Life's Moments

Before She Leaves

Prodigal. The word itself stirs fear in the hearts of moms and dads.

Why not? We bring them into the world. We teach them to crawl. Then they walk. Running and jumping and leaping and playing and poking and prodding come next. We love them. They hug our necks. We make sacrifices and they soak up everything we give.

As they grow, we tell them, “You are the light that pushes back the sadness of my days.” All the while that ugly, painful, frightening word lurks in the recesses of our minds. Prodigal. Prodigal. Prodigal.

Oh, God let her not be a prodigal.

And tonight, as I spend this last bit of time praying for my daughter before she leaves for Bible College in the morning, I stare that ugly word down…and I thank the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…because she is anything but a prodigal.

“Further up and further in,” Jess. You are a light that reflects a greater light.

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Bible

Social Gospel x 2

PART DEUX GRAYBe careful when you accuse someone of having no compassion…

Be careful when you accuse someone of not caring…

…when he or she steadfastly refuses to take up your cause.

Jesus was quite clear that failing to invest ourselves in the lives of the less fortunate is at best problematic and more than likely sinful. His story of the Good Samaritan and his admonitions concerning the “first should be last” are more than enough for us to comprehend this side of compassion.

However, he was equally clear about the spiritual side of things. We must never mistake his desire for the eternal well-being of lost people as a lack of compassion. It is ultimate compassion that our Savior believes, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” (Mark 8:36).

There is a tension about these two sides of compassion among Christ’s followers, but not within the heart of Christ. The former is Christ-likeness manifest in kindness. The latter is Christ-likeness manifest in love–agape love. The first must always possess potential for revealing the second.

And while this debate has raged among Christians for a century over the social gospel of liberal Christians, we must now apply it to The Social Gospel: Part Deux…the social gospel of conservative Christians. The social justice and public policy activism of conservative Christians has exactly the same potential for good or bad as its liberal counter-part. The life-changing message of Jesus Christ may just as easily be lost in the shuffle during proclamations regarding fiscal, sexual, and self-defense issues as it can during proclamations regarding the need for universal health care or racial reparations. It simply will do no good to argue which is closer to the heart of Jesus if either or both fail as advertisements on behalf of our Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection as a ransom for lost people.

“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”  Hebrews 9:15

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Adversity

The Mother of All Water Fights

The fresh air and beautiful sunshine of early February were a joyful pause in the midst of a long, wet and gray winter. The relief from old man winter’s grasp renewed my expectations for life. A day earlier everything seemed dark, but the coming of the dawn sun brought light of another kind. It was a gift from God.

That winter had been unusually stressful. The difficulties my son faced day to day seemed too large to overcome. His impulsiveness and hyperactivity stirred most people to anxiety. Few in his life could refrain from pointing out his weakness and fault. In pain, my wife and I endured the long winter with him. His heart was broke and ours was breaking.

One night, during early February, when the days were sunny and warm and the nights were crisp and clear, I slept like I had not slept in weeks. There was no tossing and turning. My mind seemed unusually calm. My spirit rested. Shortly before the morning alarm erupted, I dreamed.  If the dream’s author was not God, I would be surprised.

Standing atop a very tall building, I looked below into the crowded city streets. People moved quickly and strategically. If not all, then most were engaged in the mother of all water-fights.  They tossed water-balloons. They carried water-guns. They held hoses streaming water at full force. Some even wielded high-tech water devices only found in dreams and only used in George Lucas films. There were hundreds and thousands. The odds were several thousand…

…to one.

The one was my little boy.

In the crowds of the city’s chaos he stood alone. From my vantage point high above the city streets, I could not reach him. All I could do was watch as he moved between the cars, as he dodged one water blast after another, as he drenched his opponents, and as he maneuvered himself with the tactics of a special-forces soldier.

Oh, how my heart stood still. Remorse and pride commingled in the depths of my emotions.  Suddenly, I began to cheer. Words of encouragement fell from my lips.

“Go, son, go.”

“Yes, yes, that’s it. Look out, he’s coming up on your left.”

“Alright! Way to go! Great job!”

He took on so many. He stayed in the battle. He fought a good fight. Finally the numbers overwhelmed him. From front and back, from right and left, he took water, shot after shot, until he was drenched. The odds against him were just too great.

Sitting in the middle of the street, people standing all around him, he looked up. His eyes met mine. A lump formed in my throat. Tears gathered in the corner of my eyes. “Oh no,” I thought, “not again, not again.”

We looked at one another. Our eyes met. I expected sadness. But…but…he smiled.

He smiled! He didn’t cry. He didn’t frown. He didn’t stomp his feet. He smiled. All I did was cheer. He did the hard work. He engaged the battle. He met the resistance of a world filled with uncaring and uneducated enemies. He won. He won! He may have been drenched. He may have been overcome by the sheer numbers. Yet, he had his victories. He won.

As I awoke, I felt the tears running down upon my pillow. Pulling myself from bed, I stumbled into his room. His breathing was soft. His face was relaxed. His sleep was peaceful. The dawn once again brought early February sunshine. The light of the morning broke the night of darkness. The Light of the World broke the spell of darkness. My son had an advocate, a cheerleader. If no other would stand on his behalf, I would.

I bowed in thankfulness to our Savior and I realized then my son had an even greater advocate. His name is Jesus. And that greater advocate was calling me to be like him…filled with grace and compassion.

How about you? Do you need an advocate? Do you need to become an advocate? Start with Jesus.

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Bible, Life's Moments

The Dreaded Wood Stove of the Family Room

Toddlers never cease to amaze me and usually astound me.  I have a few twitches to prove it.

In our old home there were certain items that had been “forbidden” to our little ones.  For instance, the ever lurking and always fascinating electrical outlets were always labeled “Authorized Personnel Only.”  I could just see it, I would turn my back for the briefest moment and one of them would plant a giant, slobbery kiss on one of those little electricity spitting menaces and…ZOWIE!!!  “Waaaaaa!”  “Child, haven’t I told you…”  (Most fortunately, this one never happened to us, but I’ve been told other parents actually suffer nightmares from it.)

No we have not endured any electrical exhilaration, but there was something else.  That something, for our oldest son, was a high and looming object in the corner of the family room.  Black, hard, austere, I’m sure that from his vantage point it looked to be a mighty fortress just waiting to be conquered.  It just stood there.  To him it must have been almost mystical.  From the top there arose a tall tower.  In the front there opened and closed a creaky-hinged door.

Like any fortress it never seemed unprotected either.  Always, always, our son knew the guards were not far away.  Giants they were.  Sentries on the prowl.  Never mind they were also known as Mom and Dad.  When it came to that thing they were like Ninja.  For a toddler this all added up to high adventure.  The pages of a Little Golden Book turned themselves in his very own house.

Yeah, that’s it.  You guessed it — the Dreaded Wood Stove of the Family Room!  Many was the time our oldest heard the order being issued by one of the sentries.  “Thou shalt not touch the wood stove; for in the moment you touch it you shall surely feel much pain and scream thy little head off.”  But, remaining true to his species, he constantly marshalled his forces (two teddy bears, a purple pig, and a funny looking lion).  He developed strategy and plotted tactics.  Finally, he would launch a full frontal assault on the “Fortress Wood Stove.”

See, like every human, our son hears from the “United Front of Dark Espionage.”  It seems their reports are always contradictory to the commands of the sentries who stand their ground on behalf of the Great King.  Filtering through the airwaves, or brain-waves, or whatever, comes that age old intelligence report:

“Have they indeed said, ‘You shall not touch the wood stove?'”

Our son, would peer across the vast plain of the family room.  His brow would wrinkle.  Pondering.  Mulling it over.  He would then hear the final message:

“You shall not surely feel great pain and scream thy little head off.  For in the moment you touch the wood stove you will be like them.  You will really know things then.  You will be your own boss.  You will be in control.  Yes, you will say when it is the best time to eat and sleep.  You will decide whether it is good or bad to break your mother’s fine china.  You will be like them!”

Then, sadly, our son would heed the report.  With a shrill scream and flailing arms, he would launch that attack.  Complete with diversionary tactics and commando like energy, his invasion upon the “Fortress Wood Stove” looked bound for success.  Five feet.  Four feet.  Three.  Two.  One.  Only inches left.  The screaming was about to begin.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere would come the long arm of a sentry.  Swooping down, Mom or Dad squelched the rebellion as suddenly as it had started.  The battle ended.  Nothing remained except the retreat.

“Why, Papa, why?  How tum tan’t I tush it?”

Good question, huh?  It’s no different then yours or mine.  Or Adam and Eve’s.  Though we rebel, God forgives.  Though we run, he never loses sight of us.  Though we fall, he picks us up.  It takes time to learn when we’re little.  It takes time to learn when we’re big.  Life and death, light and darkness, obedience and rebellion crowd the adventures of history and everyday living.  Sometimes the learning is painful.  Sometimes we’re spared.  Sometimes, if we are open to it, God will prevent us from touching the heat.  Because he is holy and full of grace, we can be equipped to accept the freedom of saying “No!” to the Fortress Wood Stove of the Family Room.  It begins by saying “Yes!” to Jesus.

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Adversity

Recovering from Failure

Leon Lett. Nice name. It has a bit of a ring to it. However, unless you are a true NFL football fan, it’s probably not a name that rings a bell for you. So let me fill you in on Leon.

Leon played in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys from 1991 to 2000 and the Denver Broncos in 2001. Leon was a great defensive tackle and the anchor of an even greater defensive line that helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls during Leon’s career (1993, 1994, 1996). He even made All Pro (league all-star for his position). The first time in 1994 and the second time during the 1996 season.

Unfortunately, for most NFL fans, these are not the memories of Leon left over from his great career. Instead, two memories of spectacular failure stand out. In fact, ESPN television rated two of his plays in the top three of their “25 Biggest Sports Blunders.” NFL fans ranked his two blunders as numbers one and three, while a panel of sports experts rated them number two and three.

The first blunder occurred during Super Bowl XXVII against the Buffalo Bills. The fans rated it number one. The experts rated it number two. Leon recovered a Bills fumble late in the game. As he scooped up the ball and started his rumble to the end-zone, there were no Buffalo Bills even near him. He was on his way to a sure touchdown. Any touchdown for a defensive lineman is a career highlight…let alone a touchdown in a Super Bowl. Leon must have had great visions of seeing his running form all over the evening sports reports. He approached the end-zone with such ease that he slowed down and stretched out his arms. That’s when everything went wrong. The fumble rumble turned into failure because the Buffalo Bills’ Don Beebe came racing from behind to slap the ball out of Leon’s right hand absolutely micro-seconds before Leon crossed the goal line. The ball bounced through the end-zone resulting in a touchback that cost Leon his touchdown, his glory, and his moment of fame. Instead, he ran into the end-zone and NFL history with a moment of infamy. Failure.

So, okay, what did it matter. The Cowboys had an overwhelming 52—17 lead and they went on the win the game easily. Well, beyond the personal embarrassment for Leon, the blunder prevented the Cowboys from gaining the record for most points scored in a Super Bowl.

Perhaps sadder yet is how that one instant of bravado overshadowed the rest of Leon’s game. Like the All Pro everyone knew him to be, Leon sacked the Bills quarterback and forced two fumbles — one of which led to a Dallas touchdown. Yet, all we remember is his moment of failure. Too sad. Too bad. And not over.

Just 10 months later in the next season, Leon gave us another. This one directly cost the Cowboys a game. The blooper (ranked number three on both the fans and experts list) occurred while the Cowboys were leading the Miami Dolphins 14-13 with just seconds left on the clock. The Dolphins attempted a 41 yard field-goal. If they made it the game would be theirs. Miss it, Dallas would retain the lead and gain the victory. The Dolphins center snapped the ball. The holder lined it up. The place-kicker took his two steps and swept his foot. The contact was solid, however a Cowboy player slipped through the line to block the kick. The ball should have fell silent and dead effectively ending the play and the Dolphins chances for victory. Leon’s teammates jumped and shouted in celebration, but not Leon. Leon committed yet another bonehead football no-no. He attempted to recover the football as though it had been fumbled. In his attempt, he knocked it away from himself and, since he had touched it, put the ball back into play. The Dolphins recovered the ball on the one yard line. They kicked again. This time the ball sailed through the goal-posts. Miami 16. Dallas 14. Miami, winners. Dallas, losers. Everyone else—safe. Leon—the scapegoat, the failure…King of the Bloopers.

And, like before, this third greatest sports blooper overshadowed his greatness. The rest of the season was fantastic. Leon anchored the defensive line once again. The Cowboys went on to another victory in Super Bowl XXVIII. During this second of Leon’s three Super Bowl victories, Leon forced a fumble from the Buffalo Bill’s running back, Thurman Thomas, while the Cowboys trailed 13-6. James Washington, the Cowboys safety, recovered the ball and took it 46 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown brought the Cowboys even with the Bills and turned the momentum to their advantage. The Cowboys went on to win 30-13.

For Leon, the late-night and Saturday afternoon highlights never recall those great moments… only the bloopers…two of the top three greatest sports failures of all time according to both fans and experts. Not the victories. Not the success. Not the high-fives. Not the cheers. Just the jeers. Just the agony of personal defeat. Just the lonely specter of personal failure.

One can only wonder how bad Leon must have felt. How he might still feel.

I’ve been there. You probably have too.

Like death and taxes, failure is one of those things in life we all have in common. We may not have our failures splashed on TV screens, but we sure do know how Leon feels. Failure hurts. Failure brings misery. And, its brother, sorrow, is sure to arrive as well.

So, okay, we know that failing is the pits. The question we need to ask, however, is this: does failing mean that we are failures?

Hardly. If this were the case, what should we do with Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and so many more of God’s choice servants…especially when failure is elevated to the level of sin? The truth is otherwise. God always wants to pick us back up. When failure becomes sin our only hope is the grace of God. So, perhaps the following suggestions may help in the process.

First, in 1 John 1:9 we read

“If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

The word confess literally means to “speak in agreement with.” In this context, then, it would mean that we should agree with God about anything and everything he believes about our sin.

He believes the sin was and is wrong.
He believes we should never repeat the sin.

And, if we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior…

He believes we are not in bondage to the sin.
He believes we have every spiritual resource to defeat the sin.
He believes that since we are forgiven we should put away the guilt of the sin.
And, he believes we will break his heart again should we allow the sin to reign in our lives.

Second, in Matthew 5:23 and 24 we read

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Jesus said when there is failure between us and another we need to initiate reconciliation. Well, that is not too difficult to understand: if and when we fail others, we need to ask their forgiveness, heal the relationship, and press forward.

Third, we need to accept the fact that while we do and will fail, Jesus Christ prevents us from being failures. While Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 5:8 tells us that “God demonstrates his own love toward us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Our part is to accept his work on our behalf. Romans 10:9 says “that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I don’t know about you, but that does not sound like failure!

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Sports and The Savior

The Legend and The Lord: A Lesson From Nolan Ryan and the Savior

September 22nd, 1993. It’s a day that will live long in the memory of two boys and their Dad.

“I can’t believe it, Dad,” my oldest son said, “Nolan Ryan’s very last road game. This is history and we’re here to see it.”

“I know, Matthew. Seven no-hitters. Almost six thousand strike-outs. He pitched when I was a boy. This is awesome!”

“Where is he, Dad? Dad, I can’t see him.” My youngest son, Daniel, was almost frantic. He couldn’t bear the thought that he might miss something. His anxiety grew with every thought that number 34 would step from the dugout without his eyes fastened to the legend’s every move. The “Ryan Express” commanded too much of his respect for even one glimpse to go uncollected. So, with a reassuring smile and a gentle nudge in the right direction, I turned his head toward the visitors dugout. “Keep watching son, he’ll come out any moment now.”

Such were the thrilling minutes before the final game of Nolan Ryan’s legendary career. For much of the world, baseball means very little. Nolan Ryan means even less. For true fans, baseball means a great deal. Nolan Ryan means even more. The two go together like melody and lyrics. One is the song. The other the verse.

“Here they come, Dad! The Texas Rangers are coming out,” my oldest said.

“Where? Where are they, Dad? I can’t see them,” my youngest exclaimed.

The rest of the Texas Rangers took the field. I stood and began to applaud. “Dad,” the boys almost shouted, “why are you clapping? We don’t see him. Where is he, Dad?”

“He’ll be out soon boys. Come on. Stand up. He’s a living legend.”

The three of us stood there clapping. It seemed like eternity, but in reality it was but seconds. The anticipation was exhilarating. Suddenly, there he was, number 34, Nolan Ryan, the greatest pitcher of all time. All around us people began to stand. The ovation was thunderous, the moment spectacular, the spectacle frozen in time — a few seconds that shall never fade away.

For two boys and a dad those moments have created a bond stronger than time itself. The smell of popcorn and candy, the feel of a hundred thousand hands smacking together, the sound of Seattle’s Kingdome resounding with fifty thousand voices lifted in joyful cheer, and the sight of number 34 raising his hand in recognition and appreciation of our recognition and appreciation for him were meant just for us. The Legend is a man.

However, Nolan’s game is up. He was the greatest. Never mind that his last game ended bittersweet. Never mind that a torn ligament ended that game before even the first inning concluded. Never mind his last inning as the most awesome pitcher in the great game of baseball included a grand-slam against his record. Never mind, because he brought his own brand of greatness to the ball-park that evening. We’ll remember it. We’ll cherish it. We’ll talk of it. And, like all good stories, it will instruct us about life. My boys will learn something from those few moments with the Legend.

You see, my boys did not have many heroes. This old world offered them precious few. I always hoped that in days to come their lives would be filled with men and women who would inspire them. I could hope that as they became men they would model their lives after men and women who press forward, who work hard, and who demonstrate the goodness and kindness that Nolan Ryan had given us during four decades of major league greatness. I could hope that I would be for them such a model. Time will tell.

Yet, there was greatness already at work. Our brief moment in time with the Legend reminded us of something far better. There approaches a day when again we shall stand to applaud. Perhaps, if we are sensitive enough, we will once again stand to clap and shout before we see his face. This time, however, it will be more than applause. It will be worship. We shall shout and sing, “All hail King Jesus.” Only this time it will last. This time it will consume our very beings. This time it will be more than a brief moment in time. This time it will mean life, not memories. This time it will be the Lord, not the Legend.

Can you only imagine? Oh, dear friend, think about this…if Jesus is your Savior…well, here, let God’s word convey this truth for itself (Revelation 21:1-7)…

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”

What? Are you kidding me?

The dwelling of God is with men?

There will be no more tears?

There will be no more death? No more mourning? No more crying? No more pain?

Me? Me? I will be his forevermore son?

Incredible! Amazing! My God, oh my God, thank you.

No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus these words: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

The time is coming. Are you ready?

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Bible

Praying for Conflict Resolution: Part Two

In my last post we considered “why” we should pray when we need to resolve conflict. In this post we want to see “how” we can pray regarding conflict resolution. For that, let’s get to the Church Ladies. Their names are Euodia and Syntyche. They can be found in Philippians 4:2-7. Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote to them:

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

At this point a little background information is necessary.

First, the Church in Philippi was a strong church. Paul had some great things to say about them. He said they were his partners in spreading the life-changing message of Jesus Christ (1:3-5). He thanked them for financially investing in the ministry of his missionary journeys (4:10-14). He also indicated there were times when they alone supported his work when no other churches would share the burden (4:15,16).

Second, even though they were a great church, they were not perfect. Problems had infiltrated the church. And, while we cannot be entirely sure what those problems were, we do know Paul was concerned enough to write to the church about the need for unity, agenda harmony, and conflict resolution. In his opening prayer he prayed they would be able to know what was really important (1:9,10). He urged them to be like-minded, one in spirit, and one in purpose (2:1-4). He told them they needed to develop an attitude like that of Jesus: personal humility rather than personal pride (2:5-11). And he asked them to work out their problems without bickering, complaining, arguing, or murmuring (2:12-18).

Throughout his letter to the Church in Philippi, Paul provided many principles for building great relationships and resolving conflict. As he started to wind things down, he addressed the two church ladies and their problem. Apparently, their conflict — if not at the heart of the Philippian problem — weighed on his heart enough to prompt his direct intervention. In the process, the Spirit of God used Paul to teach the Philippians five lessons on how to change their behavior before interpersonal problems threatened to do long-term damage. The first four dealt with how people should respond to one another in the middle of conflict. The fifth dealt with how people should pray in the middle of conflict crisis. Let’s look quickly at the first four before we develop the fifth.

Lesson #1: The first lesson came as he wrote “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” The little phrase “agree with each other in the Lord” is translated by J.B. Phillips in The New Testament in Modern English as “to make up your differences as Christians should.” This clearly renders the meaning of Paul’s plea. If the church ladies were going to get past their conflict they would have to work through their differences for the sake of their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. This demands that true Christian character win out over pride.

Lesson #2: The second lesson followed immediately as Paul wrote: “Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul recognized that Euodia and Syntyche might need some help with their conflict resolution, so he called upon someone he referred to as his loyal yokefellow to help them.

Lesson #3: The third lesson is found in the next two sentences: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Paul wanted the church ladies to remember their common roots. So smack in the middle of this whole thing he reminded them about the need to rejoice in the Lord. While they may have been in no particular mood to celebrate one another, they could take joy in their relationship to Jesus Christ. Paul wanted them to see that it should come as no surprise that neither of them was perfect. Problems could be expected. They had been in need of a Savior after all.

Lesson #4: The fourth lesson had to do with being gracious. Paul wrote: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” The word behind gentleness has also been translated as forbearance, fairness, graciousness, considerateness, and magnanimity. Consider the definitions for the last two:

Considerateness: thoughtfulness concerning the rights and feelings of others.

Magnanimity: loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and revenge, and to make sacrifices for worthy ends.

The point could not be more clear: instead of fighting, Euodia and Syntyche needed to exhibit gentleness to one another.

Lesson #5: Having given Euodia, Syntyche, Loyal Yokefellow, and the entire church four valuable lessons on how to behave toward one another in the middle of conflict, Paul turned his attention to prayer. In essence he wanted them to know that if their behavior was going to rise above personal differences they would need to trust God about everything—including one another and one another’s issues. Here’s what he wrote:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

How is it that Paul could command people involved with interpersonal conflict to not be anxious about anything? How is such a thing even possible? Are we supposed to be able to turn our emotions on and off at a whim? The answer came in what Paul wrote next: “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Paul could tell them not to be anxious, because he knew — should they choose to take the option — that they possessed immediate access to God through prayer. And, if there was one thing the the Apostle Paul knew well, it was that God could certainly calm a troubled heart.

Now stop for a moment. Do not take this for granted. This is not Christianity 101. This is not simple religion. Instead, this is an all out, in your face reality check on the nature of our relationship with God. Does he or does he not have the ability to help us with our conflicts? Will he go before us or will he leave us with our own feeble abilities? Can he, will he change our attitudes or are we doomed to live with the anxiety we experience in the middle of conflict?

The Apostle Paul had no doubt about this. He wanted Euodia and Syntyche to have no doubts. And, of course, through the words of the Apostle Paul, God is teaching us that we should have no doubts. When faced with conflict much of the battle can and should be met through prayer.

Still, we can ask how? How should we pray when faced with conflict? Well, consider the very words Paul used when talking about our conversation with God:

Prayer: a general term for simply expressing ourselves to God

Petition: a general term for asking something of God

Thanksgiving: that which demonstrates our awareness of and gratefulness for God’s love, faith and good-will toward us

Requests: the specific items of our petitions

These words describe and define a true conversation with God. They have nothing to do with repetitive rituals. They have nothing to do with some crazy form of wish fulfillment. Instead, they describe and define honest interaction between us and the one who created us. He is a person. We are persons. He is relational. We are relational. He is large and in charge. We are not. He can change hearts. We need him to change ours.

So literally, when faced with conflict we need to talk to God about it. We need to tell him the nature of our problem (not because he needs to be informed, but because we have a relationship with him). We need to thank him: for his involvement, for his wisdom, for our access to him, etc. We need to offer him our requests.

However, the Apostle Paul takes us even further. He had specific intentions when he wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Question: To what anxiety was Paul referring?

The context makes it clear: the anxiety that existed within Euodia and Syntyche — and probably the entire church — on account of their personal squabbles.

Question: So what would be the primary focus of these prayer efforts?

The answer is not too difficult. In fact, let’s flesh it out by putting some words in the Apostle’s mouth:

“Euodia, instead of being anxious where Syntyche is concerned, would you please pray about your situation with her? And, Syntyche, I need to ask the same of you. Ladies, talk to God about your problem before you talk to others. In fact, talk to God before you talk with one another. Even more so, don’t just talk to him…get specific. Ask God to help you have the mind of Christ, to be loving, and to be done with pride (lesson #1). Ask God to give you a third party who might be able to mediate the trouble between you and your one time coworker (lesson #2). Ask God to keep Jesus on your mind and in your heart. If you cannot find joy in one another right now, let your joy in Christ rule all that you do and all that you say (lesson #3). Ask God for the strength to be gentle toward one another, to forbear with one another, to extend graciousness to one another (lesson #4) Ask God to ease your anxiety. And don’t stop with your petitions, remember to give thanks. Syntyche, surely there is much that you can thank God about concerning Euodia. Euodia, the same applies to you where Syntyche is concerned. Thank God for the ministry you accomplished together in the past. Thank God that he saw fit to save the other person from their sins. Thank God that he created the other person in his image. Thank God that your sister in Christ will inherit all the blessings of heaven. Ladies, if you will pray about your situation, if you will give thanks for one another, then the peace of God will prevent you from making matters worse. He will guard your hearts. He will give you peace where you thought you would only know anxiety.”

Can you imagine what might have happened to the conflict resolution process if both the church ladies followed through on this kind of prayer?

Can you imagine what will happen if you and those you relate to determine to pray like this if and when you are faced with conflict?

Think about it. The ragged edge that usually accompanies conflict will be smoothed out when we determine to pray for our conflict partner rather than protesting against his or her opinions, comments, and/or actions.

Think about it. The goal of getting back on track with a conflict partner will arrive much sooner if we determine to talk with God about our situation before we go off talking to others.

Think about it. If we break this down even further, how much better would agenda harmony be if we went even deeper in our prayers and began to thank God for the good things we know to be true about our conflict partner before we began fixating on his or her problems?

Well, Paul made it quite clear how much better it could be when he wrote, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Where conflict exists between two or more people, it can be replaced by true peace. Where anxiety rules the hearts and minds of those involved with conflict, it can be replaced by the peace of God.
Asking God for help can facilitate rapid and powerful healing in conflict situations. Troubled relationships can be mended. They can rediscover harmony since peace in a relationship marks the decline of insecurities and the increase of trust and loyalty. There may well be differences, but those differences need not become wedges of separation. Two or more people committed to praying for one another rather than against one another will be a force for peace.

You see, when asking God for help we are not attempting to redirect him, but for him to redirect us. When we pray…

…we center ourselves in God’s love (not personal pride).

…we focus ourselves on God’s glory (not our egos).

…we accommodate ourselves to God’s will (not our desires).

…we mobilize ourselves for God’s mission (not our agendas).

…we equip ourselves with God’s word (not our opinions).

…we keep ourselves in God’s providence (not our carelessness).

On the other hand, reacting to conflict without God’s help can escalate the problem. We may move from an uneasy feeling to pinpointing a fault in another. If we let ourselves get sucked in, we’ll begin to focus on the person rather than the issue. Once this occurs, it becomes a contest we feel we must win. If we do not, it means we were wrong and the other person is vindicated. Now we can’t have that, can we? In order to win we resort to undermining the other person’s character. All the while our conflict partner has probably been going through the same process of escalation.

Next we each begin the process of saving face. We begin to protect ourselves by forming alliances. We need to rope others in as though sheer numbers will demonstrate the depth of “bad and wrong” in the person with whom we’re experiencing conflict. We also need to split the other person’s alliances. So we go out of our way to establish ties to his or her “teammates” in order to erode any popular support he or she may possess. Finally, since the other person will simply not relent or repent, we determine they are unworthy and, therefore, must be let go.

The relationship is finally destroyed. Both our conflict partner and we are greatly diminished. We will move forward in life, but the scars will never go away. Suspicion will now invade most of our relationships. Trust will always be just a little harder to come by. Remaining loyal will be an uneasy proposition. As children of God, our faith will be hampered and our desire to give God public credit will wane. If this unresolved conflict involved a group of people, the organization will be damaged and discredited. Like an individual, it may continue, but its banner will never be quite so clean. Its corporate memory will be cloudy. Its present members will walk on egg-shells. Its new members will sense that something is not quite right. In the end, this scenario will be tragic…but it need not be like this.

If we will simply pray, we will give ourselves a huge advantage in resolving conflict. We can move on from there, but there is where we must start.

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