth is, He is in your life right now desiring to release you from your past. That is the Gospel: the “Good News” that Christ Jesus came to set the captives free. Perceiving past traumatic events from the vantage point of your new identity in Christ is what starts the process of healing those damaged or toxic emotions.

FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE HURT YOU

The next step in resolving past conflicts is to forgive those who have offended you.  You have to break free from the typical mindset of, “Why should I forgive him? You don’t seem to understand how bad he hurt me!” The first reason is that forgiveness is required by God. As soon as Jesus spoke the “amen” to his model prayer – which included a petition for God’s forgiveness – He commented, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (See Matthew 18:14-15) We must base our relationship with others on the same criteria on which God bases His relationship with us: love, acceptance, and forgiveness. (See Matthew 18:21-35)

The second reason is because forgiveness is necessary to avoid entrapment by Satan. Unforgiveness is the number one snare Satan uses to gain entrance to our lives. I read a terrific book on this subject by John Bevere (2004) called The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. In his preface, Bevere says, “The issue of offense – the very core of The Bait of Satan – is often the most difficult obstacle an individual must face and overcome.” Bevere tells us the Greek word for “offend” used by Jesus in Luke 17:1 is skandalon, which originally referred to the part of an animal trap to which the bait was attached for luring the animal. In similar fashion regarding the sin of offense, the word signifies laying a trap in someone’s way! Paul encourages us to forgive “in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (See 2 Corinthians 2:11)

The third reason is simple: forgiveness is required of all believers who desire to be like Christ. Paul wrote, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV)

WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?

Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgetting may be a beneficial long-term byproduct of forgiving, but it is never a means to forgiveness. When God says He will remember our sins no more (See Hebrews 10:17), He is not saying, “I will forget them.” God is omniscient; He cannot forget. Rather, He is saying He will never use our past against us. He will remove it from us as far as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12) Moreover, forgiveness does not involve tolerance for sin. It is proper to forgive someone’s past sins, but we must take a stand against future sin.

Forgiveness does not seek revenge or demand repayment for offenses suffered. A friend of mine is notorious for saying, “I’m all about paybacks!” I told him he must not seek retribution no matter what the offense. He said, “You mean I’m just supposed to let them off the hook?” I might have gotten through to him the last time we spoke. I said, “Yes, you let them off your hook realizing that God does not let them off His hook.” We may feel like exacting justice, but we are not an impartial judge. God is the just judge who will make everything right in the end. “‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (See Romans 12:19)

Forgiveness means resolving to live with the consequences of another person’s offense. In reality, we have to live with the consequences whether we forgive the offending person or not. Actually, we are all living with the consequences of Adam’s sin. I can’t count the number of people – believers and non-believers alike – who don’t think that this is fair. Some have even gone as far as to insist they would have obeyed God and not eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obviously, we’ll never know, will we? So our only real choice is simple: either live with the consequences of the Fall in the bondage of bitterness and offense, or in the freedom of forgiveness.

 

Objective of Forgiveness: Reconciliation

IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO HELP A STUMBLING
BROTHER THAN TO
PROVE YOURSELF CORRECT

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5:21-24, MSG)

This quote comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus started by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old.” Then He added, “But I say to you…” Jesus continues this comparison throughout this portion of His message. First He quotes the law that regulates our outward actions. Then He shows its fulfillment by bringing it into the heart. So in God’s eyes a murderer is not limited to the one who commits murder; he is also the one who hates his brother. What you are in your heart is how you really are.

Jesus clearly delineates the consequences of offense in this portion of His sermon. He illustrates the severity of holding anger or bitter offense. If one is angry with his brother without cause, he is in danger of judgment. He is in danger of the council if that anger bears fruit and he calls his brother raca. This is a biblical term meaning “worthless” or “empty.” It implies that the person is a fool. In the days of the Early Church, calling a person a fool was to imply that they were Godless. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.'” So if anger reaches the point where you call your brother worthless or a fool, you are in danger of hell.

Jesus was showing them that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Hatred not properly dealt with would put them in danger of hell. Then He said that if they remembered their brother was offended with them, they were to make it top priority to find him and seek to be reconciled. But why the urgency to seek reconciliation? It it for our sake or our brother’s sake. We should go for his sake that we might be a catalyst to help him out of the offense. Even if we are not offended with him, the love of God does not let him remain angry without attempting to reach out and restore. We may have done nothing wrong. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. It is more important for us to help this stumbling brother than to prove ourselves correct.

There are limitless scenarios for offense.

Maybe the person we have offended believes we were unjust in our treatment of him, when in reality we did him no harm. He may have inaccurate information that has yielded an inaccurate conclusion. On the other hand, he may have accurate information from which he had drawn an inaccurate conclusion. What we said may have been grossly distorted once it was processed through the various channels of communication. Though our intent was not to harm, our words and actions gave a different appearance. Often we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions. It is possible to intend one thing while communicating something totally different. Sometimes our true motives are cleverly hidden even from us. We want to believe they are pure. But as we filter them through the Word of God we see them differently.

Finally, maybe we did sin against the person. We were angry or under pressure, and he got the brunt of it. Or maybe this person has constantly and deliberately lashed out at us, and we were responding in kind. No matter what caused it, this offended person’s understanding is darkened, and he has based his judgments on assumptions, hearsay, and appearances, deceiving himself even though he believes he has discerned our true motives. How can we have an accurate judgment without accurate information? It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that he believes with his whole heart he has been wronged. For whatever reason he feels this way, we must be willing to humble ourselves and apologize.

Jesus is exhorting us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. But taking the first step is often harder on the one who is hurting. That’s why Jesus told the person who caused the offense to “go to him.”

ASKING FORGIVENESS OF ONE WHO IS OFFENDED

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19) This shows us how to approach a person we have offended. If we go with an attitude of frustration, we will not promote peace. We will only make it difficult for the one who is hurt. We are to maintain an attitude of pursuing peace through humility at the expense of our pride. It is the only way to see true reconciliation. On certain occasions, as part of making amends in the 9th Step, I have approached people I have hurt or who were angry with me, and they have lashed out at me. In fact, I am currently estranged from my brother and one of my sons due to wrongful behavior during active addiction. I have been called selfish, inconsiderate, hopeless, and a continual failure by people whom I love, but whom I stole from or belittled.

My natural response has been to get defensive. No I’m not! You just don’t understand what I’m going through. You don’t understand addiction. Whenever we defend ourselves in this manner, it only fuels the fire of their offense. This is not the proper way to make amends or to pursue peace. Standing up for ourselves and “our rights,” especially when we were wrong in the first place, will never bring true peace. Instead, we need to learn to listen and keep our mouth shut until they have said what they need to say. Whether we agree or not, the key is to respect their feelings. Let them know we love them despite how we treated them. Then tell them we’re sorry and ask for their forgiveness.

Pride defends. Humility agrees and says, “You are right and I was wrong.”

James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Godly wisdom is willing to yield. It is not stiff-necked or stubborn when it comes to personal conflicts. A person submitted to godly wisdom is not afraid to yield or defer to the other person’s viewpoint as long as it does not violate truth.

APPROACHING SOMEONE WHO HAS OFFENDED YOU

Now that we have discussed what to do when we offend our brother, let’s consider what to do if our brother offends us.  Jesus said, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) Many people apply this Scripture verse in a different attitude from the one Jesus was intending. If they have been hurt, they will go and confront the offender in a spirit of revenge and anger. They use this verse as justification to condemn the one who has hurt them.

But they are missing the whole reason Jesus instructed us to go to one another. It is not for condemnation, but for reconciliation. He does not want us to tell our brother how rotten he has been to us. We are to go to remove the breach preventing the restoration of our relationship. This parallels how God restores us to Himself. We have sinned against God, but, as Paul wrote, Jesus demonstrates His own love toward and for us, in that while we were still sinners, He died for us. (Romans 5:8) Are we willing to lay down our self-protection and die to pride in order to be restored to the one who has offended us? God reached out to us before we asked for forgiveness. Jesus decided to forgive us before we even acknowledged our offense.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) The word of reconciliation begins on the common ground that we all have sinned against God. We do not desire reconciliation or salvation unless we know there is a separation.

Although we have sinned against God, He chooses not to condemn us but to reconcile us to Himself. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s goodness leads us to repent. His love does not leave us condemned to hell. He proved His love by sending Jesus, His only Son, to the cross to die for us. God reaches out to us first, even though we have offended Him. He reaches out not to condemn, but to restore. Since we are to imitate God, we are to extend reconciliation to a brother who sins against us. Jesus established this pattern: Go to him and show him his sin, not to condemn him or make him wrong, but to remove anything that lies between the two of you and thus be reconciled and restored.

The goodness of God within us will draw our brother to repentance and restoration of the relationship. We keep this bond of peace by maintaining an attitude of humility, gentleness, and long-suffering, and by undergirding each other’s weakness in love. We should not go to a brother who has offended us until we have decided to forgive him from our heart – no matter how he responds to us. We need to get rid of any feelings of animosity toward him before approaching him. If we don’t, we will probably react out of these negative feelings and hurt him, not heal him.

A word about telling everyone what someone has done to us rather than approaching the offending party. I believe we do this because we are looking for people who will take our side. It strengthens our cause and comforts us when others agree with how badly we have been treated. There is only selfishness in this type of behavior. If we keep the love of God as our motivation, we will not fail. Love never fails. When we love others the way Jesus loves us, we will be free even if the other person chooses not to be reconciled to us. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” He says, “If it is possible,” because there are times when others will refuse to be at peace with us. We are to do everything we can to be reconciled with the other person, as long as we remain loyal to truth. We often give up on relationships too soon.

The love of God is the key to freedom from the baited trap of offense. This must be an abounding love, a love that continually grows and is strengthened in our hearts. So many in our society today are deceived by a superficial love, a love that talks but does not act. The love that will keep us from stumbling lays down its life selflessly – even for the good of an enemy. When we walk in this kind of love, we cannot be seduced into taking the bait and living in offense. Instead, we are capable of complete, unconditional forgiveness. We are able, if even for a moment, to be like Christ.

Forgiveness: letting go of grudges and bitterness. When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge, or embrace forgiveness and move forward. If not, the wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of animosity, hostility, and malevolence.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Image result for black sheep of the family

A black sheep stands out from the flock. In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group. It seems nearly every family in America has one. The troubled child. A lightning rod of sorts. The center of attention. Always in the hot seat. The squeaky wheel in need of grease. Chances are, if you are the black sheep of the family, then you’ll know about it. Unfortunately for you, you were born as the runt of the litter and your family isn’t exactly pleased with your existence. At the very worst, you’re the stereotypical black sheep – an alcoholic, drug addict, gambler, delinquent, and a constant disappointment to your family.

But not every black sheep is as dramatic as that, and it may just take something little for you to set off your family’s wrath. You may be an atheist in a family of Christians, unemployed, a party animal, have trouble in school. Maybe you got your high school sweetheart pregnant the summer you both graduated. All of these attributes can make you the black sheep, and make your parents wonder where they went wrong. However, being the black sheep of the family doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means that you’re different. You see things differently, have you own opinions, and you’re probably the only one on your side, so it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar:

  • Your parents were more strict with you than they were with your other siblings.
  • Your mistakes were blown out of proportion and/or punished disproportionately.
  • You always carried the feeling that you “didn’t fit in” with your family, and you didn’t develop strong connections with them.
  • You were mocked, ridiculed and/or made fun of on a constant basis.
  • Your family seemed intent on making you feel “deficient” and as though you were always fundamentally lacking.
  • You developed mental or emotional disorders, and/or substance abuse problems as a result of being scapegoated and overburdened.
  • Your family didn’t show any interest in who you really were as a person.
  • You were criticized, completely ignored, or or emotionally manipulated if you rebelled in any way.

The role we played as children and young adults in our families contributes immensely to our present sense of self-worth, feelings of social approval, and our psychological and emotional well-being at large. If you’re like me, you may have got stuck in a role that undermined your sense of being a fundamentally “good” and “acceptable” person deep down, something that still affects me to this very day.  You may find yourself identified as the trouble child or the black sheep of your family, and this may cause you a lot of shame and depression in your life. Families often focus on the behavior of one child who seems to struggle with behaving properly. Dysfunctional families tend to avoid their own internal pain, disappointments and struggles by pointing the finger at another family member as the cause for all the problems they experience.

I took a class on marriage and family last semester at Colorado Christian University. The core textbook for the class, The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home (Balswick & Balswick, 2014), indicates that it’s critical for children to develop into their own unique selves within the context of family unity. Family scientists and counselors refer to this as differentiation – the process of maintaining a separate identity while simultaneously remaining connected in relationship, belonging, and unity. Another way to describe this process is interdependency.

Balswick & Balswick believe that family relationships involve four sequential (non-linear) states: covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. Covenant has to do with commitment to family members, and hinges on unconditional love. Grace involves forgiving other family members and being unforgiven by them. Certainly, from a human perspective, the unconditional love of God makes no sense until we look at it through the eyes of grace. Grace is truly a relational word, and means unmerited favor. John Rogerson (1996) takes the understanding of grace as a natural extension of convenant love and applies it to family life. He believes the family unit to be “…structures of grace…social arrangements designed to mitigate hardship and misfortune, and grounded in God’s mercy.”

Family relationships, as designed by God, are meant to be lived out in an atmosphere of grace, not “law.” Family life based on contract leads to an atmosphere of law, and is a discredit to Christianity. Christ came in human form to reconcile the world to God. This act of divine love and forgiveness is the basis for human love and forgiveness. We can forgive others as we have been forgiven. It is the love of God within that makes this possible. Of course, humans are limited and fallen. We can never fulfill the law. Thankfully, we are free from the law because of Christ’s perfection and righteousness, which leads to our salvation. When it comes to family relationships, none of us can expect to measure up. In a family based on law, the members demand perfection of one another.

Shame is often born out of a fear of unworthiness or rejection. When shame is present, family members put on masks and begin to play deceptive roles before one another. Children who experience the wrath of a parent on a nearly daily basis try to escape that wrath by employing various avoidance behaviors, such as lying, hiding, and deception. However, when family members experience convenant love, grace, and empowerment, they will be able to communicate confidently and express themselves freely without fear. Typically, family members should want what is best for one another. There must first be an atmosphere of unconditional covenant in the family, as well as open communication and honest sharing without the threat of rejection.

Inasmuch as all family members are imperfect, each with their own individual temperaments and experiences, they progress at different rates in the realization of God’s ideals of unconditional love, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. That is to say, all family members fall on a continuum between hurting and healing behaviors. When families choose hurting behaviors and move away from God’s way, the entire family will be negatively effected. Among the hurting behaviors in a family environment are conditional love, self-centeredness, perfectionism, fault finding, efforts to control or punish others, unreliability, denial of feelings, and lack of communication. With such behaviors, the focus is on self rather than on the best interests of the other family members. When children are raised in this type of family, they are limited in their ability to love others unconditionally.

Hurting families tend to withhold grace, often demanding unreasonable perfection, and blaming those members who don’t measure up. Individuals in these families fear they will make a mistake and be rejected because of failure to meet the standards. So they try harder to be perfect. What they need is acceptance for who they are, and forgiveness when they fail. Members of hurting families are typically not able to get in touch with their feelings. Their fear of rejection keeps them in denial of their emotions. What they need most is a safe atmosphere in which they can express their feelings, thoughts, wants, and desires, and be heard and understood by the other family members. Open communication helps each person share more honestly rather than hide feelings and thoughts.

A child who was loved conditionally (with strings attached) needs to experience unconditional love in order to feel lovable. This would go a long way to break the perpetual cycle found in hurting families. Such a breakthrough is predicated upon receiving God’s unconditional love. Being cherished by God no matter what you’ve done gives you a sense of self-worth and a new self-perception. (“I am lovable!”) Drawing on the Holy Spirit and maturing faith, the individual now has reason to follow God’s example and adopt healing behaviors. Living in covenant love is a dynamic process. God has designed family relationships to grow from hurting to healing behavior. As families accomplish this, it helps family members to eventually reach out to people beyond the boundaries of the family.

Conclusion

We know what the black sheep of the family looks like. He’s the “bad” guy who gets in trouble all the time at school, and later with the law and society in general. The “wild child” with poor impulse control who begins abusing drugs and alcohol. Someone who tends to embarrass the family by making all of the family secrets apparent to the world. Obviously, the family can’t be that great if little Stevie ended up drinking and drugging and spending three years in state prison, right? No matter what the family does to undo that image, there’s always Stevie to contend with. And how did he grow up so “bad” if he came from such an upstanding family?

Black sheep are basically scapegoats raised by parents who have a particular issue with morality. Either they are rigidly moralistic and can’t abide the slightest infringement of the rules, or they are unable to own their own mistakes and shortcomings. They tend to project these issues onto one of their children, seeing that child as wrong, “bad,” immoral, or evil. Often, the child will take on the bad, swallow it deep down into the unconscious, and then work really hard to be “good.” However, having not been empowered by his parents, such a child is typically incapable of self-control.

In this type of situation, parents unwittingly react to the challenge of controlling the bad child by talking to the child. Unfortunately, this makes him feel as if it is hopeless to even consider changing. Perhaps the parents are sincerely worried about what’s going on, but they don’t recognize the unconscious projections that are occurring in the home. They might even show him affection during this talk. They look him right in the eye with a sincere worry about what might happen to him if he doesn’t stop. The child, again taking on the emotional content of the conversation as if it belongs solely to him (as the empathic scapegoat child generally does) assumes that not only is he bad for upsetting his parents, he must be really hopeless if his parents are worried.

We can’t change the past. Our childhood experiences have shaped us into the men and women we are today. Both the good and the bad parts. What we can do, however, is change the way we view our past. It is important that we make sense of our life story. We need to think about experiences in our past, and how these experiences have shaped the actions we take today and in the future. By linking past experiences to our present, we’ll be able to better understand the motives behind our actions, and move forward in such a way that that our past, while remaining an integral part of ourselves, doesn’t define us for the rest of our lives.

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The Forgiveness and Compassion Exercise

In addition to completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology online at Colorado Christian University, I am also working diligently to prepare myself for work as an addictions counselor. Part of that work includes increasing my acceptance of others, increasing my level of compassion, and improving my spiritual condition. That also includes letting go of hurts, disappointments and offenses.

I picked up a photocopy today of something called The Forgiveness and Compassion Exercise by Harry Palmer. This exercise can be done with someone in mind whom you resent, or for anyone anywhere. It should be done in a way where no one notices.

Try to do all five steps (listed below) on the same person. Concentrate on that person and repeat each of the following to yourself:

  1. Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in their life.
  2. Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in their life.
  3. Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  4. Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill their needs.
  5. Just like me, this person is learning about life.

Forgiven and Loved by Jimmy Needham

Tell me I’m forgiven and loved
‘Cause I hear it from the street corner priests
On how God is love and how man can be clean
But my joy has been on holiday
And my peace has almost passed away
Tell me I’m forgiven and free

O I tried and tried to rectify my hopeless situation
But I bought the lie I still have work to do
Now I’m working nine to five like I can earn my own salvation
But there is no condemnation in You

O whisper to me now that it’s for real
‘Cause in the silence of these walls righteousness lost its appeal
Dirty deeds have done me in
O but that can’t stop the faithful friend
Giving mercy once again as You heal
Here it is I’m feeling it

O He died, He died to rectify my hopeless situation
And His blood commands my guilt to leave
Now on Calvary I stand
Empty pockets, open hands
O there is no condemnation for me

Child, you’re forgiven and loved
Child, you’re forgiven and loved
Child, you’re forgiven
And child, you are loved
Child, you’re forgiven and loved