5 Steps to Taking the High Road in Conflict

How do we face threats when they arise? David faced opposition from someone, who in God’s plan, should have been an ally.

Saul was out to get David.  He was hunting him down like an animal.  And when David could have killed Saul and put an end to the conflict, David chose another way.  How easy would it have been for David to justify himself and say, “I’ve been anointed King. Saul has been rejected. Just finish it. Kill this guy and let’s get on with it.”

But David determined to do this with honor. And in that he protected his own heart. He protected the nation from a division that would have lasted generations. Let me tell you, when your future is being threatened by someone who should be working for your success, it is tough to take the high road. But that’s exactly what David did.

1 Samuel 24:11-17  “See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is not wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancient says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? After a dead dog! After a flea! “May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” 

As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.”  

How can we face opposition in a way that honors God, His purposes and His ways?

1. Show honor. David gave deference to the king.  We need to show deference to one another. In times of change and conflict people will deal with it many different ways. And sometimes, not meaning to make things difficult, they will. We need to show honor even to the ones who seem to be making it hard.

2. Show love. David loved Saul. He loved the nation. He loved God. We need to love God. We need to love the Body of Christ. And we need to love the people around us.  Even when they’re making life hard.

3. Speak the truth. You could almost hear David saying, “Saul, look at what you’re doing.” We do need to be honest with one another. If someone’s comments are inappropriate or damaging we need to say that.  There are times we must say, “Right now, you’re not helping the cause of Christ.”

4. Rest in God’s judgments. Know that ultimately, God will direct. He will move and the results are his.  No battle on this earth is ours.  They all belong to God.  We need to let him work the way he sees fit and be okay with that.

David didn’t allow himself to be killed. But he also didn’t allow the purposes of God to be thwarted by his own actions.  He refused to destroy the other, even though he became an enemy.  He left the end results to God.  Even thought it hurt, he refused to take it personally.

Many years ago a pastor friend of mine once said, “We can’t always choose whether or not we’re going to offend someone. But we can always choose whether or not we’ll be offended.”  We can choose how we will handle the hurts and difficulty caused by others.  Let’s choose to go through it trusting in God to redeem it and resolve it.  That’s taking the high road.

One last step?

5. Keep praising God.  David was hurt. But he focused on praising. Psalm 59:16-17 “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sin praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”

What kind of conflict are you facing?  How can you take the high road?

Would Jesus Fly the Confederate Flag?

Some will say this is not my fight because I’m not from the South. But as I’ve watched the news in the past few days, I think all Christians need to put our cultural and even our patriotic commitments behind our Christian commitments.

When I listen to people argue for the flying of the Confederate flag, I am struck with a huge contrast. Let’s compare the gracious examples of those Christian family members whose loved ones were murdered this week, because of the color of their skin, with the messages communicated through the Confederate flag.

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There may have been many reasons the civil war was fought. Yet this flag is a symbol that carries with it the resentment of defeat and the bitterness of lost power. It’s time for us to take a cue from these Christians who have shown us the character of Christ and remove the flag from government grounds which are also supposed to represent those who gained their freedom because the war was lost.

In most instances, none of us can really say what Jesus would do. I’m not sure he would fly any flag. But I think the time is passed for us to fly this old symbol and instead we should opt for humility, submission, care of the other, mercy, love and forgiveness. This is the Christian commitment that will show the world another way.

After I wrote this, I saw that the Governor of South Carolina agrees.

Calming My Soul With God

 How are you handling the stress of life right now?  It seems we go through moments and seasons when life’s questions become overwhelming.  Have you ever felt like just living life must be above your paygrade?  I have.  I can’t seem to figure it all out.  And the harder I try, the more I get frustrated, sad, disapppointed and depressed.
There is a little Pslam that reminds me of what God has invited us to experience, in Christ.  He has not invited me to figure it all out with him.  He has not invited me to a life of confident answer-giving.  He has not invited me to help him put order to things and straighten out people.  He has invited me to rest with Him and in Him.

Take a look at these 3 short verses…

Psalm 131

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great

and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth

and forever more.

The psalmist writes in verse one, just what he’s decided to do.  He has humbled himself.  He doesn’t raise his heart up to try to take God’s place.  He allows that there will always be mysteries to life.  And so he says, he refuses to obsess over things he can’t figure out.  He accepts that some things are too much for him.

There is comfort in remembering that we are the creation and God is the Creator.  God’s expected to know where the stars came from and how long they’ll hang in the sky.  He’s expected to know how we’ve been knit together and why.  He’s expected to know the minute and monumental movements of the universe.  We’re not.

Instead of resting in his own ability to handle life, the writer rests in God.  He knows he’s been invited to a new kind of intimacy.  And then he describes it.  “Like a weaned child with its mother,” he writes.  What is that all about?  It’s a powerful picture of contenment.

A child that is still nursing is a child that demands from her mother.  She knows that Mom is the source of food.  Mom is the grocery store and the cook.  She is there to meet the physical needs of the baby.  Mom is there to take every pain away.  A weaned child still depends on Mom, but this child is content sitting with Mom, loving and being loved by Mom.  Mom is no longer a dispenser of food, but she is a comforting presence.

I think that’s the relationshp we’re invited to with God.  Early in our faith, it’s all about what God can do for us.  We want the salvation of God.  We want to be healed.  We want our lives to be fixed.  So we tend to go to God with anxiousness and even frustration.  But what we’re invited to is to be with God as God.  We are invited to rest with him in contented fellowship.

When I feel the tensions rise, I have to remind myself of a different approach with God.

1.  Don’t come to God for what you want him to do.  Don’t demand that he fix it too soon.  Come to him for Him.  Appreciate him in his presence.

2.  Rest in his knowledge of life and his power to change what needs to change (including us) and rest in his intrinsic goodness.  Sit for a moment.  Let him speak to you and love you in it.

It seems when I take the time and create the space to reset my relationship with God, I find that I learn to enjoy my Savior in the pain.  And He blesses me with the hope and confidence of moving forward with him.

Here is my prayer:  “Lord in the frustrations of life, I understand that things big and small are too much for me.  I can’t understand like you can.  I can’t control like you must.  Forgive me for trying.  

I rest in you right now.  I know you’ve done and will do all that needs to be done.  The cross of Christ is my supreme reminder of your power and love.  I rest in the knowledge that you want me to want you and not just all your stuff.  I trust you.  I hope in you.  Thank you for the rest you give.”

How does your view of God help you reconnect, or how does it keep you away from God?  What images come to mind if you described your relationship with Christ now?

Don’t Be a Friendly Church

friendly-people

Going from friendliness to friendship.

As I’ve led churches and talked to others about their church, we often get into discussions about how and why churches grow.  One phrase is repeated more often than not, “We’re a friendly church.”  The fact is most people who go to church believe their church is friendly.  I think that’s a reasonable thought.  Most of us think our families are friendly too.  This is because we’ve made our friends there.

Friendliness, no matter how well intentioned, is not a good gauge of a church’s readiness or ability to grow.  In fact, friendliness, if it is our goal, can be a distraction.  It’s good to give warm greeting when someone visits.  It’s nice to offer chit-chatty conversation.  But it’s not enough.  We have friendly waitresses at our favorite restaurant.  We’ve experienced friendly flight attendants.  Friendly bank tellers can really lift the spirit.  But that doesn’t mean any of these people want me to be part of their lives.

Many years ago, I read it takes at least 7 friendships to make someone commit to stay in a church.  Friendship, not friendliness is a more vital goal.  When you consider whether or not your church is ready for new friends, ask these questions.

1.  Will the “regulars” make room in their lives for new friends?  People will need to know we have relational room for them.

2.  Are there new groups where new people can get in on the ground floor?  These aren’t just groups of new people.  But new groups where newcomers and long-timers can connect and care with one another.

3.  Are there new ministry opportunities where new people can become stakeholders and invested leaders?  Few of us want to feel like we’re part of someone else’s project.  New ministries should be started, rather just using new people to keep old things going.

4.  Are new people encouraged to bring their ideas to make ministry happen?  Do we listen to the ideas, passions and commitments of new people?  God is bringing them, with their experiences, to us for a reason.

When we completely include people as friends, they tend to stay and get involved.  Friends are people we make room for.  Friends are people we give things up for.  Friends are people who have a say in what happens.

Jesus told his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).”  Jesus’ goal in making disciples was making friends.  That same desire should be reflected in the way we do ministry.

Being friendly is a great first step.  But it’s incomplete.  A church will only grow it is good at making friends.  Who are you making friends with at church?  What new avenue could you help create to give new people a place and a purpose?

Have you been to a friendly church where you couldn’t make friends?  What is your church doing right to help people make genuine friends?  How are you part of the process?

4 Reasons Fewer Christians Might Be a Good Thing

Where have all the Christians gone?

 

 A new research study was just published on the Pew Research Forum website.  You can find it here.  To sum it up, the religious score in America is in:  Hindus, Muslims, Atheists and Agnostics are up.  Christians are down.
This surely shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who watches the news, reads the paper, has set foot on a school campus, or even watches popular TV.  And for anyone in Christian ministry, it is abundantly clear.  More and more people are less and less rooted in the culture, ethic and story of the Bible.
Rather than bemoan these results as many Christians will, or use these stats to marginalize a biblical faith as many are doing, I believe these results can strengthen our mission as Christians.
1)  First, it reminds us the self-professing is not enough.
This survey, like all surveys are answered by people who “self-report.”  They tell whether or not they are Christians.  This is really an unrealiable measurement.  I’ve had many people who have told me they had a particular church home.  But when I asked how often they attend, or if they are involved, they give me a sheepish grin.  They realize they’ve been caught.  Real affiliation isn’t a label, but a commitment.   
 There are many who would call themselves Christian, though Jesus wouldn’t call them Christian.  Jesus warned of that himself.
Matthew 7:21-23  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdo of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
Self-reporting isn’t enough.  We need to inspect the fruit of our lives.  That brings us to the next point.
2)  Second, it makes us redefine what being a Christian is.
This survey may shake us at first glance.  But it should cause us to be a little introspective.  After all, “what is a Christian?”  Our affiliation may or may not be an expression of our faith.  I read an article this last week from a lady, who is an atheist and she wants to hang onto the traditions of her Episcopal upbringing without confessing Christ.  Huh!  I guess, at least she’s honest.  But she’s not Christian.  What is a Christian?
A Christian personally confess (believes in) Christ as Lord (God, the Divine).  In Romans 10:9-10 Paul summed it up, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
Lest we think this was just “Paul’s opinion.”  Confession is important to Jesus too.  In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me beforemen, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  This is why people would rather take a sword to the throat then deny Christ.
A Christian is a disciple (learner) who obeys (follows) Christ.  We can’t divorce what we believe from what we do.  In John 3:36, John warned, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (we like this part); whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (ouch!).”
Ok, so now we know what a Christian is, even if imperfectly.  That should motivate all of us self-professing Christians to reevaluate where our loyalty lies.
There is another good thing about this survey of fewer Christians.
3)  Third, it confronts us that we live in a big mission field.
It is a big reality check.  Are there really fewer Christians, or are we just departing a cultural Christianity that kept us all numb to the fact of this nations “lostness”?  It may be a little of both.  Either way, we now know, as the church that we need to be on the mission that God gave us.  That mission is not to make the world feel Christian.  That mission, in the words of Jesus is to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded.  And I will be with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).”
We don’t have to go to another country to share about Christ, though we should.  We just have to go the Jewel, McDonalds, the YMCA and yes, even church.  People who are lost are no longer “out there” somewhere.  They are here.  They are with us.  And in some instances, they may be us.
One last reason this study about fewer Christans might be good is…
4)  Fourth, it gives us an opportunity to be different and make a difference.
Remember Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… (Matthew 5:13-14).”  We can’t count on culture to make the difference we should personally be making.  We are commanded by Christ to be transformed by His Spirit.  When that transformation takes place, the world will notice.  Some won’t like it.  Some will be indifferent to it.  But some will be attracted to a life of purpose, love, joy and hope.  And we will have a clear answer when asked, “Why?”  It is the work of Christ, by the grace of God.
The truth is, I don’t want fewer Christians.  I want everyone to be restored to God through Christ, just as God does.  I also don’t want to lose my heritage of living in a land where it is easy to be a Christan.  But more than being comfortable, I want the real, powerful gospel of Christ to bring life to those who are lost.  And the first step to that usually begins when people know they are on the other side of grace.  That’s how it happened to me.