When conflict won’t go away

Many of you know that our little church family is taking a break from our time going through Luke to focus for a season on how biblical counseling and soul care ought to impact us all the time. It’s been very helpful for me to remember that I need to practice what I preach and I trust it has been beneficial to those who have participated.

Last night we talked about conflict in relationships and a biblical approach to resolving them. We’re a pretty informal group so I was very glad when we had a few questions in the middle of the lesson about what to do when conflict just doesn’t get resolved even after you work to understand the other person’s position and can charitably explain it. There are short answers and longer answers to these kinds of questions so here is more of an elaborate answer to that issue than I could get my arms around yesterday. If the Bible is clear that the ongoing conflict has sin at its root then the church restoration process in Matthew 18 needs to be followed, but what if it’s a doctrinal conflict or an issue of wisdom?

First, consider whether the issue is super important or just meaningful. There are lots of issues that have meaning to you that are not going to stop someone from getting to heaven so we need to put things in perspective. The older I have gotten the more I realize that not every issue is worth a strained relationship. We need to let the Bible be our guide – if lots of Christians hold different positions on the issue then it’s not worth holding onto it.

Second, be humble. Ephesians 4:1-3 is a helpful passage to meditate on when considering this kind of ongoing conflict.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Note how when talking about living at peace with someone else, his emphasis is on your humility and walk with Jesus. Jesus called us to follow Him and His life and ministry was characterized by humility, gentleness, patience and love. We need to do the same.

Probably nobody has helped me in this area more than Jerry Bridges who recently went home to be with the Lord. As you read his work, over and over he stresses that he disciplines himself to remember that when he is disagreeing with someone, perhaps it is him that is wrong. Of course nobody in a conflict thinks they are wrong or else there probably wouldn’t be a conflict, but unless we are open to that possibility we are showing our friend and the world that we are pretty certain we have every aspect of the issue right and have no room to grow.

Third, remember that you are never going to change anyone. Suppose you are 100% right and the other person is 100% wrong, which is almost never the case. There is only one person who will change this other person and that is the Holy Spirit. Once you have communicated what you believe to be the truth – whether that is about complementariansm or whether someone sinned against you – the true test of our faith in a God that is real is our willingness to walk away and wait on God’s timing. If your friend hasn’t changed it’s because for whatever reason God knows it is best to wait for now. Hanging onto the issue or trying to find another clever approach once things are clear is not useful or loving (which is not to say you shouldn’t evaluate how clear you have been – miscommunication is a reality in a fallen world stained by sin).

Fourth, look for ways you can accommodate your friend without violating your conscience. This is part of Paul means in Romans 12:18 when he says we ought to live at peace with all men to the degree it depends on us. When we think about it for more than a few minutes, there are usually many things we can choose to do to grow peace and unity. If your friend thinks movies are bad for Christians and you will spend time with him or her next weekend, you can choose to not watch a movie between now and then so you are less likely to reignite the conflict there. If someone you love is a vegan and you think it makes no sense, you can still choose to prepare a vegan meal for her. In fact. you could choose to eat vegan for a week to sample different dishes so that when she arrives you can be certain you are serving tasty vegan food.

Finally, it makes sense to emphasize areas where you do agree and come up with some wise plans around areas where there is disagreement. A staunch Calvinist and a rabid Armenian  can be close friends but they should not plant a church together. I have many friends who are far more egalitarian than me, but it would be foolish to marry them (if I wasn’t already married to the best lady on the planet).  I have lots of friends with different political positions, and can engage on them, but I have to go into each interaction knowing that however dangerous I believe their position to be, I can’t let our relationship be defined by the differences.Still, I will go to my grave believing that any two believers have more in common with one another than a believer and any unbeliever have so as the song says “accentuate the positive” and be enthusiastic about it.

There is no finer help to understanding the basics of biblical conflict resolution that the work done by Ken Sande during his time at Peacemakers (www.peacemakers.net).


The Problem of the Presidential Suite

When traveling for work I recently found myself on the road in the days leading up to my birthday. It was well after midnight by the time I checked in and all I wanted at that moment was to go to bed. Then it happened.

The lady at hotel registration said, “Mr. Keating, we saw that your birthday was coming up and so we have placed you in the Presidential Suite for your stay with us.” I was pretty amazed and very gratefully accepted.

When I got to the room and started looking around I had only one reaction – “I wish my wife was here. She would love it.”

Having possession of such a wonderful place totally changed my point of view. It gave me energy. I wasn’t tired anymore. I immediately dialed up my wife on FaceTime so I could show her everything I was seeing. I was already writing online reviews in my head so I could tell total strangers about it. Seeing this wonderful place and knowing it was mine changed me.

More than that, I knew I was paying our meager corporate rate for this luxury palace. It was so clear I didn’t deserve this. I knew it was nothing but the kindness of the hotel that had given me this possession. According to the hotel website, I deserved a 40 square meter room without a view and no amenities, but I was living in a 240 square meter room with every amenity imaginable. Rather than being treated like everyone else, I was being treated like a prince or head of state that visited the city.

Here’s the thing – Jesus is better than the Presidential Suite.

It wasn’t long before I started asking myself why I wasn’t this eager to tell others about Jesus. What was it about the Presidential Suite that made me an enthusiastic evangelist for it?

First, I could see it. I knew it was real. I didn’t have to fight for faith in anything, I just had to look around. It’s hard not to be amazed at a private gym, 10-person dining room, luxury bath, etc. It took no imagination whatsoever. I didn’t need anyone to remind me of the truth of its magnificence – it was obvious.

Second, I connected the magnificence of the place to my real life in a way that stirred my affections. If I hadn’t connected the wonder of that place with my desire to share it with Kristen I don’t think my juices would have been flowing at all. I have had lots of experiences that many people would consider incredible that bored me because I knew they would not be something that would have any impact on the people I cared about.

Third, it really was the shock of how much my expectations had been exceeded. Generally speaking, the inside of a hotel room in Tokyo or London is pretty much the same as the inside of a hotel room in Clarkston, Tennessee or Cleveland, Ohio. I knew what my reservation deserved and it was incredibly more than I deserved. I suppose people who have stayed in other Presidential Suites may actually have been disappointed. I don’t know. I only know that for me, it was shocking grace compared to what I deserved.

Translate this into the Christian life for a minute and ask yourself the same kinds of questions I asked myself.

  • Do you believe, I mean do you really believe, what the Bible promises to be true? Do you believe it in such a way that it alters your behavior and countenance? Consider Hebrews 10:34 – For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. What was it that made the Hebrew Christians give up their time, talent and treasure? It was their knowledge that they had something better. They didn’t think they had something better – they knew it.
  • Are you others focused in the way you view the blessings God has given you now and promises in the future. How quickly do you look for ways you can bless others with the blessing you have received from God? In Genesis 12:2 God tells Abraham the point of God’s kindness to us is as a vehicle for Him to bless others.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. When we miss this, we become consumers rather than Christians. The extent to which our identity is wrapped up in how well we point people to a generous God who sacrificially gives is the extent to which we are truly Christian.
  • Finally, when was the last time you reflected how much you do not deserve even the smallest kindness from God. Americans see the conditions at the Guantanamo Bay terrorist prison with its library and air conditioning and private cells and cable TV and are in some sense justifiably outraged at how much kinder we are to terrorists than they have been to us. How often do you see yourself as someone who was a cosmic terrorist before Jesus rescued you? All of us were by our nature enemies of God deserving of an eternal prison camp called Hell. Do you realize that? Do you meditate on the fact that you don’t deserve a working shower, a child that obeys, a car that starts or a bus that is on time, clear air and water or anything else good in all creation? BTW – you will know the answer to this question by the number of times you thank God for these things.

The “inevitability of Trump”

Well I want to be really clear at the start that this is NOT and anti-Trump post. I may add more content about what confuses me about the attraction of Trump but this post is really about how once people start saying things enough it seems to be true and lots of people start believing it without any reality behind it. You see this in all phases of life, not just politics.

Here are some of the headlines that I’m talking about. All of them imply or state that Donald Trump is a force that cannot be stopped:

  • Trump’s Super Tuesday Wins Set Off Alarm Bells (Politico)
  • GOP Choice: Embrace or Rebel (CNN)
  • Trump is unstoppable; it’s game over for the rest (Fox News)
  • 5 Moments the Establishment Missed to Take Out Trump (ABC News)
  • Trump is huge, and he isn’t going away (CNN)
  • Rivals Have Just Two Weeks to Stop Trump (NBC)
  • Trump Dominates as Rivals Pick Up Few Wins (RealClearPolitics)

Here’s the actual reality from the primaries and caucuses completed so far:

  • Trump has gotten only 34% of the vote in the GOP contests
  • According to many reports, this includes lots of Democrat voters who crossed over to vote in the GOP races because 1) they thought their vote didn’t matter in their own race; and 2) they would rather run Hillary Clinton against Trump than anyone else in the field.
  • The only reason Trump is the front runner is because there are 10,000 candidates. At this point four years ago, Romney had 40.7% of the GOP vote vs. Trump’s 34.2% today. Trump is not some kind of superstar.
  • Trump has gotten only 316 of the 1237 delegates necessary for the nomination.
  • While he has 100 more delegate than Cruz, Trump must win a majority and does not currently have a majority of the total delegate count and he does not have that now.
  • The upcoming winner take all states mean a lot – if Trump does not win those, he will be in very bad shape.
  • For all the talk of him steamrolling through the GOP primaries, he has not once gotten a majority of the GOP votes, and gotten over 40% just a few times.
  • This last number is the most telling for me. Looking at total registered voters, Trump has gotten only 5.4% of the total registered voters in states that have chosen so far. The highest number he has gotten is a little over 10% in Alabama.

The last figure is important because Trump’s supporters seem to believe that he is somehow a lock to beat Hillary Clinton in a general election. The GOP primary numbers do not support that and there is not a reliable outside poll showing that. Most visibly, I don’t know of a single person who is not voting for Trump who says they would vote for him in the general election. I’m sure they exist, but if even 10-15% (not the greater than 65% of GOP voters opposed to Trump) of registered republicans stay home in November then the Democrat will win.

This highlights why narratives matter so much. They get people moving in a direction that makes no sense.It’s why politicians talk about “message discipline” rather than “fact discipline”. They know that repeating the same things over and over tend to make an increasing number of people believe them.

Trump may win the nomination and everyone should vote their conscience, but let’s not pretend that the drip, drip, drip of the same comment over and over does not have any effect on America’s collective thinking.