How To Handle Conflict

“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:24–25.

You know the feeling. Words are exchanged. Tempers flare. Suddenly, and unexpectantly, you find yourself in the middle of a confrontation. The question is not whether conflicts will come, but how we will handle them. It would seem that peacemakers would avoid conflicts, but avoiding conflict is not the answer because conflict typically worsens when you ignore them.  

The highpoints of the history of God’s people are accounts not of fleeing conflict, but moving toward it in hope, believing God is at work. A few examples are Moses with the stubborn people he refused to give up on; Elijah at Carmel squaring off against Baal; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel brought into increasing conflict with hard-hearted people they were commissioned to serve. And of course, our most compelling example of not shying away from conflict, but turning to take it head-on, is Jesus. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2)

The trajectory of Jesus’s life was toward need, and inevitably toward conflict, not away. He set His face like flint to go to the cross and rescue us from our greatest conflict, eternal separation from God because of sin. Handling conflicts provide Christians an opportunity to demonstrate grace. This is one of the ways that God works in a world like ours. Which doesn’t mean we become headstrong and combative. Rather,  as peacemakers, we should conduct ourselves with kindness, patience, and gentleness. 

Be a determined peacemaker (Matthew 5:9) and allow the words of Paul to be the compass in the middle of the storm: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful…And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:12-15, 17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you handle conflict? 
  2. What can we do this week to reflect God in the midst of confrontation?  

Our Differences Don’t Define Us

“The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” –John 4:9-10

There can be many reasons why it is difficult to be a peacemaker. One of those is we tend to divide ourselves into small groups and see our differences as our only defining traits. At times, we only see our racial differences, our cultural differences, our religious differences, or our economic differences and we allow them to determine how we look at other people.  When we dwell on our differences we can miss out on opportunities to be a peacemaker, while making special connections, and friendships from the rich diversity of people in God’s kingdom.

The story of the woman at the well in John’s gospel demonstrates the importance of being willing to be a peacemaker with people who are different than ourselves. John tells us that Jesus is resting from His travels at a well. While He was there a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well. Jesus asked her for a drink. Her reply in John 4 shows the great division between the Jews and Samaritans. She did not offer him a drink, instead, she replies, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” In that moment, where so many possibilities existed, the woman did not see any commonalities, only differences.  

Thankfully, the story does not end with her question. Jesus continues to talk with her and her time with Jesus becomes a life-giving and life-defining moment for her. Her life was blessed because they did not allow their differences to define their interaction and end their relationship before it even began.

As a lover of Jesus, we want to be known for genuinely loving people first, not for dismissing people in favor of our own opinions or needs. Listening can bring us together and help us to offer a bit more empathy, compassion, and healing to each human story we engage with. Listening well makes us better spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, and leaders. Maybe we won’t always see eye-to-eye, and that’s OK but, hopefully, if we listen a little more, we can become better peacemakers by overcoming our differences.  

I wonder how often we miss out on special moments in our lives because we don’t engage with other people who are different from us. There is real value in our differences.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How should we view our differences?  
  2. Are there any situations in your life this week where you can be a peacemaker? 

To Be A Peacemaker, Don’t Be Critical

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others.The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend,‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5. 

Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” When we stand before God someday, we want to hear Him say that we are His children. His children should be peacemakers, but being a peacemaker is no small task. Not that living any of the beatitudes in the book of Matthew, is easy. But being a peacemaker would be easier if we could stop criticizing.  

Sometimes, asking ourselves “why” is exactly what we need. If you find yourself constantly criticizing others, ask yourself: Am I doing it because I’m noticing an issue and humbly seeking change? Or am I doing it because I enjoy finding problems? The question is are we living a Christlike life if we are criticizing. Christians should be the most loving people around. 

Also, remember the ways your words can impact others. Your comments, even spoken without malice, may hurt someone. Think about this before you spread rumors or listen to gossip. These words can sink into the heart and really cause deep wounds. But there are also times when we will be the recipients of criticism. 

There are many ways to respond to criticism. It can be helpful to pray about what you hear. The perspective you receive may be valid and valuable. As God leads, you may seek to change. But never allow criticism to impact your commitment to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew about criticism. Mark tells us how one day Jesus and His disciples were having a meal with tax collectors, and the religious teachers saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors – and they criticized Him. They failed to understand the work Jesus had to do, with ordinary people who needed a hand up in life, and yet He was rebuked and misunderstood. It was central to the life of Jesus that He mixed with and befriended ordinary people, called sinners. The Scribes and Pharisees often confronted Him head-on and demanded He leave. In Nazareth, His hometown, He was criticized. Men despised and rejected Him; He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. The Jews mocked Him, but Jesus never retaliated or sought revenge. He withstood the criticism and insults without taking matters into His own hands.

Jesus moved on showing grace and mercy – as we should when people criticize us. Maybe we can learn something and change our ways; but nonetheless remember God is the judge, not you. He will sort everything out in the end.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel when you are criticized? Do your feelings dictate your response to criticism?
  2. What can we do this week to criticize less?  

Do You Have Time To Be Patient?

“Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy.” – Colossians 1:10-11. 

Do you consider yourself to be patient? Our daily lives require us to exercise patience, whether the issues we face are small or big. Receiving a bad grade, dealing with a difficult co-worker, experiencing conflict with a friend, or trying to be a peacemaker are all situations that require us to be patient. It is often easier said than done. We cannot control every aspect of our lives. The way others treat us and the situations we find ourselves in are sometimes simply beyond our control, and we have to find ways to cope with them.

What does that mean to us today?  Most would agree that Christians should be patient, but does that mean we should be tranquil or peaceful? Or does it mean we should be long-suffering? When we think about patience we have to think about God himself. God isn’t patient because we deserve it. He’s patient because it’s who He is. He doesn’t lose patience with those He loves, since patience is His very nature. 2 Peter 3:9 says,  “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” A couple verses later, Peter says: “And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved…” (2 Peter 3:15).

When we are patient in an impatient world, we show people the One who is patient with us. When was the last time you had to be patient with someone? Our culture isn’t exactly keen on patience. We want what we want now, not later. Being patient with others is hard, especially when that person causes delays or raises our blood pressure. 

Read the parable in Matthew 18:21-35. This is a story Jesus told His disciples about two servants who both had debts. The first servant owed his master an exorbitant amount of money; so high a payment that he likely could work his entire life and never fully make the payment. He asked his master to be patient with him, and the master, being good and forgiving, forgave the servant of the entire amount. Can you imagine how the servant must have felt? Instead of relieved and grateful, He went to his friend and asked for the friend to repay his (very small) debt. The story highlights the contrast of the two responses and makes clear how God intends for us to respond to His great patience.

If you want patience then ask God for it. Because when we’re patient, we’re more like Him. Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” In life, we will face trials. However, as believers, we can find hope in knowing that we have a loving God who is in control of our lives. When we put our trust in His perfect plan rather than our own, we do not need to feel anxious, worried or impatient.

Discussion Question:

  1. In your relationships, are you patient? 
  2. Pray and ask God for patience in all your dealings this week.

The Case For Curiosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” — Albert Einstein: Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine.   

“Why?”

The day will come when a child will learn to talk and start asking those much-anticipated questions. Children are curious, inquisitive, and eager to learn.  Curiosity is a nebulous thing to which most of us don’t give much focused, concrete thought. Others are perpetually curious. Today, we have immediate access to more information than world scholars could have gathered in an entire lifetime just a couple of hundred years ago. But what about Christians? 

Should Christians be curious? The answer is yes, we need curiosity. Curiosity is a strong desire to know and to learn. When Christians are curious, they grow in knowledge and their ability to rightly discern situations. “It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them. No one can comprehend the height of heaven, the depth of the earth, or all that goes on in the king’s mind!” (Proverbs 10:11) 

Discernment is the ability to judge what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. Curiosity helps drive us in this process. We wonder and ask because we yearn for the truth. We want to have a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to increase our faith and our actions as a result of that faith. 

We have to be wary of complacency. Without curiosity, we can decide that we know enough of God without over considering His magnificent infinity and the endless opportunity to discover more of Him. You can replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity. Are you curious enough to plumb the depths of an intimate relationship with God? Are you seeking Him more and more each day? 

David in Psalm 63:1(ESV) said, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Didn’t David have the Lord? Yes, because he calls Him “my God.” But he wanted more. He wanted to go deeper. He was satisfied but he wasn’t satisfied. “You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy.” He knew that there was more and his whole being craved it as a thirsty man in the desert craves for water.

To seek after God means that there is always more because God is an infinite person. If you figure that you’ve reached a level of maturity in your Christian life where you can put it in neutral and coast, think again. David had walked with God for years, but he thirsted for more. Curiosity about God anchors us in God’s strength as we learn more, seek more, and see more of Him.  

Discussion questions:

  1. What are you curious about spiritually?   
  2. How can curiosity impact your walk with God? 
  3. What can we do this week to seek after God? 

Don’t Compromise The Truth

“But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? ” – Acts 4:19-20.  

Acts chapter 4 includes the story of Peter and John standing before rulers and authorities giving testimony of the work of Christ and His death and resurrection. When Peter and John were thrown in jail for healing a lame man and warned not to speak or teach at all in Jesus’ name, they refused to compromise instead, saying, “we cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” They lived according to their beliefs whole-heartedly. The refused to compromise. 

We as Christians need to be wary of compromise. Compromising is making concessions or accommodations for someone who does not agree with a set of standards or roles. Although there are some areas in life where compromise is necessary, for example, marriage: there are other areas where compromise is very dangerous and even deadly. James warns the believers about compromise, even when we are trying to be a peacemaker. 

 A peacemaker is “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” Ezekiel 22:30 says, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” God needs someone to courageously stand in the gap and be a peacekeeper that restores and reconciles.  

We should take whatever initiative is necessary to make peace with others. It may take effort and time, but we should make peace.  But that doesn’t mean we will succeed. A peacemaker longs for peace and works for peace, and sacrifices for peace. But Romans 12:18 reminds us that we may not always succeed.  Paul says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” That is the goal of a peacemaker: Do all you can do.   

While we must work toward peace, we must never abandon our allegiance or compromise the truths of God and His word. We must never compromise our convictions. A conviction is a solid, immovable belief based on confidence in God’s Word. It’s being so thoroughly convinced of absolute truth that a person is willing to take a stand for it regardless of the consequences.

Convictions shape not only what we believe but also how we live and even how we die. They define who we are and provide direction with solid straight lines that don’t veer off track to accommodate circumstances or temptations.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the tongue is such an issue? 
  2. What can we do this week to control the tongue?

Be A Peacemaker

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (NIV).

None of us are unfamiliar with conflict.  Disagreements happen. Something is said perhaps in the heat of the moment, and another word is exchanged, and soon there are raised voices and hurt feelings. It happens at school, on the street, at work, even in the church. Peacemakers can make a real difference. 

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? Being a peacemaker does not mean that you avoid all conflict and confrontations. Nor does it mean that you are laidback, easygoing, relaxed, and passive and that you defend a “peace at any price” philosophy.

The idea of a peacemaker is to make peace. Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” James 3:18 adds, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” A peacemaker is a person who is at peace with himself or herself and because they are at ease internally, they are not ill-tempered and abrasive outside. They work to settle quarrels and diminish conflict. Peacemakers are accepting, tolerant, and refrain from being negative.  In the words of Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

Solomon has a lot to say about peacemakers: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1). “Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24). Peacemakers are slow to anger:  “A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.” (Proverbs 15:18).  And peacemakers are humble and trusting. “Greed causes fighting; trusting the Lord leads to prosperity.” (Proverbs 28:25)

In this turmoil-filled world we live in, there is never true peace in a person’s heart until Jesus comes to reign in that person’s life. With the coming of Jesus, real peace became a possibility in our world. Christ is the ultimate peacemaker.

Our world desperately needs peacemakers who know the peace that only Christ can bring. Peace in homes where there is constant fighting and bickering. Peace in churches that are sometimes torn apart by conflict. Peace in cities where violence has broken out. Peace in our troubled hearts.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a “peacemaker” mean to you? 
  2. How can we be more of a peacemaker this week? 

The Value Of Wisdom

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” – James 3:17.

Different people have a different perspective on what makes a person wise. When you are a kid, people with glasses can look wise. People with gray hair are wise because of all he or she has experienced in life. People with two or three degrees are assumed to be wise, or somebody who has read all the works of Shakespeare and actually understands it.  

We all have a desire to be wise. We like to understand how things work, to be able to answer questions, to make decisions, and to share what we know. We all seek knowledge. Solomon certainly did.  In 1 Kings 3, we learn that instead of requesting material riches, comfort, or pleasure, Solomon desired to advance God’s kingdom through wise leadership. Because God was so pleased with Solomon’s request, He granted it and gave him much more. Solomon began his royal reign as the wisest man on Earth with great wealth and honor. At some point in his life, Solomon grew to love God’s blessings more than God Himself.  He elevated his earthly wisdom above godly wisdom. Solomon forgot that it is the wisdom of God that answers our every need and gives us a true perspective on life’s deepest questions. In all his wisdom, Solomon discovered that wisdom apart from God, left him unfulfilled and discontented.  

The Bible teaches us a great deal about wisdom and knowledge in addition to showing us that there is a distinction. One can gain a great deal of knowledge, but not have or exercise wisdom. However, one cannot have wisdom without having knowledge first. James tells us that “ If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13) There are two kinds of wisdom: biblical wisdom and unbiblical wisdom. Unbiblical wisdom, James says, is rooted in jealousy and self-ambition and produces disorder. Biblical wisdom, however, bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit abiding in the Christian. James is telling us that humility before God translates to humility toward others. 

“Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” –Proverbs 1:7. If you have been following the Lord for any length of time, you know that the world’s ways do not reflect God’s ways. The world will tell you where to look for wisdom and for happiness. The world will tell you that immediate happiness is the most important goal for your life. The world will tell you there is no absolute truth. However, God’s wisdom surpasses all of the world’s wisdom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of earthly and heavenly wisdom found in James 3:13-18?
  2. How can wisdom help us be better peacemakers? 

God Is Sovereign

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” – Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV).  

It’s hard to fully understand the full impact this pandemic has had and will have on our lives. Yet, one thing is certain: God is sovereign. This is the truth of Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”  God works all things together for His good purposes.

God’s awe-inspiring, miraculous, all-knowing sovereignty means that even while the world is under siege by a deadly virus, we can live knowing that God can use even this for His glory. No matter what happens, God is sovereign and is still able to make these things work together for good.

There has not been much “good news” recently. But there are still opportunities, even in a pandemic. One possible opportunity while we deal with the virus is to slow down and focus on our relationship with God. Before the virus, we were moving faster than ever before. We’re addicted to speed, obsessed with hurry. We are in this continuous struggle to accomplish more things and participate in more events in less time. In addition, we can’t go out as we normally would, so there isn’t as much to do. That makes this time a great opportunity to focus on our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

You see, our relationship with God is like any other relationship in the sense that it requires both parties investing time and energy into it for it to grow. God is invested: Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8 that God was invested in this relationship while we were still sinners. God was so invested that His Son Jesus died for you so that you could enter into a relationship with Him. God is invested and God desires to see our relationship with Him grow. During the pandemic, this is an opportunity to invest in that relationship with Him. 

During this pandemic, spend time in His Word, spend time in prayer, and spend time with other believers. We are not able to be with other believers as normal, but many of us have more time to spend in His word and in prayer. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:7 that when we seek Him we will find Him. Some of the best ways to seek God is by searching His Word and talking with Him in prayer. Those practices may have gotten moved down the priority list due to having so many things to do. But now that we aren’t as busy, we need to take advantage of this opportunity by investing extra time into our relationship with God now.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some steps we can take this week to strengthen our relationship with God?  

Our Words Give Us Away

“… It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” – Matthew 12:36-37 (MSG).  

Our words are very powerful. Our words, often so recklessly spoken, carry more weight than most of us can imagine. In fact, hardly a week goes by in which you and I don’t read or hear about some celebrity, elected official, or admired athlete whose words have gotten them into hot water. But the matter goes far deeper than being “politically correct.” Our words reveal the state of our hearts. 

Scripture is clear that words can be powerful. In Matthew 12, Jesus teaches the connection between our words and our hearts. He says that simply trying harder to be good will not work because the root of the problem is within us. He says: “You must determine if a tree is good or rotten. You can recognize good trees by their delicious fruit. But if you find rotten fruit, you can be certain that the tree is rotten. The fruit defines the tree. …How can your words be good and trustworthy if you are rotten within? For what has been stored up in your hearts will be heard in the overflow of your words! When virtue is stored within, the hearts of good and upright people will produce good fruit. But when evil is hidden within, those who are evil will produce evil fruit.” (Matthew 12:33–35 TPT)

The words we speak show what is in our hearts. If our hearts are evil, then the words we speak and write will be evil too. In James 3:8, God’s Word says: “but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.” Transforming the tongue begins with a change in the heart. Jesus said, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.” (Matthew 15:18) The heart influences the tongue. When it is full of anger, selfishness, envy, pride, it will affect everything we do.

Something needs to change within us. Our focus needs to be transformed. Instead of looking for the bad in a situation, we need to look for the good. Instead of being preoccupied with self-interest, we need to focus on the interests of others. Changing our hearts is a good place to start. The Bible teaches, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” James 1:19-20  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What needs to change to better control the tongue? 
  2. What would we do differently this week if you knew your words were powerful?